Peak(s):  Apache Peak  -  13,441 feet
Date Posted:  08/28/2015
Modified:  08/29/2015
Date Climbed:   08/12/2015
Author:  MtnHub
Additional Members:   Mountain Mike, Kitten
 Apache Peak - A Learning Experience in the IPW   

Apache Peak - A Learning Experience in the IPW

August 12, 2015

Apache Peak (13,441')

Trailhead: Long Lake (10,500')
Elevation Gain: 3,400'
RT Distance: 10 miles

Climbers: Kitten (Imma), Mountain Mike (Mike), and MtnHub (Doug)


Although I've had a little contact with Kitten in the past few years exchanging TR comments, etc. it wasn't until last year on top of Pawnee Peak when I met her and Mike in person by chance. Since then, we've stayed in touch and talked about the possibilities of doing a climb together. Since we both had considered hitting Apache Peak sometime in the future, it worked out well to give it a try this year.

My wife and I were spending the last week of our vacation in Estes Park as we frequently do. This gives me the opportunity to get in my annual Longs Peak climb. That was to occur early in the week. The rest of the week was open and I was just planning to do some other peak in the park or even a second Longs attempt. But when Imma told me she and Mike were free and could do Apache mid-week, that cinched it for me. We aimed for August 12.

The Climb:

We plan to meet at the the Brainard Lake pay station at 6:00am. I get there first and pull over to the side. It is just getting fully light when they arrive and we greet each other warmly. I follow them to the Long Lake parking lot and we get out and gather our gear together.

Mike suggests we take our axes and crampons just in case. He tells me he is considering a glissade down Queens Way on the return to save a little time. I'm not crazy about glissading at all but feel it's probably just as well to be prepared. I've never felt very comfortable on snow and will usually avoid it whenever possible, even if it means taking a longer route around. But as Mike is an experienced climber, I feel confident he will be able to help me if and when it's needed.

We start down the trail and since it is fairly level for the first mile or so, our pace is at a pretty good clip.
Kitten and Mountain Mike heading up the trail.

We are all quite surprised when we reach Lake Isabelle. The water level is only about half what it usually is. Since it hasn't really been a particularly dry winter or spring, we're wondering if it has been drained commercially in some way.
Flowers bordering Lake Isabelle. The shores are exposed by the low water level.

The surrounding vegetation still looks very rich and lush.
The lush vegetation along the trail.

Waterfall above the Lake.


After leaving Lake Isabelle, the trail climbs a bit and it continues on for another mile or so before reaching another unnamed lake in the upper part of the cirque. We stop to take a short break at the little lake each finding a comfortable rock to sit on.
At the upper lake we stop for a quick break.

We start up again going around the head of the lake and here the trail pretty much stops. From now on it will mostly just be talus hopping until we reach the ledges on the headwall.
Looking back at the upper unnamed lake.

Initially the route takes us to a slab/ledge system on the left beneath the large snowfield, then heads up diagonally into the other ledges, and finally angles up to the ridge leading to the Apache summit.
Looking ahead at what we need to tackle. (photo by Kitten)

Navajo Peak (13,409')

Looking across to the Three Chessmen from the upper South Saint Vrain basin.

Once we hit the rock slabs we need to find connecting ledges to gain elevation. There is considerable runoff from the snowfields above them so the surface can be pretty slick in spots.
Coming up to the ledges.


With the runoff the slabs can be slick.

A talus stretch between slabs.

Navajo Peak and Dickers Peck above Isabelle glacier.

Shoshoni Peak (12,967')

Careful now!

One of the rare, wider ledges.

Coming up to the talus.


Navajo Peak

The grade gets steeper and the air thinner as we climb higher, and we need to stop more frequently to let our burning legs and lungs recover.
Doug and Mike coming up the slope. (photo by Kitten)

Stopping a moment before the final push to the summit.

But the views open up more all the time.
From the slope of Apache: Shoshoni, Pawnee, Toll, Paiute, and Audubon mts.

Shoshoni Peak with the upper unnamed lake, Lake Isabelle, and Long Lake.

We finally reach the ridge and then the summit, taking a longer break at the top to refuel.
A longer break at the summit with Niwot Ridge as a backdrop.

The ceiling above us in getting low again. Longs Peak is partially hidden in the distance.

Kiowa Peak and Mt. Albion.

But there are now a few clouds around us to be of a slight concern. I'm not sure lightning is a serious issue at this point but a little precipitation or even a wet cloud brushing by could make things a lot more spicy on either the snow or the slabs. Mike herds Imma and me leading us down to a northern cliffy flank where he thinks the Queens Way couloir lies just below us.

From the ridge top we can't even see the glacier he wants to descent. We first need to drop down into a tight, very steep gully. This in itself involves some careful moves but it brings us to the edge of the snowfield. The angle to access it is pretty severe and I'm thinking this may not be the best move. I sense Imma feeling the same way.

But Mike assures us it will be OK and offers a quick review of how to brake and arrest with the axe. He then steps onto the snow edge and tries to kick a step. It's not as soft as he expects it to be and so he uses his axe to cut a deeper step. Imma wants to access the snow a little lower along the edge and attempts to move down the rocky wall a little more. In the process, she dislodges a couple of large rocks which fall onto the snow and skid down the chute quite a ways before crashing into the talus on the other side.

My eyes pop out a little farther with this, but again Mike assures us it will be OK if we can all just get out into the middle of the chute so we can steer clear of the rocky edges. He chops out a few more steps and manages to position himself in the middle of the snow. Then he begins to slide down and immediately turns over into an arrest position, but he glides by us much faster than I would ever want to go.

This really scares me, and I'm prepared to tell Imma I may return the way we ascended even if she decides to try a glissade. But in my heart I also don't want us to split up. It will probably take me at least an extra hour, possibly even two, to make it down to where Mike probably is. And route-finding within the maze of ledges as well as going down those slippery slabs could give me more trouble and be very time-consuming. My thoughts are torn and muddled.

I turn to Imma and ask her if she wants to glissade, and she replies immediately that she does not feel comfortable with it. Although the thought of re-climbing back up close to the summit and then dropping down again the way we came is somewhat daunting, I have much more peace of mind with this decision.

Just getting up this steep gully is fairly difficult and I need to spot Imma's foot a couple of times because her legs are so short. Once we attain the crest of this flank, we cut over horizontally hoping we can avoid climbing any more extra elevation than we need to. But we find two major gullies to cross over that block our way before we can reach the slope we originally ascended. We end up climbing to just below that large snowfield along the Apache ridgeline before we can clear the gullies. This adds an extra half mile of talus hopping and, as expected, consumes quite a bit more time.

The ledges aren't too bad to descend through however and we finally get down to the cirque floor again. After we clear the final rise of talus, we can see the little unnamed lake below us, still a ways off.
Shoshoni Peak from the upper cirque floor. The upper lake lies below the little rise ahead.

But search as we do, we cannot see any sign of Mike until we almost reach the lake itself. Imma stops at the stream to filter some water and Mike walks up to us. We share our experiences and thoughts with each other and reflect on the potential disasters.

Mike admits we did several things wrong. It would have been best to first test the snow on belay and make sure it was soft enough for a safe glissade. He tells us he was actually arresting the entire way down but couldn't really get enough purchase with his axe to stop completely. He slid into a rock with his leg and finally stopped himself, fortunately at a slow enough speed that he wasn't hurt. He also feared we might come down after him but because we had no way to communicate, he couldn't warn us to go the other way.

The second thing we did wrong was we never made a joint decision beforehand as what to do, where to meet, if we got split up like we did. Mike blew his whistle hard on several occasions but Imma and I never heard it. He was wondering if one of us got hurt and the other was taking care of the injured or was coming down for help. He had to basically wait where he was as he didn't know where we might be descending.

I also feel I need to speak up regarding my own personal concerns. I did not feel comfortable from the start with the pitch and location of this glissade, but I was reluctant to speak up because I didn't want to seem like the odd man out nor did I want to split us up. I feel completely confident in Mike's knowledge and abilities but everyone still needs to voice their concerns and a joint decision needs to be made on something like this. But I say a silent prayer of thanks for our safe reunion and I think we all learned from this climb.

The hike out is uneventful but I take it limping all the way. Coming down the last section of talus I pulled a hamstring or something in the posterior part of my upper left thigh while hopping across a boulder. Usually I can walk this kind of thing off, but this injury feels like it will stay awhile. Good thing this is the last hike of my vacation.
Waterfall from the upper falls.

Wildflowers in the wetlands.

The trail skirting Lake Isabelle.

Flowers in the basin below Lake Isabelle.

When we reach Lake Isabelle again, I take a couple more shots that showcase it's low level. It is a pretty significant drop.
Strikingly low water levels on Lake Isabelle.


Turning around one last time to look at the mountain ridge, we can see the Queens Way glacier angling downward from Apache on the far right. This is what Mike came down.
Queens Way is the narrow snowfield angling downward on the far right.

At the parking lot, I have someone take our picture. Goodbye my good friends!
Doug, Imma, & MIke

(GPX track provided by Kitten)

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
You got around
08/28/2015 20:33
Good choice of peak and partners. I only know kitten from her excellent tr on Mt wilson/El d but clearly a good climber.

Nice job, Doug.

08/28/2015 21:18
I tackled Apache last year with two of your recent partners. We’d hoped to traverse to Navajo but weather and other factors stymied us. I was quite bummed. This reminds me to go back!

Nice write–up!
08/28/2015 23:44
It was a pleasure to hike with you Doug! As you said, we can always learn from our actions and decisions and this serves as a good example. The snow was too hard for a safe glissade, I think it is common this late in the season. Also we didn’t have a safe "entry" point to start a glissade down, which complicated things even further. But after all it was a fun day and a fun hike. I hope you recover soon from your injury and come back for more adventures!

08/29/2015 07:34
@ 12ersRule: Yeah, this year I met a lot of great, new people (as well as a few repeats like you!) and had some super climbs! Hopefully that will happen again next season.

@ JosephG: I could see returning and attempting Navajo some day. Beautiful area, but does anyone have an explanation for the drop in Lake Isabelle? I really liked your Borah trip!

@ Kitten: I really enjoyed hiking with you guys too! Hope we can connect again sometime soon!

Lake Isabelle
08/29/2015 15:57
Apparently Lake Isabelle is a reservoir and they drain it every year. I was pretty confused the first time I saw it drained also.–st–vrain–drained–mountain–lake–is–actually

Thanks, Matheo!
08/29/2015 20:53
That explains what we thought too, especially since the levels of the other lakes seemed normal. I also discovered this explanation on another website:

"Lake Isabelle is actually an irrigation reservoir that is drained every August."

12/24/2015 19:59
Great report. Thank you.

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