June 17, 2001 in South
We took a week break after climbing Ice Mountain but when the second week came around, I didn’t want to miss another nice weekend. Incredibly enough however, nobody else was available this weekend so I opted to try a truly solo trip to Outpost Peak in the Gore Range. Outpost Peak is the high point at the end of the jagged ridge which separates the Pitkin Lake Valley and the Booth Lake Valley. I decided to approach the climb from Pitkin Lake to minimize my bushwacking time. It turns out that the the approach from Booth Lake is much easier but indeed includes at least a mile and a half of bushwacking.
I left Denver around 3:15 pm and began hiking around 5:30 or so if my memory is correct. I decided that I would hike to about 11,000 feet, which is below the lake and facing the relatively small cirque that forms on the east side of the mountain. I hiked in pretty quickly and arrived with a decent amount of sunlight left. At first, I found a campsite situated up on a knoll overlooking the trail but when I went to pump water, I spied a much better site and moved there. This site was on the western side of the valley on the western side of the creek and the trail and was probably within a hundred yards of the base of the mountain slopes. I had a good look at Outpost Peak and was a bit worried as there was a lot more snow on the eastern face than I was expecting.
As the sun was setting, I started to feel isolated and a little unnerved. I’d done plenty of solo overnights before, but only on fourteeners and on fourteeners, you’re never truly alone. Well, I was indeed truly alone on this trip and I was about 4 miles from civilization over rough terrain. So, I decided to build a small fire. As soon as I got it going, my spirits and courage really perked up. I guess I know how nomads and primitive hunters, etc felt – a camp fire really injects life, energy, and security into an overnight situation. Plus, it injects a small dose of carbon into the local forest economy!
I slept great that night in my small bivy sack and woke up around 6. That’s very late for a snow climb. I got started fast though and was able to take advantage of the steep hard snow chutes that led up to the basin. Once I got into the basin though, the sun had been hitting the face for about an hour. By the time I was up on the face, the snow was really slimy and slippery and my crampons had little use. I was surprised at how steep the face was; this was one situation where the face was steeper than it looked. About halfway up the face, I started feeling uncomfortable so I moved on to the rock, took off my crampons, and scrambled the rest of the way up. I made it to the gentle part of the ridge and strolled to the summit. I was a bit worried because I didn’t know how I was going to get down. The face had snow all over it and was going to be a lot looser by this time. I decided to attempt the ridge and then head for the high pass between Pitkin and Booth Lakes and then hike down to Pitkin Lake and back to camp.
The first part of the ridge was great – easy hiking, great views. Pretty soon I was at the beginning of a long series of tall gendarmes. Since I was alone, I decided that I would be taking the easiest route and NOT take the direct route right over the top of the ridge, so I picked a fairly complex route through the large towers, staying almost exclusively on the west (left) side. The ridge was very typical Gore: steep but stable grassy ledges surrounded by solid cliffy rock. I had to do a lot of up climbing and down climbing to find the easiest route. At one point I walked along the top of a bergeschrund while holding on to the solid rock wall above me to traverse over one section. Eventually, after maybe 4 or 5 sections of rock towers, I arrived at the pass and noted a small trail leading down to Pitkin Lake. I was able to follow it easily. It’s a pretty good trail – steep but a hike and not a climb. I finally arrived at the solitary lake which was still mostly frozen. I took off my shirt and aired out for a while. Then I hiked about twenty minutes down the the snowfields and found the trail which took me back to my campsite. On the way, I finally saw someone – a New Zealander who was hiking up to the lake.
Back at camp, I relaxed a bit, drank some more water and ate some more food. After an hour or more, I packed up and headed back to the trailhead. Along the way, I left the trail and bushwacked west looking for an unmarked lake that I had seen from high above. I picked the perfect spot to leave the trail and found the lake with no problem. I also left the trail at the first waterfall and moved in close for some waterfall shots. After that, I went non-stop back to the car. That was a nice benefit about being alone – I was able to take a couple of side trips without having to have anyone wait on me. I arrived back at the trailhead which was absolutely baking in the late spring heat. I felt really tired and hot and spent about twenty minutes stretching before heading back to Denver.