Cheaper by the Eleven: Our Big Day in the Sawatch Range
Sunrise over Mt Massive seen from atop Twining Peak Peaks (in order of summit): PT 13,500 (R:#255), Twining Peak - 13,711' – (R:#141), PT13,545 – (SR:#234), PT 13,202 - (R:#489 ), PT 13,300A (R:#395), Deer Mountain A – 13,761' (R:#122), K49 – 13,535' (summited by Abe), PT 13,736 – (R:#133), Mount Champion – 13,646' (R:#174), Casco Peak – 13,908' (R:#69), Lackawanna – 13,823' (R:#95), PT13,660B – (SR:#178 )
Distance: ~15.5mi Elev Gain/Loss:8300'/9600' Weather: Sunny w/ highs around 65F Time: 16:30 (4:30am - 9:00pm) Technical Difficulty: Mostly Class 2/3. Some very loose Class 3+ near Deer Mtn/PT13,736 saddle. Fun Class 4 and 50’ of Low Class 5 on PT13,300A. Technical Gear: Trekking Poles (or Trekking Pole in Abe’s case). Travelers: Geojed (Jed), Fireonthemountain (Abe), Tony1 (Tony) Wildlife (other than the climbers ): Lots of Ptarmigans along the way, plus a herd of elk on descent of PT13,660B
I first got the idea for what I’ve termed “Big Days” when I read about the 30mi, 21000’ elev gain Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Link-up (WURL) pioneered by Jared Campbell. I did my own version of a “Ridge Link-Up” when I soloed the Tenmile Traverse in March. My second one, the Mosquito Range Traverse, I did in April with Matt Lemke. Shortly after the Mosquito Traverse I started looking in earnest for similar traverses in other ranges in Colorado where I could start high, stay high and get a lot of peaks in one day.
I originally posted this trip on the forum as a Bel-Ox-Har-Col combo starting at Missouri Gulch and finishing at Harvard Lakes TH. Abe and Tony expressed interest in doing it. But then this Big Day in the Sawatch that I had mapped out several months ago came to mind and they both felt that this would be a much better plan peak-wise and logistics-wise. So we drove to Independence Pass Friday night and camped there in the parking area. I slept horribly that night due to the high elevation. Alarms went off around 3:30am and we had breakfast and geared up. Ended up starting around 4:15-4:30AM.
In the darkness we headed east on the highway and found the “use” trail for PT 13,500. We crossed the meadow at a brisk pace and then the trail steepened considerably as the climb began in earnest. It took awhile for my lungs and legs to really get in a rhythm and adjust to the elevation and steepness of the trail. I was afraid that the restless night spent gasping for air had starved my body of oxygen to the extent that I was starting off at oxygen deficit, which led to doubts rising in my mind that I might be inadequate to the day’s task. But I kept pushing these doubts down knowing that my body would adjust to the exertion/elevation and that I could power through this. Also, I knew that this initial climb was the largest of the three “big” elevation gains we had for the day.
PT13500 had about 15’ of Class 3 scrambling to reach the summit block where we caught our breath for 5min or so and enjoyed the peaceful pre-dawn light.
After 45min we reached our first summit, PT13500, at 5:15am and had a great view of Twining Peak in the pre-dawn light.
We descended down PT13500 mellow north slopes to the saddle with Twining Peak. Then we picked our way up the tundra and solid talus to Twining’s 13,711’ summit right about the time the sun rose above Mt Massive to our east at 5:45am (Picture at top of TR). I could tell as we ascended Twining that my lungs/heart/legs were now in rhythm and would be able to power me through the day.
Looking south from Twining Peak as sunlight illuminates the Sawatch in golden light.
Garfield, Grizzly, and Truro bask in morning’s glow
Close-up of (L-R): La Plata, Huron, North Apostle, Ice Mtn, Sayres BM
Great view of Elk Mtns to the west
Rugged Williams Mtns looking sweet!
After resting on Twining’s summit for 5min we began the traverse to PT13,545. This traverse had a little more hair on it and provided some really fun scrambling opportunities that we were more than happy to take on.
Abe and Tony downclimbing a 10’ Class 4 step on Twining’s north ridge
From the Twining-PT13545 saddle looking at PT13545 south ridge. PT13545 summit is in left of center background
Homestretch to PT13545 summit
We reached PT13545, our 3rd summit, in about 45min and had our first real “break” of the day as we rested on the summit for 10min or so.
View south from PT13,545 at PT13,500 and Twining Peak.
The descent down from PT13545 was more sustained Class 3 than before w/ some small Class 4 moves mixed in.
PT13545 north ridge with Twining Peak to the right.
View across the basin to next objective, PT13202.
After reaching the saddle between PT13545 and PT13366 we descended into the basin via very steep grassy slopes. In retrospect, we should’ve gone over PT13366’s north shoulder and then descended down into the basin as that would’ve reduced the amount of side-hilling we had to do to get to the basin below PT13202.
Steep grassy slope below PT13545. You can see Tony in red behind a boulder.
Looking back at PT13545. PT13366 is the point in the middle and the alternative route would’ve been to descend down the talus to viewers right.
Once we got to the more level part of the basin we tried to lose the least amount of elevation possible as we headed to the saddle on PT13202’s west ridge, but staying high too much would get us cliffed out prior to the saddle. Easy scrambling got us to the ridge and we began the steep climb up solid talus and tundra to PT13202’s blocky summit where we took a 15min break to snack and refuel.
Now on relatively level ground looking towards PT13202
Tony and Abe on PT13202’s summit. Deer Mountain (L) and PT13736 (R) frame Elbert, French and Frasco in the far background.
As we rested we looked across the basin towards our next summit, PT13300A. As we compared the summits on the ridge across the way to the waypoints in the 14ers.com master file I had on my IPhone GPS, we realized that the 13ers/14ers master file has the wrong summit labeled as 13300A. The 13ers waypoint is actually on PT~13170 which is the summit just south of PT13300A.
Looking back across the basin to PT13500 & PT13545. Twining is hidden behind PT13545.
While we were climbing PT13202’s ridge we noticed a really cool “balanced rock” on the south side of the summit block. After skirting back west and south around the cliffs guarding PT13202’s summit Abe scrambled over to this neat balancing rock.
Balancing rock on PT13202’s SE ridge. Abe for scale.
The descent down PT13202 was really loose in some spots and Abe was wise to stick closer to the ridge proper as he was able to stay on more solid rock. Once on the level ridge it was easy to cruise around to the saddle on the north side of PT13300A.
Looking back at PT13202 during traverse to PT13300A
View across North Fork Lake Creek Basin at PT13500, Twining Peak, and PT13545
Mountain majesty sure makes you feel small sometimes. Deer Mtn – 13,761’
Tony and Abe trucking along towards PT13300A under the auspices of Deer Mtn
Great view of the awesome North Fork Lake Creek Canyon. Final objectives for the day, PT13660B and Lackawanna at the far end of the valley.
Around 9:45am we reached one of the highlights of the trip. The Class 4/5 scramble of PT13300A’s North ridge. Tony decided to stay at the pass and rest while Abe and I dropped our packs and made the quick (~30min) but very delightful scramble to the summit and back.
The North ridge of PT13300A. The route stays to the right of the ridge, starts with a 30’ Low Class 5 wall, and then is Class 3/4 on solid rock with great holds the rest of the way to the summit.
“Hey Abe wait for me!”
The Turkish Terror strikes again! Here’s Abe showing me how it’s done.
Here I am descending the Low Class 5 section near the base of the ridge.
After summiting PT13300A and returning to the saddle we put our packs back on and headed down the very steep slopes to the pass below Deer Mtn.
Abe picking his way down to the pass while Deer Mtn and PT13,736 look on
We found some fresh melt water from a nearby snowfield and refilled our water in preparation for our next stretch of 3 peaks from Deer Mtn – Mount Champion.
Lake at the head of the pass.
Deer Mtn’s NW ridge started off with very steep but relatively stable talus that turned loose once we reached the top of the talus cone. We then decided to traverse left and gain the more solid rock on the ridge proper instead of staying on the slopes.
Deer Mtn’s steep NW ridge.
Abe leading the way w/ PT13,736 in background
It took us about an hour to reach Deer Mtn’s 13,761’ summit, reaching it at Noon, ~7:30 into our “Big Day”. Here we had great views of Mt Massive and the rest of our planned peaks for the day.
Mt Massive and Mt Oklahoma
7 peaks down and still smiling. Man these “Big Days” are fun, especially with such good company.
Tony and I decided to have lunch here on Deer Mtn’s summit. Abe wanted to go bag “K49”, which spurs ~1mi East off the Deer Mtn – PT13736 ridge, and not leave it as a “stranded” 13er summit that he would have to come back and do. So Tony and I relaxed on the summit soaking in the incredible views for 45min or so and then headed down Deer Mtn’s South ridge to just where the ridge to K49 spurs off. Once there we noticed Abe over on K49’s summit and watched him on his speedy return to the ridge we were on. Once he got w/in shouting distance he yelled “Why are you waiting for me? Keep on going!” We didn’t know that he wanted us to continue to PT13736 and not wait for him as he would catch up, and he felt really bad for thinking that he had made us wait. Tony, by this time, had remarked to me that he would probably head down Lackawanna Gulch after summiting Mount Champion (his summit #7) as he was getting tired.
View to the South of connecting ridge to PT13,736.
So Tony and I continued on as Abe caught up to Tony. The descent to the saddle North of PT13736 was VERY steep with really sketchy loose gravel on top of rotten rock. By the time Tony and Abe were at the top of this section I was already about 100’ up PT13736’s North Ridge. Abe yelled over to me that I should just keep on going and not wait up for them as they would both finish w/ Mount Champion. Abe was kind enough to stay with Tony and not have him descend Lackawanna Gulch by himself, plus, he told me later, that he was happy with 9 summits. So I continued on up to the summit of PT13736 and signed the register quickly and then headed towards Mt. Champion.
View of Mt Champion from PT13,736
Looking from Mt Champion back at PT13736. Deer Mtn. is to the right.
Here I had panoramic views of the western side of the North Fork Lake Creek Canyon and the peaks we had climbed so far that day.
North Fork Lake Creek Panorama #1
North Fork Lake Creek Panorama #2
As I sat on Mt Champion’s summit I contemplated about what I wanted to do. My mapped out route was to try to do Frasco BM’s via its NW ridge and then French, Casco, Lackawanna, PT13660B. But that NW ridge was looking pretty gnarly; besides, French Mtn. would be quite out of the way to try for at this late hour. I could wait for Tony and Abe and descend back down Lackawanna Gulch to the TH with them, but I really wanted to get at least Casco and especially Lackawanna since I was already up here and didn’t want to have to regain the elevation to get Lackawanna. Suddenly the idea came to me that I could skip French and Frasco and just head across the basin towards what Roach calls the “Fiascol” which is the saddle between Frasco and Casco, and then climb Casco, Lackawanna, and PT13660B. So off I went down Mt Champion’s East Ridge towards the broad basin below Frasco’s rugged West face.
Lackawanna Gulch Panorama #1. This is the basin I traversed w/ “Fiascol” at center and Casco to its right.
Lackawanna Gulch Panorama #2. Lackawanna and PT13660B are across the way with La Plata lurking in the background.
I stopped at a creek in the basin to refill my Camelbak with water and followed a very old and faint use trail until I reached the talus below the infamous “Fiascol”. Descriptions of the Fiascol from other TRs used words like treacherous/dangerous/horrible/terrible to describe it. It didn’t turn out to be as bad as I expected. Once I got to the base of the talus I noticed an almost complete line of large, dark, black boulders that were for the most part all lodged in the dirt leading up to the top of the Fiascol. I picked my way up these black boulders until I reached solid outcrop and then angled right up to the top of the Fiascol. All in all, it took me about 10min to climb the 300’ up to the Fiascol from the base.
Now began the 650’ climb up Casco’s North Ridge. This was really fun as you could kind of “choose your own adventure” by either scrambling on solid Class 3/4 rock on the ridge proper or stay on tundra to the left of the ridge. I chose to stay on the crest as much as possible and reached Casco’s airy summit in about 30min from the Fiascol.
Casco’s very fun, tough as you want to make it North Ridge
View from “Fiascol” back across basin I had traversed. (L-R): Mt Champion, PT13736, Deer Mtn
I looked for a summit register on the summit of Casco but couldn’t find any. It’s kind of an interesting summit composed of huge white granite boulders that you have to hop around on. Now it was 5:30pm and I had the goal of making it to Lackawanna’s summit by 7pm and PT13660B’s summit by 8pm. Lackawanna sure looked far away from Casco’s summit so I wasn’t sure how well I’d do on my time goals, but the terrain I would have to cross to get there looked pretty mellow so I should be able to cruise. So I had a couple GU packets and headed off towards the saddle w/ Lackawanna which I reached 20min later at 6pm.
View from Casco’s summit towards ridge to Lackawanna (R) and PT13660B (L)
Along the traverse to Lackawanna, the views across the Hayden Gulch Basin were really beautiful in the late afternoon light.
Great view of La Plata and Ellingwood Ridge
Evening view of Mt Elbert across upper basin of Hayden Gulch
And the view back towards Frasco, French and Casco was quite remarkable too.
Rugged view of (L-R): Frasco BM, French Mtn, and Casco Peak
I reached Lackawanna’s gentle West Ridge around 6:40pm and I suspected that it would have some false summits prior to the true summit block. I didn’t know that there would be 4 of them! In the picture below I was sure that was the true summit. Nope. It is a little rocky 10’ high pedestal that is about 100ft behind it. I reached the true summit at 7:05pm.
Is this the #$*&*^%%##%$ true summit of Lackawanna???
Home Stretch! Looking at PT13660B from Lackawanna’s summit
Yes! Just 10 down and one more easy peak to go!
After a short 10min break on Lackawanna’s summit, I set off for my 11th summit of the day, PT13660B. Fortunately, it was a very broad and gentle meadow between the two peaks and I was able to make great time arriving at PT13660B’s summit just before 8pm.
Gorgeous alpenglow on Frasco, French, Casco, Elbert and Bull Hill
PT13660B’s summit with Lackawanna at right
Looked around real quick for a summit register but couldn’t find one like I couldn’t find one on Lackawanna either. Oh well. My original plan was to follow PT13660B’s North Ridge back to Lackawanna Gulch and take the trail from there back to the TH. But as I was looking at my topo map on my IPhone I noticed that I could head straight west down PT13660’s slopes and it would drop me off right at the North Fork Lake Creek TH where Abe and Tony were waiting for me. My knees took a serious pounding as in the next 1.25mi I descended 2000’ on steep tundra and ~1000’ through forest skirting cliffs and climbing over lots of deadfall. One cool experience was that right about tree line I ran into about 30 Elk that were calling to each other. The sunset behind the days first summit was pretty special too.
Sunset over the day’s first summit PT13500
I arrived at the TH right at 9pm and promptly marched across the creek to where Abe and Tony were waiting, not really caring that my boots got wet as I had dry shoes and dry, comfy, soft socks waiting for me in the car. Man those felt NICE!
Elevation Profile for the day
I just want to give a BIG thanks to Abe and Tony for coming along. Their company made the day go from “great” to “freakin awesome”. Thanks again Abe for staying with Tony and telling me to go on ahead. Thanks for driving Tony. Let’s hike again together sometime soon. Like the next “Big Day”.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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