Apache Peak - Navajo Snowfield
Originally Fabio and I had set out to climb the Southwest Couloir on Shoshoni Peak. It had first come to Fabio's attention last spring when he had climbed Apache Couloir on Apache Peak. Fabio showed me some photos he had taken and I agreed it was a spectacular looking route - steep and narrow with an interesting rock step about a third of the way up.
We met at the Brainard Lake Trailhead and were hiking by about 4:40. We set an easy pace and moseyed our way up the trail. When we made it to the tarn below Isabelle Glacier we opted to take the climbers trail instead of the large snow field and eventually topped out on a moraine overlooking Isabelle Glacier.
At this point we didn't have a great view of the couloir on Soshoni, so instead of hiking right to its base, we circles around a frozen tarn to get a good view. What we saw was disconcerting - the rock step we were anticipating being the crux was much more melted out than what we had seen in Fabio's photos from the year before. The snow had melted away to reveal a gaping chimney guarded by imposing chockstones.
We stood their and contemplated our options for many minutes. We both agreed that ascending the couloir directly by negotiating the chimney was not an option. It would be cold, dark, wet and slippery, and most certainly overhanging/roof-like to get past the chockstones. With that option ruled out there were the options of leaving the couloir (either to the left or right) and climbing at least one rock pitch before reentering the couloir above the chimney/rock step. However, we had a very light rock rack, and we didn't bring rock climbing shoes. From the distance of our vantage point - it was impossible to tell how good the quality of the rock was or how hard the climbing was. If we were to climb left of the couloir we would probably have to skip the lower half of the couloir all together and enter the couloir above the rock step. Entering the couloir from the rock on the left looked very challenging though. A more doable option was to leave the couloir just below the chimney and climb rock on the right of the couloir for less than a pitch to bypass the chimney/chockstones and then reenter the couloir at the very top of the rock step before the snow started once more. After some discussion we came to the consensus that neither of us had the huevos to lead this rock pitch with no beta, little pro and mountaineering boots. (Upon examining high resolution photos of this crux after the fact, I believe we probably would have been successful attempting the right side option. With climbing shoes and a full rock rack I'd be up for attempting it next season. Though continuous snow/ice would be more attractive.)
With the decision made to abandon our primary goal for the day, we turned out heads to examine the other options in the neighborhood. I had been up Navajo Peak via Niwot Ridge the previous fall, but everything else was new territory to me. Fabio had been up Apache via several routes, but not Navajo Snowfield or Queens Way. Thus we opted to ascend Navajo Snowfield (reported to reach 50 degrees), traverse the south right to the summit of Apache Peak, and then descend Queens Way (reported to be in the 30 degree range).
We traversed across the head of the valley to the base of Navajo Snowfield. We crossed paths with a group of skiers headed up Apache Couloir and we could see another party of climbers already halfway up Navajo Snowfield. Navajo Snowfield was not especially interesting or beautiful and we just slogged our way up it. When we got into the steps kicked by the party ahead of us the going got easier and we eventually reached the saddle at the top of Navajo Snowfield.
At the top of Navajo Snowfield we stopped to rest, snack and examine Dicker's Peck - an interesting freestanding rock tower rising from the saddle. We knew it was fairly easy (5.5 or so), but not expecting to be here today we hadn't studied the route description. From where we sat it looked fairly easy and straightforward to reach a ledge system about halfway up. The second half of the climb was not obvious to us (at least not keeping it 5.5). We opted not to try it and just continue on to the summit of Apache Peak.
The first half of the scramble from the top of Navajo Snowfield toward the summit of Apache Peak was pretty fun. Some class 3, class 2+ along good rock with a bit of exposure off to the west. The second half of the scramble (from the top of Apache Couloir on) was a dull plod and soon we were on the summit of Apache Peak.
We had another break on the summit of Apache Peak and snacked, chatted, and enjoyed the view - especially of Lone Eagle Peak and the Mohling Traverse (two climbs I'd really to do soon).
After our break we headed down the east slopes of Apache Peak aiming for what we hoped was the top of Queens Way. This involved a several hundred vertical foot scramble down a fairly stable boulder strewn slope to a little shoulder where Queens Way topped out. After making it to Queens way we downclimbed about half the couloir and then glissaded the rest. We caught a couple more glissades down to the lowest tarn, found the trail, and completed the death march back to the car.
It was decent day out. We didn't get to do the route we wanted to, but we had a satisfactory consolation prize and I got to the top of another new peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. I'm also very determined to make it back next season for the Southwest Couloir on Shoshoni. It looks spectacular - both beautiful and challenging. I'm surprised that it doesn't get more attention.