I climbed the southwest face of North Apostle, a Colorado Centennial Peak ranked 79th tallest in the state. Similar to my climb of Cronin Peak, I was able to make this hike a snow climb. The most popular route is the southwest ridge from the saddle between North Apostle and Ice Mountain. I brought snow climbing gear with because of my previous experience in the Three Apostles Basin, but never really expected a snow climb. Nevertheless, I saw the southwest face from high in the basin it looked like there was continuous snow that would lead to the summit.
I had not been in the Three Apostles Basin since 2006, when Brian Kooienga, Kevin Smith, and I did an early season snow climb of the Refrigerator Couloir on Ice Mountain. That was a difficult day due to unconsolidated snow conditions and significant post-holing. Overall conditions were significantly better this time in the area. I didn't start particularly early and wasn't hiking until 6:10. I had to start from the South Winfield Trailhead because the four-wheel-drive road was blocked from the start by avalanche debris. The beginning of the hike is relatively flat and goes fairly quickly to the Lake Ann/Three Apostles Basin Trail Junction. From here the grade steepened and there were a few short sections of snow patches to negotiate, but overall the trail was dry and distinct all the way to 11,400' near tree line.
From the lower basin, the Three Apostles look close but there is still a fair amount of work ahead. I hiked across solid snow that was covered with avalanche debris to the same narrow Notch Couloir we used in 2006 to access the upper basin. I geared up at the base of the notch at 8:50. Although the snow line got me to the small unnamed lake at 12,100', I was a little nervous ascending because a portion of it was hollow with water running underneath. I decided when I exited the narrow climb I would not go back down it due to softening snow and warmer conditions in the afternoon.
I continued southeast in the upper basin on easy snow. I punched through and post-holed on a couple occasions near rock outcroppings where the snow was thin. Eventually I worked may way past the base of the Refrigerator Couloir on Ice Mountain and started towards the saddle between North Apostle and Ice Mountain at 13,460'. However, instead of making it to the saddle I started to traverse straight towards North Apostle when I saw the snow-covered southwest face could be climbed directly to the summit. I reached the top of North Apostle at 11:15 in great weather and great views all around and spent 30 minutes on North Apostle. It always surprises me how fast time goes on summits. Despite much of the climbing not being very steep, I still got close to 2,100' of snow climbing in from below the notch to the summit.
I was tired of wearing crampons and took them off on the summit. I descended about half way down the southwest ridge before I could work my way over to the southwest face snowfield. At this point I caught three descent glissades back down to the unnamed lake at 12,100'. Since I wasn't going back down the notch, I read a route description to figure out how to get back down into the lower basin. I probably should have researched the route a bit better beforehand, but what I read simply said to skirt the cliff bands on the north. I started working my way in that direction on the hike out and quickly found myself in some sketchy class 4 down-climbing. I was in mountaineering boots and much of the rock was wet too. I dropped too low too quickly and should have stayed higher and continued farther north before descending.
Anyway, I eventually worked my way back to the lower basin and quickly picked up the Three Apostles Basin Trail. I saw a few people on the hike out. Some were day-hiking the trail, some were camping, and some had hiked Huron Peak. I got back to my vehicle at 3:10 for a nine hour car-to-car day. I was pretty tired from the day and distance I covered. As I get older the miles seem to take a bigger toll on me. This was my fourth Centennial Peak in a row that I have hiked in the Sawatch Range over the past month. I stopped at Periodic Brewing in Leadville, Colorado, for a quick pint before heading back home.