South Piney Bristle (12100’)
Peak C (13220’)
C Prime (13100’)
Peak D (13047’)
Peak E (13220’)
17 miles RT, 7500’ gain
July 20-21, 2013
Participants: Sarah Strattan & Kevin Baker
Peak C is a dramatic 13er next to its lofty neighbor Powell that sees few ascents, which is the case for most of the Gore 13ers. Sarah and I visited the Piney River basin last year for a day hike of F and G. We marveled at the views of Ripsaw Ridge from F. I was hoping to do Peak C as a snow climb, but it didn’t happen this spring. Sarah and I both have a goal of doing all of the letter peaks in the Gore, so hitting the rest of Ripsaw Ridge was a nice goal!
Most of Ripsaw ridge visible from Piney Lake
We got off to a leisurely start packing in Sat with a great forecast and a goal of hitting overlooked 3rd class 12er South Piney Bristle. We made our way up the familiar trail from Piney Lake to the Eagle Nest Wilderness. It was strange to come across day hikers already coming down on our late pack in. We decided to setup camp about ½ mile south of where the trail heads south towards upper Piney Lake at around 10000 feet. This would put us in great position the next morning on the initial climb to Peak C and is also makes for a short but steep climb of South Piney Bristle.
Warmup hike on South Piney Bristle
We setup camp and had lunch before setting out for the grunt up South Piney. We followed the serpentine trail for about ¾ mile south until we were directly across a prominent avy chute. The avy chute has some brush to weave through early on, but is mostly steep grass higher up, which made for an efficient climb despite the heat and some pesky skeeters. We crested the south ridge next to a huge, lingering cornice and enjoyed a short scramble up the summit block on the southwest side.
Huge cornice remnant on South Piney's south ridge
Short scramble up South Piney Bristle
Ripsaw Ridge from South Piney Bristle
Steepness is taken to a new level in the Gores, even on the easy peaks. We bust up 1600’ vertical in ¾ mile, but luckily there is no talus to deal with. This 12er has some pretty sweet views of Ripsaw Ridge, our goal for tomorrow. The descent is steep, but efficient and quick.
Sarah crossing Piney River
The next morning dawns crisp and cool with a bluebird forecast in the works, so we get a less than alpine start of 6:30am as the bushwacking begins in earnest right out of camp. We are uncertain what the day will hold as we hope to run the ridge from C to E including C Prime, a spectacular perch which is supposed to go at 4th class. The key to the approach to Peak C is finding a waterfall not marked on the map at treeline. It can be seen in spots from the trail, and we get glimpses of it on the steep bushwack to keep us on track.
Key waterfall to find on the approach to C
A grassy ramp right of the waterfall is the easiest line, and we are now in s spectacular tarn filled cirque with C’s west face soaring above. The deeply inset couloir is easy to pick out and we make good time to the apron. The apron is a nasty boulder field, but there is grass and dirt in spots to avoid the worst of it.
At the base of the rubble filled s.w. couloir of C
C is best done as a snow climb, and this couloir is not much fun without. There are 3 small sections of snow that are easily avoided. The Gores had a below average spring in snowfall as sometimes this couloir can be snow filled into August. The rockfall potential is real in this couloir, and we move one at a time when it narrows near the top. It is tough not to be in the line of fire when it gets narrow. We pay attention to the right side of the couloir on the way up and locate the key ledge that marks the start of the Ripsaw traverse at 12820’.
There was some snow in the couloir, but it could be avoided.
We top out at the skinny 13K notch and are rewarded with a pretty sweet view of the Bubble Lakes below.
The view down the other side of the dramatic notch at the top of the s.w. couloir
Looking down from the top of the s.w. couloir
The crux on C is a nifty little 4th class dihedral right out of the notch, then we angle slightly left to easier terrain, where it’s mostly 3rd class scrambling until we regain the ridge crest, where there is a sporty downclimb right before the summit. This can easily avoided to the left.
Sarah on the 4th class crux on the south ridge.
Sarah and C Prime. The route on C Prime is luckily on the back side!
Powell from the top of C
Ripsaw Ridge from C. E is the dual summits to the right of the snowfields on G.
The weather looks good, so we enjoy a nice break at the top of C. Peak E looks a LONG ways away from C, even though it is a bit less than 2 miles. To save some time, we decide to descend the easier s.w. face back down to the couloir, which deposits us right at the exit.
C Prime on the descent to the couloir.
Looking down to the key ledge to begin the traverse.
There is some loose junk that we crab walk down to enter the couloir. The ledge on the other side is much wider than I expected and brings us to the base of another loose gully that splits above. We take the left branch hoping it will bring us close to the summit block.
Another loose gully climb on C Prime's west face. We take the left branch higher up.
We weave our way up via the path of least resistance and find the crux to be a hard 4th class move made 100 feet below the summit to avoid a stiffer dihedral that I backed off of.
Sarah on the C Prime crux.
Once above this crux, the terrain relented and we topped out on the tiny summit. The summit boulder reminded me of Snowmass, but there is more air on the backside! It had taken us an hour to figure out the maze from C to C Prime!
The exhilarating summit of C Prime!
We reversed our line down the face and felt comfortable on the stiffer parts facing in. I’m pretty sure we took the easiest line.
Looking back at C Prime. The route zigs back and forth up this face via the path of least resistance.
Onwards to D
Sarah is excited to kick 3 steps on a lingering cornice.
The general rule of thumb on the Ripsaw Ridge traverse is to stay right (west side) of any difficulties. Most of the east side of the ridge is sheer drop-offs. We stayed at our near the crest of the ridge with minimal scrambling until about the 12600’ contour line, where the north ridge of D gets pretty stiff. We ended up wrapping all the way around at least a couple ribs on the west face for the easiest line on the s.w. face. I think the n.w. face would go, but it was hard to tell for sure.
Nearing D summit
The traverse to E is not too bad either with diligent routefinding, although it is very time consuming. We once again skirted right when it made sense until meeting a father/son team who was coming off the false summit of E. I think this may have been the first time I had actually seen somebody else climbing a peak in the Gores! They were facing in coming down and it looked to be low 5th class, so we skirted this summit right to a cairned notch and traversed across to the s.w. face, which was mostly 3rd class. We topped out a bit over 4 hours including summit breaks after starting out from C, a distance of just a bit under 2 miles! Hats off to those who have gone all the way from C to G as that would have been a super long day for us!
Onwards to E
E false summit
I was looking forward to perusing the old summit register on E, which dates back to 1948! There were some gaps in visitors as much as 10 years apart! These Gore summits see few visitors, but they are seeing more in recent years.
It looked like the weather was going to hold all day, so we enjoyed a long stay on top of E. I hadn’t read of any descent route off E, but we spotted a possible line north of E’s false summit. We couldn’t tell for sure whether or not it cliffed out, but it would be an expedient descent if it went. The top of the face was steep grass, then we had a minor cliff band to split and Sarah did a great job finding a line that was reasonable with only a little crab walking required. The terrain steepened again around treeline, but we were able to weave our way down some minor rock outcroppings and popped out on the trail in an open meadow about ½ mile south of camp! We quickly tore down camp after some refueling and made it back to Piney Lake at 8:30, and got a chance to see the resident moose pretty close! One of the ranch employees told us to not move until he was a safe distance. After we passed by, another ranch hand or guest said “If he comes at ya, make sure there’s always a tree between you and it.” You never know what will happen on a 13er adventure! I look forward to coming back to the area for the Corners someday!
Looking back at the traverse from E