West Apostle Peak

22-23 May 2006 - by T Colorado

Ahh .. the joys (and pains) of springtime climbing in the Rockies! After a successful, but easy, ascent of Dyer Mountain a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I decided that something a bit more challenging was in order to prepare for the demanding summer climbing schedule ahead of us. We opted for West Apostle Peak (13558) (neighbor of the already-climbed Ice Mountain, North Apostle, and Huron). Not knowing what the conditions would be, we brought the "kitchen sink" with us (snowshoes, ice axes, crampons, rope, etc.).

After a beautiful drive from Denver on Friday afternoon, we parked at the parking area for passenger cars (after hanging a left at the T-intersection at Winfield). The rough jeep road was snow-free (for the most part) all the way to the trailhead. At the Huron/Lake Ann trail junction, we took a right and continued hiking up the Lake Ann trail for about another half mile before setting up a nice camp in the snow-free (and tick-free) trees. It was a mild night and we awoke early and were hiking by 6:30 a.m. The trail was still clear of snow all the way to the trail junction for Ice Lake Basin and Lake Ann (take a right to Lake Ann).

We crossed the sturdy wooden bridge, and in about a half mile, the snow conditions became cumbersome and we donned our snowshoes. Following the trail proper was relatively easy due to great tree blazes (in spite of the trail being totally covered with snow in most parts in the trees). We soon came to a creek crossing (which would prove to be a plunging event for me later in the day) and made our way across, uneventfully, and continued on into the trees.

More slogging and elevation gain brought us to an opening in the trees and another creek crossing ... this was easily crossed on a thick snow patch over the creek. We could see the bench above us that is home to Lake Ann. The snow conditions all around (and above) us were atrocious and avalanche paths were notable even on lower slopes.

My husband picked a gradual, and then direct route up steep snow to an area just above Lake Ann. West Apostle Peak stood before us in all her glory ... with the "standard" ascent route being totally out of the question for this time of year (the "standard" ascent takes a route southwest of a small lakelet above Lake Ann beginning on a northwest ridge that eventually connects with a west running ridge that you follow east to the summit). This route was caked with snow, and avalanches marked most of the north side of the main west ridge that leads to the summit.

After stashing our snowshoes, we hiked on rock/tundra a bit higher to the lakelet above Lake Ann. It became apparent that the best (and cleanest) route would be the steep and exposed northwest ridge that runs directly to the summit. Access to this ridge is gained by hiking past the lakelet to the east and heading up. From the lakelet, we ascended east (and a bit south) on loose, ledgy, exposed slopes to intersect the ridge proper (it reminded me a bit of the Bells before everyone started cleaning out the route). We hit the ridge just past a prominent cut/snow gully.

The ridge proper, from this point to the summit, was exhilirating and consisted of 3rd (and 4th) class rock. The rock was solid (for the most part) and the views outstanding. Ice Mountain appears as a pointy teepee type of peak with the actual summit block being very visible. Apostle North looks ready to climb. Huron should be a goal right now for anyone who is still working on their 14'ers and doesn't want crowds on the summit. The route looks entirely clean and dry.

The weather continued to look ominous and we could see waves of crap heading our way (with the predictable blue sky waiting behind). About 30 feet below the summit, there was a bit of an obstacle (or shall we say "crux"). There was still snow on the summit and directly below, and that prevented a "typical scramble" approach. A short exposed 4th class move (without packs on), and some scrambling brought us to the summit. Actually, while I waited just below, my husband punched his ice axe through the summit cornice (a small one) and there it was ... the top! Amazing!

He stamped down a place for his feet and raised his axe in the air. What a strenuous climb. He downclimbed and I took my turn going up and balancing on the top. There was no way to search for a register. It was indeed a very precarious place to be. We hit the summit at 2:30 p.m. The "standard" west ridge route looked like it would not be ready for awhile with most of it caked with snow. We descended quickly, downclimbed back to our packs and slowly made our way back down the ridge.

We were stopped twice by snow/sleet and lightning (buzzing ice axe tips and my hair standing up in the air). But, soon it passed and we were on our way again. We did not follow the entirely same descent route as we had ascended. Instead, about halfway down the ridge, we turned west and descended steep scree slopes angling towards the snow-filled bowl below the summit. Once on the snow, we glissaded all the way back down to the lakelet.

The slog back to camp proved to be just as much work as the slog to the lake had been. Warm temperatures had softened the snow and even though we followed our tracks out, there were many instance of busting through concrete slush snow up to our thighs and helping each other dig each other out. And, I must say that we have some very large snowshoes as we are used to packing a lot of weight, and they still busted through.

The first creek crossing on the return went without incident (on solid snow over the creek). The second creek crossing went better for my husband than me. The branch held him, but broke away for me leaving my left leg, from the knee down, submerged in the raging torrent. Luckily, we were only about an hour from our camp, so I drained my boot and off we went. We hit the tent at 9:00 p.m., exhausted, but extremely pleased with our successful summit and the endless amount of energy the adventure entailed. Happy Trails!

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