Peaks: Mt. Silverthorne (aka Willow Benchmark – 13,357 ft) & “East Thorn” Peak (13,333 ft)
Distance: 14.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,200 ft
Climbers: Zambo & Benners
Mt. Silverthorne to “East Thorn” Peak
Every now and then you have one of those days where just about everything goes perfect. It maybe happens only a few times a year, but when it does, it makes for a great day. One of those days where all your plans, schedules, weather, conditions, routes, partners and peaks come together in harmony. Or, to steal an old saying from Benners, the day is just totally “stress free” and you hit the car feeling “refreshed” instead of beat.
Labor Day in the Gores was one of these days for Ben and I – easily one of the best days we have had in the hills this summer. A good reminder of why we do this stuff at all.
Leading up to this trip, we each had separate plans for the Labor Day Weekend, but as circumstances changed for whatever reasons, we both found ourselves looking for something a bit closer to home. Wanting to avoid the inevitable hordes of a beautiful holiday weekend, as well as stay close to home, we decided to head up Mt. Silverthorne and its lower neighbor, “East Thorn” Peak. Plus, these two peaks are in the Gore Range, which made it a no-brainer. Ben is already a borderline Gore-fanatic, and I am only too happy to plow ahead full-steam in that direction.
Choosing to block out any and all fears of a cataclysmic I-70 traffic apocalypse on the drive home, we left Denver at 5:00. We both bagged over 7 hours of sleep the night before, which frankly, might be the single most underrated thing in all of climbing. Either that, or I am usually just too young and stupid to fully appreciate a good night’s rest before a climb – something that is rapidly changing as I get older.
We parked at the Gore Creek TH in East Vail shortly after dawn. We saddled up with light gear, wanting to move quickly and tackle the long approach as smoothly as we could. The drainage coming down from Red Buffalo pass was about as good as can be expected; we made quick work of the 4 miles and 1,400 vertical feet thanks to the excellent trails. Unlike a lot of the rest of the Gores I have seen this summer, there was no deadfall on the Gore Creek Trail – looks like they have done some work this summer. We took our first break at the turn off to Gore Lake and site of the Recen Brothers’ grave.
Ben and I were both fairly intrigued by this spot. We had not really done too good of homework before this climb, so we were both pretty surprised to not only see a sign marking the burial spot, but two actual built-up graves. I don’t think either of us had ever seen a grave quite as pronounced as these two, right in the middle of a wilderness area.
I love history. My curiosity got the better of me and I did some light researching on the brothers when I got home. It turns out they were both prospectors who helped found the nearby Colorado towns of Kokomo and Recen. Both of these are now ghost towns – a product of the inevitable boom-and-bust cycles of Colorado’s early mining days. But I was able to find this interesting anecdote about the brothers:
“America’s streets were paved with silver for two young Swedes, Daniel and Andrew Recen, who emigrated to Colorado in 1876. Dan promptly discovered the dazzling Queen of the West mine on Jacque Peak near Vail Pass. Andrew struck silver at the adjoining Enterprise Lode. Soon the brothers tarried with 1880’s silver magnates such as H. A. W. Tabor and celebrities such as songbird Jenny Lind. The Recens hired private rail cars for bachelor parties and consumed champagne and oysters with extravagant regularity. After the 1893 silver crash, the Recens found themselves almost penniless. They hunted and trapped all through the Gores till their deaths in 1912 and 1917 (It is not clear here who died in which year). Their graves lie near their longtime cabin site on Gore Creek. The brothers, who lived and died here, left a legacy in Colorado. When Dan died, his nephew from Frisco transported the body up here for burial. A fierce October blizzard struck en-route and the nephew, after digging the grave, waded through drifts all the way back to Frisco. Half-frozen and exhausted on arrival, he was cared for at Frisco’s Excelsior mine till the weather permitted his return home.”
Anyway, Ben and I got set again and trudged on for approximately another mile on the excellent trail. The grade noticeably steepened at this point on, but it bothered us little as the relatively flat approach had been a good chanced to get warmed up.
We paused again to survey the route near the open meadow at 11,000 ft. We knew from reading an old TR of Furthermore’s that we needed to leave the trail in this area if we wanted to ascend Silverthorne’s gentle South Slopes, as opposed to a nasty gulley further up the valley. We could see a cliff band that ran south to north that blocked passage apart from turning now. Fearing an infamous Gore bushwhack, we left the trail as close to the cliffs as possible, trending northeast beneath the lower boulders to avoid any scrambling. Much to our surprise, while the terrain was steep, it actually went through very well with minimal bogs, fallen trees, wet grass, mosquitoes, or any other concoction that Lord Gore so often likes to throw at climbers. We broke the trees soon thereafter and got the first solid look at the peaks above.
The grass made for fast passage as we scurried up to the low saddle between Silverthorne’s South Ridge and Zodiac View (12,505′). With the wind down, the sun out, and the temps warming, this was a great chance to take in the amazing views from this spot.
The views from the saddle are good in every direction, but looking over to the Zodiac Ridge is the real treat here. This short, yet intense spine of towers, cliffs, and rock looks to be about as challenging as anything you could find in Colorado. The complexities and challenges of climbing this ridge were saved for another day for us, but the intrigue remains. For anyone curious, Brandon Chalk and J Weingast put up an excellent TR detailing some of the challenges and complexities of the ridge from 2013. It is worth the read for any Gore and/or scrambling enthusiasts out there.
For Ben and I, the journey up Silverthorne continued.
To this point everything had been going very well. Looking up and ahead, we had little reason to believe that would change. The last 800 feet or so from the saddle looked straightforward enough. We had one more grassy slope to cover before hopping on to what appeared some nasty talus. The true summit of the peak was hidden beyond the jagged south rim.
The true summit of Silverthorne is hiding behind a low sub-summit just off the top, rounding the corner, we were very pleased at how relatively straightforward and simple it had been to gain this 4,500 vert for a spectacular Gore Peak. Some low clouds threatened, but not enough to spoil the fun of being up there.
With some low clouds building, we decided to get a move on and hoof it over to “East Thorn” Peak, Silverthorne’s slightly shorter, unranked neighbor. However, what East Thorn lacks in relief, it makes up for in ruggedness. This was the only part of the day which had really given me any pause, as East Thorn looks fairly ferocious from my typical vantage point of the town of Silverthorne. The view from 13,300 feet and to the West is no less stunning. East Thorn is a fairly uniform pyramid with a maze of jagged and pointy spires all around the summit. We thought it was possible to climb without finding too hair of terrain, but we were not entirely sure. From Silverthorne’s summit, it certainly looked like we had spied a reasonable route, but there was only one way to find out.
The majority of the traverse over was very straightforward. Easy talus hopping led us beneath some cliff bands on the north side of the ride as we dropped some 50-100 feet below the saddle. As we started to gain again, we soon realized it was really only a matter of ascending some 200 feet up class 3/4 terrain. The early portion of the climb presented several options, while the closer we got to the summit, the choices narrowed until a series of final, exposed class 4 moves to the true summit. An interesting final boulder move forced us to lean out over some hefty exposure to the southwest; it reminded me of the last move to reach the top of Mt. Wilson.
Overall, the final pitches involved plenty of class 3 &4, with perhaps a very low class 5 move or two thrown in between. But despite that, we felt it all to be quite manageable. This sporty finish makes for a great summit on a fine peak. The dozen or so names which had signed in on the register in 2014, confirmed the solitude of this place.
The summit of East Thorn was a fun one for me. My family has a cabin near the Willowbrook neighborhood of Silverthorne and the views are dominated by East Thorn and Rain Peak. There is just something extra fun about reaching a peak you have stared at for years on end. And of course, the views from the top were not too bad either.
The down climb off of East Thorn went by in a flash and we were soon over on Silverthorne’s summit again, except this time the clouds had broken the day was shaping up to be nothing but spectacular. We had some mixed discussion about heading over for nearby 12er Hail Peak, but a waiting BBQ in East Vail and a lazy summit lounge sounded more appealing. Instead, we we took a full hour just to relax and enjoy the top.
The way out was as easy and straightforward as we could have asked for. To be honest, it was probably the best time of the whole day. Ben and I got a chance to just debrief on all kinds of stuff happening in our lives. We’ve had a number of tough life situations happen over the past few months involving mutual friends, and it was just really good to take some time out to reconnect on all of it. Few things forge or reveal friendship like the mountains. It was good to use the time to talk and process together.
With the last few miles approaching rapidly, we actually decided to jog it out, much to the chagrin on many out-of town gapers enjoying the first mile or so of Gore Creek. (My favorite question from the parking lot: “Hey, do you guys know anything about the famous scenic drive near Vail??” After a few confusing minutes, we realized they were talking about Loveland Pass….)
Anyways, when we hit the cars, the most appropriate word for the day seemed to be “refreshed”. Despite the 14.5 mile, 10 hour trek (it could have been faster but we opted for plenty of lazy breaks) we felt as energized as ever. I guess the combination of a summer’s worth of hiking and the distraction of good conversation did us good.
So, another fine Gore summit in the books. Until next time, Happy Climbing!
Post Script: A route overview for those interested.