Peak(s):  "West Partner Pk"  -  13,041 feet
Date Posted:  10/20/2013
Date Climbed:   06/10/2013
Author:  gore galore
 Figuring Out West Partner Peak: Peak Names, Might Pass, Partner Traverse and Southeast Face Route   

Figuring Out West Partner Peak: Peak Names, Might Pass, Partner Traverse and Southeast Face Route
West Partner Peak, 13,041

by gore galore

I am hiking the Pitkin Creek Trail of the Gore Range to Pitkin Lake where I can pitch my tent to figure out some things about the Partner Peaks, most specifically West Partner Peak. I often look at peaks in terms of layers of factoids, things that need to be figured out to fully understand the peaks I am climbing. In the case of West Partner Peak one of the things to figure out is the sequence of names the peak has carried through time.

If we begin with the most recent uplifts that formed in late Tertiary time when the Gore Range was elevated to its present height, the range and its summits did not have any recorded semblance or shape until it was mapped by the Hayden Survey in 1873. The finely drawn lines of 200 foot contour intervals of the Hayden Atlas of 1877 give only rudimentary scope and understanding to the "Gores Mts." It is difficult to find any distinct summits among the faint drainage patterns in the interior of the range except for the peaks labeled as Blue River Pk and Mt Powell in the north and Red Peak in the south.

The late nineteenth century township range maps I have seen begin to identify peaks in the southern portion of the range where prospecting and some mining took hold. Peaks labeled as Chief Mtn, Buffalo Mt and Red Peak Mt show shape and form between creeks and valleys. Further north around the vicinity of Black Lake ridges are drawn in fanciful cauliflower shapes separated by straight valleys with squiggly lines indicating creeks.

But the most salient feature of these maps occurs in the great interior of the Gore Range along its crest where the present name of West Partner Peak is located. A township range map edition of 1909 with surveys completed in 1907 shows a large white blank area stretching from Powell Mountain southeast along the crest to Bloodshaw Mountain and labeled in big black capital letters as "UNSURVEYABLE."

I suspect during that time if anyone went up the creek valley known today as Pitkin Creek they would only see the unnamed peaks above the lake as insurmountable or troublesome ridge crests certainly not something to climb.

In 1934 the U. S. Geological Survey solved the blank spaces of "UNSURVEYABLE" terrain with the publication of the Minturn 15M Quadrangle map based on surveys of 1930. The peaks known today as West Partner Peak and East Partner Peak now had elevation identities of 13021 (West) and 13019 (East). Pitkin Creek has its name with a trail shown in the valley but the lake is only identified as 11276.

I am not aware of any recorded climbs of these peaks during that time but surely there must have been some and any climbers no doubt would say they now climbed Peak 13021. Later in time I knew that the Juniors of the Colorado Mountain Club on their summer outing of 1958 climbed Peak 13021 and identified it as such. This peak situation would stay static for 32 years from the publication of the Minturn Quad map until 1966 when the Colorado Mountain Club held its summer Wilderness Outing in the Gore Range.

In a preview article to the outing leader William Mounsey wrote in the April, 1966 issue of "Trail and Timberline" that "logically the lettering system could be extended to include the peaks around the head of the main Slate Creek, and the alphabet would last just long enough to get the job done." (The peaks are located around the head of the south fork of Slate Creek.) Peak 13021' becomes U and Peak 13019' becomes V. The lettering system of A through T was initiated in 1932 and 1933. A and B for Eagles Nest and Mount Powell are hardly ever used.

The question for me now becomes when did the Partner Peak names take hold? A couple of things have to fall into place to solve this sequence of names. The 1966 outing report written by Mounsey is not specific in peaks climbed but does state "nearly every peak from A to Q has been climbed." Thus if Peak 13021 has been climbed, it would be identified by its letter designation of Peak U.

An important part of the name sequence is solved when I recently located and corresponded with Mark Bostwick who made some significant early Gore Range summit climbs in the 1950's and 1960's. Coincidentally he sent me a type written trip report of his climb of Peak 13021 from 1965. He states the peak has "no name just the altitude." I now know with this information that the names of West Partner Peak and East Partner Peak have to come into play after the letter designations of Peak U and Peak V of 1966. But when does this occur?

I find the answer in the files of the Ormes Orotaxonomy Committee of the Colorado Mountain Club which in 1969 proposed 15 new names for Gore Peaks from suggestions by Bob Ormes. Two of the names from his list of "Gore Names" are:
2. West Partner, 13,021 on Minturn 15' Quad and,
3. East Partner, 13,019 on same quad, 1 mile ESE of West Partner, both on range crest.
"Linked names are proposed because of proximity and close altitudes. (These now have alphabetical designations U and V respectively.)"

It is unknown to me whether the Partner Peak names are Ormes originals or came from someone else and suggested by Ormes. In his venerable black cover "Guide to the Colorado Mountains," sixth revised edition, 1970 Ormes writes that East and West Partner Peaks "are tentative names which have C.M.C. approval and will in most cases be submitted to the U. S. Board of Geographic Names." These names never made it onto the U. S. G. S. maps because of the Gore Range primitive area status and the pending wilderness designation of the range but they have come into predominating use and have prevailed their letter designations.

Robert Ormes would also self publish four books of "Colorado Skylines," as road side guides to the identification of Colorado's mountains. These little known books are long forgotten now but in Book II "The Parks," 1969 I find the first known printed reference to West Partner Peak and East Partner Peak. Drawings of a 15-mile section from Vail Pass to Vail Village note two points which are "cones at the head of south Slate Creek - West and East Partner - matched for height at 13021 and 13019."

There are two other earlier names that Ormes had proposed for the Partner Peaks. In his files is a list of "Name Suggestions - Gore Range," no date, from which I find the following:
4. "Ruddy Gore," USGS altitude 13,021'
"Suggestion is for a pair name with Bloody Gore. It was my impression when I first saw the Gore summits in 1921 at sunset from the top of the Mount of the Holy Cross that the name had to do with the redness of the mountains."
5. "Bloody Gore," USGS altitude 13,019'
"A coupling name with Bloody Gore, with similar reasoning."

In 1921 Bob Ormes, not yet seventeen, joined Albert Ellingwood and Eleanor Davis and Eleanor Bartlett on a month long mountaineering expedition to the Sawatch and Mosquito ranges. In his third person autobiography "Farewell to Ormes" he writes they were late reaching the summit of Holy Cross. "North and a little east of them was a long crest spired with sharp pinnacles, more spectacular than any they had seen. 'The Gore Range,' the leader told them, and Rob, who knew nothing of Sir St. George Gore, supposed it was named for the rich red that the dying sun cast on its flanks."

I have never seen the names "Ruddy Gore" and "Bloody Gore" used in print before and I think it is fortunate these names never came into prominence not only because the Partner Peak names are such great names but also because although the Partner Traverse has been done a number of times who in their wildest moment would ever consider attempting the "Ruddy, Bloody Traverse" between "Ruddy Gore" and "Bloody Gore?"

It is fortunate I have reached camp at Pitkin Lake with daylight to spare because thinking about the above name sequence factoids can highly stress the following mornings climb but I am largely immune to this because these are things about a peak that have to be figured out.

From my small spot of bare ground that has melted away from a couple of trees I can look up past the half-frozen lake and the snow-covered benches of the cirque to the orange color of the obelisk on the ridge that marks the mighty Might Pass. This is the apex and entrance to descending into the upper reaches of the benches of the south Slate Creek cirque and the base of the southeast face route on West Partner Peak.

Might Pass is a name that appears on Bob Ormes' "Gore - Tenmile Atlas," 1978. This atlas is the second most important map of the Gore Range in understanding names and trails and some routes used or suggested with marked dotted lines for approaching the peaks. Some of the names on the atlas have taken hold; others fortunately have not.

The atlas is one in a series of nine self published atlases by Ormes covering much of "Colorado's most rugged mountain areas." In his autobiography "Farewell to Ormes" written in the third person Ormes describes the work on these maps as "many of the peaks and valleys he visited were at least as pleasing to explore for routes as the regions of fourteeners and far less traveled." I sometimes wonder whether those who have explored the list of obscure thirteeners or twelvers have perhaps unknowingly followed one of Bob's dotted lines on his maps.

Might Pass is a name that has apparently come into usage. I once met another on the Pitkin Creek Trail who upon learning that I was going to cross the range from Pitkin Lake into the south fork Slate Creek valley asked if I was crossing at Might Pass. Other names of passes on the atlas that I have seen used in trip reports are Useable Pass (usually spelled as Usable) and Central Pass.

There are of course the passes that are well known like Uneva Pass, Eccles Pass and Red Buffalo Pass in the southern part of the range. There are the cardinal direction passes of East Traverse Pass and South Traverse Pass along with East Booth Pass and West Booth Pass. The passes we have gone over but probably didn't think they had a name are noted like Game Pass and Druid Pass and Snow Lake Pass.

Then there are the rare passes of June Pass and Boomer Pass. I have gone over June Pass in August and always have wondered if there was any special significance for the month of June name.

In the central part of the range are the sinister sounding passes of the Gore Range, the aforementioned Might Pass along with Posthole Pass, Slednot Pass and Bergschrundt Pass, the most perilous pass of them all with the notation of "(take rope)." I have once dared myself to stand at the top of Bergschrundt Pass while continuing on the route to that day's objective of climbing "Bergschrundt Point."

Curiously, the atlas doesn't have a name in place for the best-known pass of the Gore Range being Kneeknocker Pass. This name would come into play about a decade later and is not one of Ormes' pass names. The atlas also lacks an historic pass that Ormes probably wasn't aware of being Wilkinson Pass next to Buffalo Mountain.

Finally, there are passes in the southern part of the range that some of us east side locals use that came much later in time like Flat Pass because it really is flat and Seldom Pass because seldom has anyone went across it.

From this dizzying array of pass names I have to shift my focus back to Might Pass for in the early morning I find myself passing by the lake and climbing the snow of the benches of the cirque to the final crest of the ridge at Might Pass. It is noted on the atlas to "use lowest saddle SE of W Partner." There is nothing of a saddle to the pass and those doing the Partner Traverse are probably not aware of it because behind the obelisk most attention is on the key gendarme on the southeast ridge of the West Partner side of the traverse. Some have used the rope to climb over the gendarme, others like myself have used the crack on its west face to cross over rope less. I call it the "no tumbling allowed here crack" because you will certainly be impaled on the talus below.

In 1953 Bob and Dorothy Swartz of Boulder traversed the ridge between the Partner Peaks becoming the earliest known to accomplish the Partner Traverse long before it and the peaks were known as such. Bob indicated his route on the ridge in red on the map I sent him in 1984. He commented in his letter to me that "I have indicated a second trip up Pitkin Creek to pick up two additional summits." These summits were Peak 13021 and Peak 13019. There are no further details in his letter as to the use of a rope or whether they stayed true to the ridge but both of the Swartz's were accomplished technical and winter climbers during the 1940's and 1950's.

But I am not going that way of the crack again and my attention this time is on the narrow defile of the pass in the east side cirque wall. I wonder what that opposite side will look like this time. I have descended when it was full of rubble, then frozen rubble with snow and ice using crampons and ice axe and now this time I consider myself lucky because it is flush with snow.

I dive into it plunge stepping down quickly realizing my luck is only momentary as the further down I go the more I am sinking up to my calves. The previous days have been bright and sunny just like this one is turning out to be which bodes not well for the southeast face route.

I make my way over the benches to the base of the southeast face of West Partner Peak. My hopes have now sunk as far as my calves. I console myself with the fact that I have met patches of more solid snow but that is still some shaky ground to stand upon contemplating this climb.

I stand facing the apron looking up at the small curled cornices of the southeast ridge of West Partner. I have no information on this climb other than what I can see in front of me and the contour lines on a topographic map. From the apron the face angles to the right parallel and below the southeast ridge until it steepens and narrows its course to intersect with the ridge far above at a point I know not where.

This is decidedly a decision point. There is the question of, should I start this southeast face climb with these conditions? Mountaineering has mostly been a solitary pursuit of mine and I have faced multitudes of decisions over the years. There is that small category of feeling right about doing something while keeping mental resistance in check with heightened awareness. And I am also on the wrong side of Might Pass now.

I decide to go forward and find that my progress is slow as I use both hands on the axe in front of me as my feet sink down into the snow. In this manner of purchasing my axe above me and securing my steps in the soft snow I make my way up the apron as it begins to curve to the right into the face proper. At the axis of the curve there are some exposed rocks where running water pours over the surface. I make my way over for a drink.

The sun beats down from a blue sky in mid morning. There are no clouds to cover the sun. I have long noticed that a perfectly placed or partial passing cloud across the sun can make a noticeable difference in the firmness of snow on a warm day. But there is none on this day and I am not sure if it would make such a difference now.

As I climb higher, I do begin to notice the ever so slightly cooler air has its subtle effects on the snow. I find that I am not sinking in as far and I can now use one hand on my axe. The small curling cornices of the southeast ridge above and to my left capture most of my attention and awareness as I climb upward. Later when I prepare to descend West Partner Peak I look down at what little I can see of the route when small chunks of spindrift break from somewhere on the ridge and fall into the face.

I have about four hundred feet to go and it is only at the top of the face that I can front point and put the pick of the axe in the snow. I am quite anxious to see where this climb ends. Fortunately I don't have a cornice to contend with as the snow ends against the rocks like the surf on a beach. My head pops over the ridge and I am relieved to see that I am on the summit ridge. It is only a short walk across to the summit.

There is a slight trembling sensation that I feel as I approach the summit. I am unable to tell at this moment if it is coming from within me or the peak itself but it does sharpen my senses as to my surroundings. I look down to the north and there are the distinctive towers of the Rockinghorse Ridge. I tell myself that is a wild carousel of a ride for anyone who chances riding that Rockinghorse. Just look at it!

Before I can linger too long at its sight, a sweep of my hand to the right reveals three peaks poking upwards from their encircling blankets of snow. Certainly these are the Howser Towers surrounded by their glaciers. Say what? You say. O. K. I know. I've been to the Bugaboos a couple of times and Peak Q, R and S are nothing of the Howsers but you can indulge my thinking for a moment.

Before I can dwell on those peaks, I am looking into the big north face of East Partner Peak all rock ribbed and plastered in white with those curling cornices of its west ridge. Fortunately geologic time hired the finest artisans of masonries and plasterers to construct this peak. Do I dare think that somewhere on that north face there is a white spider?

Before I can answer my own question I am turning toward the west and there is The Spider of the Gore Range. It sends shivers through me every time I see that peak.

There is a lot going on now from the top of West Partner Peak and the slight trembling that I encountered upon approaching the summit I detect now as the shaking of the peak itself more so I think than since those cataclysmic uplifts of late Tertiary time and long before the peak was known as 13021, Peak U, West Partner Peak or even "Ruddy Gore." I had better control my thinking at what I am seeing from my flight of fancy and as my boots touch back down on the summit I ready preparations for my descent amidst all these shaking sensations.

I cross back over the summit ridge and stop to look down the southeast face which is only partially visible from its top. It is at this moment when the chunks of spindrift break off and hurdle downward. I linger momentarily here to admire the route on this peak I have climbed.

I make my descent below and on the west side of the southeast ridge and then with one detour cross over the south ridge and descend the benches above Pitkin Lake following my melting tracks in the snow to the bare spot of my tent. I take some time to look up at West Partner Peak telling myself that peak certainly has a lot of factoids about it but I think now I have figured out most of West Partner Peak.

Comments or Questions

Another east side local
10/20/2013 16:48
Interesting and informative as always. I have been familiar with Might Pass and Central Pass for quite some time, but I just have to know where is Bergschrundt Pass?

gore galore
Bergschrundt Pass
10/21/2013 07:17
This pass from the Ormes Atlas is on the main divide separating the Bighorn Creek valley from the Boulder Creek valley above Upper Boulder Lake. The ”take rope” notation on the Atlas refers to the cirque face on the Boulder Creek side of the pass where the snow recedes from the face. ”Bergschrundt Point” 12,361 marks the pass. A hardly known pass probably not often used as it seems more prudent to cross Useable Pass from the Pitkin Creek side valley into the upper Boulder Creek valley.


10/21/2013 15:52
West Partner is one of the few Gore peaks I have done. Thank you for your perspective - and as always, I need to read your reports several times. Your attention to the history of the Gores is much appreciated.


10/21/2013 18:07 good as any dissertation I am aware of. Loved the history intermixed with your climbing experience. So very well articulated. Thanks so much for this wonderful description & story.

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