Peak(s):  Mears Pk  -  13,496 feet
"S 7"  -  13,220 feet
Ruffner Mtn  -  13,003 feet
"S 8"  -  13,252 feet
Wolcott Mtn  -  13,041 feet
Date Posted:  06/23/2016
Modified:  06/26/2016
Date Climbed:   06/19/2016
Author:  Boggy B
Additional Members:   Kylie
 Mears North Face Couloir  

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Mears seen from Box Factory Park


To many climbers completing the high summits along Dallas Divide, Mears Peak is likely remembered as an unpleasant ascent up the rubble of its south slopes or the chossy ridges linking it to neighboring peaks (summit registers document a number of attempts to traverse the long skyline from North Pole or Hayden to "S 5" and beyond). The lack of access roads, established trails, and obvious weaknesses surely contributes to the scarcity of popular routes on the north side of the range apart from Sneffels. Mears is very much a mountain in its own right, though, and its rugged, imposing north face commands the view from many vantages around Dallas Divide. Despite this, the history of attempts on the north face of Mears is largely unknown.

I've wanted to climb Mears since I first traced a line in the snow lingering on its northeast face six years ago. I wandered in search of a position that would reveal the line in its entirety. I approached the face once on my own and twice with Kylie in subsequent years, each time deciding against an attempt due to poor snow conditions. On one of these trips in 2014, we encountered a climber at Box Factory Park who said he had once climbed the line we pointed out. This was the first we heard of an ascent, though it seems improbable that his was the first ascent of the route. On our last of these outings in June 2015, we were disappointed to find warm temperatures and cloudy skies had again prevented the snow from freezing, and once more we made the agonizing decision to wait another year. We found signs of a recent bivy and later discovered a member of these forums, Grimpeur, had climbed the route the day before.

Kylie and I were married at Box Factory Park in September 2015. It was a spectacular day amidst the brilliant colors of fall. Winter arrived a few days later. By spring we were itching to return to this special place. Perhaps because of its position on the outskirts of the range, the snow on Mears melts unusually fast, and we took to driving up Dallas Divide to monitor conditions. Late snows and high temperatures seemed sure to spoil the route this year; but last week the face appeared to be in rare form, and we decided to make an attempt. The forecast called for nighttime temperatures in the 40's going into the weekend, but we counted on a string of clear nights allowing the snow to freeze.

For those wishing to explore the north sides of Mears, "S 7", "S 8", or "S 9", Box Factory Park is the logical trailhead. Although there is no maintained trail to the south, the approach to Mears is not as difficult as imagined. To be sure, it is a bushwhack--the whole route is beset by dense undergrowth and deadfall--but it is possible to stitch together bits of passable trail for the roughly two-and-a-half miles into the basin.

From the parking area at the south end of the meadow, the entrance has been marked for some years by an opening cut in a big log. Staying west of the creek, faint trails often littered with orange tape lead south along an abandoned road. Around 0.4 miles the creek can be crossed easily on downed trees, and the path of least resistance generally continues along the east side of the creek for another 0.4 miles before wandering eastward into a small meadow. Just before this meadow, the trail follows an old irrigation ditch, passing a rickety diversion structure at the head of the ditch. Exiting the south end of the small meadow, game trails parallel the creek for 1 mile, leading eventually to the open, lush confluence of the higher drainages, with a grand view of Mears now towering overhead. From here, travel along the creek becomes easier, and the moraine is reached after 0.6 miles.

Last year the approach took us nearly 3 hours, but this time we managed it in 1:40 with heavier packs. Maybe for lack of trying, we did not find any good sites for our small two-person tent. We pitched it on the hillside west of the moraine but found that uncomfortably sloping, so we smoothed out a game trail a few yards uphill and moved camp. I think it would be simpler to bivy, but we were glad to have an escape from the swarms of flies that plagued our approach and campsite. We found a source of clean water in the nearby moraine and relaxed there in the cool breeze stirred by the rushing, icy stream.

The following morning we started hiking at 3:30 with a plan to be on the apron by 5. To reach the upper basin, we chose to scramble up an hourglass-shaped scree field where the rock glacier in the Wolcott-Mears cirque spills down, funneling through a break in the cliffs. Above the rock step in the middle of the hourglass, we angled to the right and presently found ourselves groveling on uncomfortably steep and exposed hardpan. This yielded eventually to mellower slopes, and we made our time to the apron. In the dim pre-dawn glow we started up. The snow had a fantastic alpine feel, and we were elated to be climbing this route finally after so much anticipation.

The apron steepens abruptly to a moderate angle passing through a wide gap in a cliff band at 12,000' and enters the lower couloir proper. It is a straightforward climb to the top of this section and the first corner. Turning left, the route steepens further as it ascends towards a rocky protuberance, which we were able to squeeze by on a narrow patch of ice to the left. A rock step leads to more snow and another constriction before the snow opens up and finally tees into the prominent hanging snowfield that runs diagonally across the upper northeast face. The entrance to the couloir on the opposite side is hidden behind a buttress which can be bypassed above or below. This couloir leads directly up to another corner, a sort of ramp which marks the transition into the relatively wide couloir that splits the summit. Here the angle relents noticeably for the first time but stiffens again as the couloir bypasses the cornice to the left, curling at the last moment to top out on the summit.

Relishing our last few movements on the perfect snow in the couloir, we stepped onto the summit and into the sunshine, whereupon we proclaimed the route a classic, and well worth waiting a few years to catch it in these conditions. The blind corners and snowfield traverse elicited fond memories of the superb Luttrell Line on El Diente. In terms of difficulty, the route is steep, sustained, and very exposed at times--especially traversing the hanging snowfield--but we didn't recall any particularly hard moves. We carried a 30 meter rope and an ultralight alpine rack, as well as one stubby screw and a picket, but ended up not using the gear.

A final word on Mears: We found evidence that we were preceded on the route by another party, likely by no more than a few days, lending credence to our suspicion that it has seen a number of unrecorded ascents.

After enjoying the summit for some time, we followed the tedious ridge west to "S 7" and then continued to Ruffner and "S 8". We descended east from "S 8" onto an enormous rock glacier and returned to our camp below Mears. The next morning we went up a line on the northwest face of Wolcott that had reasonably good snow for 800', followed by 200' of wet snow and mud to reach the summit ridge. The route was fairly aesthetic, and we found it worthwhile despite the unpleasant finish. We descended via the northeast ridge and a west-facing bowl.

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The north face of Mears in good condition, seen from Dallas Divide


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Mears towering over our camp


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Starting up the lower couloir


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First light on the climb


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Passing the first obstacle


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Climbing above the rock step


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Hard not to smile with these conditions


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Climbing through the 2nd constriction


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Transition to the hanging snowfield


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Under the buttress on the snowfield


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Crossing the hanging snowfield


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Climbing past the buttress on the snowfield


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Looking down above the snowfield


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Climbing the final couloir


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Checking out the cornice


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Exit to the summit


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Topping out


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Enjoying the summit


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View to the south


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View to the east


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On the chossy ridge to "S 7"


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"S 7"


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Looking back at Mears


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Rugged terrain south of Ruffner


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Views from Ruffner


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"S 8"


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"S 9"


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Wolcott (the couloir we climbed is the long sliver of snow that ends near the summit)


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Mears from "S 8"


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Rock glacier below the Mears-"S 8" cirque


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Morning glow starting up Wolcott


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First light on "S 7", "S 8" and "S 9"


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Climbing Wolcott's northwest couloir


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Mears seen from Wolcott


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"S 3", "S 5" and "S 6"


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Looking down Wolcott's northeast ridge


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Mears viewed on descent from Wolcott


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Mears North Face Couloir


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Map of the approach



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
4thPlaceAtFieldDay

That route looks amazing...
06/23/2016 12:49
This is awesome, thanks so much for writing a trip report for this route. Congrats on your successful day!


Jay521


Ditto...
06/23/2016 14:25
What Lemmiwinks wrote. Great, great pics. This report made my palms sweat.


Kylie

Roses are red
06/23/2016 14:17
Violets are blue
What a great climb
to share with you

Worth the wait. Nice write up babe!


Monster5

Yeah, babe
06/23/2016 16:26
Er. Boggy. Nice patience waiting for good conditions and sorry we couldn't join ya. Also, nice writing. Super proper and northern and all that.

But seriously, the several claims of your first ascent in the TR are a bit over the top.


Boggy B


06/24/2016 09:02
Thanks everyone

Northern!? That's Western to you sir (and I don't mean the American West)


FireOnTheMountain

awesome babe
06/24/2016 09:29
very cool you guys! Really like the patience and scouting missions, a feel-good Hollywood alpine story with a marriage under the peak to boot.

But who's gonna play Boggy as the lead role?


Monster5

Obvious
06/24/2016 09:58
I guess John Wayne is no longer available, but his son, Ethan Wayne, is still around. Reception at The True Grit.


Kylie

too funny guys
06/24/2016 16:26
but I think Patrick Dempsey is the obvious choice


Boggy B


06/24/2016 16:41


DArcyS

congrats . . .
06/26/2016 17:59
on a nice climb and the nup. You guys obviously make for a great team.



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