| A Gore Range Melange: "Vista Peak", North Micro Ridge, Pinnacle, Tower and North Peak
A Gore Range Melange: "Vista Peak", North Micro Ridge, Pinnacle, Tower and North Peakby gore galore
This was a trip to rediscover and explore a peak in the Gore Range that I had climbed in 1980. Like a number of Gore Range mountains Peak 13,075 on the main divide of the range separating the Pitkin Creek and Boulder Creek valleys was simply known in those days by its map elevation figure. In the last decade or so this peak has gained acceptance by its name of “Vista Peak”. I believe somewhere on one of the climbing web sites was posted the question as to the origin of the name. It is a Theron Welch appellation from a 2000 climb. He writes, “My hike over to the saddle was awesome. The view of Point 13,075 from this side is absolutely stunning, hence the nickname ‘Vista’ or ‘Vista Peak’.” The saddle he notes in his narrative appears to be “Useable Pass” between the above two mentioned valleys.
Summitpost has a “Vista Peak” page that comes up with an additional name for the small peak of 12,640 on the ridge south from the pass. It is noted as “North Vista Peak”. This peak has a couple of contour lines stacked up to make it a summit. We may call it by its name of “North Vista Peak” as long as it knows it is fully subordinate to its parent “Vista Peak”. The web page also has an interesting observation for me in that it shows a picture of a very prominent pinnacle on the north ridge of “Vista Peak”. This was enough incentive for me to climb the peak again and to explore this pinnacle for its climbing possibility and ultimately as to whether it had been climbed before.
I also seem to remember another one of the climbing sites several years ago had Peak 13,075 tagged as Peak Y. But Peak Y is safely secured on the ridge between Peak X and Peak Z. All of the lettered peak locations come from the elevation locations on Kenneth Segerstrom’s hand drawn “Map of A Portion of the Gore Range” from 1935. We are fortunate that the pioneer climbers knew well their abc’s for they got their alphabet right in naming the lettered peaks in the Gore Range.
The Pitkin Creek trail approach to climb “Vista Peak” is one that I have taken so many times that I practically know it by rote just as a schoolboy knows his abc’s. A freakish occurrence happened many years ago on this trail below the first waterfall when unknown to me until the last second a bounding deer came off the hillside almost blind siding me on its leaps and bounds across the trail. I am sure if it had hit me I would have ended up like an auto fender in the body shop undergoing repair.
I have a small campsite that I use below the second waterfall whenever the days become shorter or when I think that there might be a lot of climbing and exploring to fit into one day. In this case it is a combination of both as the exploratory aspect and what I might face in a shortened time frame suggests camping. I actually don’t mind making a day trip into an overnight one because I have gotten rid of carrying a stove and fuel a long time ago in favor of a bagel sandwich and some M&M’s or peanuts.
When morning comes I take the trail above the second falls to gain the drainage of the northeast side valley of Pitkin Creek. Point 12,710 at the head of the valley points the way to “Useable Pass”. I shortcut the pass climbing the west slopes to “North Vista Peak”. I now have the same view as the Summitpost page depicts. I can see from here that I am not going to be able to climb the sheerness of the pinnacle on the north ridge of “Vista Peak” from this approach. This suggests that I find a route to the right of the ridge and when I do a talus gully leads me to an ample notch on the opposite side of the pinnacle directly below “Vista Peak”. I call this my staging notch from which I can explore a number of things.
The Summitpost picture also shows something of the surprising tower to the east of the pinnacle and peak and lower in the cirque. It doesn’t even register on the topographic map as a separate entity. I traverse the ledges below the pinnacle to its end where I am unable to down climb to the notch at the tower’s base. It wouldn’t make a difference if I could have for the face of the tower from this side was too much for me to even make an attempt. I call it “Vista Tower”.
While retreating from the tower on the same ledges I look at some potential routes on the pinnacle. The most reasonable seems to be a chimney which splits the southwest face. I climb the lower part until a large step in the chimney forces me to consider part of the face on the left as an alternative. Unable to determine if this route would go I retreat to the safety of the staging notch.
The remedy for this dilemma of course is to seek higher ground where I can see where the chimney route would lead me. Accordingly I descend a loose gully towards the cirque to get around a rib coming off the upper north ridge of “Vista Peak” and then climb upwards on the weaknesses of the cirque face to the summit.
While on the summit a couple of things happen. A certain feeling of satisfaction for this range comes over me. A peculiar thin white light that I imagine is due to a certain type of cloud cover settles over the range highlighting the bony structure and spiny nature of these peaks. Geologic time put a lot of thought into creating this range. There is hardly a hint of fat in the construction of these peaks and points and ridges and cirques and valleys. A very healthy range in my thoughts and one that I have come to know from many years as they roll into several decades.
I also note that my chimney route on the pinnacle looks feasible from this perspective. It seems to lay back near its top to meet the point of the summit. In order to get back to the staging notch below the pinnacle I consider down climbing the needle point micro upper north ridge of “Vista Peak”. Earlier from the staging notch I had made an attempt on this ridge finding there was not much leeway among threading the points of the ridge. The crux came at a shelf where I would have to stretch while lowering myself to reach two footholds over a void to a secure ledge. I was not willing to take the chance and retreated.
In Theron’s narrative he writes of being either on this upper ridge of “Vista Peak” or the lower north ridge anchored by the pinnacle. “We started to climb the ridge over to the saddle but it got really difficult really fast. We both went in opposite directions around some towers looking for a passage ... but after several minutes, we found none. There’s no sense in attempting a risky route so we backed down and traversed underneath the ridge along some steep snowy slopes.” Once at the saddle he further notes, “It was a good thing that we retreated because, from this vantage point, it appeared that the ridge got even more precipitous and difficult.” Theron’s snowy slopes and earlier mention of icy walls in the cirque from his October climb are in stark contrast to the more favorable dry conditions of the rock that I have to work with.
I look down at the ridge from the summit perspective and tell myself that if I can make it to the secure ledge below the footholds I will feel more comfortable climbing this crux than down climbing it. I descend staying near the top of this micro ridge until I am forced to take a slim sloping shelf on the left. This leads to more down climbing into a groove to a point where the micro ridge is almost pinched in half. But from this pinched point I can reach the secure ledge underneath the footholds. I step up on one and testing and trusting my handholds on the shelf above I take the next step above the void as I pull myself onto the shelf. Now it is only a matter of threading the needle points and final down climb to the staging notch.
I am almost ready to call it a day but talk myself into giving the chimney route on the pinnacle another try. I traverse the ledges to its beginnings and start with the hand and foothold sequences that I remember from my earlier attempt. When I get to the large step I have to move out of the chimney to the face on the left. This leaves me in an exposed position but on better rock as I climb this short detour to the top of the step. The upper part of the chimney meets the summit point and a short climb gets me on top. There is no indication of previous ascent on the summit nor is there any record that I can find for this pinnacle. Except for Theron’s report there appears to be nothing in modern day trip reports that even suggests climbing possibilities on the north side of “Vista Peak”. I make a cairn and leave a record of my ascent of “Vista Pinnacle”. It is past 2:30 PM when I begin my slow down climb from the summit to the staging notch. A final look around and I head down toward “North Vista Peak” and its west slopes to the side valley and then the trail. I break camp, finish my bagel sandwich, grab a handful of M&M’s and I am on my way out.
Two weeks later I return to my campsite intending to explore “Vista Tower” for a route. I head partly up the northeast side drainage again and climb the west slopes to the ridge south of “Vista Peak”. I can probably make it down the rubble slopes of the cirque to the base of the tower but I have been slow getting to the ridge at 11:30 AM. I look at the descent, then again at the tower and the time it would take to find a route if I could even find one that I could climb and then the ascent back to the ridge. I decide this is an exploration for another time. Besides Mount Solitude is calling from above. It looks very fine with its north face crusted with one of the season’s first snows.
I am slow also in getting to Solitude but for another reason. I can’t help looking back every so often at the bold relief of “Vista Peak”, its needle point micro north ridge, pinnacle and tower. A very fine presence indeed. When I get to the summit of Solitude I realize on this dividing ridge between the Pitkin Creek and Boulder Creek valleys there is a point (“Climber’s”), a mount (“Solitude”), a peak (“Vista”) with a ridge (“micro”) and a notch (“staging”), a pinnacle (“Vista”), a tower (“Vista”) and out of sight a sub peak (“North Vista”) and lower down a pass ("Useable").
A reference picture of “Vista Pinnacle” from the north, the staging notch and the needle point micro north ridge of “Vista Peak” can be seen in lordhelmut’s trip report “Ridge Runs in the Gores” in the picture captioned “Vista Peak alpenglow”. “Vista Peak”, however, is not in this picture.