For a few years now the Ripsaw Ridge has been high on my list of must-do routes in the Gores. This iconic ridge run collects the ranked summits of C and G, in addition to several unranked sub-peaks between them. But even more important than all of that, the Ripsaw is “one hell of a ridge run” smack dab in the middle of one of my favorite areas in the state. With a fresh coat of snow falling in the Elk Range over the weekend, Rick, Steve, and I diverted our original plans for the day to a range we knew would be dry (thanks to our Gore guru friend, Mr. Chalk). Once we made this shift, it took all of two seconds to land on the Ripsaw as our new plan.
The Ripsaw Ridge lies on the dividing line between Eagle and Summit Counties, running north-to-south from “Peak C” to “Peak G” (though one could continue on to “Peak H”, “Black Benchmark”, and beyond if he/she could muster much energy beyond G). The best way to access the ridge is to climb the craggy “Peak C” from the Piney River Ranch, then continue south from there. We set off around 6am and made our way up the Piney Creek Trail to around 10,100′. Fresh off a ski descent of “Peak C” this past March, I was able to help navigate our group from that point up into Tarn Basin below C’s southwest face. Ultimately we decided to just scramble up the gully as opposed to the west ridge as it looked efficient and we knew what to expect.
Nearly to the top of the CC Rider, we split off left and scrambled up slabs and boulders to the summit of “Peak C”. This is one of the coolest summits I’ve ever been on and was more than happy to visit it twice in a six month span.
Though the views from C are tough to beat, we tried not to linger for too long as we knew we had a long day ahead of us. After reversing our route back down to the couloir, we easily located the southwest-facing gully that grants access to the west side of “C Prime”. At the top of this gully we were greeted with some of the best scrambling of the entire day – a fun slab chimney followed by a few blocky moves to C Prime’s airy summit.
We descended a different route off the southeast side of “C Prime” which made for some easier downclimbing than what we climbed up. The longest stretch of the Ripsaw lies between “C Prime” and “Peak D”, but a lot of it goes quickly as the terrain eases up for a bit.
In an attempt to stay ridge proper we climbed up and over a few gendarmes which provided some nice class 4/low-class 5 scrambling that generally wasn’t too exposed. One gendarme just north of “Peak D” however got the better of Rick and I. After climbing up it we didn’t see a great way off the south side, and despite Steve’s best efforts to make the downclimb work, he was eventually forced to give up the ghost and backtrack down and around the west side of the gendarme as well. There’s no shame, Steve. No shame!
After regrouping we finally made it to the summit of “Peak D” after a short, class 3 scramble. A few notes about the “C Prime” to “Peak D” portion of the ridge – as has been said before, if you run into any issues head west and south, not east, as the ridge is far more exposed on the Bubble Lake side than the Piney Creek side. That said, we were able to find a nice route down off the southeast side of “C Prime” which is one of the only spots along the entire traverse I’d recommend breaking the south/west rule.
The section leading up to “Peak E” took some time as it required scrambling up and over several towers, which were fun but started to wear on us at the same time. I’d say this section was the mental crux of the traverse for me as I knew we still had a long way to go and the midday heat was beating down on us something fierce.
We topped out on “Peak E” and took a much needed breather and refueled with a solid view of the remaining route before us. It makes sense to view E as the “hump” of the traverse in my opinion – beyond E it feels like you’re on the homestretch whereas before E it feels like the finish line isn’t even remotely close. If E ever gets named, maybe they should call it “Wednesday Peak”.
Now this was cool! We broke out the summit register on “Peak E” and were granted a momentary glimpse back in time…
After the brief historical reprieve we saddled up and continued along the more straightforward-looking stretch of ridge leading up to “Peak F”. It wasn’t completely devoid of a nice surprise here and there, however.
Another great segment of sustained, solid scrambling had us to the top of “Peak F” with only one more down and up to go to reach the proverbial finish line.
We descended F’s south side under the waning afternoon sun and made our way up the last peak of the day. Aside from maybe “C Prime”, the final scramble to the summit of G was the the best climbing of the entire day – a nice surprise at the very end of the long Ripsaw Ridge. We took it one at a time, making sure to double check our handholds and footing, and topped out on “Peak G” with big smiles on our faces around 4:15pm.
Rather than downclimbing our route off G and descending the obvious gully between it and F down into Piney Creek, we elected for a more interesting, albeit time consuming route directly off G’s summit. What started off as a nice grassy descent turned into a series of steep ledge and chimney downclimbs. Oh well, it wouldn’t be a true Gore experience without a few unexpected challenges thrown in I suppose.
We eventually schwacked our way back to the Piney Creek Trail and walked out under an awesome fluorescent sunset, discussing current events, politics, racism, reverse racism, the planet Jupiter, and the like.
We plodded into the parking lot just as the final gasp of light escaped below the western horizon around 8pm, then motored into town for a burger and a beer (I’ll refrain from naming the establishment for fear of Brian’s wrath), the former being slightly more succulent than the latter. But I must admit they were both pretty succulent, especially after a day as sick as this one on a classic route in the Gores with good friends.
Until next time gentlemen…