Peak(s):  Savage Pk  -  13,139 feet
Date Posted:  11/25/2020
Date Climbed:   06/13/2020
Author:  supranihilest
 SO SAVAGE *headbangs furiously*  

I've been listening to a lot of thrash metal recently. You know, classic stuff like Slayer, early Megadeth, Exodus, and a lot of Testament, who I recently discovered. I regret all those years that I didn't know about Testament; I consider the first 32 years of my 33-year-long life a tragic waste since I didn't listen to Testament for any of those clearly deprived years. Anyway, for your listening pleasure, here's what I consider to be Testament's best album, which I of course listened to while hiking alone in the dark en route to Savage Peak as a mountain lion deterrent.

Even the mountain lions headbanged furiously to this classic, and you should too.

Savage Peak, a low thirteener in the Holy Cross Wilderness, is home to the namesake Savage Couloir. I don't know where Savage Peak got its name, considering it's not a particularly striking or rugged peak, but I like couloirs, and therefore I like Savage Peak. The round trip on Savage Couloir is also nice and short, which meant I could get it in before predicted mid-day storms. I'm always a bit wary of climbing couloirs on days with storms, considering the amount of metal on and around me that lightning could zap, but thus far early starts and speed have always kept me out of trouble.

I got started at around 4:45am, and storms were not my main concern at that moment. It was over 50 degrees at the trailhead and I was concerned the entire couloir would be like climbing a half frozen, thousand food long freeze pop minus the cool color, great taste, and childhood nostalgia. I talked to two fellow climbers at the trailhead and they left a few minutes before me. I followed them up the road to the 4WD trailhead, not seeing them, then crossed over Missouri Creek and up to where the trail begins. The trail didn't have too much snow down low, though the snow cover would increase as I hiked, and it was easy to follow. That is, until I came across an absolutely massive avalanche debris field, no doubt from the 2018-2019 season.

I wasn't expecting to have to scramble on the trail, but here I am!

The debris field was slow going and a bit treacherous in spots, but not all that difficult. It must have been an insane amount of work for the Forest Service to clear even what they had; being in an officially designated Wilderness area chainsaws aren't allowed, only hand tools and axes, making for incredibly painstaking work.

How kind of the avalanche to magically built itself into a bridge for me!

As I picked my way along, I tried to stay up the slope above the chaos. Savage became obvious here, and the couloir looked filled in from top to bottom.

Savage Peak with part of the debris field in view.
Closer shot of the couloir. That is IN baby!

Eventually the trail became totally snow covered. I hadn't seen this much snow in a while and it was mostly quite solid so I figured the couloir would also be in good shape. Snow on the upper approach was rather suncupped but I cared not. Suncups climb just as well as smooth snow.

Sun and the cups thereof.

I didn't hike all the way to the lakes, cutting southwest shortly before that point. A small, easy creek crossing was required, and then I was above treeline with the couloir staring me down.

Looking Savage.

I crossed the lower snowfield then scrambled up a melted out moraine to the apron below the couloir, where I ran into Kelly ( member moon stalker). I had seen her up ahead and thought she was one of the guys I'd talked to at the trailhead who were still nowhere to be seen, strangely enough.

Apron and bottom of the couloir.

Kelly and I talked for a bit as we strapped into our crampons and got our axes out, and then I took off ahead of her. The initial apron was pretty low angle and I switchbacked my way up until it got steep enough where kicking steps straight up the slope made more sense.

The couloir curves right near the very top, but this shows how deeply inset it is.

Most of the climbing in the Savage was on Moderate Snow of variable quality. Sometimes I'd kick a step and go straight up to my shin in slush; the next step would be bullet hard; the next would be perfect corn for step kicking. There seemed to be no way to tell what each plunge of my axe, what each kick of my crampon, or what each foot gained would hold.

Looks mushy; was only sometimes mushy.
The first few hundred feet of the couloir.

Along the way I stared in awe at the walls of the Savage, towering above me all up and down the couloir. This has to have been one of the more inset couloirs I've climbed, and though there were rocks embedded in the couloir all the way up nary a pebble fell on this climb.

Big wall.
Bigger wall.

The couloir continued on at a Moderate Snow angle in the 40s for nearly the entire length, being remarkably consistent the whole way up. The couloir did narrow as it cut across the mountain, which made feel more exciting.


Eventually the two gents from the early morning caught up and began their own ascent behind Kelly and I.

One and one and two makes four.

The couloir was a bit of an oddity, since it was angled slightly to the right instead of being straight up and down. This required frequent adjustment of direction of travel, either by short sideways traverses or awkward angled climbing. The latter especially was somewhat irritating, as it would require the left foot to kick high and directly next to the right thigh, risking a crampon point in the leg, followed by a second awkward high and laterally spread kick with the right foot. It was easier to simply zigzag sideways and up than try and angle up.

As I progressed up the couloir I kept an eye on the top out. Kelly thought it might be melted out, but a left-hand, north facing exit would likely still be in if the direct finish wasn't.

Nearing the top. It looks good but was hard to tell if it rolled over into what would undoubtedly be a mess of scree at the top.
The left exit as I passed it.

The direct finish did in fact prove to be in still, and no cornice was present. The angle here at the very top was steepest but was short-lived. A short rock step to the right would have also gotten me up, had the snow melted out.

Direct finish, nicely filled in still.
Right at the rollover to easier terrain.
Short bit to the summit.
Looking at the shallow top out of the couloir with the northeast ridge snaking away.

From the top of the Savage the true summit was just a couple of minutes away. I was the first to the top, where I took off my crampons and waited for the other three climbers to make their way up.

Mount of the Holy Cross and assorted thirteeners on the left, Whitney Peak on the right.
Mount Jackson looking more like a fourteener than a thirteener!
Ditto for Gold Dust Peak!
South to the rest of the Sawatch Range.
Elk Mountains far away. Mount Sopris is the big bulky one on the right making the northern end of the range.
Missouri Lakes.

The four of us hung out to chat for about half an hour before beginning our descent. Going back down the couloir would potentially have been the fastest but the northeast ridge would be the easiest, so what's what we all did.

Savage's northeast ridge.

A few minutes off the summit there was a short down climb on snow that we used our axes on, and from there on the ridge was almost entirely dry as it slowly lost elevation. Along the way we passed points where we could peer over the edge onto the apron, as well as getting a sideways view of the full couloir.

I'll just jump on down and climb it again.
What a beaut!

The northeast ridge was quite unexciting, certainly nowhere near as fun as the couloir. It was purely a Class 2 talus type of affair, and while it was fast and easy it was comparatively out of character with the couloir and its massive walls.

That's... that's the ridge. Just lots of this.
Looks a little better going up, but still pretty meh overall.

Eventually the ridge dropped close enough to the trees to leave it and descend a snow slope into the forest.

Reaching the end of the immediate ridge. Apparently following the full ridge down leads into nasty cliffs.
Down the snow.
Further down the snow.

I down climbed the first bit of snow weaving around a couple of rock bands and then glissaded down into the trees. At this time of day the snow in the trees was soft and postholing was inevitable, but overall it wasn't as bad as it could have been. If I tried to stick to snow in open areas that had gotten more sun things were more consolidated; snow in the trees was a mixed bag. A couple of small creek crossings led back to my tracks from earlier in the morning.

I somehow managed to make my way directly to this one foot crossing of an otherwise wider creek, go me!
An OK bridge across Missouri Creek's widest tributary.

From there the remaining hike back to the car was easy with exception of that blasted debris field, which at least was a little faster going down.

Oh no.
Please make it stop.

Along the way Whitney Peak kept me company, and I couldn't help but laugh to myself about it. The entire hulking mountain was a Class 2 walkup with a massive, flat summit plateau, and the true summit is actually a Class 5.6 boulder. So much for keeping things easy in the Holy Cross Wilderness!

Whitney Peak looking freakishly large.

I got back at about 10:30, having made great time. Where else did I go for lunch besides High Mountain Pies in Leadville? I can't not go there, guys, I mean really. It's practically a physical law of the universe that one must eat at HMP after a climbing trip in the area. It wouldn't rain for another few hours but when the rain came it just dumped, including some hail. Good thing I'd raced up and down the Savage early! Yet another fun line to add to the list. If you like climbing snow then this route is for you! Headbang on, my friends.


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Trailhead: Missouri Lakes
Total distance: 9.91 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,041 feet
Total time: 6:08:17
Peaks: One ranked thirteener

  • Savage Peak, 13,139'


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Missouri Lakes Trailhead Bottom of Savage Couloir 1:59:57 1:59:57 11:03¹
Bottom of Savage Couloir Savage Peak 1:17:08 3:28:18 34:34
Savage Peak Missouri Lakes Trailhead 2:05:25 6:08:17 Trip End

¹Gearing up.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

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

nice soundtrack!
11/26/2020 09:10
I listened to the album you linked while making breakfast and then reading your report, and I'll admit that back in the 80's I listened to Exodus, Megadeth, and Slayer, but never got into Testament. I had one of their cassettes (yes, that's what I had!) but I don't recall which one, maybe 'The New Order.'
This album is pretty good though! Thanks for adding it to the report.
Also, I recall a thrash band back in the day that had an album called Savage Mountain, I think??? I will have to google that...

Savage couloir is pretty fun too...thankfully Kevin and I didn't have that debris field to go through!


Good stuff
11/27/2020 06:24
I didn't know you were also a metalhead, Darin! I've been getting into Overkill recently as well, seems like they haven't put out anything that's not great. Maybe the band you were thinking of is Nasty Savage? The singer was apparently known for smashing TVs over his head.


Time to Kill album
11/27/2020 13:24
Suicidal, Danzig, Anthrax, Pantera, Metallica, and the like were my go to's in the 80's. Iron Maiden too.
I grew up in the 80's so I was into the heavy and hair metal bands. The heavier death metal stuff I don't like though.
I still listened to hard rock today, but I also have gotten into classical music as well.


11/27/2020 14:55
Pantera's still one of my go-tos. I know this is sacrilege among Pantera fans, but Far Beyond Driven is better than Vulgar Display of Power. (Fight me!) FBD is like a sledgehammer to the face, just so wonderfully aggressive and in your face. RIP Dime and Vinny.

You and I had opposite trajectories. I grew up on a diet of classical and country, courtesy of my mom and dad, respectively, went to the Madison Symphony Orchestra (Wisconsin) with my parents until I was 18, even played piano for a numbers of years, but eventually fell into nu metal like Korn and Slipknot. I went to Ozzfest 2002 (and '03 and '04, I think) with some friends and was blown away by Meshuggah, who I remember were very out of place on a lineup that was mostly nu metal and more standard heavy metal. They were the catalyst for my progression into extreme metal. Gone through everything since then, black metal, death metal, grindcore, you name it. These days the pure musical technicality (what most would consider to be prog, in various sub-genres) is what I want, moreso than simply being super brutal. Think stuff like Opeth, Nevermore/Jeff Loomis (not really an Arch Enemy fan), Dream Theater, Plini, Blotted Science/Ron Jarzombek, etc.

Rock on, Darin!

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