Navajo Peak

Navajo Peak

I awake way before dawn after a somewhat restless night, and start to prepare for the new days event.  The plan  is very exciting, but I am also a bit apprehensive about this somewhat serious adventure.

The route that I am planning to climb involves a fairly long approach, some steep snow climbing, and a somewhat challenging class 3+ chimney on a remote mountain face. 

I’ve climbed this route twice before, so I know what I’m getting into, but I’ve aged a bit since the last attempt, and I know that it deserves respect.

I had made a feeble attempt about a week ago, but a sixth sense and less than perfect weather caused me to turn back early. The alternative was finding shelter from the harsh wind, and spending a lazy day in an awesome and very secluded high alpine meadow.

But, today feels very different, and I’m anxious to finish the challenge. The weather looks good, and so are my energy and spirits, as I park my van at the trailhead.

A note stating,  “Climbing west Chimney of Navajo. Back by mid afternoon.” is left in a conspicuous location on my dash, and I’m on my way.

The dawn of the new day is just starting to brighten the sky as I saunter briskly along the well worn trail to Isabelle lake. The trail is lined with some very large Ingleman Spruce trees that are much older than me and a pair of young bucks are grazing in an adjacent meadow.

The first rays of the sun light up the high peaks as Navajo and Apache come into view, and my soul is suddenly invigorated.

A couple of early morning photographers and a young moose great me as I reach the stunning vista of Isabelle lake. But here the main trail ends, as I leave the soon to be very busy valley and wander alone into the high alpine zone. The trail has suddenly disappeared, but I know this valley well, and a maze of grassy ledges and tiny valleys provide for a fairly easy scramble. 

My awareness suddenly kicks in to my extreme mode, because I am aware that even a short stumble might result in an injury that could be fatal in this remote place.

I am carrying reasonable survival gear and a loud whistle, but the chance of being found rapidly on this remote mountain face are still slim, so I must be extra cautious.

But this caution forces a mental attitude that is totally focused and very enjoyable.  All the cares of the world suddenly disappear as I wander upwards completely focused on the task at hand. 

The air is a bit brisk, but the sun is warm, and the views are brilliant. The soft tundra is bursting with tiny plants that only have a few months to live, and the banks of some tiny rivers are adorned with a myriad of colorful wild flowers.

The quickly receding old glacier has left about a hundred new yards of manky scree that involves a frustrating mixture of scrambling and sliding backwards, but I manage to find a reasonable route to the snow, and arrive a bit out of breath.

My energy quickly recovers, as I stop for a quick snack and attach my crampons.

The next 500 or so vertical feet involves kicking steps in some fairly firm and somewhat steep (40-45 degree) snow. This is actually about the easiest way to climb a mountain if you have the right skills and equipment, and I do. I have come prepared with one medium length ice axe, and a “Whipit” (ski pole with a small ice axe), and crampons. 

The steep snow is much easier than the loose rock and allows for a rapid ascent, but kicking steps is quite strenuous, so I stop a few times to catch my breath and ponder this awesome paradise. The rhythm of setting a fast pace seems to be more efficient, so I divide the slope into about 5 segments of sprint and rest, and each phase brings me ever closer to the summit.

The cool air feels fresh in my lungs and the blood rushing through my brain clears my mind as the last sprint brings me to the top of the snow. 

Here, the means of travel will change again and I stop on a comfortable ledge and enjoy the last rays of the sun as I remove my crampons and pack away the ice axes. 

The rest spot is warm and sunny, but the weather suddenly changes as I wander upward onto the shady west face.

A brisk breeze is howling through the steep saddle between Navajo and Dicker’s Peck (A small one pitch 5.4 spire that was named by the first ascent party).  The usually easy route has been coated with a bit of graupel (frozen rain) from the last thunderstorm.

These conditions are not quite what I had expected, but I know the route and don’t wish to turn back now. 

I am now very aware of my remoteness and the normally 3rd class route is covered with a thin layer of frozen rain. A tiny mistake here, could result in a miserable night or maybe the end of my life, so I proceed very cautiously, and my focus becomes even more intense. 

The foot holds are a bit slippery, but the hand holds are solid and I revert to the old climbing rule of always having 3 appendages attached while you carefully move the 4th. The approach to the chimney is a bit exposed and I shudder at the thought of being injured on this remote face. But the moves are easy and the exposure mellows as I enter the chimney and move ever upward. This section gets very little sun, and the holds are cold and icy, but I’m starting to catch a rhythm and enjoy a temporary state of nirvana as I climb this stairway to heaven. 

But the stairway quickly ends, and once more I am faced with a slippery traverse. But the moves are easy, the summit is near, and a sunny ledge is beckoning, so I move cautiously once again.

This sunny ledge marks the intersection with the easier “Airplane Gulley” route, and I feel that the climb is almost in the bag, so I decide to drop my pack and take a short break. 

The rest of the route is still very exposed 3rd class, and a brisk breeze is showing its face, so it is too early to relax.  The ledge is warm and comfy, but the summit is beckoning, so I leave my pack, and scramble upward. The route finding here is a bit challenging, and I probably didn’t pick the easiest way, but I manage to arrive on an empty and somewhat breezy summit. This is my favorite Indian Peak, and the views are incredible, but the wind is brisk, and I won’t be able to truly relax till I get back to my pack, so I ponder the views for only a few brief moments. I manage to find an easier route on the return voyage and make it safely back to the comfortable ledge.

The ledge is out of the wind, the sun is warm, and the quest is all but finished, so I take a long break in the warm sun and thoroughly enjoy the serenity and great views.


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