A Night Out at Slate Lake: “Peak L”

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“Peak L”, the monarch of Slate Lake Basin, seen from “Peak Z” in August, 2013. The standard route from the lake goes up the ridge on the left, ending in a fun scramble up the slabby summit block.

Last Friday Steve and I packed into upper-Slate Lake hoping to find some stereotypical September colors and weather. But after a cold front rolled through and dropped a few inches of snow overnight, the area was transformed into a scene more reminiscent of early-winter than late-summer. Though we decided to dial back our original plans and only stay for one night, we were blessed with some spectacular views and managed to nab a classic Gore Range summit in “Peak L” (aka “Necklace Peak”).

We started from Boulder Creek, which required one of us to ride a bike 2.5 miles and a thousand vertical up to the actual trailhead after dropping off the packs (property owners allow access up the road but vehicles can only be parked at the bottom). Since it was my first time to Slate Lake, I got to do the honors.

Steve and I hit the trail around 4pm after messing around with the car and the bike for the better part of an hour. In hindsight this was way too late of a start for us to get anywhere close to Slate Lake before sunset, and a routefinding snafoo (which I won’t get into) delayed us even further. The bottom line was we still had 3 miles of ground to cover by nightfall, made more miserable by a cold rain which fell for the better part of an hour after dark.

Cold, wet, and tired we pulled into Slate Lake around 9:30pm and threw the tent down. Dinner and a DIPA was promptly served up, and we hit the sack shortly thereafter. Neither of us wanted to talk about it much, but I think we both knew our intended routes were going to be caked in snow the following morning.

Camp at upper-Slate on the morning of Saturday the 16th.

It proceeded to snow and graupel on us intermittently throughout the night, including at 7am when we finally summoned the courage to poke our heads out of the tent. Yep…some snow fell alright. “Peak L” looked icy and wet, and Peaks Q and R were completely enshrouded in a dark moisture cloud at the far end of the valley.

We knew full well the routes on the peaks require class 3/4 scrambling and would be dicey in these conditions, particularly “Peak L” given its slabby nature up high. OK, so should we just pack out now and head back to Denver then?

“Peak Q” (right) and “Peak R” seen from our camp on the shore of Slate Lake. Click to enlarge.

Looking up towards the craggy ramparts of 13,213 ft “Peak L”. Looks a tad drier…could we maybe pull it off still?

We sat around, ate breakfast, and took pictures until 9am or so, during which the sun had slowly started to win its battle with the clouds and fog. Specifically the upper-portion of “Peak L”, being southeast facing, had been getting consistent sun for awhile. Well let’s give it a shot then. The snow may melt. After all, it’s not like it’s November or anything…

Looking back down at upper-Slate Lake from partway up L’s southeast slope.

A very wet bushwhack around the southern edge of the lake ensued, followed by an even wetter creek crossing and willow schwack, and we were finally on semi-dry rock and heading up “Peak L”.

Peaks Q and R again. We were amazed at how much more snow they held than L. In addition to being more north-facing, I think the wind had something to do with it. Click to enlarge.

Once atop L’s east ridge we were met by a stiff wind. The views were incredible, and the route ahead looked a tad daunting given the wet conditions. But we soldiered on…

Looking northwest at “Peak C” and the half-obscured Ripsaw Ridge. Click to enlarge.

Steve working the knife edge with the final summit block looming. The exposure to the north of this ridge line is pretty dramatic and to the south it’s not exactly comfortable either. Click to enlarge.

Downclimbing to the notch between the knife edge and the base of the summit block was the sketchiest part of the day, as what would have been a few easy class 3 moves were coated in snow and rime ice. Past that, we engaged the final summit climb, which thankfully was nearly dry at 1pm.

Looking back at the knife edge and frosty downclimb to get to the base of the summit block.

The final summit climb was dry and in the sun and therefore fun.

Summit of “Peak L” at 1:30pm. Click to enlarge.

The summit was awesome and disquieting at the same time – cold winds and apprehension about getting back down mixed in with great views and a big payoff for all the hard work. We signed the register, then reversed our route back down the summit block, passing underneath the knife edge this time and back into easy terrain.

Taking a breather high on the peak, but in the sun and out of the wind.

Back at camp, we made the decision to cook up some tortellini, drink the rest of the beer, and pack out. We felt we got a good sampling of the conditions on north/northeast facing slopes on the downclimb past L’s knife edge (icy and snowy), and we knew the final crux on Q and traverse ledges on R were the same aspect. Although it was tough to leave behind what would’ve been my Gore Range 13er finisher, it just seemed like the right call.

A nice sendoff, and solid way to prep the legs for the pack out. Cheers to this awesome place.

We departed the lake around 4pm and worked our way back down the now dry trail under the afternoon sun. Fresh air, aspens, and a waning sun all added to the experience, until it got dark at least.

Slate Creek aspens on the deproach. Click to enlarge.

As I coasted down the headlamp illuminated road back to Highway 9 on the bike, I couldn’t help but stand in awe of the Gore Range yet again. Of its challenge, its beauty, and its unique way of always kicking my ass but making me want to go back at the very next opportunity. And go back I shall (although maybe not from the east side for awhile).

Steve, thanks for joining and fighting for a hard-won summit. Maybe we’ll get thrown a good weather bone here in October 🙂

Total stats for the two days were 28.5 miles and ~ 9,000 ft gained (including 5 miles and 1,000 ft RT on the bike, and 1,500 ft gained on the pack out). Dates – September 15th and 16th, 2017.

10 thoughts on “A Night Out at Slate Lake: “Peak L”

  1. Steve

    Sweet shots, Ben! That new camera is really showing its worth. Yeah, it wasn’t what we expected, but we “made lemonade” from the lemons bestowed to us and I really enjoyed L. Now we just have to wait until next summer to see your report of the Gore finisher on Q.

    1. Ben Post author

      Yeah, with this recent weather I’m thinking Q is going to have to wait until next summer.

      Agreed, “L” is for Lemonade then? 🙂

  2. Floyd

    Way to persevere you guys and as I mentioned earlier Ben, no shame in “failing” on Q once or twice…. I ended up on Powell that day about the same exact time. The morning was not a time to be up high – especially on a peak like L.

    I also hope to hit some Gore milestones next year and hopefully my Eagles Nest fail on Sunday doesn’t delay that. Maybe we can align the celebrations? (Unfortunately the peak list will look drastically different.)

    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks Scot. I went back and reread your report about the multiple attempts on Q. Just seems like a tough one to get the first time. It’ll just be that much sweeter when it finally works out right?

      Gore milestones are always worthy of celebration that’s for sure. We need to do another HH or pig roast here soon…

  3. Al

    Nice going with the snow and wet, I enjoyed this peak much more than some of the Gore Peaks, including Q, which I thought was more of a challenge. The knife edge on L was solid, our down climb to the final pitch was dry and I thought the final pitch was not as bad as some have reported.

    Thanks for sharing

  4. G

    Great pics!
    Much better than those from my iPhone taken three weeks prior when spending a day on Q/R followed by a day on L/K (wonderful traverse). And the white dusting on fall colors made for great contrast.

    Thanks for the share.


    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks! Sounds like an awesome trip you had…one more in line with what we had planned than what we actually got. Such a pretty area.


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