A First Ascent? Possibly. A Great Time? Definitely.
It’s not easy to find many new climbs in Colorado, especially fairly easy, long, alpine routes. But, I think my friend Ben Marshall and I did just that a week ago.
Two years back, on a spring climb of Torreys Peak, I saw some ice formed down low in a couloir system off McClellan Mountain, which rises due east of the Grays & Torreys trailhead. I made a mental note to check it out sometime in late winter, and finally did so with Ben.
Our day started leisurely at the roadhead in Bakerville. A couple of miles skiing up the access road got us to the Grays & Torreys trailhead at 11,280 feet, with the base of the couloir east and up about 200 feet.
The ice turned out to be short, but sweet: about 50 feet or so of WI 3+. And, from there, we found about 1,200 feet of 30-50° snow and ice to the top of McClellan. We made various detours out of the obvious couloir to hit some steeper terrain and climb some beautiful, easy Fifth Class rock…and to avoid postholing in the deep pockets of snow in the couloir.
Descent from the route was made via a prominent drainage due south of our route. Given the relatively dry winter in the Front Range peaks, and the high winds we’ve had this spring, the descent gully was completely dry – thus, we had a 1300 foot slope of nasty scree rather than the hoped-for snowy romp I had seen two years earlier.
While the ice was not as long as we had hoped, and the descent a bit less than fun, Ben and I had a great day. Over the years, I’ve decided to choose my climbing companions carefully; as time gets shorter and days get busier, I want to spend my limited time in the hills with climbers who are motivated by the same desires, goals, and outcomes as I.
Ben is one of the strongest climbers – and general athletes – I know. He effortlessly glides up the hardest routes. But, more importantly, for Ben the mountains are a source of energy, of passion, of curiousity. On our climb last week, our discussions ranged – between panting breaths – from the metaphysical elements of climbing mountains, to politics and religion, medicine, geology, and philosophy.
The climb was exactly as it should be: a craggy excuse to push one’s mind and body, to be humbled and grounded by the enormous forces of nature, and to have a good time.
The day was possibly a first ascent, but definitely time well spent.
NOTE: If you read my GPS Without the Extra Weight blog over at Snow.com a year ago, you know about the great MyTracks application for Android phones. It’s free, and works pretty well. If you’re interested in the KML file to open in Google Earth, you may download it here: Download New Route On McLellan.kmz (18.4K)