Posts Tagged ‘Richmond Mountain’

Two years ago my brother Grant and I set out from Paradise Divide to Yule Pass and Purple Mountain with the objective of hiking the crest of the Ruby Range to Ruby Peak in the south. Weather was one of the factors that caused us to bail half way into the traverse at Mount Richmond.

We debated trying the complete traverse again, but ended up settling on just trying the southern half – from Oh-be-joyful Pass to Ruby Peak. The shortest approach involved starting from Poverty Gulch and hiking up to Daisy Pass (just east of the crest), then reaching Oh-be-joyful Pass from there.

With a shorter hike and a great forecast, we didn’t start in the dark, but shuttled one car to Lake Irwin and were hiking by 6:30 am.

The sun caught us on our hike up to Daisy Pass and quickly warmed us up. At the pass we stripped down to shorts and t-shirts and debated how best to reach Oh-be-joyful Pass.

We could follow trail and drop down into Oh-be-joyful Basin, then regain elevation to the pass, or we could try dropping just a little way and then contour around the basin off-trail. While debating which would be faster or more efficient we caught sight of a slight trail heading up the ridge towards Mount Richmond. Humm, maybe we should be a little sporting and try to connect with our path on the crest from two years ago?

Fresh footprints on the path showed it had been recently traveled. In spots the path faded out and we picked our way around the vegetation, avoiding the steep cliff off to our right.

It was more hiking than scrambling, but one or two sections required a bit of thought. Additionally, the rock was very loose and after I knocked several large blocks into Oh-be-joyful Basin, we decided it was time for our helmets.

This portion of the Ruby Range seemed less jagged than the northern half, so while we brought a light rope and harnesses two years ago (but never needed them), this time we only brought our helmets.

Soon we reached Mount Richmond and officially connected with our old route. We also got hit by the west wind and thin jackets went on while we hiked down to Oh-be-joyful Pass, often on the shaded side of the ridge.

From the pass we had a simple hike up to Hancock Peak, then a small drop before gaining altitude to Oh-be-joyful Peak.

Ahead, it looked like there might be a small notch that could give us some problems, but th shadows deceived and the notch barely registered up close. On top of Afley, a large cairn marked the summit and Grant and I timed the 10 second delay on my camera well.

From a distance, the ridge leading up to Purple Peak looked steep. In particular, one section in the middle appeared like it could cause us difficulties, it might be very loose (like pretty much all the rock encountered today) as well as steep.

While descending Afley’s south ridge I keep watching that middle portion of the ridge and trying to spot a weakness. Luckily, the closer we approached the lower-angle it appeared, however I still thought it would be loose.

I was very surprised when we hit that section and found that it was actually quite solid rock, and it turned out to be the best portion of the scramble.

A little more scrambling and avoiding a few loose sections led us to the summit of Purple Peak. It was almost noon and the sky was cloudless. Perfect time for a lunch break.

Grant knew most of the terrain ahead, so decided to take off his helmet now and get out his trekking poles. Partway across to Mount Owen (the range’s high point) we stowed the poles away as we still found a few sections where having your hands free was a help.

Once on Mount Owen it felt like we were almost done.

Grant took over the lead as we dropped down to the last saddle of the day.

Along the way he stopped to point out the beautiful shade of Green Lake.

The wind was gusting over 20 mph at the saddle, heads down we hiked up the loose dirt to our last peak of the day. 400 feet later we found a nearly windless summit on Ruby Peak and took a last break.

Descending back to the windy saddle we picked up the trail heading down to the east and passed right by Green Lake before reaching a 4wd road.

A longer-than expected hike on the road brought us back to Lake Irwin where one of our cars was parked. Feet were cooled off in the lake before driving back to town and retrieving the other vehicle.

Like two years ago, we’d timed our Ruby Range hike with Crested Butte’s Vinotok celebration. We missed most of the trial of the Grump (surprise, they decided to burn him), but definitely caught the burning itself.

I edited together a short video of the event: Burn the Grump!

Complete photo album


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A little after 4am both Grant and I awoke and I started the coffee brewing. We discussed last minute gear (helmets: yes, ice axes: no) and then drove up Washington Gulch to Paradise Divide.

Yesterday’s clouds had cleared off and Orion greeted us as we exited the car. The bit-over-half-full moon lit up the terrain just enough that we didn’t need to turn on our headlamps. The temperature was a little warmer than we’d expected and the wind was light making for a pleasant hike up to Yule Pass and the Ragged Wilderness boundary.

Our goal was to traverse the entire Ruby Range from north to south. Grant had already left a vehicle at the southern end of the range on Friday, we only had to get ourselves there. “Getting there” would require hiking over 6 ranked peaks (Purple, Augusta, and Richmond Mountains then Afley Peak, Mount Owen and Ruby Peak), plus several un-ranked points (Hancock, Oh-be-joyful and Purple Peaks). Grant had hiked to several of these peaks previously, and we’d previewed some sections of the ridge from below. However, we didn’t have a lot of information on this route, other than that the difficulties should be limited to class 3-4 scrambling. Somehow we were expecting a lot of class 2 terrain.

From Yule Pass Grant led us up rocky slopes slick with frost. I encouraged him to take it easy up what would be our longest single climb of the day. We encountered a few class 3 sections on the way up but otherwise had an easy ascent. We reached the summit about a hour and a half after leaving the car and just before sunrise.

Grant signed us into the summit register while I admired the sunrise near the 14er Castle Peak. We took a long look south at our proposed route toward Augusta Mountain and beyond to Mount Owen. Hoping the weather would hold, we set off down the ridge.

As we hiked down the easy talus slopes Grant and I heard elks bugling in the valley to the west. Eventually, we spotted a herd of 10-12 brown dots moving through the vegetation far below.

Soon the ridge again became the focus of our attention as the easy class 2 slopes gave way to loose and exposed class 3 scrambling. I grew nervous watching Grant down climb some moves and argued that it was time to put on our helmets. Less than a week before I’d watched as a helmet-less friend fell 30-40 feet in similar terrain. The subsequent bandaging, worrying and hospital visits were an experience I didn’t want to repeat.

As we slowly worked our way toward Augusta the ridge’s difficulties eased and after avoiding one cliff on the east and then working our way up a stair-stepped slope piled with loose scree we found the simple class 2 terrain we’d expected more off.

By the time we reached Augusta’s summit it had taken us roughly as long to get here from Purple, as the trip from our car to Purple. Well ahead of us sat Richmond Mountain, and from our prior scouting we expected this section to be the crux of the route. From below we’d seen numerous gendarmes that looked very difficult if dealt with straight on.

However, our fears were quickly eased for the time being by the ridge section to Angel Pass. We found remnants of an old trail and felt we were making up time.

Past the pass we headed up to an unnamed point (12,104 feet) that I’d taken to calling Angel Point. The rock leading to the summit was the most solid we’d found yet today and the scrambling was enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t seem to be holding for our ambitious plans. To the east it looked like rain was falling on Crested Butte. Bigger clouds were building south of us, exactly where we were headed. I hoped we could at least make it to Richmond Mountain, since directly west of us and overhead we still had some sunny skies.

We were pleased to find pretty easy scrambling as we descended from “Angel Point”. Initially, all the cliffs we came to had easy bypasses.

Our easy progress finally came to a screeching halt when the ridge terminated in a 30 foot overhanging cliff. I didn’t see any good blocks to sling to rappel and the down climbs looked tricky and loose. So back we went until we found a loose and grassy gully to descend.

We picked up a trail that passed through a few gendarmes and saw remains of stone walls once build to shore up this path. I wondered what the history of this route was as we passed by the large cliff and started picking our way through the cliffs leading toward Richmond Mountain.

Soon the difficulties eased again and we came to the first of the 3 summits of Richmond. The map marked this one as the highest, but as is often the case, the others looked taller. The slope meter on my compass confirmed the map’s opinion so we discussed what to do next.

I didn’t like the look of the building clouds and thought we were moving pretty slowly to make the rest of our planned route before being caught by rain or storms. Grant was running low on water and I couldn’t see the rest of the ridge from the other summits of Richmond to Oh-be-joyful pass. Afraid of getting cliffed out again, I suggested we drop down into Democrat Basin and make a decision then whether to continue on or bail.

After leaving the summit we passed a large cornice that had so far persisted through the summer. Immediately after, we dropped down talus slopes into the basin. Lower down we took stock of our situation and decided to bail on the complete traverse.

Neither of our vehicles were within easy reach, but once we reached Slate River Road we could hope for a lift back up to Paradise Divide, a popular destination. We could descend down to Oh-be-joyful Creek valley, but we figured if we put in one last climb we’d be a little closer to our starting point.

So we traversed across the basin’s slopes and aimed for a switchback on the trail heading to Daisy Pass. From a distance we thought we could make out a goat trail leading to that point, but once across a talus field we couldn’t find any evidence on the ground of a trail. The steep dirt and grass was annoying to traverse and so it was with much relief when we finally stepped on the trail.

A short hike took us to the top of the pass and then we looked down at a series of tight switchbacks leading into Baxter Basin.

We passed two different couples during our descent into Poverty Gulch, the first people we’d seen all day. Any hopes we had of picking up a lift as we hiked the road back to Slate Creek slowly faded as we completed the 40 minute walk with no traffic passing by.

Once we arrived at the Slate River Road we took a break and discussed our options. Grant was hopeful that we’d be able to hitch hike back up to Paradise Divide and so we sat waiting for passing vehicles. After a truck bearing Texas plates passed with only a wave we cussed all Texans (a Colorado pastime I’m learning about). I convinced Grant that we’d somehow make our own luck if we started hoofing it up the road. A little doubtful he followed and about 100 feet up the road a 4-Runner stopped and offered us a lift. The driver turned out to be another Texan and I took back my earlier oaths.

Grant is already planning attempt #2 on the Ruby Range Traverse for next year. He promises to get in better shape and scout the remaining portion of the traverse that he hasn’t yet seen. Next time we’ll be able to make better route choices, knowing when to drop below the ridge crest to avoid cliffs and loose rock. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate better next time as well.

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