Saturday, September 7, 2013

Apache Peak 13,441' - Navajo Peak 13,409'

This traverse dominates the skyline from Brainard Lake and is clearly visible from downtown Boulder, Denver and the airport. I have wanted to complete this trip ever since I made my first trip up Pawnee Pass and the monolith at the top of Navajo caught my attention. It's an interesting mountain when viewed from a distance because the summit cliffs look vertical on all sides and impenetrable. I knew this wasn't the case but I speculated about the kind of route that reached the summit. I just had to do it.

I did my "homework" ahead of my trip. I knew I needed to start the dark...and I memorized the major obstacles along the route. I read as many online articles as I could find and compared these to Gerry Roaches "Indian Peaks" guide. Judgment in route-finding seemed to be the key and this is an area where I am generally strong. I wasn't concerned about the more technical sections of the traverse, I was just concerned to keep safe and also move as quickly as possible.
Long Lake - air temperature much colder than the water temperature
It was pitch black at Long Lake trailhead and I put on a long-sleeved top. Jogging along the wooded lake shore I was aware of lots of wildlife darting across the trail. I kept a steady pace without pushing too hard and arrived at Lake Isabelle in good time. The sky was lightening and the rising sun illuminated the high peaks. It is a beautiful sight.
Lake Isabelle trail split
I could see no hikers anywhere, although there was a tent pitched on the far side of the lake. No one stirred and i enjoyed the solitude. The sun rose as I skirted the lake and I removed my long-sleeved top as the temperature increased.
Sun rise over Lake Isabelle
Navajo on the left, Shoshoni on the right, Apache dead center
It was spectacular running in the crisp morning air.
Leaving Lake Isabelle with the sun rising
The hard work now started. Leaving Lake Isabelle the trail contours across the stream valley before reaching an unnamed higher level lake around 11,000'. From here the Isabelle Glacier trail strikes up to the north in a series of tight switchbacks and I was blowing hard as I reached the top of these.
Just below the higher level lake
The key decision is when to leave this trail and head directly to the basin below the Navajo Glacier. I picked the right place. Just after cresting the rim of the valley immediately above the upper level lake I saw a faint trail go straight on as a switchback cut right. I took this line and found myself able to run across shallow rock slabs that enabled quick progress. I crossed a busy stream and took a gully line that brought me right to the point in the basin where an ice pond marks the line to the East Ledges on Apache. This was going to be my line - a photo below that I took on the descent marks the exact route I took and it was very straight forward.
The summit spires of Shoshoni tower over the high level trail
Half way up the East Ledges I met a breeding pair of Ptarmigans
View of Navajo and Dickers Peck from the East Ledges ascent on Apache
There were some wet sections on the ascent of the East Ledges, but the route was obvious. It was a long slog but it took less than an hour to reach the summit. There were fabulous 360 views and I took a short break. There was a cool breeze that took the edge off the warm sun.
The route to Navajo from the summit of Apache - very straight forward
I descended quickly from the summit and skirted the minor summit between Apache and Dickers Peck before arriving abruptly at a steep rocky ridge leading down to the Dickers Peck col. If you intend completing this route let me give you some advice - don't try to descend the dirty gully to the left (east). I am sure it is possible, and I am sure many people have done it, but you are missing the best line. The steep ridge is the line to take. Yes, it looks a little intimidating and improbable, but once started it is ridiculously easy, just a few steps down here and there, but very good hand and foot holds and much less loose rock than in the dirty gully. I arrived at the base of Dickers Peck in no time.
Looking from the descent towards Navajo summit. Dickers Peck is in the foreground. The route goes left of this and then climbs the obvious easy ramp up and right to the base of a steep chimney shown in the next photo
The steep chimney viewed from the top of the rising ramp shown in the previous photo. Take the left is easy.
Looking back from the same point as the previous photo was taken. The steep ridge I descended is obvious on the left side of the picture.
The chimney was steep in a couple of places, but there were plenty of holds and I reached the top quickly. A few cairns pointed to the south along another obvious ramp and this brought me back into sunlight on the south ridge at the point where the Airplane Gully route arrives. A few easy steps over steep rock and I was on the summit - one of the best summits in the wilderness (only Lone Eagle Peak and Mount Toll have more impressive summits).
Navajo summit with Lake Isabelle (left) and Long Lake (through my legs). Niwot Ridge stretches to the east.
Arikiree on the left and North Arapaho on the right
I didn't hang around long on the summit, even though I'd had the mountain to myself. I toyed with the idea of completing Niwot Ridge, but I was running out of time and wanted to leave that for a direct ascent. Anyway, I had an airplane to catch in the gully below.
Navajo summit from the top of Airplane Gully
The descent is loose but obvious and I arrived at the top of airplane gully and looking forward to the trip. So many people have described this gully as a horrible place and I was keen to find out for myself.
Approaching the plane wreckage from above
More grisly remains
The wing perched precariously above the steep drop
The wreckage of the airplane is perched precariously towards the top of the gully. 3 people died in this crash in 1948 and remnants of the plane are scattered down the gully. It's a grim place. I picked my way by the wreckage and found the best descent line hugging the right wall (looking down) of the gully. It really wasn't that bad and I was back at the trail in no time.
View of the Kasperov traverse connecting Shoshoni to Apache
The East Ledges ascent on Apache from the bottom of Airplane Gully
Descending to the small lake above Lake Isabelle
Back on the Interstate above Lake Isabelle
This was an outstanding trip.