| Salmon Lake Cirque Traverse
Salmon Lake Group :
East Thorne (13,333 ft)
Silverthorne (aka Willow Benchmark) (13,357 ft)
“Rain” (13,110 ft)
Tommy’s folks have shared a house in the Eagle’s Nest neighborhood North of Silverthorne for nearly 20 years now. He has stared at that pointy peak in his backyard for as long as he remembers, but thanks to the boa constrictor of all lists, the 14ers, he hasn’t ventured too far in to the Gores. Now that he’s finally done, and finally able to enjoy himself, he threw out the idea of climbing that “thorny” peak in his backyard and I agreed it was probably a good idea.
The neighboring Willowbrook area has a convenient parking lot at the head of its development, which apparently happens to be a popular day hiking destination. Unfortunately, that’s all it is, since local vacation home owners have made sure that overnight parking be forbidden. It’s a shame, cause 1 – not that many people venture in to the Gores and 2 – the next closest approach is Mesa Cortina, which adds 6.4 miles to the outing. Anyways, that’s off topic, those people can sit on their thumb and rotate, but laws are laws, and I don’t care to have my car towed, specially after a weekend in the Gores. (To reiterate, this area is heavily patrolled by the Silverthorne Police. Your car WILL get towed if you try to park at Willowbrook. Just a friendly warning).
Anyways, Tom and I set off from his folks house at the ripe hour of 3:30am, in hopes of a successful circumnavigation of the Salmon Lakes Trio. What we got as a result was, what I’d like to coin as the “Go F**k Yourself Traverse”. It wasn’t as much of a traverse as it was a loop that put us a solid 6 to 8 miles from our objective. To make a long story short, the trail from get go at the Willow Brook TH is not entirely straightforward and trying to read trail signs at 4:30am can be hazardous to your health. We definitely realized the abundance of user errors as we backtracked after realizing we were lost, but I still am holding on to the fact that Dave Cooper is an EXTREMELY vague guidebook author, Tommy and I aren’t perfect, trail signs are tough to read in the dark and to reiterate, Summit County vacation home owners can sit on their thumb and rotate. Above all else, I blame them.
It’s a pretty demoralizing feeling when you are staring at a ridgeline and looking down valley, thinking you are looking at East Thorne and the Salmon Lakes drainage, only to find out you are looking at the Silver Couloir of Buffalo Mountain and that valley you are looking down is the Red/Buffalo Pass. Had we continued on, we probably would’ve ended up in East Vail, no joke. We sheepishly backtracked to our correct route, hoofed it all the way in to Salmon Lakes, turned our day in to a recon mission and threw on Willow Lakes as an added bonus.
I said to Tommy towards the end of the day “Man, I might as well throw up a 1 shot Bierstadt report, cause that’s about how I feel right now”. Tommy suggested we shake it off and reconvene the very next weekend.
Some shots of our mission :
Red Peak's diverse North Face. Lots of opportunities in this shot
New Zealand? Just a Gore close up....
Looking to redeem ourselves as quick as humanly possible, we went looking for partners first thing Monday morning. Ryan (Monster5) joined on without much hesitation and the group was set. Not much planning went in to this climb, mainly due to the lack of solid beta online, or in any guidebooks. Kramarsic did a short write up on the East Ridge Direct of East Thorne and we figured once we gained the ridge proper, we’d be golden. Best part about undocumented routes is the unknown, so we all agreed to just get up there and figure it out as we went.
Luckily, we were able to secure a parking permit on the street outside Tommy’s folks place, which meant we could still start at Willow Brook. It was no more than 1.5 miles away, so we had Ryan watch the packs at the trailhead while Tommy and I parked the car and rode bikes back up to the parking lot. We began the hike in around 12:45pm and arrived at the lake at exactly 2 hours later. The approach goes as follows (for anyone unfamiliar with this trail). At the trailhead, hike 15-20 yards down trail and come to your first junction. Go right (straight). DO NOT GO LEFT. If you are bordering some homes, you are in the right place. If a Bernese Mountain dog starts barking at you, don’t be alarmed, he is just the keeper of the Southeastern Gores. Just tell him you hate Quandary Peak, show him your marked up Trails Illustrated Vail/Dillon/Frisco map and give him a couple Salt N’Vinegar Pringles and he will let you pass.
You hike up a hill over a neighborhood, enter the woods, cross a bridge, hike about 0.5 miles, cross another stream crossing on a log bridge, then veer left at a T-junction. You hike up a steep incline, pass a couple beetle kill tree graveyards and then enter the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness. Once you reach the Gore Range Trail/Willow Creek junction, you’ve gone roughly 1.5 miles. You have another 1.5 miles to the Gore Range/Willow/Salmon Lakes junction. After that, you have 1.6 miles to the Willow/Salmon Lakes junction, then finally another 0.25 miles to Salmon Lake. Salmon Lake is 75% surrounded by boulder fields, and camping around the lake is kind of limited. There was one spot Tommy and I scouted out the week prior, so we knew exactly where to go.
We got it, set up camp quickly, enjoyed the views of the lake, scouted out our best bet on East Thorne for the morning and scarfed down some Jimmy Johns before hitting the sack.
East Thorne at sunset
A new 10 Essential
We set alarms for 4:30am and were on the trail by 5:30am, with some nice alpenglow to start the day….
climbing towards the East Ridge
Let the scrambling begin
Tommy, Salmon Lake and alpenglow
Ryan admiring where he is
From the basin, we made a beeline for a grassy spot along the Northern slopes, in hopes to find a weakness in the East Ridge. The class 3 to 4 scrambling started immediately, but navigating was more straightforward than we originally expected.
I’m going to try not to give too much away, but this ridge was fun, complex, exposed and the views were typical of the Gores (they were good). After hiking Buffalo and Red, I kind of wrote off the Southern Gores as kind of pedestrian with regards to views, scrambles and aesthetic basins. Lets just say I was off by a tad when talking about the Salmon Lakes region. I can safely say Salmon/Willow Lakes is Slate Creek’s overlooked cousin, dare I say long lost twin brother.
Some shots of the ridge….
Typical terrain on Thorne's East Ridge
playing with knives
a fine venue
approaching Thorne's summit
The ridge seemed to go on forever, and to be honest, the exact route has already faded from clear memory, so I guess you’ll just have to figure it out for yourself. We lounged on the summit for a solid 20 to 30 minutes with blue skies in all directions, which was a much welcomed relief from several previous weekends. The summit of East Thorne was perfect for lounging (Summit Lounger would quickly grow fond of this one)……
Thorne's summit block
looking over at Silverthorne
The down climb to Silverthorne was steep and complex. We found ourselves in a situation where we could do a descending traverse and lose 150-200 feet or utilize the rope we hauled all the way back there. We chose the latter and enjoyed a quick and easy 50 foot rap.
Ryan setting up the rappel
We used no more than 4 to 5 feet of webbing, slung over a rock horn, Ryan’s 30m/9.2mm rope and a Home Depot quicklink. Tommy and I have been getting out a bunch together on some sport climbs around the foothills, so the rap was no big deal to him, as he had cleaned his very first outdoor sport route not 3 weeks prior (which happened to be his first outdoor sport climb).
Once down, it was literally a class 1 hill climb to the summit of Silverthorne, which, while maybe not the most interesting climbing of the day, held the nicest views and a welcomed reprieve from the exposure and tedious scrambling.
Willow BM's summit
Ridge to Rain
Now it was time to enter the unknown. We weren’t able to read much about the traverse from Silverthorne to “Rain” and it looked like there were 5 unwelcoming towers, one of them just waiting to cliff us out in our tracks. With the day still young (10am) and a thirst for more exposure and ridge scrambles, we set off for the ridge, looming in the distance.
The exposure began almost immediately. I was bringing up the rear and lost sight of Tommy and Ryan for no more than 2 minutes before I started hearing “head right and then make a hard left and it’ll go”.
Each of the 5 towers along this traverse provided an interesting obstacle. The entire traverse was short (70 minutes) and sweet (low 5th class), but it was certainly a memorable ridge run, one of the finer in the Gores. This ridge is living proof unranked peaks should not be ignored!
Some highlights of the traverse :
4th class terrain
This wasn't a knife edge, it was a meat cleaver edge.
hair raising exposure. It doesn't get much more exposed than this
admiring the scenery
looking back on the ridge
happy to be done
For reference, that was the most exposed knife edge and ledge system I’ve ever seen. They were not the “fun” type and required every ounce of your attention. With that being said, this was the most exhilarating ridge in the range, possibly the state. The Thorne Cirque lived up to its image! The best part is that this cirque has a plethora of ski lines (North Couloir on Thorne, East Face on Silverthorne and Grappel Gull y on Rain), so its most definitely worth a return trip in the not so distant future.
We descended the Eastern slopes off Rain, packed up camp and hoofed it back to the car, Chipotle was the main motivator for the quick descent.
going to fetch the car
After a burrito and a bunch of root beer, we decided to take an alternate route home via Boreas Pass, which worked out quite well till we reached Kenosha Pass. Traffic is getting pretty old this summer, I never thought I’d live to see the day of 285 traffic. The most frustrating part about it all is venting doesn’t do any good, cause its nearly impossible to hone in on the creators of Colorado traffic. Its like fighting an unknown force.
I hate to leave this TR on a sour note, so I’ll end there. It was a great traverse with great company on a bluebird weekend in the middle of monsoon season. Can’t ask for much else. Anyone in search of a wild climb and ridge run, be sure to check this Gore classic out soon.
Thanks for reading.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):