Revisiting the North Ridge

Mts. Neva and Jasper, IPW, CO

September 11, 2009

Six years ago, having lived in Colorado for less than a month, I ventured into the high country for the first time. Nathan and I hiked from the Fourth of July trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness up to the scenic Lake Dorothy. The weather was great and we had plenty of time, so we decided to try to climb “that mountain there”. “That Mountain” turned out to be Mt. Neva (12,814′) and the north ridge route we traversed turned out to be a little more challenging than we’d expected; solid 4th class. It scared me so much that, rather than traverse back, we scrambled down a snow slope and spent hours bushwhacking out through the trackless (though beautiful) basin on the east side of Neva. It was my first time above 10,000′ and an extremely memorable episode in my modest mountaineering education.

I’ve learned a lot in the subsequent years. Is this route still as hairy as I remember or, like a fine wine, has it mellowed a bit in six years?

Ben starts the traverse

Ben (always a willing and kindred partner) and I hit the trail at 7am and made great time up to Lake Dorothy. We climbed the steep slope to the gentle north end of the ridge and were ready to start the festivities by 9am. Things didn’t look so bad from here (though I remember thinking that last time). The ridge transitioned from tundra to broken rock a few yards wide. The rocks got bigger and we eventually had to scramble on one side or the other rather than go across the top. The we dropped into and climbed out of several notches along the ridge, sometimes skittering across the ridge-crest, sometimes dropping to one side or the other.

Superb scrambling on the North Ridge

The most obvious feature on the whole ridge is a large, banded cliff on the north face of Pt. 12,700 and I remember vividly scaling a 30′, near-vertical face covered in tiny, loose holds, hundreds of feet above the glacier below. Ben climbed the low-angle slope up to the cliff and I followed. So far so good. Was that it? An obvious cairned path lead through a notch to the west. That didn’t look familiar. There’s a cairn straight up above. Thirty-foot face with a glacier below, check. I started up the crux that was so educational in 2003 and was very pleased to find that the angle had eased off at least 30 degrees and the holds were all huge, bomber incuts now. All the loose rock must have been pulled off as well. We scampered up the face with zero problems, enjoying every minute of it.

I was definitely in a better mental place sitting on the summit this time than my last visit. What a fantastic route! I’d happily go back and do it again right now. But today, our plans called for another summit. We dropped off the SW ridge of Neva toward Mt. Jasper across the valley and spent an hour picking our way along the connecting ridge which alternated between easy tundra and easy scrambling. Two large, unnamed lakes lay below and we spent quite a while taking pictures.

Part way along the the Neva-Jasper ridge. Neva is the pointy peak on the left and the NE ridge of Jasper is on the right. The Arapahos loom across the valley with other high Indian Peaks farther north.

We arrived on our second summit at noon and spent twenty minutes admiring the views. Jasper Peak is a big mountain despite its relatively-diminuitive 12,923′ elevation. From the summit, at least five different ridges fan out in all directions separating isolated basins with various jade-green lakes and talus fields.

Clearly this ended badly.

The nearest trail is at least a mile away and a few thousand feet below. I’ve climbed Jasper once before, but it was in winter conditions and from the south side at that. In the summer, it’s a different beast and surprisingly rough without snow covering all the talus.

The weather looked stable and Ben wanted more scrambling, so we headed around the eastern summit (loose talus) to the northeast ridge (surprisingly solid talus) and scrambled down a thousand feet. Rather than riding the ridge all the way to the end, we dropped south into a small valley to check out the wreckage of a small plane. The wreck is obvious, even from the summit. Wings and fuselage are a dozen yards apart, upside down, and badly crumpled. We found the engine, wheels, and other debris. The cockpit was visible with the pilot’s seat lying on its side bent quite alarmingly. Most poignantly, we found half of the propeller and could clearly see where it had struck rock and sheered off. Clearly, no one walked away from this landing. It was somber, but fascinating.

Sobered by the wreck and sore of foot, we continued past a small lake and bushwhacked steeply down the lovely valley and finally connected to the Diamond Lake trail. From here it was an easy hike back to the car.

What a fantastic climb! This was exactly the kind of therapy I needed after a month of hard work. And it’s especially nice to see that I’ve learned a thing or two in my mountain adventures in Colorado.

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