| 10 Centennials in 5 Days
(well almost 10 centennials, Garfield Peak is #116 )
My brother and I have a tradition of getting together each year to climb peaks and hang out. Our original plan was to meet in Aspen and climb peaks mainly in the Elk Range. He found some really cheap tickets on Southwest to Denver from SLC and so I picked him up at the airport on Wednesday morning. This gave us more flexibility on timing and less driving for the both of us.
Since I was going to be picking him up at the airport, peaks in close proximity of Denver would be de rigueur. Grays and Torreys would fit the bill nicely as my brother hadn’t done them yet and would be a good warm-up for the next four days of climbing. The crux of the climb ended up just getting to the TH as there was a really rough section on the road to the TH. With some ingenuity and engineering we successfully got past this rough section; thus saving ourselves ~1.5mi of road walking each way. We started hiking from the TH at the heinously late time of 10:30AM. I wasn’t sure whether we would get chased off by thunderstorms or not but miraculously, the weather seemed to be holding for us.
I was surprised to see so many people up there on a Wednesday, but since we had left so late, most of them were coming down while we were ascending.
I reached Grays’ summit around 12:15pm and my brother arrived 20mins later. I could see that weather was hitting Evans/Bierstadt and the Ten Mile Range but that to the SW of G/T the clouds hadn’t started building yet.
While I chilled on the summit waiting for my brother a couple of guys were offering “medication” to anyone who passed by. I couldn’t stand the smell of the smoke and kept moving around on the summit to avoid being down-wind of them while they “medicated” up for the trip down and discussed their preferred “dispensaries” around town.
The weather continued to hold with no major vertical cloud development of clouds to our South so we headed across to Torreys Peak and almost complete solitude, well except for the guys who were “medicating” up again on Torreys Peak. That “medication” must not last very long if you need to do it so often. Here we enjoyed stellar views of the Gore Range.
We headed down and about the time we reached the basin was when the clouds started darkening above Torreys. We got sprinkled on a little bit as we neared the TH but no thunder until we were already back at the car. All-in-all, a great start/warm-up for the next four days.
We left our campsite at the campground at the HC TH around 6AM and headed up the Fall Creek Trail to the Notch Mountain Trail. The gradient on these two trails was so gentle I never even needed to stop once to catch my breath. Just kept cruising at a good pace and reached the Notch Mtn Shelter in just under two hours. The forecast for the day was 50% chance of showers/thunderstorms after 8AM. This forecast plus the high layer of clouds that persisted over us in the morning had me worried that it was going to rain on us while on the ridge. It did give us a spectacular sunrise though.
The clouds seemed to be thinning as we began the Halo Ridge giving us confidence that the weather would hold nicely for us that day, and it did. The view of the Bowl of Tears beneath HC was pretty spectacular.
As was the view up the ridge to PT13,373 and “Holy Cross Ridge”. The scrambling up PT13,373 was quite fun with views of the dramatic cliffs to our right.
One of the views I had really been looking forward to was the view of Upper Tuhare Lake beneath PT13,768. And it did not disappoint at all!
By the time we reached HCR’s summit the high clouds had passed/burned off and it was actually quite pleasant; enough so that we enjoyed the summit for 30min or so before heading across to HC.
As we neared HC summit around 11AM we saw another person for the first time that morning. That’s another reason I wanted to do this route. Avoid the crowds. The summit of HC was very pleasant as well with very light winds and comfortable temps. We spent about an hour or so here just enjoying and soaking in the views.
We decided to take the standard route back to the TH. Along the way we ran into the trail-building crew and kept wondering how people could get lost on this north ridge of HC. It seemed pretty simple/logical to us at least. The views over to Mount Jackson continued to amaze.
The climb up out of Cross Creek wasn’t as bad as I expected and we made Halfmoon Pass in short order, and cruised down the nice gentle switchbacks back to the TH.
It didn’t start raining until we had reached the highway and were heading up towards Tennessee Pass. We stopped at the Pizza Hut in Leadville and feasted after the 13mi day.
As we headed up towards Winfield to camp at the 4WD TH Thursday night we could see that a very large thunderstorm was just leaving the area. I learned from someone who camped near Hamilton that it started raining on them around 3PM and didn’t stop until 8PM. Fortunately for us it didn’t rain on us that night, just the constant drip-drip-drip of rain from the pine tree above our tent.
My brother wanted to take a rest day to rest his knee after the long day on HC so I headed off in the darkness alone towards the mighty Three Apostles. I over thought the supposedly tricky junction for the Apostle Basin Trail and wandered around on some game trails, before realizing that the “Main Trail” is the one you are supposed to take. The view I had been waiting for since I climbed Huron last December did not disappoint in the least.
The views back towards La Plata and Sayres BM were pretty sweet too.
From Kane’s description on SP I expected the climb up to the Ice Mtn.- N. Apostle saddle to be horribly loose. “Heinous” is the word he used multiple times to describe the talus and Forbins_mtn in a recent TR went on and on about how terrible the climb up to the saddle was. It wasn’t really that bad. The talus was pretty stable and as long as you planned your route carefully it was just steep. I reached N. Apostle’s incredible summit around 8:45am and enjoyed the amazing views for 30min or so.
I left N. Apostle’s summit at 9:20AM and made my way towards Ice Mtn’s NE ridge.
Fun class 3 scrambling got me quickly to the crux section of the route: the class 4 “nasty, dangerous” gully. I stopped here an evaluated my options. Kane recommended a more solid route on the left while Roach recommends traversing to the right side of the gully as seen in this picture from SP.
I ended up going with Roach’s route as the rocks looked pretty solid on the right side and I was able to bypass the most committing/exposed Class 4 move by basically hugging to the right side of the gully and sneaking behind a small rib you can see in the photo above at about 2-o-clock from the climbers head. From there it was solid holds all the way to the ridge and the summit which I reached at 10AM, 40mins from N. Apostle’s summit. I gawked and gaped and the amazing views surrounding me. When I signed the register I noticed that the previous climber to sign it was none other than Bill Middlebrook and it was 8 days prior to my climb! This really surprised me as I expected Ice Mtn. to be climbed more often. But I guess that 49’ makes ALL the difference!
I scree skied down a loose gully on Ice’s NE face that saved me a lot of time and I worked my way back down below West Apostle’s imposing East Face.
As I left the basin below the Three Apostles I kept snapping pictures to try to capture the incredible beauty of these peaks.
Luckily I ran into my brother at the Lake Ann Junction and we headed back to the TH. That afternoon we headed into Buena Vista to take showers and get some supplies. We drove back to near the Missouri Gulch TH and camped in preparation for our climb of Belford and Oxford. I was really tired after we had dinner and went to bed around 8PM.
We headed up from the MO Gulch TH around 5:45AM as the masses began to roll in. We made short work of the steep switchbacks and arrived at tree line as the morning sun began to illuminate Belford’s summit. On all TR I’ve read for B/O where people have descended via Elkhorn Pass, the author says something along the lines of “Next time I do B/O I’m going to climb it via Elkhorn Pass.” So I was determined to avoid the switchback slog up Belford’s NW ridge and we stayed right where the Belford Trail splits left and headed up the basin enjoying the gorgeous views, the gentle trail, and relative solitude.
From that junction to Belford’s summit we saw 4 people, and they were all heading towards Missouri Mtn. After the Missouri Mtn. trail split off we saw no one until we arrived at Belford’s very busy summit. I highly recommend this route for climbing B/O. Along the way, the view from Elkhorn Pass into the Pine Creek Drainage was just incredible.
From Belford’s summit we had great views back towards MO Mtn and my summits of the previous day.
The steep, loose descent down Belford on the way to Oxford was a surprise and 30min later I stood atop my Sawatch “14er finisher” Mt Oxford. I went over and tagged the “East Summit” just to be sure I made it to the highest point. Here we relaxed for about an hour or so. Meanwhile, some Ultra-runners including Nick Clark from the Pearl Izumi Ultra Distance Running Team summited after already running MO Mtn, Iowa, Emerald and Belford. We chatted with him on the summit.
We made our way back to Oxford and down to Elkhorn Pass praising the awesomely gentle trail all along the way. After getting beaten on by the sun while hiking down MO Gulch we rested in the shade by the old cabin at tree line. As we rested we overheard a group of campers talking about how one of the girls (the rather rotund one) had washed her underwear in their cooking pot! Her reasoning was that “I don’t want Giardia near my crotch!!!” On that note, we fled down the trail to the TH and drove over to our last TH for this trip: McNasser Gulch.
We made it up to the 2nd switchback on the McNasser Gulch 4WD road where we found a nice campsite. My brother preferred to relax and take another rest day due to pain in his knee. So I set off around 5:45AM up the 4WD road. I passed one truck parked at the gate and made it past tree line just as the morning alpenglow began to burn on Garfield and Grizzly.
I followed the road all the way to the mine and then set off across the tundra under Grizzly’s impressive East Face. I angled up the slope to a very steep grassy ramp right at the base of the East Face that headed right and lead to talus leading to the ridge.
From the ridge I scrambled up solid rock until some cliffs blocked the path. Here I found a use trail that traversed across gravelly slopes past these obstacles and then found solid rock that took me back up to the ridge.
When I reached the summit ridge I had a bird’s eye view down on the gorgeous Grizzly Lake.
And across to the incredibly rugged faces of PT13,631 and PT13482 on the other side of the Lincoln Creek valley. From Grizzly’s summit I relaxed for about an hour with my head on a swivel as I gazed at the spectacular views that surrounded me. From the summit I spotted one other person hiking up McNasser Gulch, probably the person from the truck I saw at the gate. I headed down Grizzly’s South Ridge towards Garfield Peak and there I ran into a guy who had climbed the West Slopes route. We chatted for a bit and then I continued on to Garfield Peak. Use trails were easy to follow and once I got to the cliffy section on Garfield I scrambled up gullies to the summit.
Here I chilled for 30min or so as I looked back across to Grizzly and noticed a couple more people had summited. The contrast of the business of Belford and Oxford and the solitude on Grizzly/Garfield was quite stark. Man that 12’ really makes ALL the difference apparently!
I headed towards the saddle with East Garfield and skied the scree down to the basin below in about 5min or less. Here gentle tundra led me back to the 4WD road as the sun’s illumination of the red volcanic rocks contrasted nicely with the greenness of the high alpine tundra.
All in all it was an awesome trip, with awesome weather, and great success. To celebrate, we stopped at the South Park Bowl in Fairplay on the way home and feasted on their breakfast burritos and delicious pancakes. Soooooooooo yummmmmmmy!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):