Three Apostles Traverse: North to West

15 Sep 2007 - by Patrick Lilly

Hoping the summery weather would hold one more weekend, we arrived at the end of the 4WD road that goes south from Winfield at 4:30 am MDT on Saturday morning, and were hiking by 4:45. It was raining and snowing lightly, but we went on, hoping for the best.

We had the same difficulty in locating the trail just past the Lake Ann trail junction as reported by DArcy Straub: We had to go back over the same section of trail three times before we found it. It probably cost us a half hour. After that, the trail is easy to follow up into Apostle Basin, where it gives out after crossing the streem west-to-east. Then we began the serious climbing. First, we angled to our left and up through the last of the trees, then right across boulders to get around the cliff band below North Apostle. Once to the right of the cliff band, it is a straightforward, if long and tedious, bobulder hop and scree scramble up the wide drainage which leads to the North Apostle/Ice Mtn. saddle. It's steep and unrelenting for several hundred feet, but not really technically difficult.

Once at the saddle, we finally had some sunshine, but it was windy. The slope of North Apostle's south ridge is probably less than that of the drainage below the saddle, and that part went pretty fast. Only occasional use of hands is really required.

We got to the summit by 8:30 and were pleased to find a register. After just a few minutes, during which we surveyed the ridge up to Ice Mtn., we headed off. The first half of the ridge climb to Ice was not too bad, no steeper than North Apostle, but a little spikier and, thankfully, more solid.

About halfway up, the difficulty and exposure start to increase noticeably. Soon, we found it necessary to leave the ridge crest to our right. A series of ledge systems led us steeply up, occasionally nearing the ridge crest, but never quite getting back on it. Finally, we came to the crux couloir, where we were obliged to cross to its right side, and up the steepest section of the climb. Here the "ledges" were mostly little more than toeholds. Definitely Class 4. What's more, we saw no route on either side of the couloir that looked like it would keep the difficulty to Class 3.

From below, it had looked as if topping out the couloir would lead to an exit point to the right (west) of the prominent cliff wall just below the summit. However, when we got there, we found that the obvious exit was to the left, along the bottom of that wall. There, the slope finally relented considerably, and a short system of narrow ledges leads easily to the summit, just a few dozen feet higher. We got there about 9:45, feeling pretty good.

We were also glad we had no intention of downclimbing that ascent route. Instead, we dropped 400 feet or so off the southwest side, onto the broad face of Ice, to traverse over to the Ice/Apostle West saddle. This proved to be nearly as trying, if not quite as dangerous, as the crux climb of Ice. It was also much longer. We made our way over five or six (I lost count) major ribs of rock, and through the bottoms of the gullies between them, before finally reaching the saddle sometime after noon. Several of those rib and gully crossings required a Class 4 move or two and, although there was never the danger of falling hundreds of feet in one fell swoop, some of them also involved serious exposure. It was slow going. Once we reached the saddle, the climb to West Apostle, a Class 3 scramble, seemed delightfully easy to comparison. We found a register there, too. Three nice peaks in one day!

Our descent route was west along the west ridge to find a place to descend into the basin of Lake Ann and pick up the Lake Ann trail. Kevin thought it might be necessary to go all the way to the last major ridge point, well west of the lake. This would also have involved substantial re-climbing. Feeling a little tired, we opted instead to drop down the first gully we came to which didn't look too steep or appear to cliff out.

This bought us down to more level terrain south and west of the lake. From there, we followed a tributary of the major drainage to below the lake and began hunting for the trail. We had to descend a good distance before we found it, but, when we did, it was smooth sailing from there.

It is probably only because we were getting tired that it seemed like a long way back to the marked trail junction. At least the weather had cleared up, mostly, and we had considerably afternoon sunshine amid patchy clouds.

We got back to the trailhead just about 12 hours after we had left. Garrat and Martin call Ice Mtn. the hardest high peak in the Sawatch. I agree, and it felt good to check it off, together with its Divide neighbors.

My pictures are at:

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