Lead Mountain North Ridge: Crux of the Never Summers (Class 4)

TLDR: This is a fantastic and remote adventure in RMNP that utilizes some of the best rock in the Never Summer Range. You approach from wild and remote Skeleton Gulch, hit the main Never Summer Crest between Tepee Mt. and Lead Mt., turn south and begin scrambling. The crux of the whole range is the North Ridge of Lead Mt. (Class 4). You can stay on the ridge for aaaalmost the whole way, and it makes for a great challenge. There do appear to be workarounds near the toughest sections, but they also feature Class 4 scrambling. Once above this, you ridge stroll on looser but generally OK rock to the actual summit of Lead (2+). Then, for the most expedient way down, take the East Ridge (Class 3+/4). You can descend via Hitchens Gulch, the Ditch Road, and Red Mountain Trail back to the Colorado River Trailhead, OR you can retrace through Skeleton Gulch, descend to the river trail via the lower part of Thunder Pass Trail and head south to the trailhead from there. For mountain masochists, you could try the entire Never Summer Traverse or take Thunder Pass to Static Peaks East ridge (solid rock and Class 3), climb that, tag Richthofen, head south to Tepee, tag Lead, and then pop off the crest via Lead’s East ridge. ~16-17 miles roundtrip. ~3500 ft. gain/loss.

Here’s a video of the whole North Ridge scramble up to the summit.

Table of Contents

First light on the Never Summer Range from lower Skeleton Gulch. Tepee Mt. is the shape point right of the center.

Preface/Rating System

Quick disclaimer: I like to highlight and mark-up some of my pictures for route clarification.

  • Black/white lines= general directions, landmarks and/or Class 1 sections.
  • Blue Lines=Class 2 sections.
  • Red= Class 3 sections.
  • Purple = Class 4 sections.
  • Orange = Class 5.

The class system is based on the YDS rating scale. Please note that these colors are different than other sites. If you are unsure of what a color means, I usually leave a quick reminder in the picture caption.

Quick Stats: ~16-17 miles roundtrip. ~3500 ft. gain/loss.

Half pano of the area. “Never Summer Peak” is on the left, Lead Mt. is actually the next summit to the right, and the dominating North Ridge is the central high point. The range drops precipitously to the west.

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Introduction

The Never Summer Range is a fantastic, albeit lesser-known range of Rocky Mountain National Park. Part of its lesser-known status is due to a western location that’s harder to get to from the Front Range. During the winter Trail Ridge closes, giving the range another level of isolation. Another aspect is the lower elevation of the range. None of the peaks make it to the 13,000 ft. Access is also a bit helter-skelter. The eastern side you can get to from Trail Ridge. The northern side is best visited from Colorado 14 west of Cameron Pass. The western side you can get to from a few trailheads on long dirt roads, but it’s pretty scattershot.

The most popular area of the Never Summers is most likely the northern endcap, located in Colorado State Forest State Park (fees apply). From just west of Cameron Pass, you get a great look at it, and it’s jaw-dropping if you haven’t seen the Nokhu Crags before. Between the Crags, Richthofen (the highest in the range), Lake Agnes, and the American Lakes, this area pulls visitors. It’s also a popular backcountry skiing area in the winter. However, this area and the Rocky Mountain National Park area don’t connect unless you car position. So, they really operate separately.

Area overview map.

Overall, the range does not have great rock. Many of the summits require scrambling on loose and uncomfortable slopes. That pattern breaks in three notable areas: the east ridge of Static Peak, the North Ridge of Lead Mountain, and the East Ridge of Lead Mt. After two adventures to the range, I had done Static peaks East ridge (Class 3) and Lead Mountains East Ridge (Class 3+/4). The only thing left was the crux of the range, a sizable Class 4 ridge scramble up the North side of Lead Mountain, then a downclimb of the Class 3+/4 East Ridge to get off the mountain. Kind of like my ascent of North Arapaho from Wheeler Basin and descent of the Arapaho Traverse, you get two scrambles for the price of one.

Lead Mts. East Ridge (3+/4). This is your quickest descent route and makes for a fine scrambling adventure on its own.

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The Approach

Lead Mountain is an oddly shaped peak on the Continental Divide between the bulk of Richthofen to the north (and the almost invisible from the ridgeline Tepee Mt. in front of it) and Cirrus to the south. It’s not the tallest peak in the range and is, in fact, hard to see from many areas of Trail Ridge that otherwise support fantastic views of Cumulus, Nimbus, Howard, and Richthofen. For elevation-oriented hikers and peak baggers, there isn’t much to love here, but for the discerning scrambler and explorer, Lead Mountain is a winner.

A rare view of Lead Mt. from the east, taken from near the Mt. Ida trail.

If you’re doing this in a day, I’d say start before dawn. The approach is largely trailed and easy to follow with a headlamp so you can burn some distance. From the Colorado River Trailhead, head north toward Lulu City. Make sure to follow the signs for Thunder Pass. The trail will initially follow the river, pass the Red Mountain Trail, and go up and over some meadows and steeper sections. Eventually, you’ll break left at a large intersection and head to Lulu City (between 3-3.5 miles, the trail signs are a bit off in this area).

At the plaque for Lulu, it seems like the trail splits again (do not take the left variety, it heads to the river and dies on the other side). Stick to the right-hand variation and continue toward a footbridge across the river. Once across, you’ll begin a steady rise to the Ditch Camp area (passing a trail junction with the Little Yellowstone Trail). When the trail dead-ends into what looks like an old logging road, head left and through the Ditch Camp Group sites.

First mention of Skeleton Gulch.

Depending on how dark it is, there could be some momentary confusion here. You need to actually go through the Ditch Camp Group site (a large flat pad for tents should be visible on your right). After you pass the tent pad, look for this sign to continue to Skeleton Gulch.

On the other side, the trail meanders through the woods before connecting with the Grand Ditch. Almost directly across from where you are (slightly to the right), you’ll see a bridge over the ditch into Skeleton Gulch.

Take the trail ~1.2 miles up to the Skeleton Gulch campsite. From here on, you’re off-trail. You can either follow Sawmill Creek on its right (northern side) or go through the Skeleton Gulch campsite and cross the creek below it. In either scenario, you want to follow the stream uphill. The trees will break around the stream, and you’ll want to pick a gully on the northern side to gain some elevation. It’ll look like you’re heading up toward Richthofen, but this method avoids harder climbing.

Beautiful Skeleton Gulch. Lead Mt. is visible above and doesn’t look like much from here. Once you gain some elevation, the perspective shifts pretty quickly.
General route from higher in the gulch. Blue=Class2.

Once on a grassy plateau, sight the low point in the ridge to the left of the sharp Tepee Mt., which you can see from various points leading into Skeleton Gulch. If you choose your route well, you can get to the ridgeline without any Class 3 scrambling. From many points below, the North Ridge doesn’t look like much, but when you get up to the ridge, the seriousness of the route begins to take shape. Once you’re on the ridge, turn south and ascend to a high point (Class 2+). Once you top out on this ridge point, the rest of the route unfolds in front of you, and the scrambling begins.

Don’t worry, it’ll look a lot more intense when you get on the ridge. Purple=Class 4.

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The Route

From where you hit the ridge to the first high point requires a bit of Class 2+ navigating or light Class 3 if you stick to the ridgeline. It’s a nice intro but won’t last long.

Lots going on here, key takeaways: there are at least 3 sections of scrambling, each with Class 4 components (purple arrows). There are 2-3 ways to handle the crux, and the most direct way flirts with lower 5th class (Orange). Above the crux, there are some really great slabby climbing sections.

From the first ridge high point, a.k.a. the start of the scramble, this is what the rest of the ridge looks like.

You’ll start with some solid Class 3 scrambling that maintains elevation. For the most part, the rock is super solid; there were a few errant pieces that moved, so if you’re moving quickly, take a couple of extra seconds to check holds.

Enjoyable Class 3 up some nice slabs.

This part into a wild dip in the ridge where you’ll hit your first Class 4 downclimb and then a quick Class 4 reclimb up the other side.

In the danger zone.

I was both surprised by how long this first section took and how committing it ended up being. There were several sections where exposed climbing into and out of notches slowed me down, but the weather was gorgeous, there was almost zero wind, and the stellar rock helped A TON.

Eventually, you get up to a small knob that isn’t visible when you start but actually has a little prominence on either side. From here, you can stare up at the Crux section and contemplate your fate.

One of the more interesting perspectives of this area is actually from below. As you initially rise up from Skeleton Gulch, you can pick out some of the features I noted in previous pics.

Keep in mind, the ridge side facing us looks easy but a sizable cliff runs just below the picture frame which limits access to that side and you’d still need to scramble Class 4 sections to make it up to the ridgeline before cliffing out. Purple=Class 4, Orange=Class 5.

As you work way slowly up to the crux, the terrain hits high Class 4 pretty quickly and may sport a move or two at low 5. It’s certainly there if you want to stick true to the ridge. There are two “problems” you need to contend with if you employ a ridge-direct strategy: 1) there’s plant life growing in a seam you need to use to get up to the crux moves, and the alpine grasses in it are not great for foot traction. 2) An overhung lip limits your options to an exposed move to the ridge’s east side or squeezing into a pocket between two rocks and then figuring out how to scramble out of it.

Red=Class 3 approach to Class 4 alt. route. Orange=Class 5.

Although it’s still certifiably Class 4, there is a workaround to the right that breaks from the ridgeline briefly, attacks it at a relative weakness (light Class 4), and then turns left up this Crux Ridge (Class 4) until it reconnects with the main ridgeline above the Crux.

Work around. Once you get onto the Crux Ridge, there are a few surprisingly exposed Class 4 moves before you rejoin the main N-S Ridge Crest. Red=Class 3, Purple=Class 4, Orange=Class 5.

The workaround isn’t long and still gives you plenty to scramble over before you rejoin the ridge. You’re not saving a ton, but there are much better holds on the alternative route, and that can be a really nice confidence booster. If the ridge direct is calling, go for it, just know that it is harder.

Despite the difficulties near the ridgeline, the rock more than makes up for it all.

So, after the crux, you’re on to section three of the scramble. The difficulties are NOT over. However, the scrambling takes on more of a vertical profile. Up until the crux, you’ve gained maybe 150 ft. (net). The last section will pull you up another 250 ft. in short order. Thankfully, the rock remains wonderful, and you can stay true to the crest pretty much the entire way up.

You can pretty easily bail right and keep it at Class 3ish, but eventually you need to either go back to the ridge or climb up to the top of the rise, which could push you back into Class 3+/4. At this point, since the Crux is over, just stick to the ridge.

After some stout elevation gain, you’ll pop up to the top of the ridge, and the scrambling mellows back down into Class 2 terrain for a while. Congrats! Don’t take your foot off the pedal, though; you still need to go a quarter mile to tag Lead and then descend the East Ridge. Alternatively, you could go all the way to the saddle above Lake of the Clouds, but that requires additional miles, a 2+ traverse of all of Hart Ridge, and going up and over Cirrus.

Looking back after about 2/3rd of the way up the last section.

Here’s a link to Gopro Footage of the North Ridge scramble.

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Notes on the North Ridge

There isn’t much information out there on the North Ridge scramble; both Lisa Foster and Gerry Roach recommend staying west of the ridgeline for the majority of the scramble. The thing is they only have like a 3-4 sentence description of the whole route, which isn’t all that helpful aside from the generalized “stay west” advice.

I don’t know, partly because I love ridgelines and partly to prove that I could, staying on or within a few feet of the ridge crest was my goal, and it was exhilarating. This is a high-caliber Class 4 scramble. In the interest of transparency, I think you could possibly construct a bypass further west around more of the Crux ridge (like Foster and Roach suggest), but then you have to reclimb to the ridge; it’ll likely involve Class 4 sections anyway. The closest report I found that gives a bit more detail on a possible western workaround is here.

Sorry about the crap quality, taken on an old phone, but this is looking up at the Crux section.

Obviously, it’s a choose your own adventure type deal but let’s be real, if you’re out here trying to scramble this random ridge in a remote corner of Rocky Mountain National Park, you’re here because you enjoy scrambling on good rock in a pristine setting. If that’s the case, stay close to the ridge and enjoy the experience more.

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To the summit!

From the top of section three, you still have a quarter mile to go, but it’s easier. Note that the rock quality gets a little worse, still not bad, but off the crest, and even sometimes on the crest, stuff starts moving a bit. Watch for small rocks and if a rock looks loose, give it a tap with your hand or foot before putting weight on it.

What remains.

If you stay close to the ridge, you can flirt with some exciting exposure back to Skeleton Gulch. There’s also a small section of optional Class 3 as you draw near the summit but you can just as easily skip it.

Getting closer! Red=Class 3, Blue=Class 2

After a steeper Class 2 pitch, you get up to the summit.

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Lead Mt’s. East Ridge

This is the fastest way down. I’d scrambled up this route before and combined it with Hart Ridge. The rock is solid, and it’s a pretty enjoyable route on its own. Here’s a description I wrote on it for the website SkyBlueOverland where I’m a frequent contributor. You can also check out this summitpost page as well, which I used to prep for the route.

Here’s the abridged version; start descending down the east ridge with substantial exposure to the north. The rock quality is excellent, but you’ll still have to perform a few awkward moves.

Pretty soon, you’ll top a small subpeak, and then the route drops quickly away, leading to the crux and a pseudo-knife edge.

Crux moves. Purple=Classs 4, Red=Class 3

After the crux, you’ll have to downclimb the knife edge. Move for move, it’s not bad; just don’t let your eyes drift too far downhill.

After the knife edge, the exposure drops a bit, but you still have a series of small points to get over before the scrambling relents. Depending on your mood, at this point, it can be nice to keep scrambling or annoying that you’re not done yet. Stay alert until you’re safely on the saddle between Lead Mt. and “Never Summer.”

Lead Mountain and the East Ridge from inside Skeleton Gulch.

Right, well, you can either drop into Hitchens Gulch (right) or circle back to Skeleton Gulch (left). Snow does linger in both gulches well into the summer, so make wide moves around any snowy surfaces unless you have spikes. You’re still 7ish miles from anything, so stay focused on the return journey to your car. Take your time descending into whichever gulch you choose. Once you’re back on established trails, you can start hauling.

Video of North Ridge Scramble

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Cooper Peak: South Buttress (Class 4) & North Couloir

TLDR: Incredibly fun Class 4 route on grippy rock. Over in 45 minutes if you’re moving slowly, and you avoid downclimbing any Class 3 or 4 sections by looping around via the Cooper Peak-Marten peak saddle. VERY long single day or great activity while camping at Gourd Lake. Bonus route (North Couloir) below. GoPro Footage of both routes below each trail description and again in the summary. Indian Peaks Wilderness-Northern Colorado (western side of the wilderness).

Table of Contents

Preface/Rating System

Quick disclaimer: I like to highlight and mark-up some of my pictures for route clarification.

  • Black/white lines= general directions, landmarks and/or Class 1 sections.
  • Blue Lines=Class 2 sections.
  • Red= Class 3 sections.
  • Purple = Class 4 sections.
  • Orange = Class 5.

The class system is based on the YDS rating scale. Please note these colors are different than other sites. If you are unsure of what a color means, I usually leave a quick reminder in the picture caption.

CalTopo of the region and the various route up/down Cooper.

Introduction

Cooper Peak is a fairly unsightly lump in the western IPW. From most angles, it isn’t much to look at and gets lost beneath the size and height of its eastern neighbors, namely Ogallala and “Ooh-la-la.” Even the local peak that it’s taller than, Marten Peak, is more eye-catching and features some interesting routes of its own.

Cooper Peak from near the top of Buchanan Pass. I believe Hiamovi Mountain is back and to the left.

Yet, Cooper Peak is one of the more magical peaks in the IPW due to at least three interesting routes on it. In his IPW book. Gerry Roach describes Cooper Peak as epitomizing the joys of the lesser summits. After climbing up Cooper via each of its interesting routes, I gotta say I agree. The South Buttress is a particularly fun and exciting route.

If you camp at Gourd lake, you can stare right up at it from your tent and contemplate potential route strategies. A good zoom also helps capture some of the more interesting parts of the scramble.

Purple=Class 4, Red=Class 3

The Approach

The approach to this area is pretty straightforward. Park at the Monarch Lake Trailhead in Grand County and hike to Gourd Lake (~8.3 miles one way). If you’ve never been over Buchanan Pass or you feel like punishing yourself, you can also get to Gourd Lake from either Camp Dick or Beaver Reservoir on the eastern side of the divide.

The South Buttress is visible from Gourd Lake.

Once you’re at Gourd Lake, your first objective is to get out of the lakes drainage. Head north. You can ascend a number of ways. Since I camped by the lake, I circled the lake on its eastern side and just followed the stream that emptied into Gourd Lake uphill. It’ll take you up to a small unnamed lake. At this new lake, I hopped across the stream and headed for a notch to the left of some cliffs.

At the crest of this rise were two additional ponds with the towering South Buttress behind them. The challenge from here is getting onto the route.

You need to descend to the next stream, which is coming out of Island Lake to the northeast. There is a mini canyon that the stream goes through before entering the basin to the west between Marten Peak and Cooper. It’s best to cross either above or below the mini-canyon.

If you cross above the mini-canyon, orientation is fairly easy, but you will be bashing through some krummholz before the route begins. If you cross below the mini-canyon and then work your way up the ridge to the right (east), you should be able to find some gullies that lead up to the ridge line and the start of the scramble.

When the Krummholz ends, the scrambling begins.

The Route (Cooper Peak, South Buttress)

Beyond the krummholz, you have this rock step that you need to deal with. The scrambling starts there, and if you’re careful, you can pick a path through this rock step that doesn’t exceed Class 3.

For the next few parts, you’re right on the nose of the ridge. There are a few rocky steps like the first one, interspersed with grassy saddles.

One of your first looks toward the crux area as you begin scrambling.

This pattern continues for a minute until you get to the view below; then, you have an option.

You can stick to the ridge by heading initially right and then doubling back to get onto the crest. This appeared to be the sunnier and easier way (at least in the morning). If you want a quick Class 4 challenge on good rock, head to the left and follow an angling ramp to the side of a nice slab.

Get onto the slab and climb back to the ridgeline.

Between the top of the slab and the ridgeline is a little window that you need to climb through. The moves here are Class 4 but short.

Once you’re back on the ridgeline, scramble through a couple brief Class 3 sections before gettin up to the crux area, which looks like this from below.

Scary view but there is a way up.

After you’ve digested the view, walk up to the Class 4 slab and climb up it on its left (western) side.

Once you’re on top of this first slab, there’s a brief section right on the nose of the ridge with substantial exposure. The holds are good through this stretch, though.

After the brief part on the nose of the ridge, your path gets blocked by an overhung rock. You could climb it, but the overhung first few feet looked difficult. I found a Class 4 way by traversing to the right underneath the rock on a grippy slab and then climbing up and around the right side of the rock. This is likely the most exposed set of moves on the route.

Once you get through this part, the crux difficulties relent briefly.

The route isn’t over though and there are some more Class 3 sections and a surprising wall that you have to take care of to get to the top of the buttress.

Some of the moves on this wall felt very Class 3+/4

After you get above the last scrambling surprise, the terrain starts to mellow out pretty quickly.

One last look back before the ridge moderates. Gourd Lake is visible below.

Before a minute has passed, you’ll be standing on a wide-open arm of Cooper Peak with no signs of the ridge you just climbed.

The top of the South Buttress with Cooper Peaks summit nearby. “Ooh La La” is in the background, with part of Ogallala visible between Cooper and “Ooh La La.”

The flat finish can seem like a bit of a letdown, but the scrambling is awesome, and I’m sure there are more variations you can play around with on that route.

From here, head up to touch Cooper’s summit, or if you don’t care, head west and downhill to the saddle between you and Marten peak.

At the saddle, which you can get to with some loose Class 2+ terrain or sturdier Class 3 near the ridgeline, drop left (south) into the basin. Cross the basin, sneaking glances back at your ridge, which once again starts to look intimidating.

You can see the optional Class 4 slab from this perspective, the rest of the route is hidden.

Recross the stream, climb up to the top of the low ridge on the other side and pop down the other side to get back to Gourd lake.

Here are some reminders of what you just scrambled up.

Purple=Class 4, Red=Class 3

Here’s also a link to some GoPro Footage of the scramble. There is no audio, the only thing your missing is the blustery wind and me wheezing. If you expand the video caption it breaks down where I am on the ridge, which should correspond with the marked-up pics in this post.

Bonus: The North Couloir

In 2020 I climbed the North Ridge of Cooper and Marten Peak and wrote a trip report on it. Remembering how fun and surprising that route was, I committed to coming back and snow climbing the deeply inset North Couloir when it was filled. I climbed this route on July 18, 2022.

The North Couloir in Septemeber. An early July attempt worked well with the couloir filled in.

The North Couloir is ~55 degrees and is a fairly standard snow climb. You can mess around with the finish to create a nice mixed climb.

This weird side of Cooper is fairly rugged.

Here’s a video of how all of that looked.

Summary and Acknowledgements

Between Gerry Roach’s very brief description of the route in his book “Colorado’s Indian Peaks: Classic Hikes and Climbs,” the zoomed-in view of the route from Gourd Lake and a report by Lordhelmut on 14ers.com with a fantastic shot of the crux area, I felt good enough to give it a go. It was a very satisfying scramble. If I’m ever back in the area, I’d do it again. Super fun.

Here, again are the video links:

North Arapaho Peak – North Ridge (w/ descent of Arapaho Traverse): Class 4+ Scramble

Table of Contents

General overview

Preface/Rating System

Quick disclaimer: I like to highlight and markup some of my pictures for route clarification.

  • Black/white lines= general directions, landmarks and/or Class 1 sections.
  • Blue Lines=Class 2 sections.
  • Red= Class 3 sections.
  • Purple = Class 4 sections.
  • Orange = Class 5.

The class system is based on the YDS rating scale. Please note these colors are different than other sites. If you are unsure of what a color means, I usually leave a quick reminder in the picture caption.

Due to the strange boundary of the Boulder Watershed, part of this route may intersect or cross briefly into the Watershed. Approached from Wheeler Basin, and based on Gerry Roach’s comments in his Indian Peaks guide, this is a legal route. Mapping software says that a part of the route near the crux does cross the boundary. The rest of the scramble and the summit plateau of North Arapaho aren’t in the watershed. Technically, crossing into the Boulder Watershed is illegal. However, many routes like Niwot Ridge, the standard route up Navajo Peak, the Arapaho Traverse, and South Arapaho are in the watershed and routinely climbed without issue. Use your best judgement when you’re up there.

Introduction

This is a spectacular and completely inconvenient route considering that the far more obvious Arapaho Traverse exists so much closer to the 4th of July Trailhead. However, for mountain masochists and people who have ever wondered if there was another legal way to climb North Arapaho, there sure is. Be aware that while some people continue to debate whether or not the crux on the Arapaho Traverse qualifies as Class 4, the North Ridge of North Arapaho absolutely does. You’ll be performing a series of angled Class 4 slab traverses and climbs while your bum hangs out over the infinite. The good news is the holds are bomber and move for move; it’s quite enjoyable. You do, however, stare right at the crux as you’re climbing up to the ridge, which is either exciting or terrifying.

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Approach

The first part of this scramble is easy. From the parking lot, hoof it up the trail to Arapaho Pass. You can knock this whole section out in the dark as long as you have a headlamp. Once you get to the Arapaho Pass Sign, take a right to continue following the Arapaho Pass Trail.

Stay on the Arapaho Pass Trail.

Stay on the well-defined Arapaho Pass Trail as it passes scenic Caribou Lake. The views to the northwest are particularly nice.

Looking at “Hopi” Peak.

Once you get out of that area, the trail drops down through a forested and rocky set of slopes until you creep into Coyote Park, another beautiful subalpine field with great views. When you get down to around 10,300 ft. above sea level, start scanning the terrain to the right, you’re looking for this view.

Here, the hike becomes trailless

Caltopo has this at about 6 miles into your journey (give or take). Anyway, once you see that old avvy chute, break from the trail, cross the creek and begin traversing left (north), trying to maintain your elevation as much as possible.

This is true off-trail navigation. If you go up to much, you’ll either cliff out trying to round N. Arapahos spindly west ridge or have to descend once you get near Wheeler. There are some game trails here that help, but you will have to break from them eventually because animal herd paths don’t usually lead to Class 4 ridges. It’s about a mile of traversing before you get into the mouth of Wheeler Basin. I’ve heard there is an old trail here that makes navigation a bit easier. I never found it because I got too excited and climbed up too high… Ultimately though, even my wonky path made use of game trails to enter Wheeler Basin. I then bushwhacked up the south side.

Gerry Roach describes Wheeler Basin as a fairyland, and he ain’t wrong. There are a series of meadows along the south side and mature trees with minimal undergrowth that made following herd paths easy (at least initially).

Stunning scenery in lower Wheeler Basin.

Eventually, a large avalanche path that looks like it broke from the side of Apache Pk. dumps debris across the basin. I used a system of downed logs to cross the creek to the north side and continued along its banks until treefall, and I swear the longest long grass I’ve ever been in forced me to ascend above the trees. From above the treeline, I just talus hopped around the vegetation difficulties and rounded back to the valley center when it seemed logical. If this seems vague, don’t panic, it’s a basin surrounded by cliffs; follow the direction of the stream until you eventually get to this meadow.

The head of Wheeler Basin, “Deshawa” is the mountain to the left.

Great, let’s orient ourselves.

Blue=Class 2.

Nice, not too bad. There’s a fun boulder field you can play in on the other side of the meadow (bouldering potential?). Get through or around it and climb a steep grassy ridge. On top of this grassy ridge, turn around for killer views of the basin and the gnarly western side of Navajo Peak.

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The Route

From the grassy slope, you transition onto a scree and talus slope to the ridgeline. This part kinda sucks; lots of moving rocks. The best and most stable rock is actually more to the left (north), and you can perform a series of angled traverses that make the most use of the sturdier rock. If you go for more direct, just watch the loose rocks and never ascend right above someone else. It’s here that you get some good and scary looks at the ridge and the crux section.

Fun?

Here’s a marked-up version of what you’ll be expected to do.

The Crux section. Class 3=Red, Class 4=Purple (lighter shade to highlight better against the rock).

The crux section is longer than any Class 4 you’ll encounter on Neva or the Arapaho Traverse. The crux buttress is also tilted, so you get this lovely off-kilter feeling as you’re climbing. I took some GoPro footage of the main parts of the scramble; I’ll toss a link in at the bottom of the description for added visual aids.

From the ridge crest, head south. The ridge narrows at a gap with views down to another little alpine glacier that’s seldom viewed since it’s deep in the off-limits Boulder Watershed. Once you pass this notch, the Crux difficulties begin in earnest.

It’s a wild ride up the Crux.

Because of the seriousness of this kind of climbing, pictures are lacking (look for video link at bottom). The order of operations is to first get up the step below the crux, perform an exposed traverse across a gap and swing to the western side. From the tilted bench you’re now on, find a diagonal-looking route up the buttress, that’s your Class 4. There’s climbing, traversing and some interesting problems to work through. The route is not just straight up. Once you find your way beyond a notch, the scrambling finally drops back to Class 3.

For the next hundred yards or so, stick close to the ridge crest, dodging any difficulties on the east side. You can usually stay pretty true to the crest. There are some surprises, so look for sneaky downclimbs, and secret ledges and keep bailout options in mind before committing to anything.

The serpentine ridge is very beautiful.

Eventually, you get to the low point of the ridge before it starts heading up to North Arapaho. Here, locate a long, green ramp on the east side of a set of crazy-looking cliffs. This ramp will lead you past the cliffs and up to another section of scrambling. This is the first place you gain significant elevation in a minute so expect a slower pace through it.

Red=Class 3

The ramp features some Class 3 sections and looser rock in the middle. You can ratchet the scrambling up to 3+ and 4 but trade the loos rock for sturdy rock and good holds on the ramp’s left side.

On the ramp, looking back at the lower ridge and another alpine glacier tucked into the Boulder Watershed.

At the head of the ramp, you have two options. You can climb up to a notch and through it to the other side (Class 3). On the other side, the rock ends into a big ole sandy chute. If you take the sandy chute up to the right (west) it’ll lead you up to the ridge crest (loose Class 2). Form there, you can veer around a final gathering of scramble rocks and continue up to the summit via loose Class 2 gullies.

Blue=Class 2.

But wait! There’s more scrambling if you want it. Instead of popping over then notch and into the sandy chute, turn right and clamber up the ramps headwall. It goes at a fun and surprising mix of Class 3+ and 4, with, again, bomber holds. From the top of this scramble, head left (south) up along the crest, where all that’s left to decide is whether you want to mess around on some more Class 3 scrambling (left) or take the path of least resistance (Class 2) up to the surprisingly broad and gentle summit plateau. You’ll see the enormous summit cairn and know that you’ve arrived!

The summit cairn.

After the handshakes and champagne, stow the silliness because you still have to do the Arapaho Traverse backwards before you’re out of scrambling danger. Translation: more scrambling, hurray!

The Arapaho Traverse has been well-documented in a few stellar resources, so I won’t go through all the bells and whistles with you but I will do a quick description and link to a bunch of useful resources. Before we get into that, here’s a marked-up picture of the whole North Ridge Route, as seen from the summit of Navajo Peak.

The purple area is the Crux. Red=Class 3. Blue=Class 2.

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Video of North Ridge

As indicated before, here is some footage of the more dramatic parts of the North Ridge, hope it helps!

The Arapaho Traverse and Exit

Essentially, get off the summit plateau by finding a strong use trail that dips down in between two rock outcrops.

The trail as it leaves the summit plateau; easy start.

The hardest moves are downclimbing between the two rock portion(Class 3+).

Downclimbing this features the most serious moves to get off the summit plateau.

Once beyond this, find the first opportunity to juke right and get out of the sandy mess at the bottom of the notch. Use this trajectory to find the trail and hug the western side of the ridge.

Looking back at the notch to get off the summit plateau, a possible alternative to the left?

You can dance along the ridge if you want, but the trail and path of least resistance hugs the western edge until you’ve passed a few obstacles. Eventually, the trail will circle back to the crest. Scramble up the rocks in the pic below.

This reclimb will get you up to the top of the traverse crux. There looked to be cairns marking a very circuitous path down and to the west. I suppose you could follow them and skip this part, although you lose a ton of elevation in the process, and if you’ve just come over the North Ridge, you’ve already dealt with the hardest stuff anyway. The crux is fun.

This is the crux rock from the bottom. Scale is missing, but if you stand on the crack to the right, you can basically reach the top of the rock. At most, this is a 2-3 move Crux, I think still Class 4, but so short you may be wondering if that was actually it.
The whole area. Red=Class 3, Purple=Class 4.

After downclimbing a sneaky step underneath the crux, pick up the social trail and keep on keeping on. After this, the trail winds up a few ridge highpoints. There are ways off of them, but they might not be at the very crest of the ridge, where a few isolated Class 5 moves wait. If you lose the trail, stop, turn around, and hunt for the path, it is there, and it takes you beyond any remaining difficulties with minimal Class 3 thrown in here and there.

Before you know it, you’ll be on South Arapaho Pk! From here, you have some Class 2 to contend with on the way down to the next saddle (stick close to the ridge and avoid descending to the right before the slope allows for decent traversing). A strong official trail meets you at the saddle, from there follow it right and it will intersect with the Arapaho Pass Trail after a significant descent. Turn left, and take the Arapaho Pass Trail back to your car. Done!

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Summary and Additional Resources

While helpful, my Traverse info is just the quick and dirty version, here are some better resources:

I also used a couple sources to help get into Wheeler Basin, keep in mind the Caltopo route on the Arikaree link for getting into the basin was lower than what I ultimately ended up doing.

And once more, here’s a link to my Gopro footage, which covers the most dramatic parts of the North Ridge, including the Crux components!

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A quick Note

My writing on this blog has taken a hit recently but not because of anything bad. After some Covid Pandemic soul searching I got into freelance writing and have been writing trail, backcountry and scramble reviews for SkyBlueOverland. Please visit the “related outdoor articles” page where I’ll link the most interesting articles I’ve done. They’re all written by me, just for a different site. Lots of good outdoor info there (and marked up trip reports). I don’t write every single article on the SkyBlueOverland site but have amassed a pretty sizable collection, feel free to read them and dream of the outdoors until I start writing on here again!

Little Matterhorn 11,586ft. (YDS 3)

Classification System

I like to highlight and markup some of my pictures for route clarification. Black lines= general directions, landmarks and/or Class 1 sections. Blue Lines=Class 2 sections. Red= Class 3 sections. Purple = Class 4 sections. Orange = Class 5. The class system is based on the YDS rating scale.

The iconic view of Little Matterhorn from Odessa Lake

RMNP

All vehicles entering Rocky Mountain National Park need a pass to enter, there is no free entry into the park without a pass (excluding free parks day which occurs once a year). You can find more information here.

Quick Background and Approach

The above picture from Odessa Lake is one of the multitude vistas that pushed the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park. Simply put, it’s breathtaking. Front and center to this view is the Little Matterhorn. Many people have stared at the peak from the lake shores but far fewer have scrambled up to its exciting summit. While imposing and daunting from the lake, you can approach Little Matterhorn from the backside and keep the scrambling at a manageable Class 3 with significant exposure.

There are two ways to attack little Matterhorn, from Bear Lake or from Fern Lake trailheads. My first visit to the area was from Fern Lake Trailhead up to Odessa Lake, the vistas unveiled at Odessa from this approach are wonderful. If you’re set on climbing Little Matterhorn from this direction you need to make your way up to Tourmaline Lake and hike Southwest to the low spot on the ridge between Little Matterhorn and Knobtop on the Continental Divide. The shorter and easier approach is from Bear Lake and only costs you about 7.6 miles with 2800 feet of vertical. The only “disappointing” thing about this approach is that you realize Little Matterhorn is really an extending ridge from Knobtop and not the solitary behemoth that it appears to be from Odessa. This is why I put the picture form the lake shore up top, so you can see why people named it Little Matterhorn. All perspectives from Bear Lake will show the mountain in a much different light.

From Bear Lake (get there reallllllly early on weekends or you will not be able to enter, no joke, like 5 am. Weekdays are a bit better but not by much) begin by hiking counter clockwise (right) around Bear Lake. At the first very obvious trail sign, take a right up hill towards Flattop. Begin climbing for .4 until you reach another junction, head left. From here, you’ll hike around the bulk of Flattop mountain (at the Flattop summit trail junction just keep heading straight) until reaching the height of land between Flattop and Joe Mills Mountain to your right. At various points, you will see a massive wall of mountains in front of you. Start paying attention when the trail begins to lose elevation, if you don’t deviate, eventually, you’ll descend down to Odessa Lake. Right before the trail takes a sharp right hand turn, look for the unmarked junction in the picture below. At this point you’re a little more than three miles into your journey.

Take a Left here at this unsigned junction, you can see the top of Ptarmigan Glacier in the cirque above you.

After moving a couple of minutes down this path, with the shallow Lake Helene to your left, you’ll see another unsigned junction with a smaller trail heading right through some grass, take this trail.

This new path will lead you towards your target. As is the case with “off trail” in high elevation areas, even in the trees it’s fairly obvious to see where you’re heading. Occasionally the unofficial path you’re on will fade, don’t panic, keep your eyes on the prize and note that you will lose about 200 feet of elevation at first which is necessary to avoid some cliffs. Keep Grace Falls to your left. The general trajectory is to circle the head of the basin you’re in and head to the saddle between Little Matterhorn and Notchtop. See the pics below.

Route overview, Little Matterhorn is labelled at the top left.
One of the first look at the whole enchilada.

To the Ridge Line

One you cross Fern Creek begin your climb by performing an ascending traverse to your right. The slope will change to an all talus affair with no trail. On occasion, you’ll pass areas that are susceptible to rock slides (evidenced on my trip by flattened alpine grasses and fresh streaks of dirt across large areas of boulders). Make sure to parallel the steeper areas instead of ascending into them.

Once you are in the proper gully (fairly obvious as all routes further to your right put you on slabby/steep rock), ascend until you find a logical break in the slabs to your right. It is NOT necessary to follow the gully all the way up to the low point of the ridge, you can cut off a significant corner by angling an ascent diagonal right towards a prominent rock on the ridge-line.

Head up to the rock circled in red. From there, the ridge scrambling begins.

There are plenty of options further right to tackle some scrambling early on but make sure to head up to the prominent rock circled in red in the picture above. Various trip reports have called this rock a variety of names over the years, the two I see most often are “Lizard” or “Dune Worm”. To be honest, it looks like both, point is, it’s really hard to miss and when you get closer, looks like this.

It is easier to bypass the rock on its right hand side and attain the ridge, though veering left provides a fun, brief Class 3 section. In either scenario it is possible to scramble up the backside to the cleft in the rock, from below it’ll look like you’re being eaten.

Once on the ridge, the scrambling begins and the seriousness of the summit ridge presents itself. While only Class 3 and not very long, the exposure is fairly relentless. Take your time and watch where you plant your feet.

The intimidating view of the rest of your scramble.

Summit Scramble

The short and dirty version: From the Lizard/Dune Worm rock, you’ll flip over to the Northern side of the ridge and traverse underneath two ridge knobs, which look very prominent from below but are easily bypassed. Continuing on, you’ll flip to the South side and traverse under a Third knob until you reach the Crux. It is possible to ride the crest on the second and third ridge high-points but it will require at least a few exposed Class 4 and Class 5 moves on the backside. Once again, the exposure here is severe. After the Crux, hop up to the summit.

Keep in mind there are three knobs, and the Crux area before the actual summit. The formula is left around the First and Second Knob, right around the Third Knob, stay on top of (or very close to) the ridge crest until the Crux, and then up to the summit cairn.

First part (go left).

Longer version: Take off from the Dune Worm/Lizard rock and veer left around the First Knob. Keep your trajectory and perform an ascending traverse around the bulk of Knob #2 which is longer than it looks. Some Class 3 moves are required on the traverse. Once you round the corner depicted in the photo below, the terrain eases for a brief moment and you are presented with a couple options.

The easiest method is to stay at your elevation and traverse until arriving at the gap before the next knob. At the gap, you want to flip to the right side of the ridge (the South side) in order to bypass Knob #3.

Sensing an opportunity for adventure, I reascended the ridge crest early (still on Knob 2) and found a passable (albeit very exposed) descent to the low-point between 2 and 3. While not super efficient, it does provide a great idea of the typical level of exposure out here.

STEEP.

Once you flip over to the right (South) side, traverse along some sloping rock to bypass the bulk of Knob 3, paralleling below the crest.

South side slabs.

Once you’ve polished off the South side slabs, the Crux section becomes apparent. It is the most exciting set of moves on the mountain and quite exposed, although the moves themselves are only Class 3.

At this point, the ridge whittles down to a set of stacked boulders with huge drops on either side. In order to reach the Crux, you need to scramble up to the crest by climbing the rocks shown below. There is a work around but it is not easier, I’d even rate some of the individual moves as low 4th, the only benefit being less exposure. It’s a gully running left and around to the north side of the Crux, but I did not scout all of it so I can’t tell you how beneficial it is in the end.

Moves right before the Crux.
The hardest moves on the mountain.

Yeah, so it’s a bit of a doozy, ESPECIALLY if it’s windy. Unfortunately, without a climbing partner it’s difficult to show human scale, but the Crux involves you stepping out onto a Pride Rock looking ledge. There are handholds, which you will be white knuckling. As you face into the rock, there’s enough room on the ledge for a full boot length but not much more. The most critical moves are when you shimmy around an exposed corner to find more suitable rock on the other side. The ledge your standing on is overhung and drops at least a hundred feet before catching the slope at a 25-30 degree angle and continuing to fall down to the Fern Creek drainage some thousand feet below that. BE CAREFUL. I’ve attached two pictures below (one angled down, the other angled towards the summit rock) to hopefully give a better understanding of the terrain. The silver lining is that it’s not long and much easier on the way back.

Angled down.
Angled towards the summit.

Once you round the corner, the terrain lessens and all that separates you from the summit are a couple climbable boulders. The top is a large flat rock with a surprising amount of space considering how narrow the ridge was at the Crux. Enjoy! There is a summit register there as well.

Looking back at the Crux from just below the summit.

Extra Credit

There is an Eastern Summit, marked by a gigantic cairn. This requires some Class 4 moves to get to. Proceed down from the summit until reaching a crevice that you have to wiggle into and drop down to a lower plateau before re-climbing a rock ledge to the Eastern Summit. The crevice is a complicated down-climb and up-climb with little space to work with, I’d call it Class 4, the rest is simple Class 3. I did not do it on this adventure due to typical (and annoying) front range winds gusting into the 30’s. Oh well, gives me a reason to go back!

Descent

Owing to the nature of the summit ridge, the only acceptable course of action without ropes, is to retrace your steps to the Lizard/Dune Worm rock. From there you can head back down towards Bear Lake or veer right and descend into Tourmaline Gorge. The formula for the way back is ridge crest past the Crux, left around Knob #3, right around Knobs 2 and 1, then left off the ridge and descend the way you came up OR right into Tourmaline Gorge.

Little Matterhorn may not be much to look at from various points (see below) but is an excellent and heart pumping scramble that at 7.6 miles roundtrip should only take the committed climber half a day to complete. In addition, because it is under 12,000 feet, the season for scaling it usually extends much longer than area 14ers or high 13ers.

Cooper Peak (N. Ridge: YDS 3) and Marten Peak (YDS 3) options for YDS 4

Classification System

I like to highlight and markup some of my pictures for route clarification. Black lines= general directions, landmarks and/or Class 1 sections. Blue Lines=Class 2 sections. Red= Class 3 sections. Purple = Class 4 sections. Orange = Class 5. The class system is based on the YDS rating scale.

Approach

No matter how you slice it, approaching these peaks is a long affair. Cooper and Marten are located in the IPW, west of the continental divide and therefore don’t allow for easy access from the 4th of July or Brainard areas to the East. Can you backpack in from the East? Sure, but it’s a long trip up over Buchanan pass. The best approaches (still quite long) are from the West. I ended up making these summits part of a multi-day backpacking trip which allowed me plenty of time to explore around. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, backpacking isn’t always an option, so for those weekend warriors out there, the best and most direct approach would be from Monarch Lake or Roaring Fork Trailhead.

From Monarch lake go west on the Cascade Creek Trail, take a left on the Buchanan Pass Trail and another left up the Gourd Lake Trail. At Gourd lake head North above tree-line (passing Island lake en route) until you reach the saddle between Cooper Peak and the Continental divide. At the saddle, turn South and scramble the crest up Cooper, and then continue on to Marten. From Marten, find a line to descend East, crossing a basin with a few unnamed lakes before descending down to Gourd Lake. Then, hike the 8.6 miles back to Monarch Lake. Alternatively, you can climb to the saddle between Marten and Cooper from Gourd Lake (again crossing the unnamed lakes basin) and go one way to touch one and the other way to touch the other, but this route avoids all the fun scrambling on Cooper and doesn’t provide an easier ascent of Marten, which is Class 3 no matter what way you do it.

Another approach would be from the Roaring Fork Trailhead which saves distance but also involves an arduous ascent up to a saddle north of Irving Hale, before descending down to Stone Lake, and then re-ascending to the saddle between Cooper and the Continental Divide. Either way, its a 15-20 mile day if you want to hit both. Consider also, if you are from the Front Range, the 2-3 hour drive back via either Berthoud Pass or Trail Ridge. Approach how you will, I’ll start the route description from the saddle between Cooper and the Continental Divide, though there are numerous ways to ascend these peaks.

A NOTE ON CAMPING IN THE IPW: If you camp at Gourd Lake or Stone Lake YOU MUST obtain a backcountry permit for the wilderness, information is linked here. There is no free camping in the IPW unfortunately, and very limited places left where you can still have a campfire, PLEASE respect the rules. Both places are rugged and beautiful, pack out everything you bring in.

Secluded 12ers

Gerry Roach, author of “Colorado’s Indian Peaks: Classic Hikes and Climbs” has written about a few routes up these secluded summits. The easiest version is a 2+ climb of Cooper (ascending north from the saddle between Cooper and Marten) and a mid Class 3 ascent of Marten with exposure. These are NOT the only ways to climb them. Roach also wrote of a beautiful Class 4 South buttress as well as a Class 3 snow couloir climb up Cooper Peak, along with the route I chose, which he lists as Class 3 and calls the North Ridge route.

Marten Peak’s stately summit block has a number of routes that go from Class 3 to mid Class 5 on the N. S. and E. side, the West side looks super gnarly and probably has a few Class 5+ lines that I did not scout. For being such small mountains (by Colorado standards) the options are surprisingly plentiful on both peaks.

Since I was camping at Stone Lake, the easiest way to grab both was a loop, where I ascended up the saddle between Cooper and the Continental Divide, scrambled South to Cooper, continued South to Marten, backtracked to the Cooper/Marten saddle and descended North back to camp.

My wife and I camped at Stone Lake (yellow lines). From there, I ascended to the saddle labelled “2”, hiked to Marten, backtracked to the saddle marked “1”, and descended to camp. The Gourd Lake approach offers many alternative options.

Approach stats (pulled from Gerry Roach’s book and AllTrails, use whatever source seems most accurate to you).

  • Roaring Fork TH to Cooper: ~8 miles + 5300 ft.
  • Monarch Lake TH to Cooper:
    • via saddle “1”: 9.7 miles +3960 ft
    • via saddle “2”: 10.2 miles +3960 ft.
  • Cooper to Marten: .7 miles (-700ish ft to saddle, +400ish ft to Marten)
  • Marten back to Roaring Fork Trailhead: ~7.2 miles (via saddle “1”)
  • Marten back to Monarch Lake Trailhead: ~9.7 miles

Cooper (North Ridge Scramble) +variations YDS 3

Below is a photo of the saddle between Cooper and the Continental Divide and my initial ascent up to it, taken from Stone Lake. Part of Cooper’s charm is that it doesn’t look like much from, well, most angles. The peak is dwarfed by the massive hulk of the Continental Divide as it makes its way up to “Ooh La La” and Ogallala Peaks. It’s only when you get up to the top of the saddle that you see a more distinct profile.

Blue line is the ascent route up to the saddle.
Looking south from saddle “2”. Start of route.

Much better looking! The ascent route I took follows the blue arrows to harder terrain, hops around the top of the deeply inset couloir and up to the peak. I climbed it in early September and there was still a chunk of snow in there so June/July that Couloir would make a beauty of a snow climb. As if there weren’t enough ways to climb Cooper, you can also take the ridge-line up from Island Lake for another Class 3 variation if you come in from Gourd Lake area.

My route followed the initially simple ridge as it gained elevation over broken rocks and grassy patches. Nothing really exceeded Class 2 until I came up to what’s depicted in the picture below.

Ridge direct= Class 3, or skirt to the west to stay at Class 2.

Since I was fresh and ready to scramble I wanted to see if I could stay on the ridge-line directly. The option to skirt is available and may be desirable if you’re trying to slam Cooper in a day. You do have to pick between the two options because to the left, the slope become almost immediately technical as the rock cascades down to the couloir. Below is a reference photo of where you are in the climb.

Red circle=first real scramble option. Skirt right to avoid.

Choosing the ridge-crest took me on a surprising, exposed Class 3 jaunt that I really enjoyed. If you like to flirt with difficulties and can handle a bit of exposure this is a fun section of scrambling. It is NOT a hike, you’ll be using all fours.

The scramble can be broken down into 4/5 shorter pieces. Piece one is shown below and is simply attaining the ridge-crest via a series of low-to-mid Class 3 moves.

To the ridge top

Once you get on top, you are greeted with a view of the impressive Cooper summit block and can enjoy a minute or two of Class 2+/ easy Class 3 ridge scrambling. The next piece is the most exposed and involves negotiating what I’ve called the 3 Guardians.

The Guardians are arranged like a right triangle and I’ll number them based off of which one you encounter first. The path of least resistance has you veer right around the first Guardian, hug an exposed set of rocks to the left side of Guardian 2 (the most exposed moves on this route are here) and then, hug another exposed set of rocks to the right side of Guardian 3. The pictures below help illustrate the moves.

Looking back. Barely visible in the pic, but to the right is nothing, straight down to the couloir some 100-150 feet below you. Since you approach the moves by facing towards the drop into the couloir, the exposure feels greatest here.
Steep drop to the left of the pic (your right as your climbing) when you pass the bulk of Guardian 3.

Safely passed the Guardians, you’re treated to the view below.

Ascend the haystack rocks as shown in red and enjoy scampering across the ridge-line until you meet the head of the couloir and the base of the summit block. Once you pass the Guardians, there is another opportunity to bail to your right if you choose. I went straight up the ridge-line.

My approximated route up the summit block, which utilized a gully just to the right of the whiter, slanted blocks below the summit cap.
Looking down the Couloir.

Below is a photo taken looking back to the Guardians as you circle the head of the Couloir.

From the head of the couloir, I took the first acceptable looking gully, we’ll call it Skyline Gully, just to the right of the edge of the ridge. The easiest alternative would be to traverse hard right around the steeper summit block until you find a lower Class 3 weakness and head up. The Skyline Gully runs mid 3 with maybe a 3+ move here and there.

Taken from same spot as previous photo, panning right and up.
Upper part of the Skyline Gully route

At the end of the Skyline Gully is a brief break before a final 10 foot push up a set of slanted dark rocks. Before ascending to the final summit rock, I turned back to grab the below shot of what I’d done since the Guardians.

Nice! The 3 Guardians labelled (top right) for orientation. The lake in the back is Upper Lake, upstream from Stone Lake
Last Push.
One down, one to go!

Thoughts: If the Guardians seem like a hassle, you can skirt around them, but you will still be required to perform an occasional Class 3 move to get up the summit, unless you circumvent around it entirely. If you’re up for it, give it a shot, the ridge line direct approach is exciting and will go if you take the time to find the path of least resistance.

Ridge to Marten

From Cooper, if you look south it’s hard to miss the distinctive profile of Marten Peak. Although roughly 300 feet lower than Cooper, I’d call it’s summit block even more exciting than Coopers. These are really fun mountains y’all.

It may not look like much from here, but Marten is full of surprises.

From the summit of Cooper, make your way off the highest talus area. Careful route finding keeps the going at Class 2+ but making a couple Class 3 moves hustles the process along. Once on the broad grassy shoulder of Cooper, scoot down the ridge to the Cooper/Marten low point. Again, I tried to maintain a ridge-crest line and had a lot of fun doing so. Bailout options to the East (left) keep it at a 2+, while the ridge direct option sports solid Class 3 scrambling (with occasional loose rock) and a few Class 4 sections for the willing.

An example of some Class 3 scrambling if you stick to the nose of the ridge, bail out options to the left.

Sticking to the ridge was the most enjoyable choice as it avoided side-hilling and loose scree which, in my opinion, is worse than solid rock scrambling.

As you proceed towards the saddle, the scrambling on the ridge steadily increases, until you get to the Class 4 down-climb on the backside of the rock circled in purple below.

Plenty of spots to veer left before the Class 4 down-climb.
There it is, from the bottom looking up. All in all its a 10 foot Class 4 section with a couple Class 3 moves above and below it.
The down-climb can absolutely be avoided, but I was determined to run the nose of the ridge, it’s a nifty down-climb (or up-climb) if you want it.

Just like that, you are at the saddle between Cooper and Marten. Pass to the left of the krummholz and begin climbing up the easy grass and talus slopes of Marten. There are a number of small towers along the way, the first big one is easily attained with minimal effort if you come in from the left hand side. Once you get in towards the summit block, Marten begins showing off it’s true character. It was a lot of fun messing around on the summit block.

Marten Peak: Summit Challenges

The going is fairly simple, and you pass a few knobs and small towers initially. Start paying attention when you get to the block depicted in the photo below. With time on my side I scouted three separate routes up the peak. I’ll start with the standard Class 3 (easiest) route, add a Class 4 variation and then include a third Class 4 route.

Blue lines=Standard. Red line from 1st notch is the most direct way up but has Class 4 moves. Tiny North is a sub-sub summit in front of the North Summit.

THE STANDARD ROUTE (YDS 3): As shown in the picture above and corroborated by Roach’s description, the standard route attains a wide ledge on the East side of the summit rocks, completely bypasses the true summit before pulling a 180 and looping back up the block from the South. The North-Direct scramble (Class 4) is an exciting alternative that starts from the 1st Notch. I’ll tackle that route a little later.

Showing the split between routes at the First Notch.

Once you pass the 1st Notch, the ledge continues along the side of the summit rocks, keep going. You don’t want to try and veer higher until you see “The Obelisk” depicted in the picture below. Any earlier attempt up will ultimately land you in Class 4/Class 5 territory.

As the highest blue arrow in the above picture shows, once you clear the summit block on your right, make that 180 degree turn, before encountering your first Class 3 moves.

In order to complete your 180 about-face, you have to hop up above a line of rocks. This can be accomplished with a few Class 3 moves and is illustrated below.

Instead of South, now you are looking NW. Hop up these rocks by any means you find, the two arrows depicted above were the easiest options I saw.
Looking South. From this step, proceed to the right and find a sneaky ledge (doubling back on the ledge you crossed down lower). The purple circle is a delightful Class 4 variation I’ll go over after the standard.

With the summit block now on your left, continue up the new ledge until arriving at a sandy chute that marks the easiest area to scramble left to the top.

A look back (South) at the higher ledge as you traverse. There are a couple moves on this higher ledge that are a bit exposed but the route is fairly tame by Class 3 standards.
Looking North to the last push. The summit rock and register are just a few feet behind the rock labelled in the picture above. Congrats! Enjoy the views.

F&T ROUTE (FINGERS AND TOES) Solid CLASS 4: Ok, so let’s say you wanted more spice on your ascent of Marten, fear not! I have options. Let’s backtrack to the area around the Obelisk, when you make that 180 degree turn on the standard. Per Gerry Roach’s description of the standard route: “Avoid the next 30 steep feet by performing an exposed Class 3 traverse around a corner to the east…” The F&T route is the 30 steep feet that the standard route avoids.

The F&T route, not long, but quite steep. The elongated purple circle highlights a fantastic finger crack. Once you get there, the hardest move is shifting left on not much more than a couple small toe holds, until you can reach for a couple small finger holds and pull yourself up to the higher purple arrow.
A closer look.

The two following pictures offer an un-labelled look from the bottom-up and then from the top-down.

Looking up the F&T route.
Top-down view, the route is in the shade.

Again, the route is not particularly long, but it is committing. I dropped my pack to ascend it, and felt fairly exposed until the last few feet. Exhilarating! Touch the top and descend via the Standard route.

NORTH RIDGE DIRECT (YDS 4): This route I’ve seen logged on a few trip reports in the past and it offers a great variety of moves. It is NOT the standard route which requires you to go all the way around to keep it at Class 3. The description for this route begins at the 1st Notch, as you approach from the North.

Recap/reference shot. The North Ridge Direct starts at the red arrow above.
First moves into the notch.

Once in the notch, veer left and begin climbing.

Above is a nice overview of the route after you’ve taken a left out of the notch. The orange circle looks like low 5th class, reminded me of the crux move on the Crestone Traverse, didn’t scout it. I’ve zoomed in on the brief Class 4 section below.
Some exposed 3+ moves and one or two low Class 4 moves are required.
Looking down from near the top at the upper part of the route.

Once you pass above a small rib of rock after the brief Class 4 section, you arrive on the summit plateau and are treated to wonderful 360 degree views. Marten is a super cool little peak. Don’t forget to sign the summit register! The easiest descent is taking the standard down.

Summit view! Stone lake (L) Upper Lake (R), Hiamovi Tower (upper L) and Ooh La La (upper R.) View is north towards RMNP

Below are two photos taken with my stronger camera from the summit of Cooper. They show the difficulties on Marten with the exception of the F&T route which is behind the summit rocks shown. Hopefully, this clarifies some lingering questions about the surprisingly complicated upper difficulties of the peak.

Clear as mud? Cool. Blue=Class 2, Red=Class 3, Purple=Class 4 and Orange=Class 5.

The summit block of Marten has a few loose rocks, so check your holds, but the F&T and the upper sections of the North Ridge Direct route are on solid slabs of rock which makes them really fun.

After hoofing it back to camp I was given the following look back to Marten from the shores of Stone Lake.

Like I said, just a cool set of secluded peaks. Next year I’ll attack Cooper from Gourd lake and hopefully have good conditions for an ascent of the South Buttress and/or the Snow Couloir. It would take very little convincing for me to then hop the 0.7 over to Marten as well.

Thanks for reading!

Mount Neva: North Ridge (YDS Class 4) 8/25/20

Rating System

I like to highlight and markup some of my pictures for route clarification. Black lines= general directions, landmarks and/or Class 1 sections. Blue Lines=Class 2 sections. Red= Class 3 sections. Purple = Class 4 sections. Orange = Class 5. The class system is based on the YDS rating scale.

Background

WARNING: There is a photo of an injury I sustained while climbing below, it has blood, please scroll if you do not feel comfortable seeing it, once you hit the heading that says, “Approach” you are in the clear.

The short version is that I’ve climbed Neva before, and I injured myself on it. It occurred before the crux wall. I underestimated a down-step, and my leg extended as I fell forward. When my foot finally found the ground, the pressure on my extended leg caused my knee to buckle forward…right into a sharp rock. It was a mess, I could see down to my patella. I also couldn’t turn around, so I half climbed, half dragged my bum leg up the crux, fixed a wrap around it at the top, and thanks to the courtesy of some fellow climbers, was escorted back to the main trail. Below is what it looked like when I rewrapped my leg (~2 hours after the incident). There’s a tiny thumbnail of the picture below. You can also click the blue link to see a full-size version if you choose. Be careful out there people, accidents happen.

https://whatsatimohome.files.wordpress.com2020/08/img_4185.jpg

The injury was a huge disappointment and ended my hiking season for 2019. While I didn’t need surgery or anything, I was limping for three months afterwards and the scar tissue is still very visible. Needless to say, I was itching to get back out and climb Neva again when my body healed and the weather agreed. Luckily for me, a couple of my good friends moved back into town from my trail building days of yore, and we organized a trip to make it happen.

Approach

July 4th Trailhead, west of Nederland.

From Boulder/Denver: proceed by best route to 119 (Boulder Canyon Drive) and take it up to Nederland. Lots of construction as of August 2020, no idea when the end date is, prepare for delays. Once you pass Barker Reservoir and hit your first roundabout, head south on 119 as if going to Rollinsville. Just outside of town you’ll see a sign for Eldora, take a right here (just make sure to SLOW DOWN as you pass the town of Eldora, speed limit is 25). Eventually, the road turns to dirt and passes the ridiculously popular Hessie Trailhead, keep going, angling right on an increasingly tougher dirt road for a few more miles until you arrive at the trailhead.

2WD cars can make it but its a long bumpy dirt road, watch your undercarriage if you do not have a lot of lift. The last little bit to the top parking lot is optional, but my Subaru Outback has made it up to the top every time I’ve been out there. IF YOU USE THIS TRAILHEAD ON THE WEEKENDS IN JULY OR AUGUST, GOOD LUCK FINDING A PARKING SPOT UNLESS YOU’RE UP THERE AT 5 AM.

From the actual trailhead there is only one trail, The Arapahoe Pass Trail, take it. Eventually, you pass a couple junctions, one to Diamond Lake (keep right), and another for the Glacier Trail (keep straight), there are also remnants of a mining operation here. Keep going on the well-defined trail until you hit Arapahoe Pass. From the pass, take a left (there is a sign) and proceed towards Caribou Pass. The cut off for Neva is unmarked but the mountain is impossible to miss as you start heading up the Caribou Pass Trail. It’s about three miles to the cutoff from the trailhead.

Neva summit is left. This is the view as you near the cut off for the Glacier Trail. The entire scramble is pictured against the horizon (you travel from right to left).

As you venture up Caribou Pass Trail keep an eye to your left. As the picture below shows, try to find a set of obvious rocks amongst the alpine. If all else fails, make a beeline towards the rocks to begin your climb BEFORE the Caribou Pass Trail starts losing elevation.

On the Caribou Pass Trail, Lake Dorothy to the left. Summit of Neva off-screen.

From the set of rocks in the picture above, you’ll be able to sight a fairly obvious use trail that ascends the ridge. From the ridge crest, head left across brief alpine to the summit ridge of the first Knob. The scrambling starts here.

There are three knobs to negotiate initially, followed by a Crux wall climb, then two additional knobs before the summit. The first (as shown in pictures above and below) is identified by a set of three, thin, lighter rock striations running vertically like scars. The second has a single, but wider, light-colored vertical rock stripe. The third knob has a very distinct patch of thick, green vegetation growing on its side, it’s fairly obvious from the approach trails. To the left of the third knob is a col and then a climb to and up the Crux. Beyond the crux, there is a brief option for more scrambling but the ridge mellows out until Neva’s summit. The last bit is a tundra stroll with mixed talus, leading to some larger talus blocks at the very highest point.

There are very good trip reports on Neva throughout the internet, especially on 14ers.com (thanks to author CarpeDM), so I will try to emulate how they broke up the route. There are three distinct sections. Section One=knobs 1-2, Section Two=Knob 3-Crux, Section Three=Final push to the summit.

Section One: First two Knobs

As you climb to the top of the Knob 1, you’ll notice the terrain change fairly dramatically to all talus. Scrambling to the top of this first Knob is a fairly simple Class2-2+ endeavor. Below is an example of the terrain.

Terrain atop Knob 1, looking back (North).

Staying on the ridge crest is easy. After a few minutes of concerted movement you’ll come across a descent to the col between Knobs 1 and 2.

What lies ahead.

For the most part we stayed on the ridge when and where we were able. As we descended into the col we found a nice set of grippy, sloping rock (Class 3) that we took on the East (left hand) side of the ridge. That set us up to zip passed the col and begin the easy ascent up Knob 2 (Class 2).

A look back at the first, easy Class 3 downclimb off of Knob 1.
Easy up to Knob 2.

Once you get on the crest of Knob 2, the scrambling increases in difficulty. There are a multitude of roue options available, though ridge direct is the most straightforward. Staying on the ridge allowed us to keep moving relatively quickly and also gave us some nice Class 3 challenges, including a mini knife-edge section with some decent exposure.

More difficult terrain on Knob2.
Traversing the Knife (most exposure is on the East or left hand side). Staying just to the right of the ridge helps keep the heebie-jeebies down.

The ridge crest is fun but we did not find an easy way to downclimb the nose of the ridge to the next col without hitting a Class 5 section. So, after the knife edge, I’d suggest finding an acceptable gully to your left (Class 3) that allows you to circumvent the abrupt difficulties on the ridge proper .

A cliff exists below the white line. Photos down the ridge-line tend to hide features (esp. if the ridge crest undulates) but it’s deep, steep and absolutely there.
Down gully, Lake Dorothy in the background. Once you descend to a grassy shelf, take a right and head to the Col between Knobs 2 and 3.
Where you are, what you’ve done and what’s to come.

Section Two: Knob 3 and the Crux Wall

Once at the col, you’ll see a really enticing wall in front of you. I do not know if there are workarounds (possibly to the left) but upon seeing it I knew I wanted to climb it. It’s actually a really good precursor for the Crux wall difficulties so I’d suggest giving it a go. We identified two lines up it, with the East (left) line appearing slightly easier. Either line flirts with Class 4 and I would argue commits to it for at least a move or two. Have fun!

The first move or two are the hardest for the East Line (left). The West Line (right) looks harder in general but also offers some nice cracks and handholds. Routes approximated, use your best judgment for hand and footholds.
Nice perspective with some starting variations shown. The initial block is a little steep (debatable Class 3/Class 4). Once you get to where I am in the picture, if you climb left over the fin rock (1-3 moves), you can keep the rest at Class 3. You can always push it by climbing up the large slab to my right or taking the West Line further right (not shown in this pic).
Taylor taking it to the wall

Regardless of whether or not you consider the specific moves on this section to be a Class 3+ or 4, the options to make it harder are there and you get a brief idea of what will be demanded of you in the near future. Take note.

Once you climb up Knob 3, you can maintain a line along the ridge-crest until it drops you down to the last col before the crux wall. At one point along the ridge-crest, it doesn’t appear that your line will go, but if you peer around the rocks you’ll be able to maintain the crest and keep the climbing at Class 3.

Looking back: again, the ridge-ling perspective problem. Behind and below the white line (out of view) is the notch between Knob 2 and 3. Once you scramble up the Pre Crux, continue on the grass bench (Class 2) and ascend to the ridgeline as shown (Class 3).
Dropping down off of Knob3

Once in the notch between Knob 3 and the Crux, there’s a fun little scramble up some slanted blocks (Class 3). From the top of the blocks, you have a fantastic view of the challenge ahead.

Fun blocks.

Cool, let’s pan out and take a couple looks at the entire Crux section. Then, we’ll zero in on specific sections and options.

Once you ascend the blocks, this is what you see.

Below is a zoomed in version of the crux difficulties. Let’s unpack it.

Two options. Same start, same end. The right version is harder, it involves a sustained Class 4 dihedral climb, ridge hopping, and a descent back into a notch before the crux wall. The easier option traverses left across a steep grass slope before arriving at the Crux.

From the top of the blocks to the top of the crux, it’s all 3 and 4, even though there is an “easier” option, it’s in relation to a more difficult route, not because its “easy”.

As you approach the split in options, ascend a few rock steps, and then arrive at a sharp diagonal fin. Here, if you ascend about 10-20 feet and take a look left, you’ll see a break in the fin that drops you into a grassy area (standard route). If you try to traverse across the fin much lower, you will be in serious 4/5 down-climb territory.

However, if the Class 4 Dihedral option to your right has drawn your attention, you’ll want to ascend into it before crossing the rock fin. My buddy Taylor, an excellent scrambler, will model the climb.

If the dihedral doesn’t look interesting, the standard route is your go to. Below, we’ll unpack that route until the notch before the Crux wall.

From the split option, ascend broken rock slabs to the prominent fin in front of you (Class 3). Pick the line of least resistance, and know that once you reach the fin, you will most likely need to climb uphill a bit until scouting an acceptable way to cross it.

Looking back to the Rock Fin.

Once on the grassy slope, perform an ascending traverse into the prominent notch in the ridge just to the right of the crux wall. Below is a shot looking toward the crux. The crux climb consists of the purple arrow and higher red arrow in the photo.

The hardest moves are ahead, but at this point you’ve been tested. If you’ve made it this far, you can climb the wall.

At the top of the grass slope, the optional dihedral route comes down to meet you. From that point, both routes converge on the crux wall.

Three things to keep in mind before you hit the Crux wall. A) It’s only a 30-foot wall and I’d argue only half (possibly less) is Class 4. B) There’s a little sprout of vegetation above where you start climbing that serves as a good first half marker. C) Halfway up, angle left on a Class 3 ramp until you exit the wall. In pictures below.

So, there’s this grassy plant up on the wall, super handy for nav. Find your way to it, options abound, I’ve only tried to show where some Class 4 moves may be encountered on the lower (and steeper) portion of the wall. Once you ascend past the plant, angle left on a Class 3 ramp.
Roslyn beginning her climb, taken from the Class 3 ramp above the steepest part.
In the above photo, Roslyn has just climbed passed the plant, Taylor is at the bottom of the wall.
On the ramp, almost done.

Once you take the ramp, the crux is over! Below is an overview.

Boom. Nicely done.

Section Three: To the top

Most of the climbing is behind you, all of it if you’re just sick of scrambling. However, if you want to add a little extra spice, once you get above the crux wall, sight the narrow ridge highpoint and ascend towards it.

Reference shot.

Below is a closer shot. Options are limited to ridge direct, and there are two short sections but it’s a fun side quest. Alternatively, you can traverse around to the west side and reconnect after the ridge eases up.

1st section (red arrows)
2nd section
Recap view

From the last scrambling to the top of Neva the going is quite easy. You have to cross a sub-summit with orange rocks that are not stable, in contrast to the stable darker rock you’ve encountered already. After a quick Class 2+ jaunt to the sub-summit, only alpine fields and a small rise separate you from the peak. About 20 feet before the true summit rock you have to do some talus hopping, but it isn’t difficult by any stretch of the imagination.

Getting up to the Sub-summit with the suddenly orange rock
The serpentine nature of the ridge is very striking. From back to front you can see Knob1, Knob2, the back of the Crux wall, and the last optional scramble ridge before the orange rock comes in.
Target in sight.

The Way Down

From the summit, travel south along the continental divide until coming to a sandy pass. Head left, descending on Class 2 slopes oscillating between big sturdy rocks and sandy garbage. Pick the best line for you, there is a use trail visible here, but it tracks through the slippy stuff. We stayed to the left of it for most of the descent.

FYI: The lake in the middle pic above is DEEP and can support a shallow dive at a few points, it was very cold.

After passing in-between the lakes, stay left as much as feasibly possible. The rest is an off-trail jaunt back to the Arapahoe Pass Trail and can be made easier by clinging to a set of grass and rock ribs to the LEFT (West) side of the main creek running down from the lakes. If you stay to the right, you’ll have to descend much more before finding a suitable crossing and be forced to negotiate a lot of marshy areas. Either way it’s a slow descent, watch for uneven ground that can twist ankles. No path is 100% immune from krummholz or willows, but it’s much less painful to head left after descending the talus below the second lake. Try to intersect the Arapahoe Pass Trail before it descends out of the talus. Once you reconnect with the trail, take a right and blast down to your car, nicely done!

Stats

Summits: One

Mileage: ~9 miles

Elevation: Yes

The Desolation Peaks: West (YDS Class 3) East (YDS Class 3+ or 4)

Rating System

Quick disclaimer: I like to highlight and markup some of my pictures for route clarification. Black lines= general directions, landmarks and/or Class 1 sections. Blue Lines=Class 2 sections. Red= Class 3 sections. Purple = Class 4 sections. Orange = Class 5. The class system is based on the YDS rating scale.

Location and Prep

The Desolation Peaks are located at the western fringe of the Mummy Range in the Northern Rocky Mountain National Park. There are fees required to enter the park; please click the park website link here, for pertinent information. Note: if you enter the park without the appropriate entrance pass, you will be ticketed.

The Desolation Peaks are part of a ridge that runs north from the bulk of Ypsilon Mountain and includes (from South to North) UN12718, UN12768, The Desolation Peaks, UN12341 and Flatiron Mountain before dropping down to the upper reaches of the Cache La Poudre valley as it flows north out of the National Park. As evidenced by their names (East and West Desolation), the peaks themselves are East-West oriented and just off of the main ridge to the east (or right-hand side if you approach from Chapin pass). This is a beautiful and seldom explored area, although the approach trail along the Mummy crest can be quite popular.

The best places to view the peaks (and the scrambly ridge between them) are from Chapin Peak, Trailridge road at the Lava Cliffs pullout, the top of Marmot Point trail from the Alpine Visitors Center and at the second u-curve above tree-line on Old Fall River Road, where a pullout and unofficial trail give you some great looks. I would also assume views from Fairchild and Hagues Peak are good. Mount Chiquita is unfortunately hidden by Ypsilon and Ypsilon itself is a very broad peak so the view from the actual summit isn’t the best. From most visible points along Trail Ridge Road, East Desolation is identified by its blocky, triangular shape.

While the first part of the approach is on identifiable trail, you do leave the trail about a hundred feet above the Chiquita-Ypsilon saddle and the rest of the route is off-trail. It is fairly straightforward route finding to get within a few hundred yards of West Desolation, but once you attempt the scramble be prepared for sustained Class 3 and 4 climbing, a very small amount of easily missed cairns, and lots of loose rock. The route finding was surprisingly difficult on the peaks themselves which is one of the main reasons I’m writing this report.

Approach

Chapin Pass on Old Fall River Road. The road is one way, accessed from US34 by Bighorn Flats. An approach via US36 is also possible but would take a longer amount of time. The trailhead is distinguished by a very large Forest Service sign on the right side of the road as it winds its way towards tree-line. Parking is on the left side of the road, with the best, and flattest parking spots above the start of the trail.

There is only one trail on the actual side of the road, take it, immediately gaining elevation. A few minutes later, after the elevation gain begins to mellow out, look to the right for a clearly marked sign. The park service sign says something like “All Summits this way”, and points to the right, follow that, it’s hard to miss.

Another ten minutes of meandering through stands of trees and occasional fields will bring you to a second NPS sign that declares the end of trail maintenance, with two trails extending behind it. One goes slightly right (higher), one goes slightly left (lower). The lower trail is a bypass of Chapin that runs you to the saddle between Chapin and Chiquita. The higher route is also technically a bypass, though it gains enough along the ridge to feel like an alpine trail. Choose either one, if you wanted to quickly tag Chapin along the way to the Desolations, veer right, otherwise, it’s really a preference thing, neither version is difficult.

Taken from the Higher trail, shows destination. The line of smoke across the ridges is from the Cameron Pk. Fire

The Cameron Peak Fire (as shown below) would provide some stunning shots in the clear morning. Unfortunately, during the day it ballooned in size and the smoke would eventually dominate the second half of the outing. Please respect Fire Bans, really felt post-apocalyptic towards the end when ash was raining down around us…

One of the clearest views of the original ignition area. The peak behind the wisps of smoke is Cameron Pk.
Fire, in relation to us. At the bottom left of the pic, the “lower” Chapin bypass is visible.

We (my wife Alli and I) elected to take the higher bypass and arrived at the Chapin-Chiquita saddle with 0.0 problems. From the saddle, you can see a steeper rise up Chiquita followed by a mellower section. We made our way a couple hundred feet up the initial rise before looking for a way to parallel the slope (left) and get around Chiquita. The trail from the saddle is off and on with patches of dirt, don’t focus so much on finding the “trail.” It’s better to focus on gaining some elevation and then hanging left of the ridge crest when able. This will allow you to pass around the bulk of Chiquita. However, if you can’t bear the thought of leaving any summit untagged, hopping up to both Chapin and Chiquita along the way to the Desolations is simple.

The traverse around the north (left side) of Chiquita was straightforward and consisted of traversing a mixed talus and grass slope. We even saw a Pine Marten up there, but the slippery buggers are notoriously hard to take pictures of.

Better look at the two Desolation Summits and the increasing size of the fire smoke.

Once you make it around Chiquita, it’s important to proceed to the Chiquita-Ypsilon saddle. From there, hike up at least 100-150 feet towards Ypsilon. Multiple trip reports have indicated that a traverse around Ypsilon directly from this saddle forces you to sidehill across class 2+ terrain. If you climb up the extra couple hundred feet before traversing, you avoid all of the unnecessary difficulties. Side-hilling off trail is always tough on the ankles anyway, so don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

Nice visual as to why traversing Chiquita is an appealing option. Much less effort.

Once you’ve gained 100-150 feet up Ypsilon, following broken sections of trail, pick a nice place and as before, begin traversing to the left. There is no reason to keep gaining elevation as you traverse (assuming you performed the requisite climb from the saddle) so find the best option and maintain your elevation left along the bulbous north side of Ypsilon.

Taken later in the climb, the below photo shows why it’s so important to gain the little bit of elevation after the saddle. The dominant diagonal ridge shown is the massive north side hulk of Ypsilon, Chiquita is hidden behind (not visible), and the diagonal gray stripe on the ridge to the right of my black circle is part of Chapin.

Blue = best way. Everything in the black circle = why would you even want to?

This is the biggest traverse of the day and is substantially longer than the Chiquita traverse. Take your time and watch for loose rock. As you move around Ypsilon you’ll be given some stellar views of your ultimate destination. The Desolations can either inspire or frighten from this angle.

West Desolation (left), East Desolation (Right)

It was around this time that we started to notice the wildfire smoke beginning to rise.

Cameron Pk, no longer visible behind the smoke plumes

Eventually, after traversing around Ypsilon, you can see the saddle connecting the main ridge of the Mummies to the Desolations. Proceed down to it. The introduction is now over. Below is a heavily doctored photo showing the progression of the fire smoke. It would engulf us within the hour.

Fire.

Ridge to West Desolation

Making progress! Map is oriented correctly. Up=North.

From the Ypsilon-Desolation ridge saddle, proceed north towards the Unnamed peak in front of you. FYI you’ll notice unnamed peaks are often abbreviated to UN followed by the elevation. The one in front of you now, is UN 12718. Attaining the summit of this one is a simple Class 2 affair, though the rocks are loose, you can always skirt the summit to the left for a little bit of an easier ascent.

What’s left. Smoke creeping into the skyline.

After UN 12718 you have a fairly quick descent to a saddle before you climb up (or around) a ridge Nubbin. The nubbin has a smattering of larger rocks that seem stable, sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. Be careful.

After traversing around the Nubbin, we regained the ridge at a pile of significant rocks. Alli decided to hang out here, as she wasn’t too keen on the scramble ahead. I set off to obtain the peaks.

The rest of the ridge approach.

After depositing some backpack weight with Alli, I polished off the rest of the ridge approach with ease. Now, I was staring at West Desolation and the two Gendarmes in front of it (visible to the right of the second arrow in the pic above). It’s really only here that you realize West Desolation is also off the main ridgeline. The first order of business is to descend off the main ridgeline and bypass the two Gendarmes.

This is a relatively simple task, although it doesn’t look it. Immediately upon descending the main ridgeline, I skirted left around a pink rock rib, regained the height of land in front of Gendarme 1, and took a right around both Gendarmes, staying as close as I could to the towers. Don’t drop too low, stay as close to the ridgeline as is reasonable, until you are right in front of the summit block. If you do this, you can keep the Gendarme skirting at a Class 2+. Now begins the climbing.

In it to win it.

West Desolation Peak (Class 3)

This is a fun and challenging climb with a ton of variety. There are a couple of key takeaways: A) do not go lower than you need to, the slope angle increases, the rocks become unstable, and there are broken cliffs to navigate. B) don’t be impatient, there are harder ways to attack the summit, but those require at MINIMUM Class 4 skills with a couple of Class 5 moves. C) hug the summit cliffs on your left until you find a cleft that runs at mid Class 3.

Let’s break it down.

Once you pass the 2nd Gendarme, the front of the summit block is staring at you. A left gets you to what looks like a “gully direct” option, although I do not know if further difficulties are encountered past what I could see. A right gets you to the Class 3 way I went.

I mean…look at it

Below is a close up of the gully direct approach. Didn’t try it but it feels like a 4+ minimum, with an interesting chockstone that may be avoided using a little ledge to the right (or crawling underneath it if there’s enough space?)

Chockstone circled in Orange.

Didn’t want to speculate too much on the ultimate route, but that doesn’t look very easy.

The Class 3 way was much more agreeable, although the exposure was substantial at times. If you take the Class 3 route, head to the right side of the summit block and hug the cliffs until arriving at a large flat rock. Looking to your left, there should be a quick Class 3 jaunt up to the top of the rock. This is where I found the first cairn on the route, it is not visible from below.

Route (Red), Flat Rock (circled).
Up to the top of the Flat Rock
First Cairn encountered, looking back to the main ridgeline I came from. Smoke getting crazy in the background.

From the flat rock, your next challenge is to ascend onto a sloping face, traverse it and continue paralleling the sharp summit cliffs on your left. Along this part of the traverse, there are a few options to head further left and ascend difficult breaks in the cliffs. I’ve tried to highlight what that entails in the next few images. If you are set on the Class 3 option (I was), ascend the crack and continue paralleling towards Dingus Rock.

From the flat rock, traverse along the bottom of the slanted face until you find a large Class 3 crack (shown below), ascend it.
Locate this obvious crack running up the slanted face for the easiest ascent.
After ascending the slanted face, traverse right. The first two options to climb directly to the summit ridge are shown. Purple=Class 4, Orange= Class 5. I kept traversing (red)
(Looking back) Now above the slanted face, parallel it and the summit cliffs until more breaks appear in the cliffs.

After you’ve traversed to within a dozen yards of the Dingus Rock, look for the most agreeable gully on your left. The one I chose is pictured below and offered Class 3 to 3+ moves on good rock. There is another one further on that I would discover on my descent later, but as long as you traverse passed the sloping face, either option is well within the Class 3 range.

My ascent gully, straightforward, pick your best line and have at it.

Once you climb above the cliffs guarding the top of West Desolation, you end up on a large summit plateau. The true summit is the highest in a series of upthrust rocks roughly 30 feet in front of you. Find a logical break in the rocks and skirt up them to tag the summit. Note: there are 3 or 4 rocky points that may be the summit, I touched all of them although the one pictured looked highest from most angles.

The summit plateau: taken from just below the summit rock. View is South-Southeast.
Looking to the East. I’m assuming you can see more on most days.

Summit number one complete! The view to East Desolation and its intense summit block from here are particularly impressive. An overview of your route from before the first Gendarme is shown below.

Blue= Class 2, Red= Class 3. The purple line (Class 4) is the direct gully approach as mentioned earlier.

Traverse and Summit of East Desolation Peak

East Desolation from the summit of West. The imposing summit block reminded me a lot of Sunlight Pk. down in the San Juans.

Right, so after hangin out on top, descend the summit rib back to the summit plateau and begin heading east. It’s difficult to miss the imposing view of your next target. Below is my approximate route back onto the summit plateau and towards East Desolation.

First few moves off the summit rock (Class 2).

Eventually, the broken summit plateau ends and you have to make some decisions. These decisions are helped along by identifying a few key markers. I gotta be honest, it’s hard naming features on a mountain or a ridge, especially when there are so many of them, but I tried my best and in the picture below there are two towers, or gates. You have to pass between them, and then diagonal right in order to get into a mini canyon. As I was writing this report a random shuffle on Itunes brought me an Avenged Sevenfold song. I suddenly remembered that their guitarist is named Synyster Gates. Therefore, the towers are henceforth known as the Synyster Gates and you must travel betwixt them.

The descent through the gates sets you up to aim for the right side of the Wave Wall.
Ignore my face, good quick look back to a steepening descent as you approach Synyster Gates.

Once through the Synyster Gates, you can clearly see East Desolation ahead. A steep wall (which I’ve dubbed the Wave Wall) lines the left edge of the canyon you’re heading for. You can descend to a flat bench and re-climb a small rise to enter the canyon (Class 3), or you can hug the right gate and find a ledge system that prevents most of the down-up dance (2+). I went with the ledge system, both ways will work.

Heading towards the Canyon, Wave Wall on the Left.

Upon reaching the beginning of the canyon you have to descend down. This isn’t overly difficult but don’t let your guard up. Many low-mid Class 3 moves are required, augmented by 2+ moves. The rocks are stable but there are deep holes and gaps between boulders that you absolutely do not want to fall into or become stuck in. Use your best judgement to find the most acceptable path and admire the prominent wave rock on your left.

Approx. route through the Canyon, up to you to pick individual moves.

Once you exit the canyon, another seemingly innocuous but very important decision awaits. The mouth of the canyon turns you towards the edge of the ridge (Southeastish) where logic may convince you to descend off the ridge and traverse underneath the crest. Nope. Don’t do that. At the canyons mouth, re-climb left to the ridge crest, it’ll save you a lot of effort later.

The re-climb, don’t go right unless you enjoy punishing yourself.

Once you regain the ridge, you’ll have the rest of the route in front of you and its a fairly straightforward affair. Descend on the ridge crest to the saddle and then either re-climb the ridge crest all the way up to the summit block, or take a line a little further left with less rock hopping. Both ways (and any combination of the two) will get you up to the summit block.

The ascent up to the summit block itself is relatively straightforward. Climbing the summit block is another story.

The summit block of East Desolation is imposing no matter how you look at it. As with most mountains, there are a few competing theories regarding how difficult the climb is. Lisa Foster, in her book Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Hiking Guide, ranks the block at an airy 3+. The three or four other trip reports I pulled from online to corroborate, rank it as a Class 4. I think in regard to the standard gully, its a 3+ with two Class 4 moves, the first of which is scary from an exposure standpoint. If you are a robot and unfazed by exposure, move for move you could make an argument that it’s only 3+.

Below is a great overview picture of what the standard route offers. Each arrow is numbered and has various moves associated with it. Arrow number 1 is the least difficult as it really just sets you up for the route. From the end of Arrow 1 you can also veer left to explore alternatives up the summit block. Arrow 2 is the crux for me. Why? well, its a side hop to get to a steep gully with a giant hole at the bottom that spits you down a vertical wall. A slip here will be the last thing you do in this life. On top of that, the gully above the Class 4 move is angled towards that hole, so if you slip above the side hop, you’ll get funneled out of the hole as well. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Assuming you make it up to the end of Arrow 3, you crest a rock fin and have a sneaky descent down the other side to connect with another airy gully (Arrow 4), that finally leads you up to the summit. The descent between Arrow 3 and 4 is not shown due to the picture angle, though I will attempt to clarify it later. For now, take a look below.

East Desolation, summit block problems

Below is the first part of the standard.

A note about the picture below, while it shows the first three sections of the summit block, keep in mind, for the duration of the purple arrow, there is nothing to your right. It’s just air, in order to capture the route, I tilted the phone vertically and it makes it seem tame, but this is one of those sections where its really damn hard not be worried about exposure.

The alt. route will come into play soon

So I went ahead and wigged out, wondering if there was any easier way to accomplish this tough climb. I’m no stranger to exposure having completed all the 14ers previously and 3 of the 4 great traverses (Diente-Wilson, Crestones, Bells), but sometimes that lion inside you is a neurotic house-cat and it’s very unwise to push limits. Today, I was the house-cat and set about considering my other options. Fortunately, after a bit of exploring, I found a sneak that stays at a 3+ comfortably.

Utilizing the picture above, veer left (following the alternative route arrow) and begin to circumnavigate the summit blocks. A couple things should spring out at you, namely, that the summit block is actually a series of blocks locked together with large gaps underneath them. This is a little terrifying because it all looks like a badly built jenga tower, but those gaps hold the key to what I’ve dubbed the Cave Sneak.

If you’d rather deal with exposure instead of tight spaces, read no further, the standard is for you. Essentially, I found a cave that led me behind the rock fin you climb as part of Arrow 3, from there I could attack the last gully (Arrow 4) and hit the summit while avoiding the Class 4 section on the standard route. Whoop whoop!

Possible cave entrances. Why 2 circles? Bc I’m writing this all from memory and as you’ve noticed, it’s a complicated area. If the right circle doesn’t go, check the other one.

I took my backpack off for this route, I don’t know if thats necessary all the time, especially if you have a tight fitting Camelback or something. I am 5 ft. 9.5 inches tall and weigh between 160-165 pounds. Without a backpack, I was able to fit through the cave a multitude of ways (legs forward, belly down head forward, and even managed to get into a weird crab walk without any appendage hitting the sides or roof of the cave). There is not enough space to stand or kneel (with torso vertical) for several feet.

Once you find the cave opening, you’ll see light directly ahead on the other side, however, that’s not the ultimate direction you want. Advance towards the light but keep your eye on the right hand wall of the “cave”. Once the wall on your right ends, you’ll see another path that leads to an open area. You want to make this right hand turn (basically between a 45 and 90 degree right turn) and waddle your way out.

Looking back at the Cave Sneak. Once out (essentially where the picture was taken from), spin around and perform a few 3+ moves to get to the numbered arrow at the top of the picture.
Taken from same position as the last pic, panning up. Final climb, now back on the standard route. Not a lot of real estate to your right, keep your eyes focused on the top.
If you use the sneak, as shown, you completely bypass Arrows 2 & 3 on the standard route, saving some time and some exposure anxiety.

Once you finish climbing the last gully, you arrive on the summit block, find the highest rock, touch, or stand on it, and relax, you earned it!

Please note: while the cave sneak alleviates some exposed climbing it does not eliminate all of it, the last rock gully up to the summit is quite exposed as well. However, it has a multitude of holds and is thankfully very short.

Below is an attempted overview. The numbered (and colored) arrows belong to the standard route. The white arrows and circles highlight the cave sneak. Again, there is only one cave entrance, I just forgot which of the two circles it was, check them both out, they are only a few feet apart.

As shown, with the cave sneak, you literally crawl behind Arrows 2 & 3, arriving at the base of Arrow 4.

Back to West Desolation

When you’ve soaked in the views (harder to do when inundated with wildfire smoke) you have to descend off the summit block. I retraced my steps going down the gully until I arrived at the Cave Sneak once again. Utilizing what I already knew, I dropped down into it, spun around, headed into the cave and this time veered hard left the first chance I got. From there the mouth of the cave opens up and you’re once again, below the summit block. I retrieved my backpack and focused on reascending West Desolation.

Looking back to West Desolation. The area in the black circle is zoomed in below. Stay close to the ridge for the first sections.

Once you pass the saddle and begin re-climbing West Desolation, pay close attention to the ridge line. If you don’t cross the ridgeline, eventually it will force you to climb the backside of the Wave Wall in a series of diagonal steps. Before that happens, look hard left between some white rocks and the darker fin rock of the Wall. This is where an easy descent back into the canyon is located, if you climb too high you’ll have to backtrack.

Make sure to cross back over the ridge (to the South side) before the canyon or you’ll have to backtrack.
Where to cross the ridge to avoid backtracking later

Once back in the canyon, continue climbing towards the Synyster Gates and pass between them. Hang left and work your way back to the summit plateau. As you ascend to the summit plateau, look for a logical break and begin your down-climb off West Desolation (to the South).

Makin it happen.
I descended a slightly different (and easier) way than I ascended, although I did really enjoy my ascent route, dealers choice.

Once back on the north side of West Desolation, remember to stay close to the summit cliffs you just descended and hug them until you see the sloping face to your left. Spy the obvious crack splitting the face and descend that back to the bottom of the face, take a sharp right and traverse your way back to the flat rock. On top of the rock, you’ll see the cairn again, descend off the right hand side of the rock. Parallel the summit cliffs as much as possible until you are in front of the gendarmes once more. Traverse left underneath their upper reaches until both are behind you. The last thing to do is climb back up to the main ridgeline. Congratulations! You did the hard climbing! But you’re still way out there! Conserve energy, the way back always hurts more.

Options back to Trailhead

There are two main options. If weather is threatening, try to make it to the Ypsilon-UN12718 saddle, then descend a series of grassy chutes interspersed with rock ribs. Break out left and parallel the base of Ypsilon and Chiquita along grassy stretches (careful the grass is clumpy and can still twist ankles), until you reach the basin in front of Chapin. From there, angle to the right and gain elevation as you need until running into the lower Chapin bypass. The rest is a cake walk, take the trail back to where it ends, hang a left and walk down to your car. If the weather is REALLY THREATENING, descend from the Desolations to tree line immediately and begin the longer (but similar) route between the mountains to your left and the thick forest to your right.

Option 2 is to redo exactly what you did, including the long ascending traverse around Ypsilon to the Ypsilon-Chiquita saddle. Traverse around (or tag) Chiquita, make your way to the saddle with Chapin and then you can take either the upper or lower bypass on good trail. This route is the best if you have the weather on your side.

Alli and I dropped down and traversed, the smoke was just too much up high. We eventually found a pocket of cleaner air and as we made our way back, the wind helped clear the smoke from our basin and carry it off to another.

Heading back to the Ypsilon-UN12718 saddle
Approx route down
Alli telling the descent how she really feels
Taken from right as we rejoined the “lower” Chapin bypass trail

This hike doesn’t look so hard on paper but it kicked my butt. Long stretches of climbing, and a seemingly endless amount of talus hopping makes it tough on the knees, you also lose and gain elevation often. While the incredibly fit will make little work of the distance, for mortals, this is a tough day.

As has become custom in our household, post successful hike, we treated ourselves to milkshakes and made our way home. Thanks for reading!

The Citadel and Mt. Hagar (Citadel E. Summit-E. Face: YDS 4, Citadel W. Summit-standard route: YDS 3. Mt. Hagar from Citadel: YDS 3+)

Preface/rating System

Quick disclaimer: I like to highlight and markup some of my pictures for route clarification. Black lines= general directions, landmarks and/or Class 1 sections. Blue Lines=Class 2 sections. Red= Class 3 sections. Purple = Class 4 sections. Orange = Class 5. The class system is based on the YDS rating scale.

Introduction

The weather was supposed to be fairly iffy today but my mountain weather app said we had a window, so the question of should we hike? morphed into, what can we hit quickly while we’ve got a bit of good weather? Often times it isn’t a good idea to play with weather forecasts but you really don’t know unless you go. Mountains tend to create some funk in the atmosphere, one ridge may bear the brunt of bad weather while another might not see a drop of rain. Nick and I knew our ability levels and decided to give it a shot, even if it meant turning around, which we had no problem doing. Nick had previously accompanied me on the Ten-Mile Traverse so we knew we had good communication, speed, and scrambling chops. We carpooled up I-70 in the dark and reached our trailhead at around 4:45 AM.

Table of Contents

To the Citadel

The mountains we settled on are in a highly-trafficked corridor but don’t often see a ton of use due to their committing nature. The Citadel is a fortress-looking double peak that requires Class 3 scrambling at a minimum, and Mount Hagar is connected to it via a ridge that, at it’s hardest, can run at a 3+ or 4. The kicker was the short distance, we could bag both and be back at the car in under 8 miles. With an early start, we’d be well off the summits before the t-storms and rain rolled back in.

The trailhead we used is not well known because it’s not really a trailhead. We decided to give it a shot after reading that there was a fairly good dirt road and an unofficial path up to the ridge-line. The alternative would’ve been Herman Gulch which is insanely popular and makes for a longer approach. The benefit of Herman Gulch is the well-defined trail, so if starting early and going off-trail gives you pause, use the Herman access. The way we went is known as Dry Gulch and is little more than a dirt road next to the off-ramp on I-70 (exit 216). Unlike Herman Gulch, however, when we pulled up to Dry Gulch, we were the only car there.

Dry Gulch is decidedly NOT dry and was especially wet after consecutive rainy afternoons. The navigation was fairly easy but we were both soaked by the time we finally broke through the trees. Generally speaking, you park by the gate, walk the dirt road until it ends, hang a left, pick up an obvious unofficial trail and follow it through the valley bottom until it juts up to the right at an unforgiving pitch. Be aware, if you start before dawn, there are multiple trail braids, they usually lead back to one another but some require more stream and puddle jumps than others.

Not too complicated, just very wet.

As you can see above, it’s not an overly difficult approach but because it is not an official trail, there are literally no switchbacks. Once you machete your way through the dense, wet vegetation near the valley bottom, the herd path goes straight up the ridge that the second arrow in the photo is pointing towards. If you start early, don’t panic at the myriad creek jumps and braided trails in the beginning, after a mile or two, the brush does clear and you very obviously begin to gain elevation. If, for some reason, you miss the turnoff, once the pine trees and willows begin to clear, point your boots to the right and begin climbing. Regardless of circumstance, you need to gain the ridge to your right.

Good overview of first parts of hike

The map above is really helpful. I supplement with pictures later on but the first hour was too dark to photo. The map is oriented correctly (Up=north, Down=South, Left=West, Right=East).

Once you gain the ridge, make your way towards the saddle outline in the pic above.

From the saddle in the photo above you connect with the trail coming up from Herman Gulch and the rest is a cake walk until you get to the Citadel’s upper difficulties. Another perspective of where we came from is shown below.

From the saddle, looking back into Dry Gulch.

From the saddle, continue up the ridge until The Citadel’s imposing East Summit takes shape. Before then, enjoy the views. We had a really excellent morning.

Looking north across the saddle to cloud covered Pettingell Pk.
Sun rising over the East, Herman Gulch below.
Mt. Hagar is the one in the clouds to the right, looking West.

Continue up the well-worn trail from the saddle passing some rock towers en-route to the summit block of The Citadel. From the saddle up to the base of the block you can really only see the Eastern summit and it is intimidating. The trail up to the summit block veers around any towers and rock ribs until the summit is right in front of you.

Easy strolling above the saddle.

Right before the tower feature in the above picture you get your first look at the Eastern (harder) summit of The Citadel.

The trail (easily Class 2) veers left around the tower.
All routes on the Citadel from this approach head to Saddle #2, marked with the arrow and the little snow-patch. From there, it’s time to choose how you want to climb.
Despite the clouds, this still gives the best perspective on the Standard route (Class 3).

Once you get to your second saddle, as indicated in the picture above, the standard route veers left, hugging the base of the Eastern Summit cliffs. If you choose this route, it culminates in a loose Class 3 gully OR you can climb better rock just to the left of it, still Class 3. This is depicted by the red arrow in the picture above. The standard route begins above the snow-patch in the picture. Hang to the left of the gully and find suitable rock to scramble up to the taller (and easier) Western Summit. From the top of the standard route gully, you also have a Class 4 option to climb the backside of the Eastern Summit. This is the standard approach for both summits.

Nick and I opted to climb the Eastern Summit directly. Our decision was helped by a climber in front of us. He had chosen to head up a loose gully parallel to the standard route and was dropping rocks down towards us. We didn’t want any part of that. Though there is a lot of solid rock on The Citadel (part of what makes it fun), not every route is solid and the fist-sized rocks the climber was sending down would’ve done some serious damage to us.

Eastern Summit Direct (Sustained Class 4 Slab Climb)

Instead of hugging the cliffs left towards the standard, we opted to head right and climb the Eastern face. This was a fantastic/exposed/heart-racing climb. I think in drier conditions it would’ve been more firmly on the fun side, but since we’d had so much rain, some of the open slab climbs were slick and forced some really exposed scrambling. Let’s unpack the route.

Fairly mellow beginning from Saddle #2. Loose Class 2.

As indicated by the picture above, the beginning was not difficult, just loose, especially as you traverse to the right of the organ pipe lookin cliffs and locate the first access gully. Once in the gully, use the solid rock on the right-hand side to climb up until just before the end of the second blue arrow in the picture above. Here, if you look to the right, you will see an exit that allows you to climb out of the gully and onto the main face.

Nick, at the exit from the gully. The exit involves substantial Class 3 climbing.

Right before we found the exit, we took a hard look at the head of the gully (circled in purple) and decided against going that way. If you wanted a challenge, I think it would go with a few upper Class 4 moves, possibly a Class 5 move or two, however, the exit to the right was the easiest escape.

The exit gully.

The photo of the exit gully above looks downright maniacal but it’s not, just a strange perspective looking up. There were great hand and footholds along the exit and I’d rate it at Class 3+ but no more. What the photo does a great job of doing is showing how wet the rocks were.

Sweet, let’s back it up and see where we’re at.

About 1/3 of the way up

So, after the gully exit we were now firmly on the main face and ready to take on the crux of the climb, a series of exposed, wet, Class 4 slabs with marginal holds. Here’s what that looked like, and unlike the gully exit picture, this one does not distort perspective.

VERY steep and exposed.

I’ve marked up the picture below and will try to explain why we chose the route we did.

We sighted a few lines of possibility and were attracted to the furthest right purple arrow because of the obvious seam running up the rock. This was a bit of a ruse as the seam had OK handholds but not much for your feet, especially with the slick conditions. Ultimately, we chose to use the seam for as long as we could and then traversed left as able.

Class 4 route options bordered by Class 5.

As all the purple arrows indicate, the ultimate goal was to shoot the gap between the Class 5 moves, though they are there for the taking if you choose. This was a tough, tough section and on more than one occasion we felt our tread slip on the rock. The key is to keep moving, not quickly, but consistently and only move one body part at a time, keeping three points of contact on the rock. If you stop on one of these slabs, you risk losing grip and may start to overthink your next moves which could lead to mental paralysis. Keep…moving…

Once you make it past the first slab, you have a tiny break in a dirt bed interspersed with some alpine vegetation, before the next slab begins. Don’t get too comfy, you’re not done yet.

Upper Slab section

Above are two lines you can take, the left side starts at Class 3 and uses some cracks in the rock to get closer to the end, however, there is a caveat. Once the crack system ends, you have at least two open slab moves that involve leaving the crack system and traversing right in order to keep the climbing at 4th Class. The little vertical orange marks in the picture indicate a small lip that runs between a 5.0-5.2. The traverse is necessary to avoid this. If you are thinking about attacking the lip, keep in mind, I saw no good finger holds above it, so any 5th Class moves you make will need to account for that. If you choose the crack system, also note that the vegetation is growing in dirt, not rocks. When that dirt gets on your shoes, you’re going to lose traction. On wet or damp mornings, this will absolutely be an issue.

Alternatively, if you have a dry day and good traction, you can attack the slab directly (purple arrow to the right) and work your way to the right side of the large rock sitting on top of the slab.

After the second slab you are back down to Class 3 climbing.

Making progress! As you can see, the 4th Class section is not long, but it is challenging.

Now, after the slab climbing, you’ll find yourself on a grassy ramp, which is not obvious from any point (so far) in your summit block climb. From the above picture it’s easy to pick out, but the ways into it (our way, traversing into it earlier, or continuing up the gully) all require some Class 4 moves. From what we saw, you really can’t avoid that reality.

A little easier but some Class 3 still required

Use the grassy ramp to get up to the next set of blocks, taking care to avoid pricking your hands on the sharp thistle plants growing there. If you hug the right side of the ramp as shown, you can keep the scrambling at mid Class 3. Once you are above this step, the grassy bit begins to peter out and you have one last, short Class 3 section before you are on the summit.

The last little section.

You’re almost there! The last section is shown above and compared to what you’ve already done, it’s easy pickins. If you’ve just about had enough of scrambling you can also bypass the block on the left and attack it from the other side at 2+.

On top! Looking over at the Western (and higher) summit.
Success!

Take a sweet moment to relax, you’ve earned it, but stay sharp, you’re scrambling isn’t over yet. Even by the standard route, the Eastern Summit is a Class 4, which means in order to exit the summit you have to perform at least one more set of Class 4 moves, and this time it will be a down-climb.

Quick comment on Citadels Eastern Summit: the whole climb was awesome and a little hair raising. We chose our route based on factors on the ground but that does not mean it is the only route. I think the gully exit was a great find and the slab climbing was supreme but I would love to go back and test some other routes on that face. Even though it isn’t large, I could see starting a line further to the right or testing the headwall of the gully to see if it goes. When I go back to try new routes I will undoubtedly report on them!

Extra photo below, as zoomed in as I could get without sacrificing route details. I hope this helps!

GREAT route, hopefully this give more detail!

From East to West

Standing on top of the Eastern Summit, we realized that despite our successful climb, eventually, we’d need to find a way off the thing. This is where some pre-climbing research came in handy. The standard route (which we avoided coming up) had a 10-12 foot Class 4 section from the split between the summits that we could down-climb to relative safety. Knowing its existence, we began to hunt for it.

It’s hard to tell but right in front of Nick (circled in Purple) is the vertical split that separates the two summits. The Class 4 down-climb is to his right about 7 feet.

Nick found it relatively quickly and performed the required moves with ease. To get to the down-climb from the Eastern Summit requires no more than a few Class 2+ moves. This is what the drop looked like from the top.

Here’s a view from the bottom-up. It is by no means an easy descent (or ascent if you scale the Eastern Summit this way) but it is thankfully short.

Class 4 down-climb.

I am not the greatest down climber in the world so to say I went down this section gracefully would be a stretch. I was forward-facing for the duration of the highest arrow in the picture above, turned to face the mountain for the middle arrow, and then flipped back around to face out for the bottom part. Why? Well, there was a sneaky step I couldn’t see while facing toward the mountain near the bottom, and it ended up being the crux move for me. I was still a good 5-6 feet from the end of the down-climb and I had good foot purchase and the ability to shift weight easily, so I did. I do not recommend this method as it exposes you to increased risk, however, if you down-climb this section, note that there ARE footholds there, but you may not be able to see them from above.

Below is yet another look, taken from the Western Summit that I think shows the best angle of the down-climb.

Class 2+ from the summit, brief Class 3 to get to the top of the drop, Class 4 down.

Once you are down off the Eastern Summit take stock of where you are. In front of you is the imposing Western Block, which you cannot attack directly from where you stand, to the right, the loose slope drops back down into Herman Gulch, and to the left, the slope rises to a small saddle between the peaks. IF YOU COME UP THE STANDARD ROUTE THIS IS IMPORTANT. Coming up the standard gully, the access climb to the Eastern Summit is BEYOND the height of land, crest the small saddle and then look to your right. If you take the dihedral BEFORE the saddle, it will be a tougher down-climb later.

From our new position, we hung left, crested the small saddle, and began looking for weaknesses in the Western Summit to climb up. This did not take very long and within five minutes we were on top of the Western Summit, having used a handful of moderate Class 3 moves.

From the Eastern Summit, you can get a sense of what awaits you on the Western Summit. Keep in mind, as before, between Nick and the route up the Western Summit is the split between the mountains, you cannot just hop over it.

Sorry about the fog, gotta use what nature gives yah.
Nick on the Western Summit, the route stays well to the left of the ledges shown.
A short Class 3 section right below the summit, which is just behind the slanted rock on the left.

That’s that, you’ve conquered both of Citadel’s summits! For added spice, you can continue across a small knife edge (North) towards a sub-summit that has some nice throne rocks to sit on. The moves do not exceed Class 3 but the exposure is SEVERE.

Extra Credit.

The summit rock only has space for one person and there was a very lovely Marmot Turd on top of it, so I elected to just touch the highest part of the rock and avoid the fecal fun.

The best part about the Western Summit is the great preview it gives of the traverse to Hagar. Even though we’d done a lot of scrambling at this point, we topped Western Citadel by 7:30 AM, a mere 2 hours and 45 minutes into our hike so time was, for once, on our side.

Hagar in the distance and the connecting ridge.
Hagar’s summit block difficulties. A lot of people rate it as low 4th, I wouldn’t, 3+ max, based off of what the Eastern Summit gave us, but hey, different strokes for different folks.

Citadel to Hagar Traverse

Onwards! Having taken care of The Citadel, we turned our sights southwest towards Hagar and kicked it into high gear. The descent off the Western Summit is a bit of a no-brainer, it’s more difficult if you hug the ridge, less if you skirt to the left and then regain the ridge a little lower. The first few minutes are low Class 3 on loose rock, so watch your step and never descend directly above someone else. If you kick loose a rock, yell “ROCK!” as loudly and as often as you can until either the rock stops rolling or it is safely beyond ALL routes on the mountain where people may be.

For the most part (i.e. 90% of it) the ridge is an easy 2 to 2+ tundra stroll with occasional (and always optional) Class 3 moves along the way. It’s the summit block of Hagar that makes the traverse worth doing.

Taken about 2/3 of the way down the traverse, looking back at the formidable-looking Citadel.

Ok, so there’s a lot going on in the picture below that’s worth explaining and a lot of it is subjective. The trip reports I read online classified the Hagar summit block as two sections of possible Class 3/4 climbing (ie 3+), the first section is up the summit block, the second is a knife-edge traverse to the true summit. I agree with the 3+ distinction but shy away from calling the main difficulties on Hagar Class 4, based on our experience on the Eastern Summit of Citadel. You can certainly find some Class 4 moves on the block, but you would need to be actively seeking them out. For the risk-averse, if you do not take the bypass, the summit block of Hagar runs at 3+.

1) The Class 2 bypass. 2) Solid Class 3 with good rock. 3) Class 3+ gully. 4) 3+ rocks to the right of the gully. 5) Maybe Class 4 option. 6) An in-betweener with some 4th Class moves early. These are not ALL the routes, but some clear lines I was looking at on the approach.

If you get to Hagar and you’re just doggin it and hating life, you can traverse left, around the summit block, come up the other side and keep everything at a 2+ ( with maybe a low Class 3 move tossed in there). Most people when writing trip reports on this peak tend to take route 3 or 4 in the above photo.

I believe route 3 to be the most common approach as it’s right on top of the ridge crest. What the route ends up looking like once you are at the base of the gully is roughly the same as the Gully Exit we used on E. Citadel, which is to say, harder Class 3, but calling this gully option Class 4 seems like a stretch. It also reminded me of the summit block moves on Navajo Pk. which is a Class 3, so I was fairly skeptical of calling it something more. See for yourself below.

The only way to make this a 4 would be to peel right into harder terrain or tackle the chockstone at the head of the gully. I just don’t see it reaching that level any other way.

My impression was that the variations up the summit block were all sorts of Class 3 with a couple of Class 4 options if you swung right and found harder rock or if you went between some of the routes (like Route 6). However, the obvious routes up the block (2, 3, and 4) are all Class 3. This is not to say that the moves are easy, it is still very much a scramble and after The Citadel you may be feeling tired. Take breaks as you need them, remain vigilant, find the best route, and go at your own pace.

We found that a route to the left of the gully was a relatively safe and enjoyable Class 3 scramble up stable rocks with plenty of hand and footholds so we opted for that (route 2 in the summit block photo). Here’s a look at the route entrance and the first section.

First few Class 3 moves.

The route swings right and gives you the following look.

Blocky terrain with good holds.

The last little bit is pictured below. Nick is standing on the ridge.

Once you regain the ridge, you walk along it for a minute until you encounter the next section, which is oftentimes described as a Class 4 knife edge. Below is the approach to it.

The “knife-edge” is in front of Nick in this photo.

Just like the Ten Mile Traverse’s Class 4 section, we debated this one at length. The conclusions we reached were similar. If you hung off the north side of the edge with rampant exposure beneath you, I’d call it a soft 4. If you, like most, moved across the top of the knife-edge, I’d call it a 3+. Why? Because, despite the HUGE exposure on the north side, at any point along the edge (save maybe 3-5 small moves) you can keep all of your focus on the south side of the ridge. The exposure on the south side is all of 5-6 feet and you can bail out at almost any point. Move for move it is Class 3+ and unless you flirted consistently with the more severe side (as in, hung off the north side and traversed it like a via-Ferrata), it would take some convincing for me to call it a 4. Take a look below.

Quick note: Why do I take on the ratings discussion consistently? Because it IS subjective, and therefore open to scrutiny. It is not my goal to make hard scrambles appear easier but I do expect people to own their actions, accuracy matters. If you do not have a lot of experience climbing exposed 3+ ridges, don’t do the Hagar knife-edge, especially since you can easily bypass it. At its hardest, this section is a 3/4 with exposure and toes that line for the duration.

Once you pass the knife-edge, the actual summit is just a short scamper away. Congrats! We were descending off Hagar by 8:30 AM. If you followed our route and took dry gulch up, you can descend into the head of the valley below Hagar. Then, contour left and maintain your elevation as much as possible until you run into your ascent trail. We were back at the trailhead by 10:30 AM.

Nice overview, excellent alpine day of scrambling!

“Cherokee” Pk. via the North Basin: (3-4 YDS)

Preface/rating System

Quick disclaimer: I like to highlight and markup some of my pictures for route clarification. Black lines= general directions, landmarks and/or Class 1 sections. Blue Lines=Class 2 sections. Red= Class 3 sections. Purple = Class 4 sections. Orange = Class 5. The class system is based on the YDS rating scale.

Intro

…where to begin. Well, I got lost, but on purpose. I suppose a better way of putting that would be, I went adventuring off-trail. What was the purpose of this you may ask? To verify a route I came across online that didn’t have a lot of supplemental information. I thought it interesting because it was in an area I had long wanted to visit, and a way up a tough mountain that supposedly lopped a few miles off of the alternative route. Naturally, it didn’t take me long to find time to make it happen.

This was to be a solo scouting trip and I relished the prospects just as much as I relish hiking with good friends. As any veteran outdoor person knows, there are attributes to either scenario, but for simple soul cleansing, nothing quite beats a solo adventure. So, on a Thursday in late July, I woke up at 1:30 AM, left the apartment, and drove three hours to the trailhead. Could I have slept at the trailhead and saved myself the pitch-black drive? Maybe, but our bed has memory foam, so…no.

From Trail to Bushwhack

Pulling up to the nearly empty Monarch Lake Trailhead, I grabbed my gear and started hoofin’ it at 5:30 AM. Monarch Lake is a lovely recreation area and in the predawn light, I managed to sight a TON of different birds and to hear aggressive rustling in the underbrush but didn’t manage to see anything. I did eyeball two loons on the lake which I thought was neat, they aren’t rare, but loons always remind me of my grandparents lake-house in the Adirondacks.

Once I’d passed Monarch lake, the trail into the wilderness started to rise up in a series of steps and runs. Right before the second step, I arrived at the first big waterfall on Cascade Creek.

On the approach, there were no less than five visible waterfalls with probably more in some sections. In between the waterfalls were sections of rolling terrain and wide-open meadows that seemed like the quintessential elk, deer, and moose habitat. They were really lovely looking. Below is a picture of waterfall #2, which I thought was particularly impressive.

Once you get to the third large meadow (I think, there were a lot of them), start paying attention. You’ll be able to see the view in the picture below. Here, you can see the summit, sub-summit, and the basin you’ll be using to ascend between them.

Excitement begins to build…

In the first few meadows, you’ll catch glimpses of where you’re going but it is NOT beneficial to leave the trail too early. You also don’t want to leave the trail in the middle of any of these meadows because two creek crossings are already required for this route, so adding a marsh to the mix is just excessive.

Not a good crossing point.

After the third meadow, keep trucking along for a few minutes more. I do want to make a note that at this point, I was over two hours into the hike, at a pace between 2.5 and 3 miles an hour. If you attempt this hike, be warned, you will be covering a lot of mileage, anticipate sore muscles.

When I saw the rock in the picture below, I began eyeing an exit strategy. It’s a good marker to use, don’t head off into the woods before seeing it.

First Marker.

Once you pass the above rock, pick a line and begin a diagonal traverse down to the stream (to the right). If you descend perpendicular to the trail (as in, straight downhill), you’ll spend a lot of time searching for a suitable water crossing. Below, roughly a minute or two past the rock is where I decided to begin my bushwhack and it worked relatively well.

Into the woods.

I liked my initial path because it deposited me on a fairly obvious (albeit loose) line of rocks that I followed briefly before noticing a nearly identical ridge of rocks to my left. I dropped down in-between the two and descended (occasionally heading left to keep my trajectory) until arriving at a section of dead pine trees. Once you navigate through this part, the sound of the stream should be quite loud. If all directional senses fail you, follow your ears. The actual bushwhack (although a true one) was not long and pales in comparison to some of the absolute nightmares that exist out east. Before long, you reach the stream! Ta-da!

Options for crossing.

Once you find the stream, locate the two options for crossing the creek. For me, they were on my right-hand side about 15 feet downstream. Log #1 is the most intact, but only when dry, and has a lot of bounce to it, which might give you pause. It rained the night before so I opted for log #2, which is about 2 inches below water at its lowest point but has less bounce and I had high top hikers so the water wasn’t an issue, provided I didn’t fall in. Poles help for stability but do note that the creek is quite deep in spots. After a few careful movements, you’ve crossed Cascade creek and can begin your ascent.

A good visualization of the long approach from Monarch lake Trailhead to the point where you leave the trail.

Off Trail Ascent

Into the wild. Black=trailed approach. Blue=Class 2 bushwhack. Red=Class 3 Climbing.

From once you cross Cascade Creek until you ascend the north-facing basin between “Cherokee” and No Name Knob, you are on your own. Extra care must be taken to find and maintain the correct path. I will do my best to help in that regard.

After the creek crossing, you’ll find large slabs of rock between pine tree groves, use them to gain some elevation, veering slightly left (SW) as you can. Once you start to pick up elevation and navigate away from Cascade Creek, begin looking for the key to this entire bushwhack: a herd path. It is by no means a regular trail and often peters out, but mountain goats and elk frequent the trail so if you lose it, look for their scat. Elk scat looks like little large oval pellets and mountain goat scat looks like smaller pellets or a mass of pellets stuck together. If this grosses you out, take heart, its just a navigation tool, this isn’t some Bear Grylls survival special.

Typical of Colorado, even in the woods, you’ll be offered many looks at your eventual destinations. Resist the temptation to shoot hard left. Continue uphill, paralleling the summits.

DO NOT leave the herd path too early and head left as I did. I saw the gully up between the peaks and decided to make a beeline for it, which ended up putting me in a much tougher situation. Even though the herd path begins to stray right (as in, away from your ultimate destination) stick with it. Eventually, the path will swing back around and put you in a good position.

If you make the same mistake I did, you end up encountering what’s depicted in the picture below. None of it was fun.

I’ve titled this piece, “Problems”. Can you tell I took some creative writing classes in college?

Let’s say you ignore my warning and end up giving it a go, here’s what you’re in for. Problem#1: a loose and frustrating descent down to a chasm, where another stream is. Problem#2: stream crossing, the chasm does not get a lot of light, therefore the rocks are UBER slippery. Two steps and I went right in the drink, both shoes, utterly soaked. Problem #3: you have to scout a weakness in the wall to get out of the chasm, which is made more difficult by wet rocks and thick vegetation. Once you finally get away from the stream, surprise, more problems. While it looks nice from a distance problem #4, is a long ascent through THICK vegetation, oscillating between young pointy pine trees, slick moss, underbrush, and hidden thistle that will prick you.

Now, let’s say you didn’t make my mistake and continued up the herd path. Eventually, you will be led to an easy stream crossing above the chasm. Yay! It will seem as though you’ve passed the ascent gully you want, but it’s fine, all you have to do after the stream crossing is double back up some broken rock steps until the views clear and you’re right where you need to be.

Much calmer.
Another look.

As evidence by the black arrow in the picture above, cross the stream and then perform an ascending traverse left (northeast) until you break out of the trees at the base of the ascent gully.

Looking up at the first challenges of the gully.
One of your first great looks back at what you’ve done so far. So far, mostly Class 2 from the trail break to here.

North Gully to No Name Knob

Now, the scrambling begins.

The blocky approach into the gully is a lot of fun and sports some variation, Below, I’ve highlighted two options. I chose option 1. Even further to the left as you approach the blocks, you’ll notice a stream spilling over a 10-15 foot rock face, eventually, the route you climb will connect with this stream.

Getting into the gully, first Class 3. Avoid climbing the wall to the left as it leads you straight into nasty krummholz.

Below is a close up shot of the red circle pictured above, with it’s own variations.

Dealers choice.

Above the initial difficulties, the gully relents and eventually merges with another shallow gully from the left (with the stream).

Note the pines on the left hand side of the picture. They are easy to remember as they are the last trees you encounter until near the saddle.

Make a mental note to remember the little cluster of pine trees you pass. These will serve as your markers on the descent. On the descent (assuming you come back this way), you’re going to want to veer left (north-northwest) to stay on track. If you stay too far right, you’ll end up in the krummholz, following the stream as it cascades off the 10-15 foot rock face.

After the two gully’s merge, the route becomes a lot simpler and begins to widen. Go up. Use your best judgment to find the path of least resistance. I always prefer rocks over potentially wet and slippery vegetation. It’s also handy to adopt a zig-zag pattern, rather than going straight up, which eats a lot of energy.

Up? My goal was the saddle and No Name Knob before heading up “Cherokee”. Class 2 talus.

At the saddle, I skipped over to No Name Knob first, which I figured had an excellent view, and wow was I correct!

The rest of the route up No Name Knob, taken from the slopes of “Cherokee”. Class 2 and easy Class 3.
The view from No Name Knob to the SW w/ out names.
Same view w/ names.
Southern view without names.
Same view with names.
Eastern Rim.

Upper route on “Cherokee”

After gawking at the surround from the summit of No Name Knob for quite a bit longer than I anticipated, I summoned up the willpower to begin the next part of the ascent. From the saddle between No Name and “Cherokee”, this part of the route overlaps with a route penned by Gerry Roach.

Gerry Roach is the resident authority on the Indian Peaks Wilderness and has written wildly successful books on climbing the 14ers, and the rest of the centennials (highest 13ers in the state). I used his book many times to corroborate routes when I completed the 14ers. Roach is a prolific climber and has named and identified dozens of routes in the area including many in the Lone Eagle Cirque. Officially, “Cherokee” does not have a name, its name was picked by Roach to match the theme of the Indian Peaks. This is why I keep the mountain name in quotes, on many USGS topo maps, there is no marker for the mountain. It helps immensely when scouting a new route, to agree on a name, even if it is unofficial.

Roach lays out a relatively simple way up “Cherokee” from the saddle that does not exceed Class 3. I have labeled his method as the Roach Approach in a few subsequent photos. On the way up, I initially stayed close to the route he described but ultimately traversed further, opting for more airy scrambling and will try to label those differences as I can. To be honest, Roach wrote only about a paragraph on the route up “Cherokee” from the saddle in his “Colorado’s Indian Peaks” guidebook, so move-for-move I just gave it my best shot and found fun rock to climb.

Please note: There are a few more internet descriptions of the upper route from the saddle to the top of “Cherokee,” but the subject matter is still annoyingly lacking. The theme of “Cherokee” appears to be, not many climb it, and those that do, climb from Crater Lake ie. not the north basin bushwhack I just described.

At first, both Roach’s and my route traverse beneath the first two major cliffs that hug “Cherokees” slopes until finding a long gully (with a few snow patches left in it) that acts as the path of least resistance. Neither Roach nor I actually climbed up the gully as it is festooned with loose, uncomfortable rock.

Route comparison, Roach Approach (approximated) goes for a mixture of grass breaks and blocks to stay closer to the ridge. I opted to traverse further right, and hug the left side of the very obvious gully that splits the mountain.

The initial class 2+ (blue line above) traverse is mostly enjoyable but watch your footing as you navigate below the first two large ridge towers. Depending on the time of year, small snow patches can add some spice, especially nestled at the base of the first tower you bypass.

From the saddle.

In the above photo, traverse underneath the first tower and pay attention to the rock in the red circle. If it is hard to see, use the next picture below. The rock resembles two faces sticking diagonally out of the ridge. The “Roach approach” turns abruptly left before it, while my route continues traversing around it.

Route split.

The rock is circled again and much clearer in the photo above. As I approached it, I began to like the way the rocks were starting to look if I kept traversing. Since I was here to scramble, I made the decision to traverse around the head of the ridge with the “Two-Face” rock.

The traverse around the ridge. Class 3 with a bit of exposure.

This is what the view looked like on the other side of the brief, exposed traverse.

Notice the color differences in the ridges. The one I climbed (left of gully) was on darker, slabby rocks, occasionally culminating in a series of towers. The ridge across the gully was redder in color and served as my descent route.

General route up to the first tower, Class 4 moves(s) from the crack to get up onto the slab, super easy bypasses to the left and right of the block. Otherwise sustained Class 3.

For the most part, this route was a lot of fun. There were a couple of towers that blocked easy passage and handed me some nice Class 4 moves with not a ton of exposure. There were always bail out options either into the gully or left around the towers on grass ledges. The rock itself was very grippy and had a TON of great crack holds that could fit fingers and hands.

Moves up to, and over, the first in a series of small towers next to the gully. Class 3.
Typical section of climbing on the “Timo’s Way” route, more Class 3.

Eventually, the gully begins to lose its definition as you climb up to a large blocky rock I’ve dubbed “split rock”. At the rock, two shallow arms fan out in two different directions like the letter Y. Each arm will get you where you want. Be aware that if you take the more inviting looking right arm, you will have to hop back left towards the summit upon attaining the ridge, however, the distance is negligible.

The gully begins to lose definition above this point, back to looser Class 2 talus.
A look back at where ya came from. Once the definition of the gully route begins to fade, its a Class 2 talus fest to the ridge-line.
The top! As indicated, there is a short, sneaky Class 3 knife edge in order to gain the summit rock. It’s a small, airy, wonderful summit.

The Summit Area

A great look at “Hopi” from the summit of “Cherokee”.
A moody looking Mount Achonee.
Beautiful view of Crater Lake, Lone Eagle Pk, Iroquois, and Apache Pk. looming behind.

In addition to the summit block, there is a sub-summit that acts kind of like a leading edge, or the prow of a ship, with sharp drops on all three sides. It’s a quick couple minutes to get there and worth the effort.

On the way to the sub-summit, looking back at the top of “Cherokee”.

The easiest way to access the sub summit is by finding a ramp on the east side of the summit block and head towards the saddle. To attain the sub-summit, climb on a smattering of rocks that require a few low Class 3 moves.

Route shown from the West.
Another look at the sub-summit excursion from the East.

The Descent

I must’ve spent about an hour up at the top. I had the weather, I had time, and after working my butt off to get here I was more than happy to relax. However, once it is time to leave, you actually have a couple of decisions to make fairly quickly. Do you want to descend back to the saddle between No Name and “Cherokee?” Or do you want to start descending back down the way you came up?

If you had it in your mind to head down to the shores of Crater Lake (a worthy destination in its own right), then backtrack down the gully until you can safely begin to traverse (right) back to the saddle. From the saddle cross over and find slanting rocks interspersed with grass and tree areas. Use the path of least resistance to make a descending traverse down to the shores of the lake which should be right in front of you. From the north end of Crater lake, haul the seven miles (on established trail) back to the trailhead.

Having botched the initial bushwhack on the way up, I was determined to descend back and find the right path, which I ultimately did. While I would love to see Crater Lake from the shoreline, I wanted to make sure I was presenting as complete a trip report as possible and that meant ironing out the kinks.

Decided to try the other side of the gully on the way down, starts at loose Class 2+.
Up and down comparison with the gully in the middle. Red lines=Class 3 ascent route. Blue lines=initially easy descent route on the other side of the gully.

Just for kicks I decided to try descending on the opposite side of the gully from which I climbed up. It was initially easy Class 2 amongst flakier rock (make sure you don’t kick anything down or it’ll just keep going). The rock rib does cliff out at a certain point (very obviously) so the hardest down-climbing moves were descending off the side of the rib and back towards the gully.

A look back up at the dueling lines.

In comparing the two lines I took, I think the descent route was easier. There were less Class 3 sections and they really only involved attaining the rob rib (if ascending) or finding your way off of it (if descending). The ascent route was more fun, and had more variety but if you want the easiest of the two, it’d be taking a line to the right of the gully on the climb up (and left on the climb down).

At the end of the gully you can choose to return to the saddle, or keep descending.
Last look back up at my descent route off the upper slopes and the cliffs to avoid.

Now firmly back in familiar territory, I began descending with more confidence and soon came upon the small grove of pine trees I used as a marker on the ascent. Veering left, I found the original Class 3 section from the morning and dispensed it with a few moves. Once those difficulties were dealt with I was out of climbing territory and back down to easy Class 2 talus hopping. The day was far from over, however, and I was starting to feel it.

Tired Timo.

Contouring to the left, I corrected my earlier bushwhack mistakes, found the herd path and crossed over the unnamed stream I had so much trouble with earlier. I was offered a few great looks back at the lower portion of the route below the saddle and took a picture.

Overview of lower route. White circle around pine tree markers. Class 2 and Class 3.

Remember, if you descend the north basin, take a left past the little pine grove. If you don’t, you end up in nasty krummholz and complicated Class 4 down-climbs.

Following the goat/elk path down to Cascade Creek was relatively straightforward. As before, I lost it a few times, but could orient fairly easily until I popped up at the stream bank once more. The ascent back to the trail across Cascade Creek was only five minutes long or so. Sweet relief washed over me when I emerged back on the relative highway of Cascade Creek Trail. Though I was still 2.5 hours from my car, I could cruise down the trail with relative ease. The end was in sight.

The trail out gave me time to think about my routes and the summit of “Cherokee”. I have climbed hundreds of mountains. “Cherokee” may have broken the top 10. While difficult and frustrating it had so many things I enjoy: remotes setting, route finding, scrambling options (upon options upon options), and STELLAR views. I’m already planning a return trip to the area. Well done Indian Peaks Wilderness, well done.

Until next time…