RT Length: 6 miles (seems fake but I’ll take it)
Elevation Gain: 4168’
This climb was several years in the making. Knowing if I wanted to complete the Centennials (etc.) I’d need to have rock climbing skills I started going to a rock climbing gym once a week a few years ago. While I enjoyed the climbing and the skills I learned helped immensely with scrambling on class 3+ peaks, I didn’t get a lot of experience with actually setting up/taking down ropes and anchors.
I bought books on mountaineering and watched YouTube videos, but there isn’t a lot of information out there on self-belaying/rappelling (I wonder why?). So I turned to friends I knew who rock climbed and picked their brains. A couple even offered to take me out and show me the ropes. I took them up on their offers, and by mid-summer this year I felt confident enough to go out and try this peak on my own. Please note, I’d already gone out dozens of times and set up anchors and rappelled locally, this was just the first time I was going to do so solo and, well, without anyone to help if needed.
I arrived at the Yankee Boy Basin restroom area at 3:30am and was on the trail by 3:45am.
I put my helmet on before I left the truck, and my pack was curiously not as heavy as I’d anticipated. I considered this my first win of the day. I walked about 1/10 of a mile down the road, realized I’d left my DSLR in the front seat and quickly turned around to retrieve it. I’d been a little worried about my bruised tailbone from last week, and while I have a good 5 inch bruise on my backside my pack wasn’t bothering it as I hiked. Second win of the day!
Camera retrieved I hiked northwest along the dirt road, crossing a large mud puddle and turning right.
Note: I chose this route because on a topo map it looked easier. After completing the hike I have my doubts, and believe this is the correct entry point:
The elevation gain begins immediately and doesn’t quit. I headed northwest up a steep grassy slope, enjoying the meteor shower and a herd of either goats of sheep watching my ascent (in the dark I couldn’t tell which they were, but could see them watching me).
The grassy slope turned to large rocks and talus as I entered a basin.
In the moonlight I could see my goal: this steep scree section at the base of the black gully. I’ve lightened these pictures up for detail, but this is where I was headed.
The ascent was a grueling climb over steep scree, made marginally easier when I put on my microspikes. The worst part was getting all those small rocks inside my shoes. I couldn’t help but think I should be wearing gaiters to keep the rocks out. Don’t they make something for this for runners so they don’t get rocks in their shoes? Anyway, the terrain was not ideal in the least: some of the worst scree/talus/etc. I’ve ever encountered. At times I was literally grasping the dirt for traction with my hands.
I exited climbers left out of the black gully. The black gully is class 2+ climbing, and much easier than the scree/talus I encountered before the gully. I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to climb.
Here’s a look back down the black gully. You can see “Coffeepot” in the upper left corner
Here’s a look at the route from the top of the black gully
I followed the rock rib around until I came to another gully, climbed up, and turned left
From here there’s some rock scrambling. I kept heading northwest towards the summit tower
Ok, easy part over. Now it was time to get out my gear and mentally prepare for this climb. Looking at the route it didn’t look that difficult. I felt confident I could climb both up and down without needing ropes (ha!). I changed into my rock climbing shoes, put on my harness just so I wouldn’t need to at the top, and left my trekking pole and hiking boots at the base of the climb: no need to carry unnecessary equipment.
Here’s the route up
The first half of this climb was indeed straightforward, but as soon as I crossed over to the ‘actual’ climb things got a little more hairy and I quickly came to the realization I was not going to be able to downclimb if I continued, and if I were to go any further, I would need to fully commit. It was either downclimb now or I was doing this all the way. My legs started to shake so I took a steadying breath and reminded myself I’d trained for this and it was within my abilities. I looked up and steadily climbed to the top, being careful with each hand/foothold I chose. I couldn’t help thinking to myself (over and over again) how much easier this would have been if I’d been a few inches taller. I’m happy with being 5’4”, but at times like this being 5’6”+ definitely would have its advantages.
I made it to the top and looked back down on what I’d done. Woot! I’d made it! I dropped my gear and tried to get a few pictures. This wasn’t working, mainly because the summit just wasn’t big enough. So, selfies it is again. I did get a video and a few pictures to prove I’d summited (you’d be surprised how much some other people care…). I summited Teakettle Mountain at 7:15am
Oh, and I know that’s not a teacup but an espresso cup. I don’t own any teacups and I was planning on climbing “Coffeepot” today as well, so I compromised (also, this is Teakettle, not Teacup… and btw I do love all those teacup photos, not throwing shade here, just rambling). Mississippi is a nod to family. Also, there may or may not be whiskey in that cup. Ok, there was, but only a sip. I still had to make it back down but still felt a bit like reveling: I’d climbed up without a rope!
Now for the true test: setting up an anchor and rappelling back down. There were several anchors already set up, and while I’d love to trust someone else’s’ anchor (let’s face it, the odds are in their favor here) I didn’t know how long they had been there, so I decided to set my own anchor up and attach it to the ones already in place.
I was worried I’d forget something. Not that I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was at altitude, hadn’t had any food/water besides a sip of whiskey (personal choice on 99% of my hikes to prevent nausea) and had done a lot of physical activity and I didn’t want to mess up here, so I checked and re-checked everything twice and then a third time and made sure to secure my sling(s) before even beginning. Luckily there was a stable rock behind the anchor for me to use during set-up as well.
Anchor all set up I uncoiled my rope, attached it to the anchor, and threw it in the position I wanted for a rappel.
OK, moment of truth. I put back on all my gear, attached the belay device, leaned back and everything held, so I unhooked my slings, took a deep breath, and leaned back. It all went smoothly and faster than I’d anticipated. So much so that I stopped about 10 feet from the ground and played with the side of the wall, pushing my feet off the rocks and bouncing back and forth for a bit before finishing the rappel. Yes, I was pretty proud of myself when my feet hit the ground safely, and even more so after I’d retrieved and recoiled my rope.
After changing back into my hiking shoes and putting all my gear away I figured it was a good time to celebrate: I actually took a full shot of whiskey (now that the hard part was over) and decided to play a bit with the rock formation. It would have been really cool to get one of those pictures with me in the hole, but there was no way I could set up my camera and make it back into position in time, so I settled for one of my shadowselfies.
I spent a lot more time here than I usually would at a ‘summit’ but I was celebrating: This climb had been several years in the making, I’d put a lot of energy and effort into all this climb entailed, and (with the training help of friends) I’d successfully summited solo. I was going to celebrate!!!
After a few minutes of fun I turned and headed back towards the Black Gully. From the Black Gully here’s the look at the route over to “Coffeepot” (and the route I would have taken over to the Black Gully had I not taken the scree route up)
Here’s a look in the daylight back down the scree route up
From the bench below “Coffeepot” here’s a look back at the Black Gully
From here I turned left (east) and decided to check out “Coffeepot”. It doesn’t much look like a coffeepot from this angle, does it? It’s basically a quick class 3 climb over some rocks, and a short class 5.0-5.2 climb (per Roach) up a chimney.
I made it about ¼ of the way up the chimney and realized I didn’t fit with my backpack on, so I retreated, set down my pack at the top of the class 3 part, and tried again sans gear. It was much easier this time and reminded me of when I was younger and would climb through a tree hollowed out by lightning. It was a tight fit but I felt very secure as I twisted around and topped out at the top of “Coffeepot”. I summited “Coffeepot” at 8:45am
Back down was a bit tricky because I had to go over an overhang to get back into the chimney, but in today’s conditions I felt in no way was a rope necessary (I did hold onto the anchor a bit as I was steadying myself in the beginning, but it wasn’t necessary).
It you feel comfortable at class 4 climbing and are considering trying “Coffeepot” I’d say go for it. Here’s a look at the climbing side of “Coffeepot”
From here I could see Potosi Peak, my next objective.
I was feeling pretty good at this point, having completed two Class 5 climbs. However, this peak actually proved to be difficult because there were some unexpected obstacles in the way. Here’s the initial route down and back up the ridge, over to the corner of the cliffs
From the Coffeepot/Potosi saddle up the ridge was full of very loose talus. I’d encourage you to keep your helmet on for the entire hike, even though some of this stuff is labeled at 2+
The traverse around to the corner of Potosi took much longer than anticipated, but was straightforward.
At the corner I turned left and headed northeast up and over some more loose talus and rocks
And around the south side of Potosi until I came to a gully. This area was well cairned until the gully.
As I rounded the corner and came to the gully I was surprised to find a large mass of snow blocking the route up. This snow was at least 4 feet thick, 30 feet across, and 50 feet vertical, turning the class 2+ gully into a class 3 climb over large, unstable and loose rocks to get around the soft snow.
Here’s looking back down on the snow filled gully area
After the snow there was more class 3 climbing to get to the top of the gully. To be fair, it looked like there had been quite a bit of recent rockfall, including several large boulders.
About 100 feet before the top of the gully I headed up and over this rocky area. The rock is stable but covered in a lot of small rocks, making it slippery to climb. There were cairns here as well.
Almost done, I headed up through more loose talus, through a notch, and turned left for the short push to the summit
There was a bit of snow here, surrounded by squishy mud: the kind that will suck your shoes off if your foot settles on it for any length of time, so I quickly traversed this area to the summit
I summited Potosi Peak at 11:05am
The summit was relatively flat
I pulled out my phone and checked my tracker. It said I’d gone 3.9 miles so far today and that seemed like a lie. I thought to myself I’d need to delete and re-download the app because last week it had stopped on me unexpectedly during my last hike and now it wasn’t tracking accurately… it must need a reboot.
I quickly headed back down the gully, around the side of Potosi, and back towards the Potosi/Coffeepot saddle. This is where I made my first mistake: I had the option of climbing back up to Coffeepot and taking the traditional way down, or going straight down from the Potosi/Coffeepot Gully. I chose the gully (I’d advise you to instead head back up to “Coffeepot” and then down).
In any event, I made it to the saddle and turned to head down the gully, aiming for the most stable sections of scree, navigating between rock formations
Here’s a look back up at the decent route I took from the saddle
When I got to the base of the rock formations I looked ahead and could tell I did not want to continue straight: The gully turned into a waterfall and I could see snow at the base. It did not look safe. (Solid line). That was ok though because I had beta from a friend telling me I could just traverse over the hillside and I’d eventually run into the trail that led up “Coffeepot” (dotted line). I figured nothing could be worse than the talus on the ascent, right?
Here’s what I was trying to avoid
Let me tell you, this beta was FALSE! Even though it looks like you can traverse over, you cannot. Well, I did, but went through a lot of very sketchy terrain. Visually it looks like you can cross on tundra the entire way but there are rock gullies you can’t see from here, and in fact can’t see until you’re right up on them. Yes, I checked beforehand it looked like it went on a topo, but on the ground it wasn’t working. There were gullies everywhere that were extremely difficult to cross. Every time I made it over one I’d encounter another. I didn’t even feel comfortable stopping to take pictures. It was frustrating because I could clearly see where I needed to be, I just couldn’t get there. Please don’t take this way. It looks like it goes, and maybe it does in winter, but it wasn’t safe. My advice is to skip this decent route all together and hike back up to “Coffeepot” and then down. It took me a lot longer than it should have to descend, and there were many times I almost turned around and retraced my steps back up to the saddle (which I was very close to doing before figuring out the route). Oh, and there was graupel involved. I was ecstatic when I finally did link up to the ascent route and made my way down to the parking lot.
Here’s a look from the road at the route I don’t advise you to take
I made it back at 3pm, making this a 6 mile hike/climb with 4168’ in elevation gain in just over 11 hours. And yes, my tracker was correct (it just felt like so much longer due to all the elevation gain).
All in all, I considered today a great success: I’d summited Teakettle solo, tagged “Coffeepot” and Potosi, and learned a lot about trusting someone else’s’ beta. I drove the 6 hours home, took a bath, and then took my daughters out to a late dinner to celebrate my oldest being home from drum corps and my youngest completing her first week as an upperclassman.