July 14, 2003 in Central
Peak “S”, South Slate Drainage
I awoke again fairly late, this time around 8 AM. My plan was to climb Peaks “R” and “S”, three days in a row of lots of exertion! So, after a short breakfast, I packed up a light pack and headed up. I decided to head to the saddle between “S” and “R” and see what things looked like. The climb up to the saddle is typical Gore grassy ledges. There was a little bit of bushwhacking here just to find the quick route up to the saddle. After departing the grass, I followed semi-stable talus blocks to the saddle.
From here, I couldn’t tell how far Peak “R” was away. I didn’t have a map (I had brought one for the Black Creek area but felt that I didn’t need one up here since I know the area) and wasn’t sure if I was closer to Peak “S” or Peak “R”. I wisely decided to hike up Peak “S” first since I suspected it was closer. A little higher up confirmed that Peak “R” was indeed pretty far away. So, I continued on to Peak “S” and passed two large towers on the south side to finally gain the summit. Looking back on Peak “R”, I decided to leave it. After all, I would have to scramble up a long way along several talus-laden towers. I also gave a bit of thought to head over to Peak “T” and try the first free-solo attempt of the true summit. Again, I decided to leave it. I didn’t have any business attempting a bouldering problem all by myself up here. And, after the steep descent down “Might Pass” and the long long return out of the South Slate drainage that lay ahead of me (yes, I decided to go out this way), I realized that I didn’t have that much time and didn’t want to accept any more risk. This turned out to be the right decision.
I headed down a slightly different route – a little more direct and through some easy willows and alongside a couple of small waterfalls. I was back at my camp around noon or so. I took a little bit of a break and then packed up and headed out. I had a long way to go ahead of me and there is no beta on this drainage. Certainly, it would be three miles of trailess terrain, and most-likely passable, but how much work or difficulty would I encounter? All I had to do was to get to Slate Lake. The Slate Lake trail heads northeast from the lake to join up with the Gore Range trail which then connects up with the Pebble Creek trail. This section of the hike out was another whopping ten miles. So, I had a long long way to go, much of it through the unknown.
I packed up as efficiently as I could and headed out. The first part of the hike out was quite easy. I followed the creek fairly closely along grassy knolls and easily passable forests. I crossed to the east side of the creek within a quarter of a mile. I passed several more tarns and moved in and out of talus and tundra. As I descended, the foliage increased. Pretty soon, I was hiking in thick alpine flowers and patches of willows. I kept an eye on the long northeast trending ridge with Peaks “X” through “Z” to gauge my distance. I was making good time.
Then I had a bit of a shock. As I was hiking, I noticed that the ground a hundred yards in front of me was vanishing away! I was coming to a huge cliff that looked really wide. The forest was also starting to get quite thick and the downed trees were increasing which slowed my travel. As I approached the precipice I heard a roaring and I realized that I was coming to the top of a large waterfall! Uh oh…could I get through? I got closer and then was stunned to see one of the largest, no, by far the largest, waterfall in the Gore Range. The creek approached the cliff which then widened to a huge tumbling solid piece of rock that was about two hundred feet high. Very exciting! The rock wasn’t vertical, of course (doesn’t seem to be the style of Colorado falls), but steep and very wide – the falls were very clear and unobstructed by trees. But I realized they are invisible from the lake or any prominent spot on the ridges to either side. I was able to friction climb down the giant boulder to the base of the falls where I stopped and took many pictures. These falls were indeed outstanding – giant tumbling cascades that terminated in a twenty-foot free fall into a sun-drenched pool. What a perfect place!
After I enjoying these falls, I headed down some more. Then about one hundred feet down, I realized I was at another cliff and another large set of falls, this one about one hundred fifty feet high! I had to down climb this section in the forest and then emerge back out at the base of the falls. Although these falls weren’t quite as big as the first set, they were spectacular as well and qualified as the second largest falls in the Gores. Combined, these falls comprise about 400 feet of cascades! But, this still wasn’t the end! About a quarter of a mile down the valley revealed yet another falls! This one was much smaller, about the size of the Piney Lake falls.
I spent many minutes enjoying each waterfall and taking pictures. Then I headed out with much excitement, sort of oblivious to the fact that I had more miles of unknown in front of me. It wasn’t too long though that I encountered very rough terrain all the way back to the lake. My progress was very slow. The terrain became alternatively brushy, boggy, and cliffy. Several times I had to retrace my steps to get to easier ground. I cross over countless fallen trees and walked through many marshes. I had to cross the creek at one section and absolutely soaked my left boot. I ended up having to completely sacrifice my left boot by submerging my leg up to the knee to get across the creek. Then I had to work my way around hot stagnant ponds infested with mosquitoes. It felt like forever until I finally saw the lake. Even then it was tough getting down to it and traversing to the other side took a long time as well. The mosquitoes were becoming quite merciless! At the northern edge of the lake, I stripped down and took a quick dunk in the lake. This drove off the mosquitoes for a while so it was pleasant enough while I dried off in the mountain air.
I then packed up again and headed out. Apparently the log crossing to Slate Lake was washed away and the crossing of Slate Creek was pretty tough but at least I didn’t get my other foot wet. On the other side of the lake I hooked up with the trail and prepared for the final 10 miles. It was already a little after 5pm, the time that I told Bill that I would return. I’d better hike fast. I really didn’t have much choice; the mosquitoes forced me to hike fast. If I stopped they swarmed all over me. They were many times worse on this side of the range than the other. I wonder why.
Before arriving at the Gore Range trail, it began to rain. Not very hard but it was very welcome – it drove the mosquitoes off for a while. I should have stopped to zip my pant legs back on and maybe put on my shell jacket. Not to protect against the rain, but the mosquitoes. Instead, I was only focused on moving quickly. At the Gore Range trail junction I took a short break. I noted how much more faint the Slate Lake trail was. If you didn’t know where it was it would be very easy to miss it. It’s not much more than trampled grass at the Gore Range trail junction. From here, it’s about four miles to the Pebble Creek trail. I had to ascend up and over a ridge to Harrigan Creek then another, steeper one over Boulder Creek. At this point I was quite exhausted, moving much like a zombie but not daring to stop due to the mosquitoes. At times I constantly smacked them on my shoulders and legs…and sometimes my face! The buzzing in my ears drove me nuts. These creatures are absolutely maddening. My shirt was soon pock-marked with little blood stains and mosquito bodies. My only reprieve from them was the tops of the ridges where the wind blew sufficiently to keep them away. Finally I was on the descent to Pebble Creek but still driven on by the hounding mosquitoes. I probably killed a hundred of them on this hike out. I didn’t have a map and had never been on the Pebble Creek trail before (it’s private) but I knew roughly where it was. I took the left hand turn at what looked to be the trail and headed another mile and a half until, at last, I saw the cabin and Bill and Joan having dinner outside. Man, what a great traverse and what a relief! Many thanks to Bill and Joan for feeding me, hearing my adventure, and putting me up for the night!
So, looking back, the most memorable parts of this trip were not necessarily the peak climbing, although Peak “P” ranks high, but the more odd times like waking up and seeing the peaks lit by the moon, simply the views themselves from various vistas, and my personal discovery of the secret waterfalls. Sometimes I worry that my trip reports encourage too much use of this reclusive mountain range but I think I now realize that those who are willing to endure the hardships of getting into the deep areas are those who have an appreciation of this special place and will do their part to keep the range pristine. Maybe I give myself too much credit for describing these falls, thinking that my little trip reports encourage hoards of hikers. I really doubt this is true. But those who want to see the really special places, will have to pay the high prices as well. I say, “have at it” and enjoy this awesome and wild range!
Text and photos by Theron Welch, July 22nd, 2003