Monday, August 1, 2011

The Wild Gores

The Gore Range at Sunrise in the distance
The Gore Range at sunrise, seen from
the North Ridge route of Mount of the Holy Cross
A bear print, clear in the mud, the only sign of any life we'd seen, human or otherwise. All three of us looked at it in amazement; the length of the digits, the size of the perfectly imprinted claws. A bear had been through here, and recently.

I'd been told that the Gore Range is Colorado's most remote high alpine range. I'd been told that it was rugged and wild. That marmots attack viciously and the mountain ridges are impenetrable. That there are no trails, no people. What I found when I came to see the place for myself was that some of the Gore's wild reputation was exaggerated, but much of it was not.

Our first night we sat through a hellacious thunderstorm. Growling thunder was our constant companion for nearly three hours, tapering off at last to a forest of strange and frightening noises. When I fell asleep at last, my dreams were troubled by shapes on our tent walls and images of, strangely, people standing outside the tent.

With the popularity of 14er climbing in Colorado, any wilderness that surrounds one of those mountains is going to be busy, if not overrun, with backpackers and climbers. Though less popular, the so-called "Centennial" 13ers (the 47 highest thirteeners that join the 53 "official" 14ers to make up Colorado's 100 tallest list) also draw some attention. Mt. Powell, the Gore's highest peak at 13,580' is in a tie for #198. Many lists, as a result, rank it at #201. As a result, the Gores are mostly safe from the "peakbagging" crowds that populate other Colorado ranges.

On the other hand, The Gores are a legitimate mountaineering destination despite their modest height. The range is full of jagged ridges and impressive battlements. Many of the mountains are difficult and treacherous to climb, and some are very difficult to access. Several of the Gore's most prized mountains are nearly impossible to climb in a single day. Adding to the particular allure of the Gore Rang--in some strange way--is that most of the peaks don't have official names. For the adventurous mountaineer this adds to the mystique, giving the mountain a unexplored, uncharted feel.

Some of the more interesting mountains to climb in the Gores are accesssed most often from Slate Creek or one of the other nearby trailheads. Upper Slate Lake is a common base camp for many of the Gore Range classics such as so-called "Peak L" and "Peak Q", which follows the letter designation applied by CMC.

We survived the night, but one of our fellow backpackers had became ill, so we had to hike out. Foiled by the rugged Gores.

-Brian Wright

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