The Tanners Gulch Triple Traverse is a climb that has been three years coming. In 2006 I planned on going with a group from Summitpost but weather prevented such a trip. In hindsight I was nowhere near ready for it then. in 2007 I planned on going again, but it didn't happen and I can't recall why. In 2008 I ascended Tanners Gulch to Dromedary Peak, and then descended as I was uncomfortable with the rest of the trip. This year, I knew I had to complete it.
I got up at 3:45 Saturday morning after having slept a full 8 hours (thank you Benedryl). I had packed and prepared most of my gear the night before so I got dressed, ate some cinnamon rolls and grabbed everything I would need. Jason and I headed out on our way to the Broads Fork trailhead in Big Cottonwood where we would meet up with Travis and the rest of the group.
There were 7 of us from Summitpost that showed up that morning, all of whom I'd met before at least for a short time. Travis and Matt I had done many climbs with, Glenn and Walter I met on last years Triple Traverse, and Alec I met briefly as we ran into each other in upper Tanners Gulch a week after my 2008 Triple Traverse attempt when I was taking my brother Matthew up the mountain.
From our meeting place we took two of our cars and drove over to the bottom of Tanners Gulch in Little Cottonwood where our journey would begin. We started hiking though a thick growth of trees at about 5:20. Getting from the road to Tanners Gulch is an annoying trudge on an unmaintained climbers trail. Thankfully it's short. Within 5 minutes we were in the couloir
. From here we had 3 hours of straight forward climbing up steep snow to the top. The car's elevation was at around 7300 feet and it was straight uphill until we reached the summit of Dromedary at 11107 feet. We figured it would take about 3 hours.
Mentally, ascending 4000 feet of steep terrain is quite difficult. From the start I wondered how well I would do on this trip. I haven't summited a peak since August of last year, and it was fairly easy. With last year's two injuries (3 broken vertebra from a fall, and patellar tendinitis from overuse in the Winds) still acting up on occasion and my lack of physical conditioning, I was simply hoping for the best. As I started up the snow my lungs let me know they were opposed to this idea. I started to feel hot spots on my heels, but didn't want to take off my gaiters and mountaineering boots. I threw on some BT to keep my rhythm as I climbed. I went through wondering if I would make it to the top of the gulch, but it soon became apparent I would have no problem with that. But then I thought "maybe I'll just climb two of the peaks and come back down Tanners" but shoved the thought out of my mind. I was in it for the long haul. My knee wasn't bothering me, my back wasn't bothering me, I could fight through the pain of the hot spots that were already forming into blisters. "I can do this."
Most of the group was ahead of me, Jason and Travis behind. I was gaining distance on them, though I didn't mean to. But at a certain point it becomes a personal struggle of you against the mountain, pushing as hard as you can, wanting to stop or slow but saying you'll go just a little further. Towards the top of Tanners, it splits with the main gulch leading to the saddle between Sunrise and Dromedary, and the right couloir leading straight to the summit of Dromedary. As our first goal was Dromedary, we took the right variation. What I didn't expect to run into was a waterfall. It was small, maybe 5 feet high, and there was snow around it. Not too difficult or dangerous to get past but it made for some fun climbing to break up the monotony of the steep snow. Before too long, I heard someone say "I see it, I'm probably 60 seconds away" and figured it would take me about 5-10 minutes to get through to the summit myself. Wanting to stop, but wanting more to summit, I fought through and made it to the top. Alec, Glenn, Walter, and Matt were already up there. We took some pictures and Glenn, Walter, and Matt left the summit to continue on to Sunrise. Looking over there, I could see that there were 3 climbers already on the upper slopes of the peak. They were just little dots.
I ate a tuna sandwich and waited around for Jason and Travis to summit. When they did I took a few pictures of them coming up the ridge, and congratulated them. But I was starting to get cold from all the sitting, so I had to move on. Descending the west ridge of Dromedary to the saddle was fun and interesting, but not difficult. On the left was Tanners Gulch and on the right there was a sheer drop into Broads Fork. I erred to the left side of the ridge preferring that direction if I was to fall. When I hit the col, I had to down climb into broads fork to get around a rock outcropping. It was on some hard packed snow that was still shaded from the sun, but that only made it more interesting. A fell here would only be a slide, and one that would be readily arrestable.
The route up to Sunrise was snow interspersed with rock that was fairly easy to bypass. Overall the traverse over from Dromedary took about an hour. On top I waited for Jason and Travis to catch up. Jason arrived before everyone else left, but it was a little while longer until Travis showed up. It was nice to sit there on top of a mountain for a while and just look out across Little Cottonwood to the Alpine Ridge to the south. Eventually it was time to go, so the three of us moved down towards the subpeak, Jepsen's Folly, and the crux of the climb. As I followed the tracks of those who went before I came around a corner and saw Matt and Walter sitting on the saddle before twin peaks. They were yelling at me to go the other way, so I did. I found myself standing above the crux of the climb, a steep downclimb in a no fall zone. Jason and Travis caught up to me so I let them know that this is where we're supposedly supposed to go. There was a section of rock where the snow was melted out making things more difficult. I decided to go first, and had them wait at the top until I was out of rockfall danger. Once on the rock I noticed the water ice that had formed over sections of it. Oh how pretty.... (Jason later told me he wondered why me and Travis were having such a hard time until he went and discovered the ice). All in all it took about 7 minutes before I called up and said I was clear of any rockfall path. But I wasn't off the steep snow. There was a frustrating amount of down climbing and traversing to get to the Broads Fork saddle. But step by step I made it over and had an easy stroll over to the start up Broads Fork Twin Peaks.
In the summer there is a 5th class crack climb that you have to do to get up unless you want to get pelted by falling rock. But in the winter the scree filled couloir variation is filled with snow, making it prime for ascent. Unfortunately it was after 11:00 and the south facing snow was getting really soft. From here to to summit was very strenuous climbing, constantly sinking into the snowpack while trying to step up. At 11:22 on the final slopes to the summit I heard my phone go off in my pack. I got a text message. Although I was tempted to look at it then, I needed to keep going to the top, and within 10 minutes I made it. I saw that 2 of the 4 people in front of me were almost to the west twin and the other two were taking pictures and about to move over there. I decided I didn't need to go over there. The east peak is the higher one and I had done the west one previously. So I sat down and made a call in response to my text message, ate another tuna sandwich, and waited for people to join me. The group came over and Jason made it to the top at around the same time. He said Travis decided to just descend Broads Fork because his legs were cramping up. I didn't blame him.
We were all excited that we were done with our goals and just had the long way down left. We posed for a group picture and decided we would go down the north ridge to the Robinson Couloir (also called bonkers by skiiers). Directly off the summit the ridge was plunge stepping in soft snow. Made for a relaxing stroll in the amazing scenery. Further along we hit some more interesting scrambling over rocks and knife edge ridges. Once we reached the top of Robinson we had a long glissade ahead of us. First we had to downclimb some very steep snow (felt near vertical at parts) past some rocks we didn't want to hit, and then it was 2000 vertical feet of sliding down a hill on my hind end. Always a good time. So much effort to get up, and then you just get to sit there and let gravity help you out. I love spring climbing.
Just after 1:00 PM we were all at the bottom getting our gear set for the final 2 mile hike out. Travis had made it that far down Broads Fork before we ran into him. Seems we found a shortcut. As we all took off, I got left behind just a little bit.. and eventually lost track of everyone. So I wandered from side to side in broads fork a bit, trying to hit the trail, knowing they would be going for the trail too. I ended up way too far to the east and on the banks of the stream, so I went off to the west and eventually found the trail. A few minutes of hiking down it and I ran into Jason, Travis, and Glenn waiting for me. We sat for a bit and went in one push to the cars. Total trip time was just about 9 hours, quite the feat, really.
This was easily the most technical mountaineering I've ever done, and I am surprised with how well I did. My knee and back aren't hurting and I'm only a little sore from it all.
So why am I in pain then? Well, I did get a huge blister on my right heel, but that's a tolerable amount of pain. I'm in pain because my mouth is riddled with canker sores. Seriously. Riddled. There are at least 7 or 8 spread in various locations throughout my mouth (edit: 7 or 8 was an insanely low estimate. I looked in the mirror. There are 7 or 8 big ones and innumerable small ones plastering my mouth. Ugh). I have no idea why. I've had canker sores in the past, but nothing like this. It's excruciating. I can't even eat without pain. Yet while I was climbing, I never thought about the pain in my mouth. While eating on the climb I was able to suffer through knowing I needed the energy. How fitting that I went on a trip that I expected to be very painful and yet it actually alleviated pain in a way.
Additional photos are available to view:
Album on Summitpost.org
Pictures 13-25 are from this trip.