Peak(s):  Ice Mtn  -  13,951 feet
North Apostle  -  13,860 feet
"West Apostle"  -  13,568 feet
Huron Peak  -  14,003 feet
Date Posted:  05/24/2007
Date Climbed:   09/04/2005
Author:  SarahT
 The Three Apostles & Huron   

The plan was for Estelle, David, and I to traverse the Three Apostles from east to west on Sunday and summit Huron Peak on Labor Day. We camped just below the 10,400 ft 4WD parking at the South Winfield trailhead in a very comfortable spot.

We hit the trail at 4:45am armed with Roach's route description for the traverse which he calls "Ice Cubed" along with Dave Cooper's Ice Mountain route description. We followed the fantastic, gentle Lake Ann Trail for a couple of miles and then turned left onto the excellently marked Three Apostles Trail. After a while the trail lead us out of the forest and we caught our first glimpses of the cloud covered Apostles. At this point the trail petered out and we continued almost directly south from here through marshy terrain, across large boulders, and finally up a steep grassy slope. We found ourselves below the West Apostle / Ice Mountain saddle at about 12,300 ft. Roach's Southwest Ridge route to North Apostle instead heads more southeast from where the trail dies out and passes by a small lake near 12,100 ft. From our vantage point we could see the lake not far to our east and descended slightly to reach it in order to get back on track. From the lake we walked up grassy slopes for a few hundred feet, aiming towards the North Apostle / Ice Mountain saddle. Then, after hopping across more large boulders, we had to fight our way up a steep, loose scree and dirt slope. Estelle was getting extremely frustrated with this section and nearly turned around and headed back down to camp. I think the only thing that kept her going was knowing that we would not have to return this way if we did the complete traverse. Continuing up to the saddle, we finally reached more large, somewhat stable boulders which we hopped up to attain the 13,460 ft saddle. From here it was an easy walk up more boulders to reach North Apostle's summit and we got some nice views of its steep east face along the way. We took a long break as Estelle was quite pooped after fighting her way up that nasty scree. We took this time to carefully study Ice Mountain's northeast ridge route descriptions.

I was really having serious doubts about my plan to do the traverse over to Ice Mountain given Estelle's recent difficulties on the scree slope. Roach emphasizes the danger of this climb and although he rates it as Class 3, Cooper gives it a Class 4 rating which I feared would probably put it above Estelle's comfort and/or ability level. And she was already pretty tired. It had been cloudy all day but the sun came and went. The clouds had been moving very fast but the weather didn't really seem to be deteriorating. It was hard to read. David was looking forward to the climb and Estelle definitely didn't want to descend the scree slope we'd just climbed below the saddle so we continued on. We returned to the saddle and climbed along Ice's cool northeast ridge crest for a few hundred feet on easy Class 3 terrain with mild exposure. The route seemed very straightforward and we soon found cairns and a faint trail that lead us down off the ridge and along the right hand side of it to the couloir that we needed to cross around 13,800 ft to regain the ridge. We had no problems crossing it; it was snow free and although loose, we could grab on to solid rock on its right side and quickly reach the route's crux. There seemed to be two obvious chimney like structures that one could climb to get back on the ridge crest here. David took the one to our right and Estelle and I took the one straight ahead of us. It was steep but easy and fun to climb and exposure was minimal. We all found it to be much easier than expected and soon found ourselves on Ice Mountain's summit where we rejoiced thinking that the "worst" was behind us but little did we know there was MUCH more to come. After a short break we left the summit and headed towards our final goal of the day, West Apostle.

We tried to reverse Roach's Southwest Face Ice Mountain route but it didn't work so well. We dropped down off the southwest side of the summit and located what was probably the gully Roach describes. Unfortunately he gives no indication how far one needs to descend this gully before starting to traverse across the southwest face. Maybe it is more obvious when ascending this route? We didn't want to descend too far and have to climb back up later so we only dropped down the gully for about 200 feet. We then started traversing across the face toward the West Apostle / Ice Mountain saddle. We crossed a countless number of ribs which were separated by loose, steep gullies. Progress was very slow and tedious, as a lot of this terrain was steep and loose, and I had to coach and spot Estelle step by step almost the entire way. After many hours the saddle came into view and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was still unclear how we would get there, as the ribs sometimes got too steep for Estelle to go over. When this happened we descended until we could find a reasonable way to continue traversing. The ribs started getting gentler and we finally reached the 13,060 ft saddle, very relieved. From Roach's description it seems like there must be an easier path for this long traverse but even after studying the face from the west we couldn't see anything obviously better. If you plan on taking this route make sure you are VERY comfortable on Class 3 terrain and some Class 4 experience would really help.

Although we were tired, the 500 ft climb up to West Apostle was quick and we enjoyed a little bit of easy scrambling. We took a respectable break on the summit after our long ordeal on Ice Mountain's southwest face. It was already 4:40pm!!! We'd been at it for 12 hours now and were anxious to get back to camp. From here, the route back to camp must be easy and straightforward, right? We followed the easy ridge (Continental Divide) west up and over West Apostle's 13,540 ft false summit and continued on down. We were looking for the "rocky, rounded ridge" that Roach describes that runs north from the Divide. At this point we were supposed to exit the Divide, follow the ridge descending north to reach Lake Ann and find the easy trail back to camp. We reached what looked to be the low point in the Divide and saw a cairn here and a faint trail leading north down a ridge. Must be right. We followed this loose but somewhat gentle ridge down for a few hundred feet until it totally cliffed out which barred further progress. There was a steep, loose gully to our right which looked like it had been used many times before. David and I thought it looked perfectly doable but Estelle was apprehensive. We didn't have much of a choice at this point as the sun was beginning to set and we needed to get down off the mountain and onto easier terrain quickly. David went first and I followed closely behind Estelle. A rock gave way under her foot and as I watched in horror she tumbled about 5 feet down the gully, bashing her head along the way. She was terribly upset, shaken up, and crying and David did all he could to comfort her. Luckily the rock she hit with her head must have been relatively blunt and there was no cut. However, her hands and one wrist were badly cut up and needed bandaging. She had also of course banged up her legs and knees in the fall. After a break to get her calmed down a little, the remainder of the gully looked like certain death in her eyes but David slowly helped her step by step down the rest of it. Note: I think this gully is a perfectly viable route as David and I were 100% comfortable but it is very loose and I think Estelle's fatigue played a big role in her accident.

Once we reached stable, gentle ground Estelle quickly recovered from her mental trauma and kept up a good pace. It was almost totally dark by now and we broke out our headlamps. We could see the Lake Ann trail to the west of us and decided to make our way over to it while descending back towards camp instead of going out of our way to meet up with it as soon as possible. This was a mistake. We ended up bushwhacking our way through tree-like willows and swampy ground for quite some time. Luckily, David had brought a nice, bright flashlight that helped us immensely. Around 9pm we found ourselves really fighting some crazily strong willows, and although we were all exhausted, we were in good spirits and were having a good laugh about our situation. We knew we were within a few hundred feet of the nice trail that would take us home. We finally popped out on the Lake Ann trail and made quick progress back to camp. At 10:45pm, after 18 hours of hiking, we reached camp and cooked up some burgers. We did not beat our record longest hike from last summer (19 hours on Kit Carson and Challenger) but we weren't disappointed!

There was no way in hell Estelle was hiking the next day so David and I planned a quick trip up Huron in the morning before heading back home. We got up around 7am and beat feet up Huron. The hike was boring and very easy and took us 3:55 (including a 15 minute break on the summit which we had to ourselves). The only highlight of the hike was getting to see the Three Apostles from the summit and remembering our crazy epic from the day before. Estelle was very happy to see us return to camp so quickly and we speedily packed up and headed to Leadville for some lunch.

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