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”).
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.
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?
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…
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”.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.