As summer was drawing to a close and the number of warm alpine weekends was steadily running down, I wanted to pick a big finisher for the season. Nate and I had been scrambling in the Flatirons almost every week and felt pretty confident with unroped exposure and low fifth class moves. I had completed the Gore Range Grand Traverse last month and enjoyed it thoroughly. The GT turned out to be a pretty good trainer for what I ended up choosing as a destination for this trip.
The weather on Saturday (9/15/12) was forecast to be perfect all day with no precip, little to no cloud cover, warm daytime high temps, and moderate winds. I was trying to decide between the Hourglass Ridge on Mount Alice with options for Chiefs Head and/or Tanima Peak, or Elk Tooth and Ogalalla Peak. I had just hiked to the bottom of Elk Tooth’s East Ridge early in the summer and was impressed with what I saw of the ridge. That was compounded by the views I had from the Middle Saint Vrain from the beginning of July.
Elk Tooth sits on the ridge separating the Indian Peaks Wilderness from Rocky Mountain National Park, so it and Ogalalla are the last peaks in the Roach IPW guide and the first peaks in the Rossiter RMNP guide. Strangely, both guides describe scree slogs up to the 12100′ east shoulder (from both Middle Saint Vrain and Wild Basin) to gain the ridge. I could not find any beta on the lower East Ridge from lower Hutchenson Lake. So, that sealed it for me. Pack for Adventure and head into the unknown!
We left Boulder at 4:15 AM and left the car at the Allenspark Trailhead around 5:30 AM. We pulled up to Finch Lake at about 6:30 AM:
7:15 AM found us at Pear Lake:
8:00 AM we spotted the ascent route from Lower Hutchenson Lake:
And the complete East Ridge of Elk Tooth was visible:
We studied the ridge as best we could from here and decided there were a few difficulties that could not be skirted to the north. It looked like we’d have to go over the tops or skirt to the south.
As we climbed to the ridge, Mount Copeland watched silently over us:
Longs Peeked at us from across Wild Basin:
8:45 AM we crested the ridge above Lower Hutchenson Lake and I peered into the upper Middle Saint Vrain drainage from this point for the second time this summer:
And the lower East Ridge loomed above:
The lower portion of the ridge went fairly uneventfully:
The terrain got steeper and the rock more solid:
Towers began to sprout:
9:22 AM we encountered a significant obstacle. The way forward was not obvious:
The view back towards Oskar Blues was dotted with small towers:
Does the ledge on the south go?
How about up between the towers?
The rock was pretty solid by alpine standards. Which of course means pretty loose rock:
Is there a way up here?
10:15 AM we were back on the crest:
With the lower East Ridge below us, we were pretty committed:
The void was getting larger:
Middle Saint Vrain dropped behind:
And the upper East Ridge loomed ahead. The “standard” route from Wild Basin reaches the ridge from the right at the right edge of this picture. The “standard” route from Middle Saint Vrain reaches the ridge at the right edge from the scree gully running down and left, known as “The Snake”:
A quick beta shot of the descent to Cony Pass made me shudder slightly:
Wild Basin receded behind us:
Rising over the Saint Vrain Glacier remnants were the central Indian Peaks, from Paiute Peak on the left to Apache Peak on the right:
The difficulties of the lower East Ridge faded behind:
Gibraltar Lakes under the Indian Peaks:
The Saint Vrain Glaciers looked pretty sad, but a few couloirs still reached for the sky:
The melt exposed what appeared to be a rock glacier:
The upper East Ridge and Elk Tooth waited:
The exposure picked up in a few spots:
And the summit neared:
The upper East Ridge was pretty fun and cruiser easy:
12:00 PM (6:30 from the car) We popped onto the surprising summit of Elk Tooth:
And Ogalalla beckoned from the Divide:
Elk Tooth has a pretty dramatic south face:
The Ridge to Ogalalla drops over 400′ to the saddle:
Some fun scrambling down to the saddle:
Apache Peak and Fair Glacier:
Another sad couloir:
A raptor caught a thermal and soared from Cony Lake into the sky:
1:30 PM We reached the Elk Tooth – Ogalalla Peak saddle
Cliffs guarded the upper East Ridge of Ogalalla Peak:
Elk Tooth rose dramatically behind us:
Some fun boilerplate slabs near the ridge:
2:30 PM We made the summit of Ogalalla Peak, with views towards Crater Lake and “Iriquois”:
The Complete East Ridge was behind us. From here it would get interesting.
Cony Pass waited:
“Ooh-La-La” would have to wait for another day:
Elk Tooth looks decidedly different from a more northerly aspect:
A worthless cairned descent gully turned to total crap, so we climbed back up to look for the uncairned actual descent:
The actual 4th class descent proved to be unobvious, exposed and steep, but very solid:
This was probably 5.easy:
The descent looks a little more viable from below:
4:15 PM Cony Lake from the top of Cony Pass:
The Pika goes “Eeeeh!”, the Marmot goes “Eep!!”, and the Talus Fox goes “You guys fools..”
Cony Pass is not a pleasure to descend without snow:
Ogalalla’s imposing north face:
Off-route, downclimbing a 5.easy waterfall:
6:00 PM Upper Hutchenson Lake (still no trail):
6:45 PM Lower Hutchenson Lake, and finally back on trail:
We raced the evening shadows while we could, and just before dark, around 7:00 PM, we ran into the first other people we had seen all day. They were backpacking towards Pear Lake and I let them know they would have the whole place to themselves.
We eventually pulled out our headlamps for the second time that day and slogged another 2.5 hours back to the car.
9:30 PM We arrived back at the car, exactly 16 hours after we started. We had hiked dark-to-dark, and the entire day seemed like a surreal blip. We had missed the Snickers Ice Cream stop, we skipped Oskar Blues, and drove straight home. I got home around 10:30 PM, 18.5 hours after I left and proceeded fairly directly to bed.
This trip was one of the wins we get when pursuing goals with a high degree of uncertainty. When you stray off the path without beta, it doesn’t always end up this nicely. This time it worked, and the rewards are much greater than those of a route memorized from a guidebook that others have already detailed. I’ll just have to remember this next time the Adventure doesn’t go so well..