Ice Mountain

16-17 Jul 2002 - by Darcy Straub

Recently I headed out to climb Sawatch's hardest peak, Ice Mtn. 13,951'. Roach & Roach rate this as a class 3 climb, while Garrat & Martin rate this as a "Difficult Climbing.." Hmmm . . . perhaps a discrepancy?

The climb of Ice Mtn. begins, figuratively speaking, at the 13,460' saddle between Ice. Mtn. and North Apostle. Getting to this saddle, however, shouldn't be undersold. Easy progress from the small lake at 12,100' is thwarted by large, frustrating boulder fields.

I would also note that the route description and map in Roach & Roach appears to be in error (or at least I found a different trail system -- read "disclaimer", folks). Following the trail from the town of Winfield, you will ultimately reach a trail junction for Lake Ann and the Three Apostles Basin. This junction is not hard to spot -- there's a Forest Service sign marking the junction.

Taking the left fork, in 200 to 300 feet you will reach the stream shown on the topographic map that flows from the basin to the south of Huron Peak. On the topographic map, the stream is shown as one line in its lower reaches; however, in this area of the trail, the stream flows through a flat, relatively marshy area having at least three very small tributaries. In this marshy area you may notice a fork in the trail. You will take the right fork as the left fork served as the old climbing trail for Huron Peak (if you don't see this junction, you're probably on route as the left fork is very easy to miss). Taking the right fork will in 300 to 400 feet lead you to a stream coming from the small 12,100' lake in Three Apostles Basin. Once you cross this small stream, which may require the log crossing in early summer, within 75 feet you will climb steeply upward on loose dirt and find yourself in a position to observe two streams. To the west you will see the stream coming from Lake Ann and to the east you will see the stream you just crossed. Continuing to follow this trail leads you to an open meadow at 11,340'.

Roach & Roach appear to be in error on two accounts. First, you never cross the stream coming from Lake Ann. Second, the Roach & Roach map shows a trail on the east side of the stream from about 11,000'. The trail I was on -- and it was a good, well-developed trail -- was on the west side of the stream from 11,000' until it crossed over this stream in the 11,340' open meadow. At a minimum, I found Roach & Roach's description of this section of the trail to be confusing. Some guy I met on the trail told me he spent an hour in that area trying to figure out what was what.

Perhaps Roach & Roach can be forgiven for this trail description, as the 7.5' USGS topographic map that they -- and all of us -- are using appears to be in error. The junction for the Lake Ann and the Three Apostles Basin Trails on the USGS map is shown to be at 10,820' and to the north of the intermittent stream that flows down the west face of Huron. In the field, this intermittent stream is a trickle of water and perhaps more conspicuous by its accompanying willows. If you successfully locate this intermittent stream, you will note that the trail junction is to the south of this intermittent stream. This mapping error may be the result of a reroute of the Lake Ann Trail when it was adopted as part of the Continental Divide Trail, but this is pure speculation on my part. In any event, this mapping error, the abundance of streams, and a ton of willows in the area combine to make this route description confusing in Roach & Roach. (By the way, I welcome people to confirm my field conclusions. I could be wrong.)

Once in the meadow at 11,340', the route described and shown by Roach & Roach is straight forward to reach the saddle at 13,460'. Climbing from the saddle at 13,460', you will first reach a small subpeak at 13,620' which must then be descended. The descent from this small subpeak is best started from a small outcrop of milky-white quartz just a short distance from the top of 13,620'. From this outcrop, you can make out a descent route. However, there are currently no cairns to guide you -- just do the simple class 2+ downclimb to 13,580'.

From 13,580' to 13,800', the climbing is easy and perhaps not as dangerous as the guidebooks might lead one to believe. Sure, there are some boulders along the route to scamper across, but it wasn't much worse than the unpleasant hiking in the boulder fields leading up to the saddle at 13,460'.

The crux of the route, as both guidebooks indicate, is met in a couloir on the right side of the ridge. More specifically, the crux is about 20 feet of climbing on the right hand side of the couloir that leads one to the ridge at 13,860'. As I was climbing this section, I had a hard time believing that I was on Roach & Roach's class 3 route. This climbing reminded me of the two cliff bands on North Maroon Peak and the final 150' of Mt. Wilson, all involving 4th class rock. It did not remind me of other climbs rated class 3 by Gerry Roach, such as Wetterhorn, El Diente, and Eolus, just to name a few. As I climbed on, I figured I was off route and would find the easy descent route on the way down, as is often the case. But I knew that the route I was on would at least get me to the ridge and closer to the summit.

I reached the top of the ridge and made my way over to the summit of Ice Mountain to finish the climb. As I was sitting down and observing my surroundings, I noticed something orange tied around a rock a short distance below the point where I had gained the ridge. I thought, "Just as I suspected, I missed the route. Here's some surveying tape marking the descent route to aid those who've made the climb over from West Apostle."

After a little lunch, I climbed down to the orange surveying tape which was to take me to easier ground. One problem. This surveying tape was not surveying tape -- it was a rappel sling. Great. Nothing lifts the spirits like this type of revelation. So I climbed back up to inspect my ascent route which was now my descent route. I thought to myself, "Well, what can be climbed up, can be climbed down . . . usually." Ever the eternal optimist, I am.

Roach & Roach describe class 3 climbing as "Many people will feel the need to face in while downclimbing Class 3 terrain." Relating facing in or facing out to downclimbing class 3 rock is a good insight by Roach & Roach. Of course, the correct form is to downclimb facing in, but facing out allows one to more easily see one's next foothold. As I think about it, much of the class 3 rock I have ever climbed has allowed for "sloppy" climbing in which you can downclimb facing out.

Let me tell you about my descent off of the ridge -- NO SLOP ALLOWED. Facing in and using handhold by handhold, foothold by foothold (some of which might better be described as "toeholds"), I found myself at the bottom of the crux of the climb. I doubt anybody would ever climb this stretch of rock facing out.

Roach & Roach state "This climb is more dangerous than it is difficult." I think this statement is a little misleading. Martin and Garratt state Ice Mountain's "ascent should only be attempted by experienced climbers."

Unless I was off route, I think Martin and Garratt give good advice. Until somebody tells me how he or she can downclimbed the crux of Ice Mountain facing out, I would classify Ice Mountain as a 4th class climb . . . and a good one at that.

Paul Wilson adds:

Shucks, with all your info it will take all the fun out of the climb. Every BMS class I have taken up the mountain has been thoroughly confused by game trails, big ledges, and hard to follow guidebooks. Often bad rock fall and exposure present danger to many. I know some very experienced climbers that have had difficulty. Its a good climb and even the 2nd and 3rd time any reasonable route is tough to identify.

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