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
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…..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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