Mission: Summit Mt Powell (elevation 13,580')
Who: Mark and myself
Total Length: 10.5 miles
Elevation gain: 5000 ft.
Warning: There is a large amount of sarcasm in the text. Send me a check for $100 and I will highlight all sarcasm in a pink font for you.
The Gore RangeThe Gore range is known amongst the Colorado mountaineering community as one of the more rugged mountain ranges in the state. It's less known than other ranges since the Gore range is not home to any of the popular 14ers. In fact, Mt. Powell at 13,580', is the tallest peak in the Gore range. Tallest does not always equal most difficult though. That being said, no peak in the Gore range is "easy".
|Easy trail by Piney Lake. Mt. Powell's summit seen top left. Pic taken in the afternoon on descent.|
Mt. Powell will test many of your mountaineering skills all in one day. With an easy trail for the first 2.8 miles, it's easy to assume that the rest of the trail will be similar. It is not. In fact, sometimes there is no trail at all. On this route, you will have sections of steep and loose scree, talus fields, grassy slopes covered with wildflowers, hidden mud-holes among willows that will swallow boots, snow filled gullies requiring crampons and ice axes (even in July), bush-whacking, and route finding. The only thing missing is possibly some class 3 or class 4 climbing, which could possibly be had with a slightly different route by staying on the ridge after you top out on Kneeknocker Pass.
The route we took however was mostly class 2, and in my opinion, there's not any dangerous exposure on the route. There is one part of the route that will get your attention however. It's likely the crux of the whole climb. It's a down climb of a snowfield & cornice on the northeast side of Kneeknocker Pass. Depending on the time of year, this could be even more dangerous, but in July of 2014, it was mostly just fun.
The hikeMark was nice enough to let me sleep at his condo in Silverthorne and after maybe 2.5 or 3 hours of sleep, we woke and were on the road headed to the Piney Lake trailhead for an early start.
After a deceivingly long dirt road to the trailhead, we finally reached the trailhead gate and began our hike about 4:40am. We hiked past Piney Lake and followed the mellow trail for 2.8 miles to our turn off. This junction can apparently be easy to miss, but we found it ok in the early morning light.
On the approach, Mark joked about how us hiking together might be cursed since we'd hiked together three times prior and we hadn't yet had a day where both of us made it to a summit. The previous attempts were filled with issues surrounding trail breaking in waist high snow, a bad ankle day for me, and a day where everyone but me made it to the summit of Cathedral Peak.
Mark was also joking with me about how "unfit" I was. This was in reference to some comment that another member of 14ers.com had given to me on a conditions update I posted when I described the south slope up to the ridge on Maroon Peak as "2800 feet of suck". So anytime I stepped in a deep mud hole in the willows because I couldn't even see my feet, it was because I was "unfit". Anytime one of us slipped on loose rocks or scree, it was because we were "unfit". Anytime one of us stopped to piss... unfit. You get the idea. It was actually quite humorous banter that we both exchanging equally.
Either way, the joking was all in good fun, except for maybe the "cursed climbing partner" thing might of had the smallest element of truth to it. This just made us both determined to get a summit today.
After the turn off the main trail, the climbers trail is easy to follow in most sections and sometimes it just seemed to disappear. Occasionally we found ourselves in the willows or on some talus just heading in a general "path of least resistance" to the northeast where we'd usually pick up a trail segment again.
|Me bushwhacking through some willows and other fun vegetation - (photo Mark)|
After plenty of bushwhacking and steep slopes we finally popped out above the tree line around 7am.
|Mark surveying the scree-fest to Kneeknocker Pass.|
|Mark navigating the steep slope up to Kneeknocker Pass|
|Mark topping out on Kneeknocker Pass. Piney Lake can be seen in the distance.|
Being so unfit, it was already about 8:20am when we reached the top of Kneeknocker Pass. The views of Peak C to the south just dominate the views from here. We had a bite to eat and discussed two options:
a) Take the ridge to Powell, which could possibly exceed class 4?
b) Down climbing the snow field and then climb up a snow gully, some grassy slopes and talus.
We couldn't quite remember the ridge difficulty from the hit and miss information online that we'd read on this mountain, our boots were already soaked from bushwhacking through the willows, and we had crampons and ice axes with us, so we just opted for the snow climb.
Mark led the down climb and I followed.
|Mark having descended the slope can be seen bottom right.|
|Me traversing the snow slope. (Photo Mark)|
The snow climb up Mt Powell was about as good as it gets in mid-July in Colorado. Amazingly the snow was ok. It wasn't great, but it certainly didn't suck. We both had a blast in this section.
|Mark climbing. The slope we down climbed from Kneeknocker Pass in the background.|
|Me climbing up the snow. (Photo Mark)|
|Mark nearing the top of the snow.|
|Climbing the snow with impressive Peak C looming above me. (Photo Mark)|
We went as far as the snow would take us until we had to move onto the grassy slopes. These slopes were steep, but easy going. It would be just elevation gain on these slopes and some talus the rest of the way to the summit.
It was in this field below, I saw Mark taking a picture of a butterfly after realizing he'd left his gloves on a rock at the top of the snow slope. Clearly this action was enough to tip the scales in my favor and we decided that he was the most unfit.
|Wildflowers covered parts of this slope.|
|Peak C deserves more than just one picture in this post. With such a shitty name, it makes up for it with it's looks.|
Mark then took his unfit status to heart and tore off to the summit like he was a member of the Blues Brothers and was on a mission from god. He just left me in the dust. I would eventually arrive at the summit by sheer luck. I actually believe I might have been transported the rest of the way by a generous family of marmots, or one incredibly strong lone pika. Clearly, I myself was too unfit to have climbed it on my own.
|Summits with good friends are always better, even if the views were hazy.|
Even though the day was nice, we still had 5000 ft in elevation to descend, and I had brought two beers and stashed them in a creek at the 2.5 mile mark or so. These beers were calling my name. So, we left the summit and I watched Mark do one of the more amazing standing glissades I've ever seen on the snow. I opted for a more traditional glissade. We all know glissading is the unfit person's way down a mountain. A fit person would just walk or run even.
In the pic below, you can see Mark's route to the left of mine.
|Glissade... in July!|
|Mark waiting on me at the top of the cornice. I was clearly challenging him for the title of "most unfit" at this point.|
On the way down, Mark and I took turns being unfit and stopping to take pictures, enjoy scenery, or even chat with a few other hikers we ran into on Kneeknocker Pass.
|Paintbrush flowers were all over the place.|
|A pretty creek in the basin at the bottom of Kneeknocker Pass.|
|This will work as a trail, for the next 30 feet or so.|
|Now we've found the "trail". :)|
After another short stint of bushwhacking that was slightly worse than what we'd done in the morning, we eventually found the "trail" again and found our way back to civilization. With all of our unfit activities (pictures, glissading, talking, sitting down to put on crampons, etc.) this climb took about 10.5 hours round trip.
We are so ashamed of our unfit status and therefore we will be back climbing next weekend to try and rid ourselves of the "unfit" label. :)
I had a ton of fun on this day and I can't wait to climb another with my buddy Mark, I'm glad there's no curse.