| Saturn V Gladbach Rocket: Winter on Ice
Ice Mountain (13,951ft)
RT: 20 hours c2c
Stats Approx 16 miles and 4,000 gain
Technical Gear: 60m 7.7mm rope, 30m 8mm x 2, 4 cams, assorted nuts, assorted slings/caribiners, 30ft webbing
Climbing Team: Steve (sgladbach), Peter (dereferenced), Sarah (sstratta), Matt (I Man) & Jamie (shanahan96)
The Three Apostles as seen from the slopes of Huron (Mad Mike)
Ice looking reminicisnt of Pyramid Peak
Ice Mountain stands alone among the Sawatch Centennials. Its loose, steep slopes and rugged ridges provide no easy way to the summit. Early last week, I reached out to Steve for some beta on one of Colorado’s more difficult winter 14ers; he answered with a question of his own: “Have you done Ice Mountain?”
Immediately my mind started racing. Sarah and I had recently been up on Huron and seen his track. We had also heard some details about Steve’s attempt through a mutual friend. I responded that I hadn’t and that it would interest me. He let me know that he had already put in 2 attempts and that he believed ropes would be needed. We discussed some logistics and finally decided on a day attempt on Friday. I quickly asked Peter and Sarah if they would be interested, making them fully aware of the danger this route provided. Steve got Jamie and the team was set.
Based on the best information available, Ice Mountain likely saw its first winter ascent last season, but that is unconfirmed. None of us had climbed the ridge before, though we all expected a significant challenge as well as dangerous avalanche terrain. Luckily, we had a good forecast both for snow and weather. Peter and I left Denver after work on Thursday and headed to Vail where we stayed at Sarah’s before meeting Jamie and Steve at the TH at 3:30am Friday morning.
The Winfield town site felt familiar as we had just been there and the excitement of the adventure ahead greatly outweighed the fact that it was the middle of the night. Peter, Sarah and I headed up the road at 3:45 with Steve and Jamie following shortly after. I put on some tunes and zoned out for a while. After about a mile, we put on snowshoes and made good time to the summer TH (Steve was in the lead, whizzing right past, barely noticing the sign of course).
Steve contemplates the route ahead.
The route is long; the Apostles are pretty far back there. The key to the single day attempt would be locating Steve’s old trench and using it to our advantage. We all know how that goes, though, in the dark, while breaking trail…it was no surprise to us when we soon found ourselves lost. We backtracked, crossed the creek and dealt with some unpleasant bushwhacking. The hours wore on as we plodded along…the conversation was good as everyone (as usual) had many stories to tell. By the time the sun began to rise, the first hints of doubt entered our mind. Where were we? We had yet to located Steve’s trench and the trail breaking was slowing us down. By the time the sun was fully in the sky, Jamie had a revelation. “We are headed to Lake Ann!” he called ahead. The rest of us immediately realized he was correct. We were now in the wrong basin, with the sun fully in the sky and a long hard climb ahead. The initial reaction was that we had lost our chance at the summit. Steve made a hard left and sprinted towards the correct basin. We figured we would still give it a go, put in a trench at worst and maybe come back the next day. The weather was warm and we were all relaxed, taking time to visit and enjoy the surroundings.
Our first view of our goal
On one of my turns at breaking trail, I stumbled onto Steve’s old trench and loudly exclaimed that I had found the way. From here we were in the basin looking up at our goal within minutes, but it was late….getting later. Jamie wasn’t feeling well and he had written off a summit attempt. He turned back around 9:30am. The rest of the team continued up the tree covered slopes to the left, mostly following Steve’s trench, and stopped at tree line around 10am.
Steve and I stopped to talk. He let me know that he had been at roughly the same place at the same time on his last solo attempt, and that it had taken 5 hours to gain the saddle. That would put us up there at 2:30pm, with less than 3 hours of daylight to climb the ridge and safely descend to the saddle. I reminded Steve that with a team, perhaps we could shave some time off of that. I was not ready to give up; I wanted to put Steve on top. Sarah and him waited for Peter and had a snack while I pushed the route ahead.
Peter, Sarah and Steve make their way above treeline
The route skirts this ridge point to the right
Mellow slopes that grant access to the upper Apostles Basin
Sometimes I surprise myself, since I am usually fairly slow and suck at trail breaking. Motivated and determined, I pushed ahead and into the upper basin. The hours were passing by, but we were making progress. I was relieved to see a mostly avy safe way to the saddle, but was all too aware of how dangerous the basin would be given just a bit more snow. Either way, there was a ton of it and every step was a post hole. The team traveled spread far apart for a while as we all tried to stay focused and move as quickly as possible. Sarah, being the animal that she is, soon caught up and took over trail breaking duties.
In the Upper Basin - luckily conditiosn were reasonable but this can be a death trap
We linked some flat slopes and steep rock ribs as we approached a gateway on the opposite site of the Fridge. Just before it, we happened upon a questionable slope that was low angle, yet had the potential to slide. Sarah turned back to me and suggested we go one at a time – she would go first. She made her way across as I watched her like a hawk. Half way across Sarah heard a "whumph" as the slab settled around her. Fortunately the slope never did more than settle, and she continued across to safer terrain. I made my way across as Sarah watched, and I, in turn, watched Steve. We then made our way up through rockier terrain towards the North Apostle/Ice Mountain saddle.
Sarah crosses a questionable slope
Crossing some fun snow that was only somewhat sketch
By now it was getting late in the day, but it was still earlier than we had expected. Peter came upon the slope and did not like what he saw. Feeling that he was slowing the team down and knowing that we might actually have a shot, he decided to call it a day. Crossing the slope twice (possibly alone on the descent if he bailed) did not seem worth the risk to him since he did not plan to make the summit. He let Steve know that he would be turning back – just one example of dozens of what a team player and amazing partner Peter is. Sarah and I stashed our snowshoes shortly above the last slope and started making our way to the saddle. It was on.
We topped out on the saddle before 1:30pm – safely before a predetermined turnaround time of 230, had we not gained the saddle. We put on our harnesses and I racked up. I took out a 30 and made a mountaineers coil. Steve was shortly behind and he geared up as well. “I’m going to go ahead and scout the route” I said and I left them to their business.
On the early goings of Ice's ridge
The ridge is rough. There was a ton of snow, the rock is loose with a lot of slabby sections and the exposure is very real…very, very, very real. A slip almost anywhere would result in a short slide followed by a drop over innumerable cliff bands. The downclimb into the first notch took me by surprise as it was solid 4th class on slabs covered in snow. I hadn’t out on crampons and it was all I could do to downclimb safely. Once in the notch, I called back to Steve to ask what we had done on his last attempt. He suggested I traverse the snow to another ridge a couple of hundred feet away and then climb up to a headwall – and that’s what we did.
In the notch scouting out the way ahead
Looking up at the complex terrain on Ice Mtn
The climbing was 3rd class for the most part with some tougher moves here and there, but the ridge was quite exposed on both sides. It was exciting, it was scary, it was everything mountaineering should be. I looked at my watch and my jaw almost dropped. It was after 2:30. The short section had taken us over an hour and was certainly more difficult than Sarah and I were expecting. The 3 of us had a quick pow-wow. We agreed that we would not be downclimbing this terrain in the dark and Sarah and I told Steve we had a turnaround time of 4pm to ensure safe return from the ridge. Just after this, the ropes came out.
Below the headwall, the snow traverse was sketch. Steve made his way half way across and then called back “this is why I wanted ropes.” I took a quick survey of the terrain and told him that a belay was available. I slung a horn and placed a #2, Steve tied in to the 30m and I put him on belay. Within a few minutes he was across the section. I called across saying that we would follow if he set the line fixed. I went next, clipped in with a draw and making my way carefully across the loose, exposed slopes. Sarah followed. The moves to get off of the rope were fairly tough for 4th class, but we managed them. Steve called down to let us know that the route eased ahead – none of us had been this high on this side of the mountain before. Sarah and I continued to scramble up to around 13,800ft. Again, the clock was our enemy. It was 3:45.
Belaying Steve across a sketch snow slope - the key to the route
We conversed back and forth, mostly screaming to hear each other, trying to help Steve located the best route. Finally he decided he wanted to cross the snow slope and try the exit gully. He thought a belay might be nice; I KNEW that Sarah and I would need one. I looked at my watch. 4pm. Shit.
“Steve – its turnaround time, we can’t take out the ropes.” He agreed. He stared up for a few moments and then committed to the snow traverse. Man – that guy has some balls of steel!! Sarah and I looked at each other…we had pushed the route for 12 hours already, we were so close to accomplishing something special – but we were out there…really, really out there. We didn’t need to say anything; we knew what had to be done. “We’re going down!” I called up to Steve. He replied that he wanted to poke around for another 30 minutes and that he would soon follow.
As soon as the decision was made our mind set completely changed and we threw ourselves into retreat. The terrain as complex, the moves were hard and the exposure was scary. The sun was setting. Sarah proved herself once again to be one of the best partners possible as we helped each other find the best way down the peak. Around 430 I turned back and saw Steve setting a rappel at the top of the crux gully. “Well, that’s good he’s safe,” I thought…but I had no idea if he had made the summit.
North Apostle as seen from Ice
Our descent gully that avoided the 4th class slabs to regain the saddle
Sarah and my high point - looking up towards Steve just below the crux
Being the winter peak bagging animal that he is, he rappelled and crossed the fixed rope, broke down the anchor and downclimbed the ridge to meet up with us. As soon as he came into ear shot he let us know that he had made the summit. Sarah and I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. We did not care at all that we had not stood on top, we had just put in a full day’s work to help a friend and an idol achieve his goal. What a feeling. We abandoned plans of bagging North Aposlte once we found a descent gully that would avoid reclimbing the slabs to gain the saddle as the loss would put us too low for a reasonable attempt. Other than being incredibly long and feeling as exhausted as I ever have, the hike out was mostly uneventful and Sarah and I arrived at the car shortly after Steve at 11:30pm…20 hours after we had set out. Once I got back into cell service I had a nice message from James who had been worried sick…thanks Mom!!
All in all this was one of the most memorable days I have spent in the mountains. I could not have asked for a better team, better weather or better views. The lessons learned and memories created are too many too count. This is why I climb; the adventure; the unknown. I know this is the life I want. I am content.
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