Antero & White – A Sawatch Winter

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Group (14ers.com alias): David (Zambo), Dillon (dillonsarnelli), Brian (lordhelmut) & Ben (benners)
Peaks: Mt. White (13,667′); Mt. Antero (14,269′)
Distance: 14.5 Miles
Vert: 6,000 ft
Time: 12:04
Date: December 28, 2013


Antero & White – A Sawatch Winter

“Ya know Zambo, we could just leave to go climb it now…..”

Those were the words Ben uttered to me just past midnight on an August night nearly 3 1/2 years ago. Camping with a group of friends near Buena Vista, we had plans to climb Antero in the morning. It would be my first ascent of the peak. However, as the night drew on and the fire burned low, we made the spur-of the moment decision to just hop into the Jeep and drive to the Baldwin Gulch road right then and there. Within the hour we found ourselves rumbling up the old mining roads all the way to 13,100 feet. As the first hints of daylight crept over Kenosha Pass, we hurriedly scrambled our way over the final 1,000 feet in time to catch the sunrise.

It was all too easy. As beautiful as that sunrise was, it felt a bit like cheating to drive so high. I try pretty hard to not become obsessed with the ‘rules’ and lists so prevalent in Colorado climbing, but still, an hour jaunt up Antero did leave something to be desired. So, when we decided our first winter ascent of the season would include this stack of rocks, I was happy to have the chance to really ‘earn’ it this time.

And earn it we certainly did…..

A sunrise Antero summit, August 2010. Photo by Ben.

Opening Up The Winter Season

Coming off of a spectacular fall climb of Isolation Peak, Ben, Brian, Dillon, and I decided to commit to a date around the holidays to get up something early in the winter season. As usual, trying to pick a group of peaks in the winter can be a hilariously complicated ordeal. It is our own fault, really. With snow levels low, the avy danger moderate, and our weather window appearing to be just about perfect, the whole state seemed to be in play. We kicked around a number of options including Hoosier Ridge, Shav & Tab, several RMNP Peaks, Mt. Jackson, and the nearby Boulder Mountain / Mt. Mamma route before settling on Antero & White.

These two peaks presented a number of advantages: the road was familiar to all, they offered a chance for a new peak for everyone (which also happened to be a ‘Bi’), and the very helpful beta we received painted a positive picture. Thanks to nkan02 and Yikes, we learned that the road was not only snow-covered all the way to 12,500, but that a trench was in place to that point as well. Above that, the slopes were reported to be as bare as we could ever hope for. Perfect.

The only remaining consideration at this point was the distance. We reserved an option to hit Cronin as well if everything fell perfectly in to place.  We knew the road was long and that White is pretty far back there. So, we decided to simply play it by ear and see how quickly we could move and how we felt.

After an early morning rendzevous in Fairplay, we were at the Baldwin Gulch TH and rolling along by 6:30.

First light creeps its way up the high peaks, as Mt. Princeton looks over the excellent trench which awaited us. Photo by Dillon.

His calm stance hides the truth of his speed. Put out in front with nothing but the darkness to see in front of him, Brian led us up the road at a torrid pre-dawn pace. As much as the rest of us complained, he certainly got our lungs and legs off to a good start. Photo by David.

Aspens at dawn. Photo by David.

As I mentioned, the trench we found was beyond excellent. It was evident that a number of parties had come this way in the past week. The only thing more enjoyable than the beaten-down snow was just how much of it was up there. Ben and Brian skied Cronin in April of 2012 and they both agreed this was much more snow than even that spring. With both of them skinning, it was obvious very early that a great ski descent was in store for later in the day. The road was plentifully covered with a base of snow from the start of the trail all the way to 12,500. Although Dillon and I knew we would need to walk it out, we were content with the easy trail as we happily stomped along in our sh*tkickers.

Reaching the summer trail junction beneath Cronin’s North Ridge. Photo by Dillon.

Photo by Dillon.

Climbing higher up the road, Antero’s summit finally comes into view. Photo by David.

It is just over 4 miles on the road to reach treeline around 12,000′. However, the easy grade made that distance seem to go by much quicker. Photo by Ben.

Breaking the trees, the beautiful Cronin Peak comes into view. Photo by David.

We reached the end of the trees less than three hours from starting on the road. The views ahead were very encouraging. Although the area certainly had a very healthy amount of snow, Antero was as bare as we could have ever hoped for. Numerous ribs and wind-blown snowfields ensured a very safe day for all.  Also, the gullies in between the ribs carried just enough snow on low angle terrain to offer a quick ski out from the high saddle. As we took the first sustained break of the day, we were encouraged at the good weather and straightforward route. Ditching the snowshoes at this point, we decided to ascend directly up a steep rib to the saddle between the Antero and Cronin.

Our ascent rib visible to the right, with a peek into the ski-descent gully to the left.  Photo by David.

Post-holing the first few feet to gain the ridge. Dillon took the smarter route. Photo by Dillon.

The slope was steep but grassy enough to always offer a firm footing. Photo by Dillon.

“If you should ever find yourself slogging up the huge, featureless rock pile that is Mt. Antero, and you look across the way to see a magnificent peak which appears to be an infinitely preferable option for skiing, you are seeing Cronin Peak.” – Climbing & Sking Colorado’s Mountains. Photo by Dillon.

“The Mountaineer”. Photo by David.

Topping out. Photo by David.

We were able to make quick work of the steep slope and soon found ourselves topping out at the plateau between the two mountains.

This area is not exactly one of the most beautiful in our fair state. What gives the Sawatach its typically “yawner” status is on display in spades with these two peaks. Topping out at the saddle, it is evident that these are more of a glorified rock pile than a glorious set of mountains. However, what they lack in prowess, the certainly make up for in history and geology.

Both Mt. White and Mt. Antero offer some of the richest deposits of Aquamarine in the country. While the odds of finding a random nugget laying around is slim, the history and infrastructure up here is certainly noteworthy. I have always thought it was interesting to top out on a high alpine plain, only to be met by a complex network of roads, mines, posted mining claims, and signage all over the place. In fact, fearing an influx of new miners and curiosity seekers, virtually the entirety of both peaks was claimed this past summer by prospectors from across the state. I could not help but chuckle at the numerous signs warning of “survailence cameras” and “security teams”standing by for anyone daring to touch the already spoken-for mines. Something tells me not too many of the miners bother to guard their claims in the dead of winter at 13,000+ feet…

Regardless, the expanse between Antero and White is still unique and appealing in its own way.

Mt. White’s North Face from the 4WD road junction. Photo by David.

Brought to you by Black Diamond. Photo by Dillon.

Photo by Dillon.

With only a few broken snowfields strung out across the North Face of Mt. White, the skiers ditched the sticks as the rest of us made our way over to White first. Given that it was unclimbed by all, this was the true prize for the day. From the road signage at 13,100, it was a relatively quick and easy class 2 scramble up solid scree for the final 800′ up White’s West Ridge.

Photo by Dillon.

Cold, lifeless, featureless, and filled with endless rocks & boulders, the landscape felt like walking on the moon. Photo by David.

Shavano & Tabeguache look on from the South. Photo by David.

Mt. White’s summit. Photo by David.

We summited White sometime shortly after 1:00. Our weather had been practically perfect. The threat of snow clouds to the north was worth paying attention to, but to that point, the day had been as calm, warm, and peaceful as we could ever hope for in winter. With the winds calm and the sun peeking through the high cloud layer, we enjoyed a fine selection of summit IPAs and toasted to a fantastic winter 13er summit.

Some 6+ hours after setting out, Dillon enjoys his final few steps to the summit. Photo by Ben.

“Here’s to you, Mt. Shavano….”. Photo by Dillon.

Summit panorama. Photo by David.

Jones Peak and Sangres to the South. Photo by David.

The Kinco club. Photo by Dillon.

The Slog of Antero & The Road Home

With the 13er behind us and the day wearing on, we made a hasty descent back to the stashed skis at 13,100 beneath Antero. Brian opted to head down lower as Ben, Dillon, and I decided to make a final push to the top of our second summit.

From the low point between the peaks, it is some 1,400 feet of gain to the summit. A long day began to take its toll as the final push up the road and summit ridge dragged on. Ben and I kept trying to remember back to that August morning years ago. As much as we reassured ourselves that it was a “pretty quick” trip from the signs to the summit, the reality of the day was setting in. Of course it feels short and easy when starting from 13,100. But after many hours about treeline in winter, well, things just take a bit longer. We were feeling the burn.

Rounding out on the view of the final 300 feet to the top, we took a moment to survey the final ridge line. To this point in the day we had encountered virtually no danger greater than a standard class 2 Sawatch slog. The face below Antero’s ridge line, however, offered a few interesting moves. With large snowfields beginning directly from the crest and with exposure to the west, there were a few moments which caught our attention on the final push. In the end however, it looked far worse than it actually was. This usually seems to be the case. Resting on top of Antero at 3:30 in the afternoon, it was getting to be a bit late in the day, but the views were certainly worth it: Sangres to the south, Sawatch to the north, Elks to the northwest, and the San Juans visible far to the southeast….what Antero may lack in beauty, it certainly makes up for with its views.

The final push of the day. There are definitely less-interesting ridge lines in the world. Photo by David.

Dillon pushes for the top. Photo by David.

The setting winter sun. Photo by David.

The full length of the Sawatch Range spread out to the north. Photo by David.

A short stay on the peak was all that was needed. With a storm slowly moving in and the sun dropping quickly, it was time to head home. This was easily one of the best times of the day for me. Perhaps it is an oddly specific thing to enjoy, but I have always loved the late-day winter descent. There is just something very enticing about a high ridge late in the day. With views for miles and miles around and the sun setting in the horizon, I can’t help but feel the full weight of my position. Climbing above 13,000 feet, far from civilization, completely dependent upon you body and gear, chasing the oncoming fall of night…there is a sense of adventure there which makes these winter days all the more special. Unlike the first trek up this peak, I was absolutely getting my full kicks in this time.

Miles from anywhere and higher than the clouds – this is livin’. Photo by Dillon.

The road home. Photo by Dillon.

As we left the summit, Dillon and I descended a different rib down to the snowshoes – one to the north of our morning ascent. Right next to us, Ben skied a low angle gully in between these two ribs to meet Brian below for the ski out.

However, before we were quite down, shockingly, we encountered another climber near 13,100. Going solo and moving at a snail’s pace, we were all equally surprised and somewhat confused by his presence. He actually casued a small amount of concern as each group though he was possibly the other from a distance. It was not until we were back at the car that we could compare notes and realize it was indeed a soloist. We couldn’t believe it. Given the time of day and his pace, we did feel some concern, but realized there was little we could do at that point. Hopefully he enjoyed his night summit and long hike out in the dark. It was certainly a safe enough route to get away with it. Nevertheless, I certainly would not have wanted to be completely alone after dark on those high slopes. Spooky…

As for us,  as I noted earlier, the snow covered road made for an excellent and fast trip all the way back to the car for the skiers. They made it out in all of 10 minutes and enjoyed a nice nap and warm car as Dillon and I slogged it home. But thankfully, the road went by in a flash as we covered 4 miles in under an hour and twenty minutes. Unbeknowest to me, after I fell behind due to a pit-stop, Dillon decided that he was not going to let me catch up for the remainder of the trip down. Close as I got, he was always pushing to stay just a few yards ahead. As painful as this little “game” turned out to be for both of us, it certainly got us down in a hurry.

Thinking back on the climb now, it seems that this sort of day comes along once a winter season. To have that perfect combination of good weather, a new route, willing partners, and everything falling into place perfectly is a blessing indeed. All in all it was a fantastic day in the Sawatch and about as good as anyone could ever hope for. Many thanks to all these guys for helping put together the trip and giving everyone a fantastic day out there. Here’s to a few more this winter.

Until then, happy climbing!

Route Beta & Maps

I added a few maps and info from our climb. Feel free to PM me if anyone would like more beta shots of the  conditions, or if you have any questions regarding our route. I am happy to help.

Peaks: Mt. White (13,667′) & Mt. Antero (14,269′)
Trailhead: Baldwin Gulch
Distance: 14.5 Miles
Vert: 6,000 ft
Time: 12:04

18 thoughts on “Antero & White – A Sawatch Winter

    1. Ben

      According to Wikipedia, “Antero is a Finnish given name and the Spanish version of the Latin name Anterus”. It then lists about ten famous people with the first name “Antero”. That’s interesting, I had no idea! Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  1. Dillon

    Zambo, what a great report! Am I the “mountaineer” in that pic?… sick shot man…All of them really. Well written and informative as always Yarian. Agreed, something about being out there in the Colorado high country in winter that late in the day is very special. Ben and I talked about that on Hunts this past November. Thanks for teaching me how to run in my snowshoes. Happy I could be there to help you “earn” this one. The only thing you forgot to mention is Miller’s ice igloo and Ben’s snowtireless Honda! Some pretty awesome trip this fall boys. To many many more…. Happy New Year!

    Reply
  2. Brian

    Nice write up Dave. I now have a new appreciation for Baldwin Gulch, mainly due to the snowpacked road and the ability to ski down it in minutes. Like you said, just a classic winter outing in Colorado. Thanks for posting.

    Reply
  3. Ben

    For the official record, the skier advantage in getting back to the vehicle was exactly 1 hour and 48 minutes. Just wanted to make sure the facts were stated 🙂
     
    Dillon, the Honda is now equipped with snow tires. If we ever get smacked in the face again, and I’m driving, we should be good to go.
     
    Nice report Dave!

    Reply
  4. Brandon Chalk

    Really enjoyable read and wonderful pics! I need to visit you guys’ site more often! Great post Christmas climb, everyone! I had no idea White Mtn was so close in proximity to Antero. Looking forward to more!
     
    Cheers!
    Brandon

    Reply
  5. Dillon

    Brandon, whats up man! I read the Antarctica preview, but figured I’d wait until the real deal to say hello. Looks amazing to say the very least. Those pictures don’t even look real. You and Christine are like superheros now. I’m still a new head here to this Conners Miller site, but I’m doing my best to infiltrate it with Italians, New Jersians, East Coasters and other fellow Gapers. This Antero trek was a long fun winter day out there with a great crew.
     
    Let’s get back into those Gores sometime. Happy New Year!

    Reply
  6. Brandon Chalk

    Great to hear from ya, Dillon! Dude, I love that you bring the Italian, New Jersian, East Coaster, and fellow Gaper influence to the respecting Helmut-Connors website. Hope to see you and some of your other compatriots sometime this winter/spring. Hopefully, back in them Gores! I’m working on the real deal trip report for sure. Superheros – ha, not sure about that label 🙂 All my best to all you rockstars. FYI, I’m a follower now of Explore The Rockies. Heck yeah.

    Brandon

    Reply
    1. Brian

      Brandon – thanks for following the site. Personal blogs are sweet, always enjoyed yours. Congrats on the 7 Summits. Hopefully we can get up on some Gores in the near future. I’ve got a trip you might be interested in some time in the next 2 to 3 years. Its starts at Eagles Nest and ends at Buffalo. More details to come later. Have a good one.

      Reply
      1. Brandon Chalk

        Brian – yeah, man. You guys got a great site. Personal sites that are well organized and have good content written by good folks are wonderful. Yeah, would like to hit some Gores with you, Ben, etc sometime this spring/summer. Yes, I’m interested in that little project you got going. That would be slick for sure. Keep in touch, fellas!

    2. Ben

      Thanks for checking in Brandon! We appreciate the positive feedback on the site. We’ve been working on it a lot lately so it’s great to hear. And yes, let’s get out soon! We’ve been talking about it for awhile, I’d say it’s about time we pull the trigger. Any interest in Homestake Peak in the Sawatch on the 26th?

      Reply
      1. Brandon Chalk

        You got it, Ben. Again, a fantastic site. The hard work pays off. OK, man, I’m down for Homestake! Let’s do it. I have yet to do that guy and I got my new Scarpa NTN boot and binding setup. Mind if I mention it to Kristine and maybe J? Keep me in the loop. Stoked to see you guys.

  7. Jill

    Hi Ben or anyone else who may respond! Just read your amazing detailed report. We are heading up to try and bag Antero tomorrow and wondering it you can answer the following for me.
     
    * What was the total time of your ascent ? * What was the time of the descent for the snow shoe – er and the skiiers?
     
    We plan to car camp at the Baldwin Gulch TH tonight and set off at 6am tomorrow morning.
    There are a few different 14er.com folk heading up including a group of girls from Aspen who are training for Kilamanjaro. Could be a busy day on the hill!
    Thanks if you can help!. Jill

    Reply
    1. Dillon

      Jill, I think we may have started around 6 AM as well, snowshoes and skis went on at the car. You probably have a trench in place now though which will make your travel up the road much easier! It was a long slog because we threw White into the day too. I’m the resident non skier snowshoer and we arrived back to the cars around 8 PM, decent off Antero was maybe a little over 3+ hrs? Not positive on that, but once your back at treeline it’s easy going down the road. Hope you all have a great trip!

      Reply
  8. John Manner

    Did you guys remember if the gully near the snowshoe-ers descent line held snow and if the slopes around them were wind scoured? Wondering if a ski descent from the 13er point/false summit is doable this weekend. Granted we have around 10% more snow this year compared to last year. Thanks. jmanner

    Reply
      1. Ben

        Hi John, I can’t recall what it looked like in ’13 but I did ski the gully you’re referring to (one gully north of all the switchbacks) in December several years ago. I recall having to down climb off the ridge line through 50 feet of talus/rock band to get into it and then it was smooth sailing from there. The bottom does funnel into somewhat of a terrain trap however. I hope this helps!

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