Mounts Arkansas & Tweto
April 3, 2010 - Attempt via Arkansas/Tweto Saddle
John BB and I had talked climbing for a few months and then, during the course of a recent conversation, we discovered that we both had solo climbs planned for the first weekend in April. I was thinking about the Sangre de Christos and he had Mts. Arkansas and Tweto on the mind. I'd never been up Arkansas or Tweto and really didn't want to drive four and one half hours south for what was forecast to be a so-so weekend. The plan was on, I would meet John just shy of Idaho Springs on I-70 and we would be off to the Climax hairpin to take a shot at one or both of these bicentennial peaks.
The weather on the eastern side of the divide was fine but upon our exit from the Eisenhower tunnel, we were greeted with winter . . . not spring, but winter. Lots of snow on the road, a bit of wind and a good bit on snow coming down at a steady rate. John noted that we appeared to have found winter in April. We had anticipated that we would find blowing snow as the forecast did call for a windy day. We also figured we would muscle through. We dropped down Fremont pass and parked at the hairpin turn marking the start of the drainage that forms the headwaters of the Arkansas River.
We did a presto chango in the Jeep and I noted that although it was snowing it really was not that cold out and there was no significant wind. We hefted the packs and were on our way up the unplowed mine road for a hundred yards before we skipped the turn for the public dirt road and just cut straight across a band of willows to intercept the route a bit further along. We picked up pieces of the road here and there, starting with a stretch of the old rail line and then working our way through willow bands and then hitting the summer road and staying on it for a bit over a mile.
The summer road hugs the base of the valley on the ascender's right side and leads to number of mine structures, one of which offered an opening in a wall sufficient for us to stand inside on a gravel floor and out of the wind. We both took a drink and ate some snacks before again moving onward up the valley. Our plan was to go up valley and then cut to the ascender's right to climb the slopes leading to the Arkansas/Tweto saddle. Given that it is early in the season, we planned to be cautious of the slopes from an avi perspective and really figured that if too much weather or new snow made an appearance, this trip would be reduced to an extended recon for a better day.
We made a good course through the last copse of trees and then out onto the open area that forms the lowermost slopes of the route up to the saddle. The wind was starting to pick up but every once in a while we would score a glimpse, albeit a very short one, of the sun trying to break through. We climbed to an outcrop and had a pow-wow as the wind had increased substantially and the visibility was notably reduced. There appeared to be a slight spine cutting further upward on the high meadow we had reached and rather than turn the climb, we decided to walk perhaps another 1/4 mile of gently sloping ground just to see what lay beyond. The snow and wind was hard at our backs and neither of us still held any real hope for a summit.
We came to a rounded knob and called it a climb. The trip back promised to be a snow into the face and stinging cold trek . . . conditions were just not going to get any better. We took a drink and turned 180 degrees to return to the Jeep. The route back was easy to spot although the visibility was poor at time as the wind whipped the new snow in swirling round blizzards of fine snow crystals that seem to cut the skin. We lost the better part of 500 feet of elevation from our 12,200 foot high, cut an extended course around a steeper slope that I did not like the looks of and wandered on back to the mid-point mine site. From there we hoofed it, for a while on the remnants of our morning trail to the Jeep, calling it as day after five miles and four hours of winter travel.
Mt. Arkansas via the North Couloir on spring snow
The other side of the valley, Traver, McNamee & Clinton Peaks