Several of my closest climbing buddies and I have a couple of things in common that made this particular trip worth sharing here. For one, we have a close relationship with the Gore Range of central Colorado, particularly with the peaks that fall within Eagles Nest Wilderness. Typically I limit my posts on this range as I feel that this is an area worthy of a higher level of respect and protection than most others. I volunteer with Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness, hiking these trails and interacting with visitors, giving them friendly reminders when they are violating the Wilderness regulations, but also performing trail work and helping to demolish illegal campfire rings. To that end, I won’t tell you how to get to X Prime, and I won’t provide a map. Those of you familiar with this special area, won’t need either to find this peak.
Second, my friends and I find that elevation, or even prominence, are not the hallmark of what makes a peak worth climbing. Some of our toughest adventures have been on “unranked” peaks (peaks with less than 300′ of prominence), and X Prime only has 130′ of rise. It also falls below that magic Colorado number – 14. It seems there are many people who feel that “life begins at 14,000 feet”. In some ways I agree, most people cut their teeth on the 14ers and then move “down” to the more interesting peaks, but for some that mantra means anything less than 14,000 feet is not worth their time. In some ways that is a shame, but if it keeps them off of the real gems, I don’t mind. I do not intend this report to encourage others to come and check these peaks out, but to regale my fellow “Gore Enthusiasts” of an adventure that I hope they will appreciate.
My ascent of X Prime came about when I was looking for a local repeat summit that would give me the opportunity to add a new unranked peak or two, and with W and X Prime sitting neatly behind East Partner, this seemed like a good plan. I won’t go into the detail on East Partner as most of you who will read this have already climbed it. This report is more about the adventure that followed. As we have realized both individually and on trips together, the Gore peaks get really interesting when you try to combine them together across the rugged connecting ridges.
This tale starts at the summit of East Partner, gazing out towards peaks X and Z dominating the view to my east, but the objective was two smaller summits suspended on the connecting ridge, Peak W with its grassy south face and X Prime at the end of a saw toothed ridge of slabby ribs separated by talus gullies. The initial descent started out straightforward on broken class 2+ and 3 scrambling over blocks, ledges and gullies to a generous high col.
The other side was a small broken tower, easy to scramble up to and the game was on. I may have captured a pawn, but this rook had taken my knight. The back side of the tower – a wall of rock, sheer and nearly vertical. A high bypass looked unlikely, and it was back to the col. Like a bishop, I angled down and left and then back up and right to bypass and take the rook. The going here was tricky, steep side hill on what was thankfully soft earth. I imagine if it hadn’t been for recent rains, this bypass would be hard pan and more akin to our Peak Q ledge, too much rain and this would be a mudslide waiting to happen. Such is the chess game of traversing peaks in the Gore.
One small rounded knoll in front, the back of which was smooth sailing and I start to feel that I am making some headway after our opening parry. Moving forward the difficulty reared up and ridge began to increase its defenses. The rock was good, and the ridge and I played a delicate dance, sometimes on the ridge crest, sometimes to one side or the other on ledges of rock or grass. Along the way I lamented of past games played in this range, and how the unranked 12ers have always seemed to provide a unique challenge. What looks reasonable from one side, will leave you with your hand on the piece, unsure of whether committing to the move will result in its being captured by your opponent. But on this ridge there was always another option to maneuver around the defenses to another open col and a change to plan my final move on the summit.
Ahead lied one last knife of rock, I started on the crest but soon found a nice narrow strip of grass splitting the slab to my left and I was left with class 2 terrain to the summit crest, and I had captured the queen.
Some familiar names in the register of Peak W, and the building clouds had me wondering if this was my last peak of the day. There has been low broken clouds all morning, and so far they weren’t looking too organized or threatening, but I knew it was only a matter of time and these ridges don’t offer easy escapes. I decided to bypass the ridge difficulties (one early notch in particular had caught my eye from East Partner) and decided it best to descend the grassy south slopes, through the class 2+ cliffs guarding the lower ramparts, and traverse high below the ribs of X Prime looking for a weakness to get me back to the ridge crest. Recalling seeing X Prime from the valley below in the past, I remembered it being a particularly dramatic slab ramp and headed up the first gully that seemed to fit the bill.
Loose and tedious, this gully was one that would not have been fun to share. A chockstone near the top had a crack in the walls about to either side, right was a dead end, left got me over the chockstone and I continued to the top of the gully. I worked around a tower and on to grassy terrain, around a corner and “check”, my opponent had me in its sights. Moving forward would have required crossing at least two towers, and unless another descent option presented itself, coming back as well.
It was here I thought it might have been “checkmate” and I descended down to the gully, back around the chockstone and exited at its base. I crossed further along the bottom keeping my eyes on the weather, certain I was defeated on this day. I figured I would head towards the slopes below Usable Pass and find the weakness for our next match. It was there I saw what looked like it could be the summit tower’s angled ramps, and to their left a wide gully that appeared to reach a notch in the ridge crest.
Pockets of blue skies through the clouds above, and I saw an opportunity to capture the king. The gully narrowed near the top, it was as if my opponent felt that I was getting close and was tightening its defenses. From the notch, the terrain above was intimidating – slabby and exposed. The holds were good and the initial going was easier than it looked.
Near the top another notch, and a small ledge of exposed 3rd class required to reach it. From here it was my turn, “check”. However from here the summit was not so clear. From below the one of the left had looked higher, and it also turned out to be the easier of the two. The true summit was only a foot or two higher, and was very exposed. The close up photos cannot do it justice. From below, it is the summit on the right, the one with the overhang. Face to face, you can see the overhang (look above and to the right of my backpack and you can see the valley below!). The block is broken with the right being more vertical and on the overhanging block, not going that way. To the left was a steep slab of class 4 rock, about 8 feet high, with small holds and a steep narrow gully directly below it. It seemed like maybe I could find a way to downclimb this gully and come up around the other side, where it would hopefully be easier and less exposed.
Instead I decided to commit to the block, and gingerly climbed up. I am not ashamed to admit it was a bit scary! The lower holds were slightly below the right block and required an awkward angle, so I took of my pack to avoid it catching, and moved out onto the slabby upper face of the block. The holds were small, but the block was not as steep here as it had seemed and I was able to reach the top a little more comfortably, if only it were not for that nagging exposure! Check and mate, and I was able to breathe a brief sigh of relief on the small exposed summit. A steep crack on the back side makes me wonder if a route from Usable Pass would be better than this gully, but I will leave that adventure to another explorer.
Carefully I climbed off the block and to my pack, then carefully through the class 3 notch and across the crack, down the exposed slab and to the top of the gully. Class 2 from here to the car – looking back to admire the elusive X Prime and the ridge off East Partner as I worked back to treeline and bushwhacked back to the trail. Who says 12ers are easier than 14ers? And this one isn’t even ranked.