> Teakettle Mountain

Teakettle Mountain

August 14, 2016


Teakettle Mountain (13,819'): 3.4 miles, 3,650 feet elevation gain

Note: Click on picture to see high resolution photograph in separate window:

Gilpin Peak from Teakettle's lower slopes

During this past weekend's climbs of Dallas and Teakettle, the subject of lists came up a few times. Jon and I are both working on climbing the Centennials, while Tom is nearly done with the much more impressive list of fifth class Colorado summits. Jonathan, the youngest but perhaps wisest of us, is out to climb whatever looks interesting. He has already climbed the California 14ers and most of Colorado's 14ers, but is not set to a specific set of must-climbs. The rest of us envy that sentiment. I like "the list" because of all the nooks and crannies of Colorado it's forced me to explore, and all the skills and experiences I've gained along the way. But all three of us "list-checkers" are looking forward to the end of the list, so that we can just go climb what we enjoy climbing, and focus on the fun instead of the check-marks.

Teakettle Summit Video:

Ironically, Teakettle is one of those steep "slogs" that many people have derided as not worth the effort, and granted I would not have been climbing it if it were not on my list. I'll admit I was not looking forward to another steep slog after all of yesterday's effort on Dallas Peak, but a certain amount of motivation came along with traveling 2,000 miles to make it happen. Jonathan was enthusiastic and looking forward to the climb, though unfortunately Tom and Jon were not feeling up to it. We had all climbed Dallas together the day before, and that was the pinnacle of what we were all hoping to achieve this weekend anyway.

So, time to get going. Jonathan rode with me part way up the 4-wheel drive road where I stopped at a pull-off. Figuring we had earned sleeping in and with a perfect weather forecast, we got a late 7:15 start. A short easy road-walk led us up to 11,300 feet, just before the outhouse parking area. From there, most of our route up to "The Coffeepot" was apparent--and steep for sure.

Jonathan led the way up grassy slopes as San Juan bliss opened up around us: Gilpin Peak, Potosi, Mount Sneffels, and all the surrounding ridges and peaks glowed in the early morning sun under perfectly blue skies. The scenery alone was enough to motivate me to keep moving higher despite being so tired.

The "Black Gully":

Jonathan climbing in the Black Gully. "Coffeepot" looms behind.

Above the steep grassy area, we endured a nasty scree slog too far to the left of where we should be, heading straight up toward the ridge below Coffeepot. On the bright side, it didn't take long to arrive on the ridge proper, and we found this to be relatively solid talus all the way up to the cliff bands around 13,000 feet. We stuck close to the cliffs, which involved a little bit of scrambling, and we found this much preferable to the ugly scree slopes to our right (east). Staying on this ridge made the steep climb to the Coffeepot not so bad in my opinion, and I'm surprised more people don't go this way.

Still, the going was tedious, and it was 10:45 by the time we arrived at the viewpoint where the rest of the route to Teakettle becomes visible. We took a break here and scoped out the route ahead.

Weather was perfect, so we continued to take our time, although it didn't take long to get from the viewpoint to the base of the Black Gully.

My thoughts on the Black Gully: the middle wasn't bad, and the going was pretty easy while sticking to the right side. The bottom and the top of the gully, however, sucked, and were full of loose, angled rock that we couldn't help but dislodge. We ascended one at a time. Only 100 vertical feet, it went quickly and I exited the right side of the top of the gully, quite awkwardly on the angled, crumbling rock. Jonathan exited the left side, equally awkwardly, having to pull himself up off a chockstone and up over the remaining loose rock to safer ground.

Topping out of the Black Gully.

Then came the easiest part of the day: a nice cruise along a relatively flat trail leading us all the way to the final climb. This trail passes under a series of interesting towers and formations, forming a puzzle of a mountain much like we encountered the day before on Dallas.

Not surprisingly, the nice trail was short lived, and from there a scree slope led us up to a jumble of bulbous rock formations above the lone remaining snow patch on the mountain's south face. There were different paths to take up through the formations, all on steep rubbly scree, but we found a relatively easy way up through them. And there, in front of us, was the summit and handle of Teakettle! We arrived at the base of the tower right at noon.

We looked over the summit chimney extensively, and I decided I wanted to use the rope as I could not see the crux of the route. Jonathan agreed to belay me and we roped up. I pulled myself up onto the first ledge, where I placed a sling around a horn and looked over my options. Tom had told me he thought the chimney was harder than 5.3, and that the outcropping to the right looked better to climb, and as I stood in the base of the chimney I had to agree. In the chimney, there were plenty of holds six feet and up, but I couldn't find any ledges or holds to get started! Looking at the arete to the right, however, I felt out some decent holds and worked my way up.

There was one awkward, committing pull that made me glad we had the rope. The rock was mostly solid, but it was just flaky enough on the surface to make me pause. Immediately after that move though, I was home-free and standing on the ledge next to the rap anchor!

Dallas Peak, in Teakettle's "handle".

It was actually a very short climb; I took longer to describe it than it actually felt to climb, and I popped onto the summit in no time. This was one unique, airy perch, with some of the best views I've had on any summit. I belayed Jonathan up the same way, and we both enjoyed the awesomeness of Teakettle and its surroundings. For the summit, we had perfect weather with no wind and minimal clouds, and for the second day in a row!

Potosi Peak, from the handle.

From the summit we could see climbers on Sneffels and Cirque, and Jonathan made some long distance friends with giant "WHOOP"s.

Dallas Peak, Mount Sneffels, Cirque Peak.

Compared to yesterday's rappel, this was a simple one. We brought Jonathan's 30m rope along, and that was plenty for both the climb and rappel. We were back down in no time, and now it was time to celebrate by exploring the "handle" of the Teakettle, a one-of-a-kind place. There is a sort of gravelly platform across from the summit tower, from which one can hang out and get any angle shot of the handle they wish. We both took turns doing nerdy poses and then Jonathan even did the pull-up stance, and we took lots of pics. The view from the handle itself was tremendous, in both directions. What a unique place.

With the perfect weather, we hung out between the summit and the handle for two and a half hours, the longest I've ever spent at the top of a mountain.

Then... the long way down. Once again, the Black Gully was the worst part. We each went down the respective sides of the top of the gully we had earlier ascended--again, awkwardly, then one a time worked our way down the remainder of the gully, both sending small rocks careening down the mountain slopes below.

We finally made it back to our vehicle after 11 hours. Despite the crowds going up and down the road to Yankee Boy Basin, we were alone on Teakettle Mountain, a place I won't soon forget.

A few final notes on Teakettle: Many climbers find this a slog to best be avoided, but I think we were able to stay away from the worst of that by sticking to the ridge leading up to "Coffeepot." Yes, the Black Gully sucked, and there were other tedious parts of the day, but the summit tower and its surroundings made this completely worthwhile for me--and for Jonathan, I believe. Once I'm done with the Centennials, I'm going to be done with climbing lists. I'll try to seek out climbs like this one, with no particular agenda but to enjoy the day. In the meantime, I hope to never lose sight of the experience for the check-marks. For what it's worth though, I'm glad this one was on "the list."