Peaks Climbed: Mount Champion & UN 13,736

Peak Heights: 13,646' / 13,736'

Route: S Slopes / Ridge Traverse

Difficulty: Class 2

Location: Sawatch Mountains, Colorado

Trailhead: Hwy 82 E side winter gate

Mileage & Gain: 11.8 mi & 4,000 ft RT

Date Climbed: January 5, 2019

Mount Champion caught my eye as a possible winter candididate mainly because it lies only a mile and a half from Highway 82, the road that crosses Independence Pass. In winter the road is closed an easy two and a half miles from where one would normally start for this peak in the summer. Given the tough snowpack below treeline I had hopes of minimizing the distance I'd have to break trail by jumping on the southwest ridge, the most direct path from the road.

Unfortunately the southwest ridge did not appear inviting. It is steep and looked very questionsable around treeline. I wasn't comfortable enough with the current conditions to try it. So up dreaded Lackawanna Gulch I went, scared of what sort of masochistic trenching torture I might find.

To my amazement, once I stumbled on the old road a bold snowmobile track took me to 11,000 feet. The road was easy to follow, and when the sled tracks ended a very very old ski track sometimes aided my progress slightly. The going got tough as I crossed the creek and worked up the north side of the drainage that leads to Champion's east ridge. I kept running into fresh mountain lion tracks and it was spooky thinking about how if he appeared I'd be completely trapped because the snow was so deep.

Progress was painfully slow, and I was overjoyed to eventually find a reasonable line up Champion's south slopes instead of having to slog all the way over to the east ridge. It required climbing through a few hundred feet of steep terrain near treeline, but a bunch of insane old snowmobile tracks encouraged me, as did the CAIC's green avy forecast for treeline in this area. Soon enough I was on worry free, low angle slopes and cruising home free to the top of Champion.

UN 13,737 is just a half mile from Champion and the ridge looked quite reasonable so off I went. The round trip took me an hour and a half. Then I retraced my steps back into and down Lackawanna Gulch.

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