Peak(s):  "West Apostle"  -  13,568 feet
Date Posted:  05/12/2021
Date Climbed:   05/09/2021
Author:  supranihilest
Additional Members:   hr011242
 So Sayeth the Apostle   

The Three Apostles are probably the Sawatch's most well known thirteeners. Nestled deep within the range near the continental divide and fourteener Huron Peak, they're some of the most rugged and photogenic peaks the Sawatch has to offer. They hold their secrets and wisdom close, and climbers and non-climbers alike have something to gain by seeking an audience with the Apostles.

Heather and I had both made several sojourns to the Apostles, climbing North Apostle and Ice Mountain on our own separate trips, and so we both had "West Apostle" remaining. We sort of picked it on a whim, since it was one of the few peaks in the Sawatch we both had left and offered a little more excitement than almost everything else. We knew very little about what the climbing entailed - a brief paragraph in a guidebook, and a picture and a sentence from a trip report, done in dry conditions - but figured we'd try it and see what lessons the Apostle had for us. Our intended route would take us into Apostle Basin and up the Apostle couloir to the south face, whereas it seems like the vast majority of other reports climb the northwest ridge from Lake Ann, a route that would probably be hell with snow. I had scoped out the trailhead the day before our climb, since the ghost town of Winfield is far away from the typical winter road closure, and knew we could get within 1.75 miles of the Huron/Lake Ann trailhead. Fine by us. We planned for a 5:30am start.

When we woke up it was well below freezing, which boosted our confidence in the snow. We got ready, I ate my Poptart and Heather chugged her coffee, and we drove the short distance from Winfield to where the 4WD road to the upper trailhead became too choked with snow to continue. We booted up the road on crunchy, icy snow made of large crystals that had melted and refrozen multiple times and reached the trailhead in good time. The Three Apostles were still being reclusive so we wasted no time and continued on the trail until we reached an open meadow where we were treated to jaw-dropping views of the Apostles in repose.

North Apostle, Ice Mountain, and our goal, "West Apostle". The low saddle between Ice and "West Apostle" is the Apostle couloir we would climb.

The trail eventually disappeared under the snow around where it splits: east/left to Apostle Basin, or west/right to Lake Ann. We went left. The snow as we entered the forest gave way to punchy trash. It wasn't long before we put on our snowshoes.

Save us, snowshoes!

Without a trail we had to navigate at first with a GPS, then with the topography. To our right was a deep drainage, too steep for us to climb down into, so we simply paralleled it for a couple of miles as we headed towards Apostle Basin.

"West Apostle" and the drainage.

Though the snowshoe through the forest was tedious due to deadfall staying alongside the drainage worked out perfectly. Most of the time we couldn't really see the mountains, but eventually we popped out into a meadow in Apostle Basin.

"West Apostle" from the edge of the forest.
Closeup. We'd climb the left branch of Apostle couloir, the obvious one to the left of the peak.

We were surprised by how well blindly following the drainage had worked, but we weren't going to complain. It's not often such a feature does anything but cause problems. Now in the open space of the basin we had no trouble figuring out where to go: directly towards our objective! The very gradual gain was over, as we had done only 1,000 vert in five miles. As the crow flies the summit was approximately two thirds of a mile away, but we had 2,000 feet to gain to get there. The toe of a rock glacier stood in our way, and instead of trying to find a way around it we simply snowshoed right up it. It was steeper than it looked but our snowshoes bit into the hard snow like a wolverine.

The rock glacier and start of the real climbing.
Stubbornly climbing the headwall directly in snowshoes instead of going around it.

The remaining route to the bottom of the couloir was easy and rolling, and snow conditions were ideal. If it were melted out I have no doubt this rock glacier would be an obnoxious affair.

Apostle Basin at its best. Photo: Heather R.

When we arrived at the bottom we decided that the left of the two main branches would be better. Huge cornices hung over the entirety of the right branch, as well as both exits.

Apostle Couloir. Both branches split at the top and every exit had at least a small cornice. The right branch has a clear cornice hanging over it.

We snowshoed to the sharp tip of the cleaver between the branches and stashed our snowshoes there. We strapped on our crampons, got our ice axes out, and began up the couloir. Snow was firm and generally good for step kicking, but there was plenty of hard, icy chunder from small wet avalanches and rollerballs that had frozen solid. As far as couloirs go Apostle wasn't difficult at all, Moderate Snow topping out at probably 40 degrees or less. I took the first half, Heather took the second. There was a short vertical wall of snow at the top of the leftmost split that we tunneled through which led to the large saddle between Ice Mountain and "West Apostle".

Starting on up. Clean slate.
Cloud rays up Apostle. Photo: Heather R.
Screamer. Photo: Heather R.
Heather taking over.
Just a wee lil' cornice on this exit.
Yes, my arm is as long as I am tall. I put "knuckledragger" in a whole new light. Photo: Heather R.

From the top of Apostle couloir we got a really good look at the remaining route. Aside from a short step near the end of a snow traverse, it looked like we'd be on snow to the summit. I was surprised there was this much snow on a steep, southern face, but it would ease our ascent up otherwise crummy rock.

The traverse and most of the upper route.

The wind here was whipping so we quickly put on shells before continuing across the traverse, which was a mix of Class 2+ choss and good Moderate Snow which we had no issue casually walking across.

Start of the traverse on obviously manky rock.

The traverse offered probably the best view of Ice Mountain all day. We were absolutely dwarfed by the monstrous bulk of the mountain.

Heather and Ice Mountain.

At the end of the traverse the connecting ridge narrowed and we had to be careful not to punch through the cornice. A final Class 2+ step awaited, and from there it was 500-600 feet of consistent, Steep Snow to the top.

The short, easy Class 2+ step.
Looking up the edge of the northeast face, which we climbed along because snow was softer near the rocks.
Straight up to the edge, go!
Heather ready to climb!

The upper south face could reasonably be broken into a few chunks. The first was a couple hundred feet of straightforward Steep Snow. We made our way to the edge of the northeast face, again being mindful of cornices, because the snow in the center of the face was basically an inch of slush over ice and required endless front pointing. Snow at the edge was a bit softer which made for more secure footing.

Gradually the face got steeper and eventually we ran out of reasonable snow on the edge. We now had a soft snow knife edge poised over questionable rock with a 1,500 foot drop off immediately to our right. Though the knife edge might have been easier the snow and rock quality mixed with the exposure pushed us slightly left onto the face. Climbing around a couple of small rock outcrops was probably the steepest climbing of the day, easily 50 degrees or more.

Face to the left or ridge?

Fortunately this section was short, perhaps 100 feet, and the rock of the outcrops provided some OK handholds for our non-axe hands, as long as we found rock that wasn't loose. A little zig-zagging between and up the rocks ushered us to the final section, back once again between south and northeast faces where the snow lowered just a little in angle.

Last couple hundred feet to the summit.
Sometimes I look at photos like this and think this sport and and its practitioners are utterly insane. Photo: Heather R.
Heather on the summit, which was heavily corniced.
North Apostle and Ice Mountain with a good chunk of our route visible below me. Photo: Heather R.

We only spent a minute on the summit before beginning our descent. Given the southern aspect we weren't sure how long we had before the snow became dangerously soft.

Down climbing Steep Snow with one axe is a silly prospect.
That's more like it!

For the vast majority of the face, save two short, more moderate sections, we faced into the slope and reused our steps. Step down, step down, move the axe. Step down, step down, move the axe.

Heather making her way down above me.
One of the brief easy sections. Photo: Heather R.
Back to the goods. Photo: Heather R.
Down, down, down. Photo: Heather R.
Looking more Andean than Coloradan. Photo: Heather R.
Exposure? What's that? Photo: Heather R.

The summit pitch and zig-zag section went by quickly, and all that remained was the final steep down climb to the saddle. Despite the exposure we had been chatting happily throughout our down climb, which helped it go that much quicker.

"Aww yeah!" Photo: Heather R.
In the rocky zig-zag. Here heather can be seen mid-zag.
Heather and her bitchin' 'stache.
It might be flat but it's still stupid exposed. Photo: Heather R.
Final down climb with the saddle (and longitudinal cornice) visible.

When we reached the saddle we bumped fists and both started breathlessly talking over each other about how awesome that climb had been.

"Do you have any idea what we're doing? No? Me neither!" Photo: Heather R.

The warm, sunny weather we had been worried about before never materialized and in fact had turned cloudy and cold. We weren't sure what was in store so after excitedly celebrating we returned across the traverse to the top of Apostle couloir and plunge stepped our way back to our snowshoes.

Looking down Apostle couloir, patented Heather Steps visible.
Impressive rock walls of Apostle couloir.

We booted back to the flats below the couloir before putting our snowshoes back on, and made our way back down the rock glacier. Instead of going down the headwall we curved around to the right on a gradual snow slope, then wound our way back to our tracks from the morning.

Looking back down the valley. Flat light made it hard to tell where the edges of features were.
Wisdom imparted.

It wasn't long before we entered the forest and began our long snowshoe back to the trailhead. Postholing on the way back was pretty frequent and terrible, even with snowshoes, but being able to follow our tracks and not guess our way back made the deproach feel much shorter. We kept our snowshoes on beyond where we'd put them on, almost all the way back to the trailhead, where things dried out enough that they weren't needed anymore. Our hike back to Heather's vehicle was a mess of slush, ice, and mud, but the promise of food and dry footwear kept us on pace, and we reached the end of our trip without incident.

Apostles before the storm.

"West Apostle" in these conditions was an absolute blast and a serious mountaineering adventure. Neither of us really had any idea what was in store for us and we both placed our bets on the easier side. Getting more than we expected was very welcome, as a challenging route was far more fun than a lame walkup like we had expected. I can say without a doubt that this climb of "West Apostle" is one of the best of an already bountiful year. Seek the Apostles for mountaineering visions; they shall set you on the path of righteousness.


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself), Heather R.
Trailhead: Winfield Townsite (approximate)

Total distance: 11.46 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,212 feet
Total time: 8:11:39
Peaks: One thirteener

  • "West Apostle", 13,568'


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Winfield Townsite Huron/Lake Ann Trailhead 0:39:27 0:39:27 0:00
Huron/Lake Ann Trailhead Bottom of Apostle Couloir 2:16:47 2:56:14 0:00
Bottom of Apostle Couloir "West Apostle" 1:37:40 4:33:54 0:00
"West Apostle" Bottom of Apostle Couloir 1:00:03 5:33:58 0:00
Bottom of Apostle Couloir Huron/Lake Ann Trailhead 2:00:00 7:33:58 0:00
Huron/Lake Ann Trailhead Winfield Townsite 0:37:41 8:11:39 0:00

¹ Stats courtesy of Heather, edited GPX mine.

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47

Comments or Questions
05/12/2021 18:27
Rad report & photos, Love the pics of the downclimb near summit

Down climb
05/13/2021 10:35
@Steve: Heather got some great pics of the down climb. She was in a better position for those most of the climb being above me. It didn't feel quite as ridiculous as the photos make it look, she cranked it up a notch!

05/13/2021 13:31
Great pics!

05/13/2021 15:23
Thanks Will!

05/13/2021 15:57
That finish does look spicy. The couloir itself looks nice and modest. That area is beautiful and I also have West Apostle orphaned. I bet the snow holds in that couloir pretty late in the year....

Awesome route
05/13/2021 22:19
Those pictures with the cloud rays remind me somewhat of a halo...

Anyways this route seems super fun!

Spicy meatball
05/14/2021 13:02
@Andrew: The upper face is where literally all of the spice is. The couloir is a piece of cake comparatively. Check out Derek's report and Ridge runner's report (last photo on each) for pics of mid- and late-season Apostle couloir. Looks like crap as it melts out.

@Thomas: Definitely a super fun route. It'd make a great backpack to do with the Fridge on Ice Mountain another day.

I really enjoyed this one.
05/15/2021 14:06
All your reports are excellent, Ben - but this one is near the top. Excellent prose and pix. Anyone with arms as long as yours can climb anything, right? :-)

Long arms
05/15/2021 15:11
Jay, thank you as always for the kind words and the comment. I agree, this is one of my best reports as well as one of my finest climbs! It wouldn't be nearly as good without Heather's amazing photography. I got to the bottom of the face and was super disappointed that I'd been so preoccupied with the climb that I'd neglected to take many photos, but she saved the day and this report. Hopefully these long arms keep me going to all 584.

05/18/2021 13:13
Great Trip Report! I'm going to give this route a try one day very soon!

05/19/2021 23:02
@altitude14er: Glad I could inspire you to go after this line! You'll love it!

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