| Lackawanna - south slopes in prime condition
"Lackawanna Peak" (13,823)
From: Upper Lake Creek TH on CO 82
Approx: 3.8 mi, 3360 ft
Partners: Dominic, Hermann
I've been toying with climbing "Lackawanna" for several months now, but the steepness of the south slopes and mixed comments about the exact route and avalanche dangers dissuaded me. The time had come though to find out for myself. Dominic's friend Hermann was visiting for the weekend and when the ever worsening weather forecast spoiled their grand rock climbing plans they decided to spend the weekend hiking with me instead. "Lackawanna" seemed like a good option for the first day given its short length. It would be a good test piece to see how the altitude would effect poor non-acclimated Hermann.
When we left town Saturday morning the weather was discouraging – it was snowing and the roads were slick. However, once through the Eisenhower tunnel things immediately dried up. We followed Roach's directions to the Upper Lake Creek TH on CO 82 and parked within a quarter mile of the place he describes. Really, the best place to park would have been directly next to a large meadow – we parked slightly past it.
We walked back down the road a bit to the meadow and started climbing northeast up an obvious treeless area. We took the path of least resistance through some minor willows and up the steep slopes, our goal being to gain Lackawanna's southish ridge. Snowshoes were not at all necessary – in fact the ground was dry in most places. We soon came to a shallow gully filled with snow and prepared to cross to its east side to gain the ridge. After some thought though, I proposed that we stay in the nicely consolidated gully, put our snowshoes on for traction and the heel elevators, and cruise on up instead of rock hopping on the ridge. The plan was well accepted and Hermann was happy to be able to try out the snowshoes (growing up in South Africa and spending the last 6 years in Arizona didn't allow for much playing in the snow). The gully was like a highway and I had visions of a nice glissade on the way back. From the gully we had spectacular views of Star Mountain, a high 12er across the road. The weather was holding quite nicely - partly sunny, partly cloudy.
At around 12,600 ft the walls around the gully got steeper and the gully didn't look all that safe anymore. We could see a large cornice above and there were big chucks of slabby snow below – evidence of a past avalanche I suspect. Although the snow was in great shape, we didn't want to risk it. We stashed our snowshoes, gradually climbed out of the gully and onto the ridge, and continued the steep ascent. I was quite amazed at how fast Hermann was climbing but worried that it might have negative consequences later. The wind picked up for the last several hundred feet, but it was no more than a nuisance. After 3 hours of relentless elevation gain we were standing on the summit. The views of the Casco group, Elbert, Bull Hill, and La Plata were spectacular.
There was a great place out of the wind for a relaxing summit break. So far Hermann was fairing well – only a slight headache. Soon we all started getting cold and it was time to head back. Hermann found negotiating the steep, slippery, rocky slopes back to the gully a little difficult, but after a few slips and slides made it safely.
Once back in the gully we strapped our snowshoes to our packs and began to investigate to possibility of a glissade. At first the gully wasn't quite steep enough, but we were soon on a long slide. It felt kind of like a water slide at an amusement park because of the perfectly curved sides of the gully. It was never that steep and I never had to use my axe even to brake. I found that I could go faster sometimes by lying on my side rather than sliding on my entire butt. I made a nice little groove for Dominic and Hermann to slide in. I estimate the total length of the slide to be between 1500-2000 feet and we only had to stand up once or twice near the bottom. This was by far the longest glissade I've ever had. Hermann said that it was as much fun as he's had since Kindergarten, but he felt pretty "seasick" afterwards. We sat around for a while, Dominic with his camera ready to snap a shot of his good buddy puking, but it never happened. From there it was a very quick walk back to the car. Our total round trip time was less than 5 hours – definitely the easiest hike I've done in a while.
pictures & route map: