"Solitude, Mt" - 13,090 feet
"Climber`s Point" - 13,005 feet
"Solitude, Mt" - 13,090 feet
"Climber`s Point" - 13,005 feet
|Finding Gems in the Gore Range: The Mount Solitude Super Massif|
Finding Gems in the Gore Range: The Mount Solitude Super Massif
Vista Peak, 13,075
Mount Solitude, 13,090
Climber's Point, 13,005
Climber's Wall Highpoint, 13,000
Skier's Point, 12,960; West Skier's Point, 12,620; Lesser Skier's Point, 12,167
by gore galore
Sometimes as a recreational mountain climber I also think of myself as an amateur gem hunter. I'm not thinking in terms of a geologist with a pick and hammer to test rocks for ore bearing clues but rather as a mountaineer whose habit is to leave the traditional trails to test the viability of routes on peaks, points and pinnacles that may not be on established peak lists and have little or no information available about them. In other words I am searching for those nuggets that are overlooked and uninteresting to most.
Take for instance my mountain climbing and gem hunting activities on that rough mountainous area on the Gore Range Divide between the head of Bighorn Creek and the east fork of Pitkin Creek on the west side of the range and Boulder Creek on the east side. It is an approximate 2½ mile stretch of rugged terrain from Useable Pass on the north to Bergschrundt Pass on the south and anchored by three 13,000 foot peaks of which Mount Solitude at 13,090 feet is the highest along with Vista Peak, 13,075 and Climbers Point, 13,005 and an almost 13,000 footer in Skiers Point, 12,960.
Normally what is considered as a simple massif with a major peak, I have elevated the immensity of this particular massif into the realm of a super massif consisting of four major peaks and about a dozen ridges and five cirques which in itself becomes a mountain climber's and a gem hunter's paradise of a climbing and hunting ground.
SOME CLIMBING HISTORY
Little is known of past climbing activities on the previously unnamed peaks of the Mount Solitude super massif. Mining occurred from the early 1900's in the upper Bighorn Creek Valley at the Dollie Mine but I am unaware of any peak ascents by miners. I wrote about the Dollie Mine and Bighorn Cabin in my trip report, “A Connoisseur of the Obscure.”
The earliest documented climb of a peak in this super massif was that of Peak 13,053 (Minturn 15M Quad map) on the main crest between Boulder and Pitkin Creek by Stan Midgley of Chicago, Illinois in 1942. I was fortunate to correspond with Mr. Midgley in 1983 who had made numerous first ascents on trips to the Gore Range in 1935, 1942, 1943 and 1944. Here is how he went about climbing Peak 13,053 which he would name Mt. Solitude.
Midgley took an overnite train to Denver and then a bus to old Dillon where he began walking toward the Gore Range. After a couple of hours a lone car came along and picked him up and drove him to a ranch on Pebble Creek. He found the Gore Range Trail and followed it to Boulder Lake where he camped.
The next morning he followed a blazed trail to a meadow above the lake where it ended as it does today. He then began the bushwhack up the valley to the beautiful lake at about 11,000 feet on the main stream now called Upper Boulder Lake. He found no evidence of human visitation, “no rusty tin cans, anywhere all day.” He reached the next lake above it at timberline and “began calling it Lake Solitude for obvious reasons.” To the southwest he discovered another lake at 12,000 feet that the mapmakers hadn't seen.
Midgley “zeroed in on the peak in the center at the head of the cirque.” He reached the summit at 12:50 PM and stayed until 3:00 PM. He made a small cairn holding down a kodachrome carton containing the title, Mt. Solitude. He wrote in a short trip report of his first ascent, “Perhaps it could have been named better, but late that afternoon in the brilliant blue and gold of mid-September as I stood there alone among the ragged merlons and minarets in the very heart of the Gore Range, facing the tangled trailless route back to Boulder Lake, all other names sounded hollow.”
Midgley's climb of Mt. Solitude soon fell into obscurity as none of the peaks had map names nor were they anywhere close to 14,000 feet to attract climbers. It is most likely that except for some possible ascents by unknown peregrinating individuals the Mt. Solitude massif lay mostly dormant until the 1970's.
In 1978 Bob Ormes published his “Gore-Tenmile Atlas” on which he named Skiers Point, Climbers Point and Pownall Point for Richard Pownall of the 1963 American Mount Everest expedition and who had operated a small climbing school from Vail centered in the Pitkin Lake area in the late 1960's. Ormes was evidently unaware that the Pownall Point location had the prior name of Mount Solitude which it is currently known as. It wasn't until 2000 that the peak at the northern end of the massif was called Vista Peak by Theron Welch.
Ormes also named three passes on the massif as Bergschrundt Pass in the south, Sled not Pass north of Climbers Point and Useable Pass in the north. Midgley's “beautiful lake at about 11,000 feet on the main stream” was labeled Upper Boulder Lake, “the next lake above it at timberline” that Midgley called Lake Solitude was labeled Secret Lake and “another lake at 12,000 feet that the mapmakers hadn't seen” acquired the name of Winter Lake on the Ormes “Atlas.”
The Ormes “Atlas” had filled in some names on what was essentially some blanks on the map in the Gore Range. The map legend for the range shows dotted lines as “routes used or suggested” which were peppered in areas of the map but were conspicuously absent on the Mount Solitude super massif. This indicated to me an area to explore for those hidden gems in the Gore Range.
FINDING SOME GEMS
I first became acquainted with the Mount Solitude super massif in 1980 when I made a traverse from the Bighorn Creek Valley of Skiers Point, Climbers Point, Mount Solitude and Peak 13,075 (Vista Peak) and descended by the Pitkin Creek Valley. There was virtually no information written about these peaks then except a terse sentence in the Ormes “Guide to the Colorado Mountains,” 1979 edition which read, “Bighorn Creek, Pitkin Creek and Booth Creek all have trails to the lakes and problem climbs.” This unknown factor for climbing was something I liked immensely about the Gore Range. After some initial climbs in the 1980's I returned in the 2000's to the super massif to find some gems among my explorations of climbs and attempts.
VISTA PEAK, 13,075 at the northern end of the super massif holds a number of problem climbs on interesting and not well known features. In my trip report from 2012, “A Gore Range Melange” I wrote about my climbs and explorations on Vista Peak's needle point micro north ridge, a first known ascent of Vista Pinnacle and two exploratory attempts for an approach to a route on Vista Tower.
Vista Tower was such that it stuck in my craw and festered until I returned in 2018 for an approach crossing Useable Pass into what I believe is the rarely entered recesses of Vista Peak's northeast cirque. The lower northeast face of Vista Peak greeted me as I contemplated my position. My intention was to climb the long east ridge of Vista Peak of which the tower was the culminating objective but I could see that I would have to descend too far down valley for the time I had. I consoled myself by breaching the south side of the cirque formed by the east ridge and climbing to its intermediate high point of 12,400 feet where I could get a view of the problematic climbing of the upper ridge to the tower. This third attempt leaves me with one other approach to explore which is also long and hard to discover the key to climbing this nemesis tower.
MOUNT SOLITUDE 13,090 like Vista Peak is mostly climbed from the west side slopes but its gem routes exist in the east side cirques. In 1983 I climbed Solitude from its east side cirque at Sled not Pass to gain the south ridge which is probably the route Stan Midgley climbed in 1942.
A real gem for me was the northeast face snow climb of Mount Solitude with its puzzle of intricate cornices in late spring of 2013. This was a long approach from Highway 9 and booting up the snow pack above Boulder Lake to camp at the upper lake. I signed the register of which a photo showed up in the benners trip report, “Solitude On X and Z” from later in the same year. Mount Solitude also holds one other big route that I would also like to climb.
Climbing routes in the Gore Range are one of map study and gaining familiarity of terrain from many trips and observations. I have long used the Ute Pass road and its pull outs to observe some of the deep interior of the Gore. One such view from this road is of the CLIMBER'S WALL and its striking C shaped snow line to the left of CLIMBER'S POINT, 13,005. I made this trip in July of 2011 after a heavy snow year climbing this snow route to the top of the Climber's Wall. There is one other snow route on this wall that should be climbed but is probably beyond my abilities.
One of the great unknowns to me in the Gore Range is whether anyone has ever crossed Bergschrundt Pass. This pass at the southern end of the Climber's Wall connecting the Bighorn Creek Valley with the Boulder Creek Valley is labeled on the Ormes “Atlas” with the notation of “take rope.” I made a trip up Bighorn Creek in 2013 to Bergschrundt Point 12,361 to take a look. The snow had receded and pulled away from the rock revealing the bare walls of the pass which effectively ended any thoughts of descending for a crossing into the Boulder Creek Valley.
Bergschrundt Pass is also the base of the south ridge for traversing to the top of the Climber's Wall to its Highpoint. Unfortunately I have come up short on the ridge from the Highpoint to Climber's Point.
The CLIMBER'S WALL HIGHPOINT, 13,000 has as its attraction the view of that wild upper part of Boulder Creek and the three lakes that Stan Midgley described in his 1942 ascent of Mt. Solitude. In this respect I attempted one route and climbed another route to the Highpoint from the upper Bighorn Creek Valley. The south ridge has a southeast spur route on which I had to retreat in the face of a small tower at 12,600 feet that blocked the way forward. I was more successful on a later trip in 2012 up the wrinkled south face to the summit.
Further south SKIER'S POINT, 12,960 is a unique mountain in the Gore Range. Its southeast cirque holds the only permanent snowfield on the west side of the Gore Range Divide as indicated on the map.
My first trip into the cirque was wishful thinking in that I might find a route up the rock of the east face from the snowfield but although unsuccessful it served its purpose as a reconnaissance for a later snow climb in spring of 2012 up the lesser angled southeast face to the south ridge of Climber's Point. The ridge between Skier's Point and Climber's Point is notable in that it has the largest concentration of overhanging cornices that I have observed in the Gore Range.
A CURRENT GEM
This clockwise view of some gems of the Mount Solitude super massif closes the circle with a current exploration on the southernmost summit of LESSER SKIER'S POINT, 12,167. In my many trips to Pitkin Lake I have always noticed on the return trail above the falls the striking bony northwest ridge leading from the valley floor to the up thrust jaws of WEST SKIER'S POINT, 12,620.
When I scrambled up this ridge to West Skier's Point in 2010 it reminded me of being on the backbone of the skeleton of some ancient sea creature that you might see suspended from the ceiling of a natural history museum. I now call it the Megalodin Ridge or the Meg Ridge for short from the title of a recent movie.
From the jaw points of West Skier's I turned right for some unsuspected scrambling on the ridge midway toward Lesser Skier's where my kind of gem lay waiting. I didn't have time that day to investigate the short curving eastern ridge that formed the southern boundary of the cirque with its tantalizing ridge end dropping abruptly out of sight.
I returned this year and climbed through the timber from the Bighorn Cabin to a small knoll where I saw that previous hidden ridge end dropping abruptly out of sight as a buttress end with a suspect prospect of climbing it. But it was dotted with krummholtz which is a good indication that a route can be climbed wherever the krummholtz has gained hold. And this I found as I came closer to its base and weaving my route up the center of the buttress on the footholds and handholds where the krummholtz grew in the cracks and ledges to its top and the ridge above to the summit of Lesser Skier's.
I had one more ridge gem to explore that day on a descent of the southwest ridge from Lesser Skier's Point that forms the divide between the Pitkin Creek Valley and the Bighorn Creek Valley. These lower ridges and points dividing Gore valleys are seldom trodden because it is much easier to hike the valley trails to the lakes and the big peaks on the Gore Range Divide.
I found this southwest ridge to be one of rock outcrops spiked with krummholtz and strewn boulders until I descended to a broad lower ridge of aspen where I angled downward to the Bighorn Creek Trail. The southwest ridge route descent took me a little longer than an hour than if I would have hiked the trail back.
So that is something of finding some hidden gems in the lesser trodden areas of mountain ranges like the Mount Solitude super massif of the Gore Range.
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