Thu, Jul 23, 2020
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Ice Mtn is the third highpoint of Gunnison County, a P1K, and a measly 50ft short of 14,000ft. Greg Cooper in his book, Colorado Scrambles, describes a climb of the NE Ridge as mostly solid class 3 with a short class 4 section just below the summit. It is also one of The Three Apostles, along with North Apostle and West Apostle found on either side. I had gotten Eric and Tom interested and they were all for giving it a try until I pointed out that Missouri Mtn, a 14er that neither had climbed, had a trailhead just down the road from our camp at Winfield. After some deliberation, they decided to give that one a go (Tom would do Oxford and Belford as well, two other 14ers Eric and I had climbed the previous summer) while I would do Ice Mtn solo. The forecast called for 60% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon so it seemed prudent to get an early start. Mostly sunny skies were forecast for the morning. We were up by 4:30a and on our way shortly before 5a to our respective trailheads. I drove the jeep to the end of Colorado 390, the 4WD TH for both Ice Mtn and Huron Peak, among other destinations. The Continental Divide Trail runs along part of my route, so I would come across a number of backpackers on my way back.
I was on the trail at 5:20a, timed so that I could just see the route through the forest without needing a headlamp. The trail is in good shape for 2.5mi as it makes its way south up the South Fork drainage. There are several signed trail junctions and a log crossing of the main creek before the trail starts a more serious climb. The topo map shows the trail going up the middle of an indistinct ridge, but it really follows at the edge of this ridge above the creek with a sharp drop off the left side. At a second log crossing higher up I was a bit too hasty and ended up in the creek. At the end of 2.5mi the trail seems to peter out in a marshy area with heavy brush. With careful attention, one can find the trail continuing through the marsh (not so swampy this year in late July) to the edge of a moraine. There are ducks leading along the northern edge of the moraine, then up the slopes to the southeast, but following them can be a little tricky. Luckily there are various route options here while still avoiding brush as one climbs up to the base of North Apostle's NW Ridge. The ducks lead around to the southwest side of this ridge from where the route becomes fairly obvious - continue up towards the saddle between North Apostle and Ice Mtn, veering left or right before reaching the ridge towards your objective. Because I wanted to visit North Apostle first, I went up its SW Slope more or less directly to the summit, about 700ft of what seems like endless rubble.
I topped out on North Apostle around 8:45a, close to 3.5hr from the trailhead. There is a fine view of Ice Mtn (with not so much ice on it) to the south, but the views looking west, north and east were pretty good, too. Huron Peak stands out to the north. I turned my attention to the south and began following the ridgeline to Ice Mtn, first descending plenty more talus down to the saddle. I spied another solo climber on the ridge at the saddle a few minutes ahead of me, but it would be a while before I caught up. From the saddle the climbing gets better, but not to the degree I would expect for a route found in a book devoted to Colorado scrambles. The route-finding is not hard - follow the ridge up and then look for ducks off the right side where it gets hard. I caught up to the other climber in a steeper section off the right side of the ridge. He was on the better line to the right of this gully, but I made a route go on the left side so as not to be below him and make it easier for me to pass. I didn't realize that this was the class 4 section described in the guidebook until I found that the summit was only a few easy minutes away once I had climbed the gully back to the ridgeline. It was just after 9:30a when I topped out on Ice Mtn's summit.
Considering how early it was, my thoughts turned to West Apostle and I started to regret I hadn't done more research on it. About the only thing I had gathered was that the descent off the west side of Ice Mtn was tricky, not something to be taken lightly. When my new friend joined me a few minutes later, we got to talking briefly and I asked him about the traverse to West Apostle. Seems he knew about as much as I did, and my hope that I might follow him off that way came to naught. Oh well, we had a lot of driving today, so maybe getting back early wasn't a bad idea. After taking in the stunning views, with low clouds in the canyons below starting to rise with the warming temperatures, I left the other climber at the summit and started back down the class 4 gully. I retraced my steps along ridgeline towards the saddle before deciding to descend more directly when the chute below me looked to take me down to the main gully. This class 2-3 route worked quite nicely and though somewhat loose, there was little danger with no one below or above me. The chute narrowed before reconnecting with the main gully which I then followed back down to the trail, finding a better line and more ducks that I had missed during the ascent. After returning to the old townsite of Hamilton at a trail junction, I began to run across various backpacking parties on the CDT sharing my route. One of these was a group of four young men who were taking a break right on the trail, not giving others the social distance that might be expected. I put on my mask as I approached, and after greeting them, one asked, "Was the lake awesome?" I didn't know what lake he was referring to, but later I gathered it was probably Lake Ann. He had a goofy grin on his face and from the smell it was clear they had just been smoking weed. I kinda laughed, thinking these knuckleheads were probably stopping every 20min for a refresh, and responded, "Sorry, I didn't go by any lakes." Their enthusiasm seemed only slightly diminished.
I was back to the 4WD TH and the jeep just after 11:30a, barely half the day consumed by the effort. I showered and settled in for some driving, first stopping at the Missouri Gulch TH to leave a note for Tom and Eric. Finding both of their vehicles next to each other, I left the remains of a bag of tortilla chips under Eric's windshield, figuring he'd remember them from our happy hour the previous evening and know that I had stopped by and was back safely. I continued my drive out to US24 and then south. We reconvened in Buena Vista for an early dinner after they'd finished their outing. When I asked them if they got my "note", they both looked at me dumbly. Seems Eric had found the bag and thought someone had left covid-infested trash on his car. He disposed of it, sanitized his hands and promptly forgot about it. "Those were good chips! Don't you remember the bag from last night?" I asked. Tom appeared to be the most disappointed - "I would have eaten them..."
After dinner we continued south, driving up towards Marshall Pass where we planned to hike the next day. The long dirt road is in excellent condition, suitable for any vehicle, and apparently quite popular. The O'Haver Lake Campground was filled to capacity as were pretty much all the primitive campsites along Marshall Pass Rd. We ended up at a wide turn in the road that proved to be fairly quiet once the sun went down.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Ice Mountain - North Apostle
This page last updated: Mon Sep 7 13:52:54 2020
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