June 24, 2000 in North
Finally, I stood on the summit of Peak “C” after a failed attempt with my Colorado Mountain Club’s Basic Mountaineering School group a couple of years earlier. It was good to do another long hike in the Gore Range too. The Gore Range is probably my favorite in the state of Colorado. (Note: I wrote this comment a while back. Since then, the Gore Range is my undisputed favorite range in Colorado. Isn’t it obvious?) It’s generally devoid of crowds (since there are no 14ers around and the approaches are long), there’s lots of water, vegetation, and the peaks are dense and rugged. This particular trip also included a climb of Mount Powell, the highest in the range.
I had gotten most of my climbing partners really excited about a climb of Peak “C”, however, for this climb it was only Ken and I. We left Denver fairly late and started hiking around 5pm from the Piney Lake Ranch. We wanted to arrive at camp with plenty of time before sunset to make our dinner a little more enjoyable, so we really zoomed up the trail and arrived around 7:15pm. Actually, the true reason we hiked so fast was that we had no bug spray and the mosquitos are notorious in this area! All we could do was flee or be eaten alive. Arriving at the base of Peak “C” is quite tricky, or at least it used to be, see below. There are several false trail turnoffs. Fortunately, I’ve taken lots of people up this trail to the waterfall on Piney Creek so I knew exactly where to go. The correct trail turnoff is a lefthand turn about 5, maybe 10, minutes after the waterfall.
Note: I’ve visited the Piney Valley trail a lot since then and the turnoff to Peak “C” is much more prominent now than it was in the past. There’s a big cairn there now. Back in ’96 or so when I first visited the area, it was nothing more than an obscure and tiny dirt path. I only found it on the return; I bushwacked a lot on the way up!
At the trail turnoff, the trail becomes really steep and difficult. After about 15 minutes, you emerge in an open area with outstanding views of another fun Gore Range Peak, “The Spider”. The rest of the trail is occassionally filled with filthy deep black mud and lots of large leafy plants that block the trail. Parts of the trail ascend up really steep sections and move along small cliffs. The trail goes on and on and doesn’t seem to end, but finally breaks out of treeline with an outstanding view of Peak “C” and the lower ramparts of Mount Powell. The small basin is quite beautiful.
We set up our bivy sacks and started dinner. We were able to point out the peaks in the Holy Cross wilderness as well as Holy Cross itself. We also eventually identified Capitol Peak and Mount Sopris as well. Ken ended up sleeping out under the stars. I was in my bivy sack but it was completely unzipped so I had great views of the stars too.
The next morning at 6:30 we headed out for Peak “C” which was only a few hundred yards away but 2000 feet straight up. Our route on Peak “C” ascended the prominent south facing couloir which led to a small saddle on a ridge spur. The first couloir wasn’t bad at all, maybe only 35 degrees. It wasn’t very long at all either, about 500 feet. The snow was in perfect condition this day, the snow wasn’t in the sun and was semi-hard and our crampons bit in and gripped the snow tightly. At the top of the saddle, we traversed over to the long western couloir that is visible from Piney Lake. This couloir is steeper on average, about 45 degrees and, at 1000 feet, a lot longer. The couloir was in great condition as well and we flew up it. The top of the couloir gets steep though. It topped out at 52 degrees but the snow was in such good condition that it didn’t bother me that much. The tip top of the couloir was melted out so we removed our crampons and scrambled up to the ridge. At the ridge (right) we were greeted with great views of the Gores. The final ridge climb is only about 200 feet and a lot of fun. The drops on either side are precipitous but I felt safe on the ridge. Ken was behind me as we approached the summit and I got kind of excited and zoomed up the ridge and finally stood on the summit.
From the summit, our campsite was the size of a pinhead, though the summit from camp looked quite accessible. Mount Powell (left) was to the north and looked really steep. To the south, we saw the rugged and numerous peaks of the rest of the Gore Range. The peaks are so dense that they are very hard to identify. We could, however, identify peaks like “East Thorn”, Peaks “D”, “E”, “F”, “Corner Peak”, and West Partner Peak.
After a while on the summit, we began the descent. We were kind of apprehensive about the downclimb but because this couloir was protected from the sun until late in the day, our downclimb was really easy with crampons. We got back down to the base of the first couloir at 10:45am. Since it was so early, we decided to be ambitious and climb Mount Powell as well. We started up Mount Powell, which is a very different mountain from Peak “C”. Mount Powell is a steep climb along grassy and rocky slopes. We shot for a small notch in the north ridge where we squeezed through and continued traversing up the peak. From the summit of Peak “C”, these slopes looked really steep but the traversing and climbing was easy. Peak “C” (below) looked nearly unclimbable from the slopes of Mount Powell. Eventually, we arrived at one of the snowfields and we kick-stepped our way up to the flat area about 100 feet below the talus strewn summit.
We arrived at the summit at 1:08pm. The summit of Mount Powell has a couple of flat slabs on them that we used to lay out and bask in the sun on. We stayed on the summit for a long time and enjoyed the views. We had a perfect view of “Eagles Nest” as well as other minor peaks like Meridian Peak and “Dwarf Pyramid”. Ken took a stellar panoramic shot and I spent some time labeling the peaks that I was able to pick out. It also took a lot of work with a map to determine some of these peaks.
On the descent, Ken descended the snowfield and I took one of the ridges. I was able to see keep Ken in view about 80% of the time since I was much higher. Eventually, we met up and headed back down the same way we came up. Finally we arrived back at camp and we hung around for a couple of more hours, cleaning up, eating, relaxing in the sun, etc. I rinsed and invigorated myself again with cool water from one of the small streams. We had originally planned on spending two nights out and climb the peaks on two different days but we decided to hike out Saturday afternoon.
We hiked out really fast but as we arrived down in the valley a small thunderstorm moved in and drenched us. Hiking through the rain was actually really fun. The raindrops were really cold but in a way it felt really good and refreshing. Also a really pretty mist moved in around the valley and the peaks. Everything seemed to get really quiet except for the chirping of birds.
This trip was really difficult; it involved 7000 feet of elevation! But, the more difficult ones tend to be the more memorable ones. This was definitely one of my all-time favorite overnights, if not the best.