Peaks: “Tincup Peak”, 13,345’ (CO Rank 356) and Emma Burr Mountain, 13,538′ (CO Rank 229)
Crew: Me, Colin M.
It’s not the sexiest of locations, but I gained an appreciation of the southern Sawatch this weekend. I can’t imagine I’ll be spending too many dry months exploring the area, but where these mountains lack in individual aesthetics is made up for by the quantity of peaks in such a concentrated area. Add a blanket of snow on them and the area truly comes alive.
The high camp is another concept that Colin and I have kicked around for years. After looking at several ideas around the state, we were focused on a pack over along the divide. Unfortunately, our schedules failed to align during the very dry and warm January and February weekends. So, while record setting amounts of snow fell over the past few weeks we wondered if conditions would allow an aggressive itinerary. Once we saw the red “high risk” flashing across the state on the CAIC website about 72 hours before we left, we scaled back to not put ourselves at risk of pushing through unknown terrain required by the car-to-car idea. Instead, we focused on Tincup Pass and venturing south on Saturday after setting up camp and then walk the divide north on Sunday.
Colin and Craig met up for a ski of Homestake Peak on Friday and since I had figured on a car drop Friday night Colin and I made plans to meet in Buena Vista. We got a room at the Topaz Lodge which is a very convenient walking location to the Eddyline Brewpub. We drove to the Eddyline Restaurant on South Main for dinner and while our burgers were very average, the sausage sampler was the star. It contains cuts of pheasant and chicken, wild boar with apricot, smoked buffalo, elk and jalapeno & jackelope and habenero. The fresh horseradish really put it over the top for me. After dinner we drove back to the hotel and walked across the street to drink our weight in Crank Yanker IPA.
Once awake and mobile, we swung by the Roastery in town for coffee/tea and some breakfast burritos. If in BV for breakfast, I highly recommend this pit stop. We arrived at the St. Elmo townsite around 9:00 where I asked some snowmobilers about conditions around the pass. One guy was sincere in his response, but didn’t give me anything useful and I got a real snarky response from a commercial group. I would learn/see later, that there’s no point in asking sledders about conditions because, to put it bluntly, they just don’t give a damn. They’ll go on, above, below stuff you couldn’t pay me to walk on let alone put a ¼ ton machine on.
We were on the road around 9:30 for a pleasant 6-mile jaunt up to the pass. The hot sun bore down on us as we snowshoed up the road with our heavy packs. Treeline comes abruptly and we were greeted with views of the upper valley. The snowshoes really weren’t needed, but they definitely came in handy from treeline to the pass, where we arrived around 12:30.
After setting up camp and grabbing lunch (Bagels with Jiff Whipped Peanut Butter/Chocolate) we figured we’d make a run at Fitzpatrick but a pesky 12er, 12,780, stood in our way. It looked like it may get interesting from below, but the small ridge just before the summit turned us back. We were atop a knife edge that was heavily corniced to the south of the divide and to the north was very loose (and exposed) talus. It may have gone, but it really wasn’t worth it. Plus, after seeing it from Tincup the next day, we had 2 or 3 more problem areas to get to Fitzpatrick. Oh well, north of the divide looked friendlier for Sunday’s plans.
Once back at camp, we attacked the Mountain Houses we brought up and sipped on scotch and JD Honey Whiskey while melting snow and polishing off a bag of Snyder’s Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel bites until the sun set. I was pretty fired up for sunset/sunrise pictures from our camp at 12,154 ft. Unfortunately, the pass is north-south so east-west was guarded by the surrounding peaks. The sun dropped behind 12,780 around 5:00 and the temps dropped extremely quickly. I tucked into the tent only to find that my sleeping pad’s valve was leaking badly and my patch attempts were futile. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dreading the night ahead. Sunset came around 6:30 which took my mind off of things, but I still didn’t want to get out of the tent so my sunset pictures actually came from my sleeping bag.
Luckily, the night was very mild and I actually slept quite well, especially given the circumstances. We lost an hour with daylight savings time, but we were off by 7:45 (new time). Tincup was an easy walk to the ridge and then, after about a half dozen false summits, we finally sat atop our first summit of the weekend. We were both expecting the peaks to be bumps along the divide, but Emma Burr offered an intimidating view and we weren’t certain how successful the day was going to end up for us.
We figured we’d give it a go and see what happened but the walk over was uneventful for the most part. As long as there was real estate on the west side of the divide it was windblown enough to allow safe passage. Once atop Emma Burr, the hike beyond to Kruetzer looked like more of the same, but time consuming and more effort than if coming from the north. Going through timelines in our head, we decided to leave it for another day and enjoy the mild morning atop the peak.
On the way back to camp, a couple of C130s buzzed Cottonwood Pass just to the north, dropped down to about 12,000 feet over Taylor Reservoir and then banked east once over Gunnison and then headed for home over Monarch. We were actually above them for a lot of the time and it was an interesting experience to look down on planes of that size flying.
The hike out was the hike out – just one foot in front of the other for a couple of hours until reaching the car. We were both in a hurry to get back to our respective families so we skipped the post-climb and I just drove through Wendy’s in Aspen Grove.
Looking back, the high camp idea was a huge success but I can’t imagine trying it without cherry picking a perfect forecast. Colin and I mapped out a couple more projects in the area and hopefully we can coordinate a few more adventures in the Southern Sawatch. I never thought I’d say that, but still, I don’t think you’ll catch me there in August.