Peak(s):  Keller Mtn  -  13,085 feet
Date Posted:  02/09/2021
Date Climbed:   06/20/2020
Author:  gore galore
 Keller Mountain Recollections from the Orphan Boy Cabin  

KELLER MOUNTAIN RECOLLECTIONS FROM THE ORPHAN BOY CABIN

Keller Mountain “Orphan Boy Point,” 10,765

by gore galore

I have numerous recollections of many climbing efforts on Keller Mountain not only from my own experiences but from the experiences of others as written in the log books of the Orphan Boy Cabin located in the lower northeast cirque of the mountain.

And this trip report is the telling of one of those climbing recollections of the north face route from the northeast cirque coinciding with the brief mention of another earlier party near the same route as written in the cabin log book. But first something of the history of the Orphan Boy Cabin and its log books.

ORPHAN BOY CABIN

A reference indicates that the cabin was built about 1880 during the height of the Colorado mining boom. It was abandoned in the early 20th century and apparently lay undiscovered until the late 1950's and early 1960's.

According to a July 28, 1978 entry in the cabin log book a Kremmling rancher recorded his recollections of his first visit to the cabin in 1958. “At that time everything was left in its place just as the miners left things. The Black Smith Shop was quite intact then. I remember best the Bellows and the Forge.”

In about 1963 Tom Cooper and his sons of Denver were hiking higher up on the Keller Mountain ridge when they spotted from a ledge the reflection of a window pane far below and the logs of an old abandoned but reasonably well preserved cabin.

They hiked down to explore their discovery and found a note scratched into the door that read, “Please leave my stuff alone, I'll need it when I get back.” The note was dated 1911 or 1918. Inside was much like the owner had left it with personal belongings and household items. Outside mining implements and gear lay around the property.

Tom Cooper patented the mining claim as the Orphan Boy Lode, Cabin & Aqueduct but realized he couldn't keep this isolated cabin at such an altitude private but rather decided to leave it available for those who might pass by in their hiking adventures to the Orphan Boy Cabin and the Keller Mountain alpine.

And I was one of those adventurers who came across the cabin from a climb of Keller Mountain's north northeast ridge in 1985. I found the old trail leading from the mine adit to the sunshine streaming through the forest trees illuminating the cabin into such a fairyland scene such that I thought Hansel and Gretel would soon be cavorting around the cabin.

Tom Cooper had a special place in his heart for the Gore Range since his days as a surveying assistant during his college years in the early 1940's and as a fishing guide in the 1950's - “exploring it, hiking through it, and introducing people to it.” Tom Cooper passed away in 2003 and his ashes were spread from the Orphan Boy to those high mountain meadows.

ORPHAN BOY CABIN LOG BOOKS

Soon after rediscovering the Orphan Boy Cabin Tom Cooper started leaving a notebook log for the records of visits and travelers to the site. These visitors have left an intriguing record since 1973 that is one of “adventure, love, fear, desperation, loneliness” as Tom Cooper would write.

In 2014 Maria Eisemann transcribed two volumes of the Orphan Boy Log Books. Her continuing interest in the cabin dates from her future husband's first visit to the cabin in 1973 and her first visit in 1985 and their Prenuptial vows at the cabin in 1987. I am fortunate to receive copies of the two volumes from them.

Some of my favorite and informational entries in the log books:

Finding the Cabin - “I found this cabin by chance while crawling over these mountains. I came to investigate and while I didn't find Eldorado, I did find the next best thing, this cabin. Has there ever been a cabin so congruent with its surroundings?” 3/31/84

I've got secrets I've found in the Gore that I've have to be bound and gagged to reveal. This cabin is one of them!” 9/25/95

Views - “The outhouse is really a joyous way to start the morning with a window glancing out over the jagged Range.” The nineteenth, twentieth and twenty first days of August in the year of nineteen eighty.

Roof caved in on outhouse.” 6-24-98

My Papa and I take a night hike. We struggled in the dark but we've found a place to lie down and look at the stars. There were more stars then I have ever seen.” 8/2/92

Visiting - “The last time I was here was when I was 2 and my dad carried me on his back. This time I'm 15 and I walked along side my dad. Its neat to be back, this time I'll remember it.” 8/19/88

This hike is fun. I am here with my Dad. I am 6 years old. I like the pull thing on the door. I like the mountains but not walking on the rocks.” 8/10/02

I brought a friend to the O.B. I know that the O.B. should be keeped a secret, but the last time I told someone, we managed to get a new stove for the cabin. But at any rate, even if there is no benefit for spilling the beans about the O.B., someone new now has been Goreized.” 6-21-98

Climbing - “I had a very extraordinary trip. First Seth and I got stuck on a hi hill facing the Keller Mountain cabin. We yelled for help unfortunately ed was asleep and PaPa was down at the waterfall. So waited for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile we tried to get down. No luck but papa got us down. Then when I went to sleep and herd some wolves. But I scared them away or at least I think we did.” 7/24/93

Went on an amazing climb up Mt. Keller – pretty frightening, but worth it.” 7/10/93

Sunday we hiked to the top of Keller on a crystal clear blue sky day! Awesome – one of the best views from a top any peak in Colorado!” 10-6-97

I come from Japan. The first time climbed mountain. American mountain is very big. I was cold, but beautiful natural is surprised!” Yuko, Kawano, exchange student, 8-6-90

Skiing - “Hiked up Mt. Keller this morning and skied back to the cabin. The Orphan Boy a great cabin with a lot of radical skiing.” 3/27/90

Skiing was amazing. We've named some runs around the mountains: The River Run, The Chute, The Cereal Bowl, The Glade, Cabin Chute, there are still so many more to name.” 3/22/86

Fine ski tour in here again. This was un-mapped & not written about Backcountry cabin #3 we visited on skiis this season – 4 more to go in Summit County B-4 April – It sure beats the summit hut system as you don't run into any posers & you can bring your pet.” 1-22-06

Avalanches - “There is a LOT of snow up here this year. All the major avalanche chutes had run before we got up here, the hill in front of the cabin SLID almost to the cabin, the chute you have to cross to get here also SLID and took out many trees.” 3/22/86

This is the first time in 20 years a slide has almost reached the Orphan Boy. There is still deep snow 10 feet from the porch.” July 4, 1982

Log Book - “Reading excerpts from the log it seems people over the years have come to appreciate this spot even more and become more aware of its needs as well as how fragile this cabin is becoming.” No Date, 1981

The 1st time we found the Orphan Boy by accident. We found your history fascinating. We found your hospitality touching. But we didn't find your logbook …. until now.” 6/13/87

And those are exactly my sentiments from my four trips to the cabin. I wasn't aware of a log book in the cabin on those trips until I later received copies of them.

A CLIMBING ENTRY OF THE KELLER MOUNTAIN NORTH FACE NORTHEAST CIRQUE ROUTE

One of the few climbing entries in the cabin log book that caught my attention was that of a direct north descent into the northeast cirque of Keller Mountain. Although lacking in details I believe the descent described was in the vicinity of a north face route that I climbed from the northeast cirque fourteen years later.

The entry of July 21, 1996 by Ruth of Steamboat Springs and Todd of Denver recorded a few impressions of their down climb. The two climbers were on the top of Keller Mountain and without looking at the topo map decided to take the direct route north over the cliffs at the top of the glacier in order to glisade down the valley. They made it down into the upper bowl and had several great glisades.

They would not recommend the route as it was a “foolish move as it put us on the cliffs then the glacier.” One of them would write, “I haven't had that much adrenaline pumped through my system since last year's Gore trip.” They ended their cabin log book entry with the question, “Has anyone else come down the north side of Keller?”

I had long noticed the northeast cirque of Keller Mountain for a potential climbing route as the cirque is highly visible from Highway 9 in the Blue River Valley. But it wasn't until June of 2010 that I found myself in the upper bowl of the glacier facing the cliffs of the north face. I knew nothing of my intended route except what I could see of a snow finger leading part way across the face.

The isolation and remoteness of the cirque heightened my apprehension of what I was about to attempt such that I remember saying to myself that “Nothing needs to go wrong here.”

With crampons and ice ax I climbed the steepening snow apron against the cliff face until I met the right angle and down sloping snow finger. I had reservations about following this course but the further upward I went I could see the snow finger widening as it split the cliff face into upper and lower sections.

From this hidden position that I couldn't see from below I continued to crampon along the sloping snow of the base of the upper cliffs that forced me to the edges of the top of the lower cliffs. I was relieved to end this situation when I eventually gained the upper snowfield of the North Summit, 13,040 and then the connecting ridge to the summit of Keller Mountain, 13,085.

I had to ask myself the same question in reverse posed by those two climbers in 1996 of “Has anyone else climbed up the north side of Keller?”

I didn't really expect to find an answer to my question until three years later when I happened to be scrolling the forum on the SuperTopo site. I came across a post by Keith Leaman who mentioned that in August of 1969 while living in Steamboat Springs “we spent several days climbing in the Gore Range, up Boulder Creek and found an occasional solid passage of rock on Keller Mountain's north face.”

This mention is the first known ascent of the north face of Keller Mountain. And now I have to ask the question again of “Has anyone else climbed up the north side of Keller?”

RECOLLECTING PAST CLIMBS AND A PRESENT CLIMB

I have climbed numerous routes on the Keller Mountain massif from its three facing valleys of North Rock Creek, Boulder Creek and Bighorn Creek. Besides the main summit of 13,085 there are also Point 13,055 and Point 12,860 on the southwest ridge; Point 12,847 and Point 11,155 above the Boss Mine on the northeast ridge; and Point 12,160 on the north northeast ridge.

Point 12,160 is a route finding Class 3 climb from the northeast cirque with something of the unknown. I have climbed the north northeast ridge from this point to Keller's summit but I am not aware of anyone climbing the full north northeast ridge and across Point 12,160 to the summit of Keller Mountain.

The lowest summit on the Keller massif is Point 10,765. Last year I made the well accustomed and unpleasant bushwhack from the Boulder Creek valley on a direct route of the steepening timbered north slope to its summit.

Because of its proximity to the Orphan Boy Cabin I left a register with the notation of the summit as “Orphan Boy Point.” I don't believe hardly anyone makes this climb but if they do pass this way to or from the Orphan Boy Cabin perhaps they will find my register and add it to their own Keller Mountain recollections.







 Comments or Questions
Sbenfield

Keller
02/09/2021 21:55
One of my favorite peaks


Jay521

Nice...
02/11/2021 12:34
What a great read. Thanks for putting this up. Keller is one of the few Gore 13ers I've climbed.


planet54

The Cabin
02/14/2021 14:42
With the poor condition of the old road to Orphan Boy you have to wonder if the cabin will fall into disrepair.I don't know if the Dillon District would allow chain saws to clear a path, probably not, would be a lot of work with hand saws. What do you think ?


gore galore
Cabin Disrepair
02/14/2021 16:33
This could be a real possibility. Since the old wagon road to the Orphan Boy is a non maintained and "lost trail" with few map references, I doubt if the Dillon District would make an exception for chain saws. The above referenced, "The chute you have to cross to get here also SLID and took out many trees" is nearly impassible now. Clearing the length of the trail would be more than a weekend of work with hand saws. It would more likely be all summer. The situation is then a two edged saw. The more difficult it is to reach the cabin, the less likely there would be volunteers for up keep on the cabin. And the cabin condition will always need some maintaining.


John Prater
Tom Cooper's ashes
02/24/2021 07:39
"Tom Cooper passed away in 2003 and his ashes were spread from the Orphan Boy to those high mountain meadows."

I just ran across a note I'd jotted down when I'd climbed Keller in 2004:

"8/14/04 - Cooper + Salazar signed in at Rock Crk TH headed to Pebble Creek to spread the ashes of a Gore Range pioneer (?)"

I was obviously curious at the time who that Gore Range pioneer was. I guess I now have the answer. Thanks for more great info, gore galore!


gore galore
Memorial Trip
02/24/2021 12:24
The Orphan Boy log book has several entries for the Tom Cooper memorial trip on 8/14/04. Amazing for you to have jotted down a random trailhead note and to find the answer seventeen years later in a trip report as to Tom Cooper being the Gore Range pioneer mentioned. Thanks for posting this anecdote.



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