Peaks “U” (“West Partner Peak”), “Q”, and “P”
Waking up and heading out felt good. Moving forward and deeper into the wild is always exciting. I was in to new territory. My first idea was to hike up to the bowl underneath “West Partner Peak” aka Peak “U”, drop my pack and climb the peak. West Partner Peak sits at the very head of the Pitkin Valley and is just over thirteen thousand feet. It’s a good bit easier than it’s neighbor, “East Partner Peak”. I went straight up the south face along easy grass ledges until I converged with the ridge high on the peak. A 3rd class stroll on the ridge revealed a couple of false summits. I had to cross an annoyingly loose gully then stood on top. I had great views of the rest of the familiar range. I did find a summit register on the top, placed by one of the 13er hardmen, Garrett or Martin, I don’t recall which. The neat thing though was that, according to the register, there were only 3 people to summit this peak in 2003! Such an unpopular peak with such great views. This peak, along with Peak “P”, affords excellent views of the Booth Lake peaks like “The Spider”.
I spied the rest of my trip – the South Slate drainage and the remote row of peaks from “P” to “T” (“T” was out of view). I also checked out the terrain below for camping spots. Several locations looked promising. I could camp high in the upper basin near a stream or I could camp lower down among a myriad of alpine tarns. Those were the two obvious choices. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see a good view of the pass that I had to descend. It was obviously quite steep.
On the descent, I decided to take the south ridge to the low point on the saddle and hike back to my pack from there since it would require less steep descending. Along the way I pass some bighorn sheep - I think. They were goat-like in appearance but dark gray. There were no males so I wasn’t able to confirm. They bounded past me and then several yards stopped and all abruptly turned around and stared past me. One of their companions was heading in the other direction and the others had an expression of confusion on their face as to why that sheep was heading the other way. I hope I didn’t disrupt them although I’m sure they all reunited.
I headed back down and took a rest at my pack then headed out. The hike up to the top of the pass was uneventful save breaking through the snow up to my hips. The area was quite rocky which is conducive for melted holes in the snow. I aimed for what looked to be “Might Pass”, the most gentle part of the ridge. When I arrived there, I realized that this was not a good spot to descend. The other side was very steep, certainly too steep for me to do alone and without a rope. So, I decided to search around for a better descent spot. I bypassed a small talus pile northward and found a notch with a little gendarme protecting it. The right gully looked doable but still very steep. It turns out that the real “pass” is at a high notch to the north marked by a sharp gendarme. I didn’t realize this until I had descended. I actually had to gather my thoughts and really decided if I wanted to head down this alone. It featured loose steep rock and about 500 feet of 50-55 degree, at the minimum, snow. Well, I knew I could do it if I just paid attention and kept cool. So, what the heck, I started descending.
I’m becoming less of a fan of loose rock since I’ve been rock climbing. It didn’t really bother me that much before but I found myself wanting to trade the loose stuff for some solid 5th class. Soon enough, I was at the snow. It was about 3 in the afternoon and the snow was a bit like wet sugar. I didn’t need crampons, just big kick steps and my ice axe. I began the descent facing in and kick-stepped my way down. I broke through more than once but one was especially interesting: I broke through to my hips, caught by the bulk of my my camera case and backpack. I swung around my legs looking for something to stand on – nothing! I was floating in the air, supported by the snow. So, I swiveled around and brought my legs out of the hole. I then faced in again below the hole and continued the process. It seemed like quite a long time that I descended but I finally made it to more gentle slopes and a nice set of falls. At this point I turned around and bounded through the snow to the base of the idyllic basin.
There was a lovely stream carving the tundra up here and I stopped and took a rest at the shore. I filled up my water and drank and ate some. Then, I stashed my extra gear under a rock and headed out to Peak “Q” with a lighter pack. From here, the peak looked quite easy and indeed it was. I hit the ridge between Peak “Q” and “P” at a higher gap to the right of a couloir and began climbing easy grass slopes to the top. The true summit of Peak “Q” is on the other side of a nasty notch. I was on the western summit which can’t be more than 5 feet shorter than the other. But, without a rope and a companion, I wasn’t about to try to cross it. A rappel would have taken care of it no problem since the other side looked like easy 4th class blocks to the top. I enjoyed my views nonetheless.
During the descent I was toying with the idea of climbing Peak “P” too. It was already about 7pm and I didn’t want to have to hike into camp in the dark. I was planning to camp at one of the tarns underneath Peaks “R” and “S”. Still, I had about an hour or two of sunlight. What the heck, I thought. I headed off for Peak “P”. This peak turned out to be the best of the trip. Although the ridge scramble was short, it was delightfully solid and fun. At the notch above the couloir, the climbing becomes 3rd and occasional 4th class. Some of the ridge is exposed but the holds are so good that I felt great just holding on and checking out the space falling away. A mere 20 minutes later and I was on the top. I realized that I was now acclimated! The view of Peak “P” was outstanding as well, easily the best. Great views of the Ripsaw Ridge peaks and the elusive “Spider” as well as a beautiful angle on the towering Peak “L”. I ended up hanging out on the summit for a long time snapping lots of pictures.
I headed back down and took the couloir down. Easy plunge stepping led to a more slippery section where I was forced to face in with my ice axe and tediously kick steps down again. After much tedium, I was back at my stashed gear with just enough daylight to spare. I packed up and headed down to my next camp by following the creek down to the tarns. The mosquitoes were starting to get worse. Still, they weren’t too bad. They were saving themselves for the last day, I s’pose.
I worked at top speed to get everything ready before it got dark so I started dinner cooking while getting my bivy sack ready. This was by far the most remote spot that I’ve ever solo camped before. I was deep in a remote valley of the remote Gores with nobody and no trails for miles and lots of vertical feet. What a fun feeling to be so isolated! I headed down to a small creek coming off of Peak “R” to rinse myself off. I’d been pretty much moving this entire trip during every minute of daylight so I was a very dirty. I let out a few yells just to let any critters know not to bother me for the night and then went to bed quite late, pushing 11pm. I remember waking up at 3:30 AM thinking that it was morning. I opened my bivy sack to reveal a spotlight full moon beating down on my hidden valley. All the peaks were lit up around me. It was so bright that I could see maybe only a couple of stars. It was certainly a surreal moment. After a few moments of staring, I zipped up and went back to sleep.