Peak(s):  "Peak L"  -  13,213 feet
Date Posted:  12/18/2016
Date Climbed:   08/13/2016
Author:  gore galore
 The Knife Edge Architecture of Peak L, Gore Range   

The Knife Edge Architecture Of Peak L, Gore Range
Peak L, 13,213
by gore galore

Architecture and mountain climbing have a number of terms in common. Consider that the words apron, arch, balcony, battlement, bulwark, buttress, chimney, column, cornice, dome, facade, gable, gargoyle, minaret, pagoda, parapet, pedestal, pillar, rib, ridge, roof, spire, steeple, tower, turret and walls are synonymous in both disciplines.

If you take the architectural definition of a ridge as "the top of a roof at the junction of two sloping sides" and then its geographical definition of a ridge as "a long narrow raised land formation with sloping sides especially one formed by the meeting of two faces of a mountain" they are both similar in nature and form.

Ridge beams, ridge boards and ridge caps typify architecture while their counterparts in mountain climbing are ridge crests, vertical ridges and knife edge ridges. And when we are talking knife edge ridges we are thinking about something along the lines of Torrey's Kelso ridge knife edge, the fourteener Capitol Peak knife edge or perhaps the knife edge of Maine's Mount Katahdin and the one that matters in this trip report as the knife edge of the southwest ridge of Peak L.

I once described this peak with the words "there is probably no finer representative of the typical spike shaped high peaks of the Gore Range than Peak L." When I climbed this peak thirty-five years ago in 1981 I knew nothing about the peak except what I could see of it from adjoining summits and that it had been climbed in 1935 by the Colorado Mountain Club on its annual summer outing in the Gore Range.

There was no route description for the peak nor could I locate any picture or anyone who had climbed it and I have to say I was somewhat apprehensive at that time at what I was seeing from those surrounding peaks as I described "the top of Peak L is conspicuous in its likeness to an upright chisel."

I climbed the peak from a camp at Upper Slate Lake in the most logical manner that I saw to the saddle to the right of Point 12,730. And then I encountered that wonderful scrambling knife edge ridge that led to the small summit of Peak L.

I would later learn that Peak L was first climbed in 1934 by a CMC party of eight led by Dudley Tyler Smith. The outing announcement thundered GORE RANGE EXPLORATION TRIP. July 1 to 4, Sunday to Wednesday. "This trip . . . will undoubtedly result in the recording of a great deal of information about a range in which there has thus far been very little mountaineering activity."

The party camped on the shores of the Upper Slate Lakes "far from the madding holiday throngs . . . to delve into the mysteries of the basin." They made the second ascent of Peak Q and the first ascent of Peak L. Their report noted that "the region is full of sharp pinnacle peaks and grotesque ridges that challenge the best rock climbers."

Wishing to learn more of the mysteries of the Slate Creek basin myself I located and wrote Dudley Smith a letter in 1982. His reply was more than I could have expected in words, pictures and a diagram of their route of the knife edge ridge on Peak L.

Mr. Smith began by writing "my first view of the Gore Range was from Ute Peak - which my mother, my father and I climbed - while camping on the Williams Fork in Aug. 1915."

As to the Gore Range Exploration Trip he writes "I was asked to lead trip No. 733 of the Colo. Mtn Club to the Gore Range in 1934 and we chose the Slate Creek area . . . probably because Ken Segerstrom, whom I knew, and others had been there in 1933 and climbed peak 'Q'." Eight signed up for the trip. They arrived at the Slate Creek Ranger Station and drove a couple of miles west on a poor road where they met their packer and then hiked up to Slate Lake.

After making the second ascent of Peak Q on July 2 five of the party made the first ascent of Peak L on July 3, 1934. Dudley Smith provides the details of that historic ascent.

"8:50 leave camp - rock slide."

"12:15 bottom of granite slabs - traverse false summit ridge" (the knife edge). A picture is enclosed and labeled "Ridge west of, and near summit of peak 'L'."

"1:25 summit of Peak 'L'. Those on summit: Mrs. Timm, Mike Walters, Carl Erickson, Mary Grinnell, D. Smith." A picture is enclosed and labeled "Top of Peak 'L', July 3, 1934" shows Mrs. Timm, Mary Grinnell, Carl Erickson and probably Mike Walters.

"1:40 leave summ."

"2:00 stop for lunch - note in can (?)."

"2:45 start descent."

"3:15 storm - Mrs. Timm hurt. (?)." Another source relates "very severe lightning that crashed too close for comfort is one of the vivid memories of the participants."

"6:25 arrive in camp."

Accompanying this time line for the ascent is his diagram plan or architectural drawing of the route showing the granite slabs, the knife edge ridge and the remainder of the route to the summit.

Dudley T. Smith never returned to the Gore Range after these climbs and ended his letter with the words "I hope you enjoy climbing as much as I used to."

I have to say I do enjoy mountain climbing as much as Dudley T. Smith did and as such found myself hiking into the old camp site on the south fork of Black Creek of the 1935 Colorado Mountain Club's annual summer outing. In that year a large outing party had started up the valley and climbed to the col northeast of the summit of Peak L from where slightly less than a dozen completed the ascent from that point.

I wanted to climb Peak L from this campsite but from further up the valley climbing by what I call the Peak L north couloir to the saddle below the southwest knife ridge. Peak L as seen from the campsite shows a more menacing architectural aspect of a spire than a chisel from the Upper Slate Lake side. But I was more confident in approaching and climbing Peak L in 2016 as I was apprehensive in the same in 1981.

Leaving camp I encountered that waiting bushwhack in the south fork to get to the base of the north couloir. A bulwark of snow blocked my way midway in the couloir but I managed to shim my way up where the snow receded from the couloir wall. The previous year I had an axe with me in late July for climbing Peak K from this couloir but now in mid August a year later I had none but still encountered snow.

I reached the saddle where I had encountered a goat on my Peak K climb but this time there was none and I was on my own now. I used Mr. Smith's architectural drawing of those initial granite rock slabs denoted by horizontal lines with a vertical dotted line route up those cracks to gain the knife edge ridge.

I scrambled across the horizontal dotted line of the ridge where eventually I used the solid footholds on the face of the ridge with my handholds on the knife edge. This led to a down climb shown by a solid U-shaped line to a small notch from which I continued scrambling up the cracks and ledges of blocks and broken rock of the right angling vertical dotted line to the small summit that I saw far down in the valley as something of a spire but now as a dot on the drawing.

Upon reaching the summit I now felt I was in company at least in the same spirit of a Gore Range exploration trip with those in that picture of the July 3, 1934 first ascent of Peak L. Although they are long forgotten and unknown today something should be told about them.

In his fifty-five years of mountaineering DUDLEY TYLER SMITH climbed in the Swiss Alps and Wyoming's Wind River Range and Teton Range in addition to the Colorado Rockies where he scaled the toughest fourteeners and numerous other summits.

He joined the Colorado Mountain Club in 1920 at age eighteen after a notable climb with Carl Blaurock and two others of the Crestone Needle. They thought they had made the first ascent of the Needle until several years later when Albert Ellingwood's and Eleanor Davis' 1916 climb was made known.

Longs Peak was a favorite of his many climbs. Dudley first climbed it with his father in 1915 after a previous attempt in 1910 and celebrated the 50th anniversary of that climb with his son in 1965. In 1923, he along with Carl Blaurock and five others made the third ascent of the east face of Longs Peak three days after James Alexander made the first ascent solo. He would make eighteen further ascents of the east face.

Dudley Smith made many climbs in Colorado with Carl Blaurock. In 1921 Smith, Blaurock and Bill Ervin took a two-week trip to the San Juans climbing 14,000-foot peaks. They made the first recorded ascent of Wilson Peak. In 1936 he attempted the northwest face of Capitol Peak with Blaurock before Blaurock returned the following year with two others and successfully completed the ascent. Smith would return in 1938 and also successfully climb the face.

He joined the American Alpine Club in 1928 after climbing in the Swiss Alps in 1927 where he climbed the Matterhorn among other peaks. In 1930 he was part of the advance party of the Colorado Mountain Club's Wind River Outing and made first ascents of Twin Peaks and Buchtel Peak.

Of his other important climbs in Colorado Dudley led a rope of three up the left arm of the Y shaped couloirs of Ypsilon Mountain in 1940. After 1965 in his mid-sixties he took up white water river running.

Dudley Smith graduated from Dartmouth College 1925 and Yale University's School of Architecture 1928 eventually forming his own architectural firm in Denver after World War II. One of his first projects was designing a downtown Denver classroom building for the University of Denver. It is now known as the Denver City Annex Building No. 2 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. He also designed Thomas Jefferson High School.

I have always thought that as an architect Mr. Smith readily recognized the unique architecture of the knife edge ridge of Peak L but I will never know for sure. Dudley Tyler Smith died in 1994. He was 92.

In the annals of Gore Range explorations CARL ERICKSON is one of the great pioneer climbers. On June 29 - July 4, 1932 Erickson and Edmund Cooper after climbing Little Powell penetrated the track-less forest of the Black Creek drainage to make the first ascent of Peak C. From this summit Erickson and Cooper invented the lettered system of peak nomenclature from A through O for the great semi-circle of peaks rimming the Black Creek Valley and one that lasts to this day.

Besides his climb of Peak Q and Peak L on the Gore Range Exploration Trip of 1934 Carl and Irwin Smith in 1935 climbed Peak M known today as Guyselman Mountain and left a register that was found unsigned in 1994. I wrote of the details of this historic register in my trip report "Hay Camp Creek and A Way to Guyselman Mountain."

Carl Erickson joined the Colorado Mountain Club in 1932 the same year as he graduated from the University of Colorado with a Mechanical Engineering degree. I have never found further information on this Gore Range pioneer climber.

English born, the Reverend HUBERT M. (MIKE) WALTERS came to Colorado at age 22 to be the vicar of St. Andrews Church in Cripple Creek. In 1912 he held his first service at Boulder's St. John's Episcopal Church serving for 41 years until resigning in 1953. During World War I he was a chaplain with the rank of captain.

In the 1920's he was active in the Rocky Mountain Climbers Club. In 1932 he was made an honorary member of the University Hiking Club. Reverend Walters joined the Colorado Mountain Club in 1930 and became its President in 1937. He led club trips and attended club outings one of which the Ice Lake Basin Outing of 1932 has a picture of him rappelling.

In 1935 he climbed Mt. Whitney with the Sierra Club and noted Whitney's official altitude as 14,496.811 feet which was only 76.811 feet higher than Mount Elbert. He returned in 1939 with the Sierra Club on their four-week outing to the Kings Wilderness Area. Various high peaks were climbed including the Palisade group of North Palisade, Middle Palisade, Mt. Sill and Split Mt.

In 1938 he joined the Columbia Icefield outing of the Alpine Club of Canada climbing Mt. Castleguard and Mt. Athabaska. He would write that "this outing afforded the writer an excellent opportunity to gain knowledge and experience in ice mountaineering."

Regarded as a mountaineer priest, he wrote an article "The Mountains of Scripture" in "Trail and Timberline" magazine in which he contemplated the age old question of why men climb mountains with the thought that "perhaps it may be found in considering the association of mountains with many of man's most profound spiritual experiences" and referencing such associations in the pages of the Holy Scripture. Reverend Mike Walters died in New Orleans in 1960.

MR. and MRS. TIMM were fixtures on many Colorado Mountain Club outings and trips from the late 1920's until the 1940's. ANNA TIMM joined the club in 1926 and climbed Longs Peak in 1927 as her first known 14,000 foot peak. She was on the CMC Mt. Oxford trip over Labor Day of 1934 and signed the summit register when Mary Cronin became the first woman to complete the Colorado 14,000-foot peaks. Anna would go on to climb all of the Colorado 14,000-foot peaks finishing sometime in the 1940's although her name does not appear for some reason on the CMC's list of those who have completed the Fourteeners.

During the late 1930's and into the 1940's she was active with the Junior Group of the CMC. Mrs. Timm preferred to be called "Timmy " and was known according to one report as "quite peppy and young-in-heart." This disposition apparently served her well for she lived to age 94 passing away in 1977.

PAUL TIMM, Anna's husband was not a climber but accompanied her on many of the club outings and trips including the Gore Range Exploration Trip of 1934. He joined the CMC in 1930. Paul and Anna Timm were married in Denver in 1915. Paul Timm passed away in 1955.

I know little of BILL MACMILLAN who was on the Gore Range Exploration Trip of 1934 and climbed Peak L.

MARY GRINNELL joined the Colorado Mountain Club in 1935 nominated by Anna Timm and Evangeline Stuart.

EVANGELINE STUART was on the Gore Range Exploration Trip of 1934 but did not climb Peak L. She joined the Colorado Mountain Club in 1925.

And as for me, I will know in name only the Great Canadian Knife of Mount Proboscis in Canada's Cirque of the Unclimbables or the knife edge of Mount Meru in the Himalayas from a documentary film but I have had the pleasure of twice climbing the great Gore Range knife edge of Peak L.

Comments or Questions
shim my way
12/18/2016 18:30
I liked that one. As a person that has worked in the building business for nearly 40 years in Summit County I would like to add valley to the list of terms. I can't count how many times that I have walked along the ridge of a house that I am building and imagined I was strolling along a knife edge instead of working. Actually it is good practice for balance and sometimes we have to rope up. I always enjoy your reports,keep them coming.

The list goes on....
12/19/2016 10:13
Another fine one...

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