| A Ship in Harbor is Safe, but That is Not what Ships are For
We sail the high seas on a ship named Desire. Our next stop is Fitzpatrick Peak.
A Ship in Harbor is Safe, but That is Not what Ships are For
Fitzpatrick Peak - 13,112 feet (Colorado rank #557)
UN12780 - 12,780 feet (Colorado rank #798 )
Climb date: Sunday, February 5, 2012
Trailhead: The old town of St. Elmo at approx. elevation 10,000 feet.
Total distance: Approx. 14 miles roundtrip.
Total vertical gain: Approx. 4,000 feet.
Difficulty: Snow hike, mostly class 1 and 2, sections of class 2+ on steep talus on UN12780.
Weather: Light snow, little wind, cold temps. Temp gauge showed minus 5 degrees at the trailhead in the morning.
Avalanche hazard: Per CAIC, the Sawatch zone was considerable on NW-N-NE-E-SE aspects at all elevations. The danger was moderate on S-SW-W aspects at all elevations.
The intrepid crew: Papillon, Wooderson, and Kimo
Our navigation chart.
Captions on top of photos.
We sleep in our vehicles parked near St. Elmo. I wake cold at 2 AM and check the thermometer. It's 8 degrees below zero. I push deeper into my down sleeping bag. Its limit has been reached. But soon enough the sun comes up and we prepare for departure. By 8 AM the air has warmed to a balmy minus 5. We navigate by road sign and turn toward Tincup Pass, in search of warm sunlight.
Snow machines have packed the road. It's full steam ahead.
Ahh...there's the sun.
We pass an avalanche path that is high to our left. The slope doesn't threaten us today. The view over our shoulder is big and breathtaking.
We sail up the road in good time.
Fitzpatrick Peak appears through a gap in the trees. We stop and study its features. We will ascend the right-hand ridgeline to the summit and then descend the eastern slope seen here.
We reach treeline after five miles of hiking. Tincup Pass lies ahead. Our first destination, UN12780, is the distant peak on the left. To our right, a steep south-facing slope looks like it could be trouble in the wrong conditions. We keep moving.
Closing in on Tincup Pass. We will follow the left-hand skyline toward UN12780.
We leave the packed snowmobile track and start our ascent of UN12780 in earnest.
The slope steepens. We stick to rock on the right-hand side of the ridgecrest.
We quickly gain elevation.
The talus is steep. And some of it is loose. Care is taken.
Don't fall in.
The first 400 feet was more tedious and time-consuming than we expected.
Eventually the ridge peels away and Fitzpatrick Peak appears like a ghost ship cloaked by the tousled veil of a storm cloud.
But first, before Fitzpatrick, we must give our attention to UN12780.
Thin white line.
We make our summit push on slabby downsloping rock coated with snow and ice.
UN12780 provides an impressive vantage.
The mountains give us happiness and in exchange we leave only footprints.
On the summit of UN12780.
We carefully study our route to Fitzpatrick Peak. Our ascent will follow the right-hand ridgeline. We will descend on exposed scree and talus on the east slope, wary of wind loaded terrain above and below, as we continue down towards the left-hand basin. Snowmobile tracks are visible near the left edge of the image.
"What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous."
The view looking east from the saddle between UN12780 and Fitzpatrick Peak.
We leave UN12780 behind...
"The crow wished everything was black, the owl, that everything was white."
...and we look toward our next destination.
We ascend the north ridge at a brisk pace. Dark storm clouds cloak the high peaks to the west. The storm moves our way. White-out conditions will seriously complicate our untracked descent of the eastern slope. We open the throttle all the way.
The mountain offers little resistance to our approach. The sky on the other hand looks more and more menacing.
The final pitch before the summit.
We drift into port with a sense of relief.
The magnificent view to the south from the summit of Fitzpatrick Peak.
Our rest is short lived. It starts to snow. In the high mountains, we are passengers and crew. We batten down the hatches and push off into cloud.
We identify a reasonable descent route into the basin below. We backtrack off the summit a hundred feet, and then cut right on exposed scree.
Kevin is our navigator.
The steepest section on the descent is a wind-blown grass rib covered with soft shallow snow.
The slopes to our left are loaded. We steer away from the danger by remaining high on the rib.
"What is more mortifying than to feel you've missed the Plum for want of courage to shake the Tree?"
Thank you Fitzpatrick Peak. The mountain winks back at us.
We raise the sails and get caught by the breeze.
Clouds roll past like waves in the ocean.
We're on easy street now. Just five more miles. It's 3:30 PM.
We lower our sails and glide through falling snow, on our way home. The scene is idyllic.
Daylight lingers a little longer these days. We approach St. Elmo by 5 PM.
"Ah, life is a gate, a way, a path to Paradise anyway, why not live for fun and joy and love...why not go to your desire..."
Fair winds and following seas...
"A ship in harbor..." by John Shedd.
"What can we gain..." by Thomas Merton.
"The crow wished..." by William Blake.
"What is more..." by Logan Smith.
"Ah, life..." by Jack Kerouac.
Photos by Papillon, Wooderson, and Kimo.
Valuable route beta from Chicago Transplant, Kevin Baker, 13ers.com, LOJ, and Summitpost.