Peak(s):  Teakettle Mtn  -  13,819 feet
Potosi Pk  -  13,786 feet
Date Posted:  09/29/2018
Date Climbed:   09/23/2018
Author:  PeakSixTD
 Teakettle - Ropeless  

2018 had been an excellent year for climbing mountains. Several winter ascents as well as finishing the 14ers and great traverses made this year special. There was just one component that was missing… a trip to the San Juans. My schedule leading up to this climb was hectic to say the least. I managed to land a couple of consecutive off days and saw that Yankee Boy Basin had a favorable forecast. Game on. I contacted Ian Wright, and he was immediately on board. Ian is my go to partner for the more dangerous climbs. Not only does he operate at a high level of skill but he’s also someone I can trust if the situation turns serious. Which it did… more on that later.

Teakettle and Coffeepot freesolo climbs had been on my list for quite some time. I was thrilled that I would have a go at them this season. We met in springs after I got off work and made the long drive to camp near Gunnison. The forecast for the next day was flawless. Sapphire skies and low wind. Cool enough temps to keep us from sweating but not cool enough to be uncomfortable. Man I love September. Since we didn’t set up camp until 3AM we decided to sleep in a little bit and start late morning/ early afternoon. The weather was beautiful when we arrived in Yankee Boy Basin. Fall colors and crisp air made the hike up the road quite pleasant. I had read other trip reports that talked about how horrible the ascent up to Coffeepot was after leaving the road. Believe those reports. We probably could have saved some time and effort by staying more to the right than we did. One step forward 2 steps back. This pitch makes the 2800 feet of suck seem like the 2800 feet of sunshine and rainbows.

Once we topped out on the slopes below Coffeepot, the black gully stared us down. It looked almost unclimbable from a distance. As soon as we got nose to nose with it we saw the slope ease dramatically. Easy class 2 albeit fairly loose. The route from the top of the gully to the base of the summit block is pretty self explanatory.

Eye to eye with my objective

Ian was kind enough to let me do the honors. Going into this climb I felt confident in my ability to get up and down 5.3 comfortably. The rock quality is pretty good. Solid rock with decent holds. I slowly made my way up, putting 100% of my focus into each move and not letting unrelated thoughts manifest themselves. That's the key to this style of climbing. Entering into the zone and executing your moves with mechanical focus.. It's almost meditative. I really didn't find either the up or down to be that difficult. That being said, if your reading this and contemplating not bringing a rope, I would suggest you do just in case. Ian and myself both grew up in cities surrounded by rocky crags and spent many hours scaling them before we ever considered become alpinists. We know our comfort levels and are both very careful never to go into something we don't feel 100% about. I am in no way encouraging people to try the things we do. It's a serious mountain and not one to take lightly. That being said, it was a blast!! Unfortunately the lighting was terrible, so I blended into the rock in Ian's photos of me. Luckily I got some good ones of him during his ascent.

Ian + some air

I always take my time going up and down 5th class unroped. Ian on the other hand made quick work of both the up and down. I was definitely impressed with the ease in which he conducted his moves. Now onto our next objective. Coffeepot.

A good profile of the prominent "Coffeepot"

I don't understand how someone could climb Teakettle and not want to do Coffeepot! A peak's prominence is the greatest factor in determining whether or not I want to climb it. Off we went. Ian snapped several pictures of me en-route, but due to the sun I was wearing my bandanna on my head looking eerily similar to a 90 year old gypsy woman. Needless to say, they wont be making the cut on this report.

We found the climbing on Coffeepot to be pretty straight forward. Just go up the chimney on the left. Definitely class 5 but like roach says you can get a secure body position in the chimney. Freesoloing this one didn't feel very dangerous. That being said, I still recommend ropes to anyone contemplating this peak.

Ian scoping out footholds

Teakettle showing off

Posing with Potosi peak in the background. Probably why it decided to kick my ass

Ropeless ascents of the 5th class summits went wonderfully. As strange as it may be, the class 2+ mountain ended up being the most difficult to us. On this particular day, the formidability of Potosi greatly exceeded that of its prominent neighbors.


There's something different about that mountain...

We reached the saddle and thoroughly scoped our exit through the unforgiving talus slopes. We knew it meant descending in the dark, but the allure of climbing a peak that looked impenetrable on all sides was too great to pass up. It began to pull us in. As we were traversing under the summit cliffs, we kept wondering how much further this mountain was going to take us. The next thing we knew, we had traversed all the way around it and then some. The entire ascent from the gullys to the summit involves climbing steep flaky smooth rock covered in ball bearing scree. It made the class 2+ feel like class 4. Every band of rock we came to seemed like it was hiding the summit just beyond its reaches. Then we came to another rock band. Almost like the mountain was luring us into its clutches... We finally topped out at sunset.


Ian adding his name to the register, seeing the names of many of our friends.

A big factor in us determining to continue onto Potossi was that it was supposed to be a full moon on a cloudless night. However, we anticipated that we would be substantially lower than we were by the time the sun began to retreat behind the towering monoliths of the San Juans. Now the real fun begins. The path that circumnavigates Potosi is faint and unreliable to begin with. Doing it at night didn't seem to help much. It was very easy to get off of the faint wake of footsteps that is the established route. The rock quality here ranges from terrible to slightly less terrible. There were several occasions at which triggering small rockslides was unavoidable. Needless to say, we didn't climb underneath one another. Once we reached the saddle we thought we were in the clear. We located the faint trail through the slopes that we had scoped out earlier. It was slow going until we passed through the cliff bands at 12,400. That being said, it wasn't that bad. We dropped too low on accident and had to regain some ground and traverse several gnarly gullys. This was the worst rock quality I have ever encountered. The type of rock that makes the bells feel like the crestones. Steep flaky rock covered with dirt and scree. We found bear crawling to be the most reliable technique here. After we got out of that mess, we finally spied our exit. Were in the clear now right? Wrong. What happens next is almost unbelievable... Yet oddly fitting considering our circumstances up to this point. Our headlamps bouncing around in the dark has carried unintended consequences. Ian tells me he sees lights below us on the road. Pretty early for an alpine start... Wait a second. Those aren't lights. They're eyes. Without stating a word to one another we immediately grasp the severity of our situation. Three pairs of hungry eyes are steadily advancing upon our position. They were waiting for us at the bottom. It was at this point that the moon penetrated the veil of clouds which masked it, revealing the silhouettes of a mother mountain lion and what we perceive as two fully grown cubs. No time for fear. It's fight or flight, and the answer is easy. Ian kept his headlamp on them as I began to throw rocks. They are unphased. We begin to wave our trekking poles like swords and yell as loud as we can. They stop and cautiously retreat behind some bushes. Our best option is to keep heading towards the road in a diagonal direction. Ian kept scanning the tall vegetation in search of them. All of the sudden we spot a pair of eyes. Not but 30 yards from us. I throw as many rocks as I possibly can. It keeps creeping up. Very slowly... two or three steps at a time while staying low. Ian turns to our right and spots another pair of eyes. Were being flanked. We feel the road is our best safeguard. We quickly hurry there while yelling and staying aggressive. They stay on the slopes. We make good pace while staying alert and being careful not to portray ourselves as prey. 200 yards from my vehicle, He spots a pair of eyes on the other side of the road, still watching our every move. We finally make it to the car and get it. Potosi merely laughs, amused with our completion of it's challenges. Hopefully respecting us the same way we now respect it. The mountain lion fiasco was the icing on the cake. Ian and myself have had encounters with the beasts before, but never like this. We believe the fact that it was a mother and cubs played a large roll in the overall aggression of the encounter. Were they hunting us, or merely practicing strategical tactics? Regardless, these animals are much more intelligent than the average human would give them credit for.

These are the days that truly test us as mountaineers. Challenges arise, and so do we. Despite the adversities of the day, we had a phenomenal time in the San Juan mountains. This climb was everything I had hoped it would be and then some. Some people might judge us for choosing to descend in the dark, that's okay. Some people might judge us for choosing to climb alpine class 5 unroped. That's okay too. I had a wonderful time and I wouldn't change a thing. I wish you all to be able to have as much fun on your climbs as we do on ours. Cheers.

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

That Last Picture....
09/29/2018 17:31
...Is awesome. Great Job.


10/01/2018 08:49
Just reading about your encounter with mountain lions scared me! I can't even glad you guys are safe!


08/31/2019 00:09
Of the eyes or it didnt happen!
Thank you for the write up. Great reminder!

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