Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Apache Peak via Queens Way couloir.

A hikingrmnp field trip this week, south to Indian Peaks Wilderness.  Our goal for the day- a snow ascent of Apache Peak, which at 13441 feet, is the second highest peak in the area, behind North Arapahoe Peak.  Throwing a wrench in the works was the fact that the summer trail head is still not open.  We threw our bikes in the back of the truck and met up way too early, in hopes of some still solid snow.
In a short time, we were around Brainard Lake and on our way to Long Lake.
There was still a fair amount of snow on the trail, and the first sketchy place we encountered was a steep field around Lake Isabelle.  Dan was kind enough to take the lead and kick/chop in some steps across it.
At this point he put on micro spikes and I put on crampons.  It was mostly snow from here on out.
Up and up.
Nearing the unnamed lake above Lake Isabelle, a pretty, high altitude body of water.
And here we are.  We took a snack break here, and I started to get very intimidated.  The ascent above looked incredibly steep.
Looking up an ascent route to Shoshoni Peak.
But in reality, the snow slope wasn't so bad.  Dan favored a switchbacking approach, while I went straight up. 
Navajo Peak and (hilariously named) Dickers Peck.
Once above the unnamed lake, we continued up towards Isabelle Glacier.  From here a turn south to ascend into the couloir.  It was warm and the snow was showing it, increasingly softening on the way up.  We decided for efficiency sake to take turns in front and follow in the steps of the other.  This worked out very well, as it was much easier to follow than lead. 
Dan did have his camera out, and got this shot of me ascending the couloir, which again looked much steeper than it actually was.  I on the other hand, was not about to fish around in my pocket to get my camera out of its case and then take a photo. 
At the top of the snow we took another snack break.  There was a single puffy cloud hanging over the drainage we'd just ascended.  From here it was a short scramble to the top of the peak.
We just had to follow this ridge, and in no time at all we were on the summit.
The view from the summit was great, with great views all around.  Here I am looking south to Jasper Peak and Mount Neva.
East from whence we came. 
Dan on the summit, his 51st 13er!
I promised myself I would take more photos on the descent of the couloir.  It seemed easier from above.  After some plunge stepping, Dan started a sitting glissade down.  He is the small dot in the middle of the couloir here.
I followed down a few minutes later, plunge stepping and then glissading down.  What a fun and quick way to descend 1000 feet.  It probably took us a little less than an hour to get up, and about three minutes to get down.  The only price was a wet and cold butt.
Dan in Isabelle drainage. 
We were able to glissade down this slope as well, as pictured from the unnamed lake.  Again, it looks super steep. 
We stopped for a snack again here, and got to meet some of the locals. 
Pretty cute.
Back above Lake Isabelle on the way down. 
Since the summer trailhead was not open, we encountered very little traffic on the way down on this normally very populated trail.  In fact, we only saw two other parties of two.  We reached our bikes and headed back down to the winter parking.  Once we hit Brainard Lake, we began to see many other people, including some other cyclists, who had ridden all the way up here (gasp!) from the winter parking.  And there I was, riding down on my late 80's-early 90's Monty Ot Pi replica trials bike with a 40 pound pack on my back. 
Despite the early wake up time which had us both dragging hard on the way back, this was a very fun and rewarding hike.  Apparently this couloir stays snowed in most of the year, so don't forget your crampons and ice axe!
Apache Peak Via Queens Way couloir:
5ish miles each way, 3281 foot gain.  Strenuous -.

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