Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday South/North Arapaho Peaks Run

My intention was to put in a good run on the Arapaho Glacier Trail, thinking I might run up to Lake Dorothy, maybe over Arapaho Pass for a little.

Rainbow Lakes is super crowded this time of year, but amazingly I got a parking spot near the trailhead. Rainbow Lakes Road seems to have gotten rougher, though it is still fine for average cars. Lots of people camping off to the sides, including the bend where I saw the momma moose and calf twice.

Part of the upper Boulder Creek Watershed, which is off-limits to the public:

The view near South Arapaho, with Mount Jasper (left) and Mount Neva:

South (left) and North Arapaho Peaks:

It was such a great day, and I figured I had time, so I climbed the south summit. It's steep but fairly straightforward.

I was standing on the top taking photos, when a runner with a somewhat familiar gait appeared coming back from North Arapaho, along the ridge. It was Anton. I asked him about the difficulty of the jagged traverse, and he said you didn't have to go along the top of the ridge, and there were social trails to follow. He said the hardest part was possibly a descent farther along the ridge, a downclimb of Class 3, or maybe Class 4. I wished him well in his races and we continued on our way.

So instead of heading over to Lake Dorothy, I started the traverse over to North Arapaho. If it got too difficult I could always turn back.

Given what AK climbs, asking him for an assessment of difficulty may have been a risky question, but his appraisal turned out to be spot on for me. It was doable.

Still challenging, probably the toughest thing I've done in the Indian Peaks.

I stuck to the easier west side of the ridge, avoiding the imposing rock of the ridge proper. However, it was still rugged, as evident in this picture of the route (center) passing behind the first difficulty on the ridge. The entire traverse was not for those with a fear of heights:

The terrain on the ridge is complex, but if you keep a lookout for cairns, it is doable without what I would call real rock climbing, i.e. you can keep it to Class 3.

This is looking back over the ridge from North Arapaho:

The vertical nature of the cirque's east-facing slopes:

Coming down off North Arapaho through one of the steepest parts:

In retrospect, I'm not sure if this was the crux Anton had mentioned, which depends on whether he was referring to the ridge-top route, or the route that bypasses the ridge spires. I think he meant the ridge, because this was more on the high end of Class 3

There is also a critical feature (for me) in the non-ridge-top traverse, in the form of a narrow gap through a rock spine, which prevents having to climb over the spine itself. I had a hard time finding this on the return trip, because it looks very different from the other side:

I also found the few cairns harder to find, and route-finding difficult, and I got off-course maybe 3 times, burning an hour or so climbing up and down all over the west side only to find myself looking over an airy, steep and impassible gap each time.

My error was that I needed to regain the ridge sooner on the way back.

Finally, I ascended back up to the very top of the ridge, and spotted a hiker who had done the traverse before, and who I could follow.

He also mentioned there were orange arrows painted on the rock as markers, which I didn't know :\ They were well-worn, and I would have thought they were orange lichen, which also is abundant up there.

His path took on the remaining rock head-on. There was one small Class 4 move with exposure above a couloir, and then I was free.

Immediately upon descending South Arapaho I started to run. Here I am looking back at what was my original destination (Lake Dorothy farther to the right):

There was a bit of easy snow to cross. This was most of it:

It was one of those days where I was hitting every mark as I ran downhill. It didn't matter that it was Indian Peaks loose rock running at its worst, I was invincible for a brief moment. Finally I hit treeline.

Of course, when I say I was "invincible", that does not include the rock bruise on my right ankle from sharp talus, or scraping my left arm on a sharp pine tree on my run downhill, or jamming my knee into rock while climbing on the ridge to North Arapaho. That skin is never going to fully regenerate at this rate.

Distance was 16.33 miles, time 7:24 (moving 5:21), elevation gain/loss 5,201 feet, avg. pace 27:14 (moving 19:42), and best pace 7:33.


  1. Wow!!! Me=squeamish. There's no way I could do that climb. But I deeply admire your tenacity and the wildflowers are incredibly spectacular!!! (I was up at Leadville this past weekend pacing a friend in the 50 and I stopped at least 8x to take wildflower pics - they are amazing right now!). I picked a great day to catch up on your blog! :)

  2. Jill - Any fit person could do the ridge traverse, but that does not mean any fit person would *want* to do it. Didn't mention it because the post was already long enough as it was, but on the descent I was mesmerized by the flowers. Utterly distracting and incredible.