Mt Arkansas, 13,795′, 2 Apr 94 – Three Attempts

Trip Report – Mt Arkansas, 13,795′, 2 Apr 94, (Mosquito Pass near Leadville, Co) – Attempt #1

the data from the 3rd successful attempt

“The sun feels so good…heh, where did that blizzard come from?” As I watched the Weather Channel on Friday night it was slowly dawning on me that getting to the mountain from Colorado Springs might be tougher then climbing it. I prayed that the forecast for a small winter storm that evening was wrong as I drifted off to sleep. When I awoke at 3:00am all I could see was blowing snow, but the good news was it was a wet snow and not sticking to the streets; I thought just maybe there was a chance… The plan was to meet a climbing partner, Denise in Divide, Co and then drive to Leadville to meet the other 4 Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) members at the trailhead at 7:00am.

I loaded my SAAB with my gear cursing the fact I did not have a 4 wheel drive truck (but that’s another story) and headed up the highway. Halfway to Divide, the snow was definitely sticking, up to 4-5″ in places with no road plow in sight. I gave Denise a call and we debated whether I should continue up… in the end I did. We loaded her gear and just kept repeating the mantra, “It just has to get better…” It didn’t but we made it to Buena Vista in two hours where we stopped for a quick breakfast roll. (BTW, for you Colorado folks – the Donut Mill went out of business there two weeks ago, yes, very sad.) and then on to Leadville which had received at least 12″ of new snow. We headed up the pass thinking the others would not be there (they were coming from Denver) as we were running 1 hour late. When we reached the pass there were two cars there, no people, and snowshoes tracks leading up the mountain.

Following the tracks we even saw the group only a quarter mile away. We honked the horn, got their attention and got our gear together real quick. Jim the leader came back for us and we all snow shoed up to the waiting group. By this time, the sun had come out to display the Rockies in a fresh coating of new snow that was very beautiful and very dangerous as we observed avalanche tracks all around us. So after snowshoeing through the trees to timberline we were faced with our first decision, how to cross this bowl to the ridge. None of us took the decision lightly considering the fresh snowfall. Denise and I were especially considerate of the circumstances since we had just watched an avalanche film on Friday. Jim looked at the options, consulted with the group, and picked the best path to the ridge. We each undid out packs and ski poles and spread out by about 100′ and crossed safely. Our plan was to follow the ridge on the windswept side and avoid the overhanging cornices on the lee side. (I suppose that makes sense doesn’t it)

We had started at about 11,220″ from the road and when we reached the ridge we were at about 11,980. We placed our snowshoes on our packs and took out our ice axes for climbing up the snow and rock sharply angled ridge. After about 500′ of intense zig zagging up this steep section, we reached the ridge proper where we could walk more or less. The sun was very intense; more than I have ever experienced.

We were stripped down to our poly pro and still sweating a lot. Water intake became critical and sunburn was also a concern. (Even though I had multiple layers of sun screen on I have a red neck and face as I type this… my lips are just starting to come back) We continued up the ridge in pretty good fashion to about 12,960′ (according to my Casio Altimeter Watch) where we took a break after stashing our snowshoes near some rocks. Various folks in the group were feeling differently. I was feeling ok with a cold but was having some trouble finding food in my pack that I even felt like trying to eat – altitude will do that to some.

As we were resting, no one noticed the sun had disappeared to be replaced with heavy wet snow. Unbelievably there was no wind, just buckets of snow raining from the heavens. Jim checked his watch, just shy of noon, and consulted the group again. Most agreed that if you can’t get up by noon we should turn around, especially with this new snow falling. We ate a short snack and headed back down to the cached snowshoes. We wasted no time in descending through the reduced visibility snowstorm ABOVE the potential avalanche bowl back to tree line. From there it was just retracing our now packed trail back to the road with minor stoppages when we sometimes sank to our chest in the snow (even with snowshoes on).

Although disappointed we had not made the top, we certainly had a great mountain experience while most other folks stayed in their homes due to the weather. The roads back to Colorado Springs were dry and we shaved 1 hour off our time. Another great outing with the CMC thanks to our leader Jim. A lesson for me in mountain sun (and snow) and just a great day in general. I have to go look for my Blistex now…. P.S. BTY, our pick of Mt Arkansas was in no way related to the NCAA Final Four, as I am an Indiana fan…

Trip Report – Mt Arkansas, 13,795, Oct 22, 94, Near Climax Mine, North – Attempt #2

The 14er climbing season for Tom Vervaeke and I had ended about 3-4 weeks ago right before the early winter storm hit the Rockies, dumping up to 4′ of snow in some places. But the winter climbing season is just beginning so we picked Mt Arkansas, a high 13er to tackle on Saturday. Denise definitely wanted to be included as well as a new partner, Chris who is a coworker of mine who I found was into climbing. We were going to do this mountain last weekend, but the storm moved through dumping huge amounts of snow and causing one deadly avalanche that appears to have taken the lives of 2 hikers in Missouri Gulch. We were glad we waited as the forecast for this Saturday was splendid; blue skies and breezy. Breezy will be defined later!

We left Colorado Springs at the late hour of 5:00am, stopped for donuts and muffins at the Donut Mill (now that we are passing late enough for it to be open), picked up Denise, and made it to the Climax Mine Bend in the road by 8:00. Denise and I had tried to climb Mt Arkansas on Apr 2, 94 with a Colorado Mountain Club Group – we did not succeed. 18″ of fresh snow the night before then white out conditions high on ridge forced a retreat. Perhaps I’ll compare what happened in April with what happen this Saturday….

— In April we did this:

“So after snowshoeing through the trees to timberline we were faced with our first decision, how to cross this bowl to the ridge. None of us took the decision lightly considering the fresh snowfall. Denise and I were especially considerate of the circumstances since we had just watched an avalanche film on Friday. Jim looked at the options, consulted with the group, and picked the best path to the ridge. We each undid out packs and ski poles and spread out by about 100′ and crossed safely. Our plan was to follow the ridge on the windswept side and avoid the overhanging cornices on the lee side.”

 — Yesterday we did this:

We had brought our snowshoes but guessed that we would not need them except perhaps right at tree line so we set off from the parking area carrying our snowshoes. When we got to what was the dangerous bowl last April, there was not enough snow present to create an avalanche danger. We stashed our snowshoes under a tall pine and started up the bowl to gain the ridge. Denise wanted to scout the ridge approach and Tom, Chris and I opted for straight up the bowl to the right of the rock fall. We all met on the ridge out of the wind at about 11,900′.

The weather was great but breezy (read 30 mph sustained breeze). I was carrying a rope as we decided to refresh our roped travel training on carrying a rope as we decided to refresh our roped travel training on this climb. We all tied into the rope and started up the ridge with Denise leading and me anchoring. A few practice “falls” and the team got training at belaying and self-arresting. We headed up the steep ridge and reached the dogleg to the left turn in the ridge where Denise and I had to turn around in April. The ridge got steeper at this point and Chris took over the leading duties up the snow covered rock. We reached one false summit where there was a pole buried in the rocks. From here, there was a 50′ rock band where a scramble to the left allowed us to overcome the obstacle.

The snow offered no protection with our ice axes as it had the consistency of dried instant potato spuds. A slip would not be good; not fatal, but not good. We decided we had enough practice with the rope so I cached in a rope bag by the saddle where the pole was located. Chris led the way to the “summit” from here overcoming the last bit of dicey scrambling to reach the top. I got up second, slowing down the last ten feet so as to not knock a football sized rock on Denise as the whole area was loose. When I reached the top with Chris I saw a terrible sight…. a peak higher than where we were standing connected by a nasty looking ridge. Not good. Denise came up and uttered her view of life after seeing the higher peak and then Tom came up, saw the peak, and offered a summary of our thoughts with a single word. (Won’t repeat it here) We all agreed with Tom though…

At this point EVERYONE pulled their map from their packs, along with a compass trying to convince ourselves we were on top of Mt Arkansas. At first the discussion led to the fact we were not, however the more we looked at the layout of the land and the map we HAD to be on top of Mt Arkansas. Both Tom’s and mine altimeters read 13,780 with only a 20′ difference. The peak we were looking up at was either Mt Tweeto or an unnamed sub peak at 13,800+.

At any rate, we decided we were indeed on top, enjoyed a snack and descended from the summit through the broken rock band back to the saddle where the pole was and where the rope was stashed. (I wonder if that pole is Mt Arkansas, but oh well…) Chris shouldered the rope to his pack; we started down with Tom leading the way. Once off the steep rock we were able to plunge step through the snow away from the corniced drop off back to Pt 11,900. A short food stop here then down the bowl, sliding, glissading, and falling toward tree line. The cache of snowshoes (probably valued at $500 :-)) was still there so from there it was only a short descent to the car where I found we had left the side door to the van open. Happily, the lights go out after 10 minutes so the battery was not affected. I’ll have to start checking my van better before I climb. It took us 4 hours to get up, 2 to descend, and a happy, but tired bunch stripped down to shorts and shirts for the ride home. Mt Arkansas is a great weekend climb for a couple of reasons: it is right off a road that is plowed in the winter, it high (13,795), it is beautiful and rugged, and heh, because it is there! Happy climbing…

Trip Report – Mt Arkansas, 13,795′, Mt Tweto, 13,672′, Dec 18, 1994 – Third Attempt

Why do it? Why go back to a mountain that you have failed to reach the summit twice before? The pressure would be enormous if you failed on the 3rd time due to weather, snow conditions, etc.? Why? Well this time because Denise Snow invited Tom Vervaeke and I along again on a Sunday walk she had planned with Marlyn. She had been with me on two previous attempts, on Apr 2, 1994 and Oct 22, 1994 and Tom had been on the October trip. In April we had been snowed off in white out conditions half way up the ridge and in Oct we successfully summited the wrong summit. Oh sure, we could see the real summit of Mt Arkansas just a ways down that knife edge ridge a 1/2 mile away, but we were not there!

So I am not sure how she and Marlyn picked Mt Arkansas for last Sunday but I suspect it had something to do with the previous paragraph — she wanted that summit! I must admit it did not take Tom and I long to change our plans and join them once we heard it was Mt Arkansas again! So as not to give you the impression we don’t learn from our mistakes, Marlyn and Denise decided on a different approach via the eastern side of Mosquito Pass from Alma, CO. We had climbed twice before on the Climax Mine route from the Leadville side so we were in new territory as we wound our way up the Mosquito Pass Road, the highest pass road in Colorado at 13,186′.

Snow drifts stopped Denise’s Subaru midway, so we piled into Tom’s Mazda 4X4 and actually made it to the point on the map we determined we needed to start the climb at about 11,540′ our plan called for hiking up the valley to Mt Tweto, then across the backbone of the ridge past two false summits, to Mt Arkansas. About a 7 mile round trip with about 3,000 feet of climbing enroute. Last Sunday when Tom and I headed up Northstar Mountain against 45 mph+ winds it was slightly unpleasant, but today the sky was clear blue and practically windless as we left the truck.

Donning our snowshoes we headed up a faint 4WD road then decided on a tactic credited to Denise – always go up the most direct approach. We left the road and bushwacked up the draws and ravines as we slowly gained altitude. Marlyn was to lead most of the day and he took the brunt of the trail breaking in seemingly good spirits. Maryln had dug a hasty snow pit at the start to access conditions and we all kept up a running dialogue about avalanche conditions throughout the day. Finally out of the deep snow, we were at last on the rocky windblown slopes of Mt Tweto. 900′ or so later we were standing on the summit where Denise and Marlyn found a register. The last entry was a couple of months before. At this point, I was in slight distress due to stomach problems associated with dinner the night before, but everyone else was climbing strong.

On top of Mt Tweto we could clearly see Mt Arkansas’ summit, an impressive snow covered point with overhanging cornices to the east. But the 3/4 of a mile ridge that connected it to us looked more like 2 miles! There was also a 500′ descent off Tweto to contemplate as well as two very false summits enroute. Off we went with Tom leading this section. I was moving slowly was steadily keeping up with the rest as best as possible with Maryln bring up the six. We followed closely along the ridge line and came across some tracks of an animal that are best guess was a coyote or like animal. What he/she was doing above tree line was an equal mystery, and although the tracks were fresh we saw neither hide nor hair of the creature. There was a steady breeze n the ridge but only about 15-20 mph and with the warm temperatures, it was pleasant. Around the last false summit, the final 500 yards up to summit across the final ridge, looked very encouraging up to the summit block. Finally, Tom and Denise reached the top and Maryln and I arrived a few minutes later. What a view! We could see 360 degrees through crystal clear skies. We could even see “the summit” we had obtained in Oct!

We were on the top of the world with no higher perches on other mountains close by and since the summit was only about 10’X 15′, you really had the feeling of being on top. Looking the register we determined no one had been on the summit since 10/6/94. Tom replaced the register high in the snow to give it a chance not to be covered for a while. We all ate some food and enjoyed the view until we started to get chilled. We had made the summit in 4.5 hours so it was about 1:30pm and we knew we had to keep moving with sunset at 4:30pm. Maryln figured 3.5 hours for the descent since we would traverse the ridge lower down, avoid reclimbing Mt Tweto and head for the saddle for our eastern return. Hey, it seemed like a good plan! The traverse was like a….. a traverse, and Tom and I hate traverses. Looking back on it also seemed to violate Denise’s rule of either going up or down at all times. But we did it, and paid for it by banged up legs from snow covered rocks. We crossed about three snow slopes that we all agreed we should not have crossed. The snow was slab prone, but we made it across safely one at a time with about 100′ separation in between each person. Why four experienced people take these risks is beyond me…. maybe it was not as bad as a few of us thought, but…. Once the traverse was complete, we were about 400′ below Mt Tweto and we struck off on another traverse to the saddle across the southwest face.

The shadows were starting to deepen as we reached the saddle and removed our ice axes for a possible glissade east out of the saddle toward Tom’s truck. Maryln was the only one who could slide as his pants were slicker than the rest. The angle and the snow consistency were not right and Denise, Tom and I were forced to plunge step down the bowl with occasional halfhearted attempts at a glissade. Down, we went, walking on the hard snow when we could. As we started to consistently sink in up to our knees, we put on our snowshoes and shuffled down our tracks from the morning that was now nicely frozen. We also found a snowmobile track to follow and Denise and Tom led us back to the car right at 3 hours after leaving the summit of Mt Arkansas. We reached the truck as the sun set over Mosquito Pass depositing a chill in the air as we stripped off our gear and loaded into the truck for the ride (ramming speed) down to Denise’s Subaru. The third time was the charm for Denise and I while Tom claimed credit for only two attempts. Maryln was the real winner as he summited on his first try at Mt Arkansas. A nice little hike as he described the day!

Beta: 7 miles, with approx. 3,000′ elevation gain 7.5 hours RT, eastern approach over Mt Tweto (formerly USLM Divide, but recently named for geologist Odgen Tweto) as described in “Colorado’s High Thirteeners”, by Mike Garratt and Bob Martin.