Table of Contents
- Preface/Rating System
- The Route
- Video of North Ridge
- Arapaho Traverse and Exit
- Summary and Additional Resources
Quick disclaimer: I like to highlight and markup some of my pictures for route clarification.
- Black/white lines= general directions, landmarks and/or Class 1 sections.
- Blue Lines=Class 2 sections.
- Red= Class 3 sections.
- Purple = Class 4 sections.
- Orange = Class 5.
The class system is based on the YDS rating scale. Please note these colors are different than other sites. If you are unsure of what a color means, I usually leave a quick reminder in the picture caption.
Due to the strange boundary of the Boulder Watershed, part of this route may intersect or cross briefly into the Watershed. Approached from Wheeler Basin, and based on Gerry Roach’s comments in his Indian Peaks guide, this is a legal route. Mapping software says that a part of the route near the crux does cross the boundary. The rest of the scramble and the summit plateau of North Arapaho aren’t in the watershed. Technically, crossing into the Boulder Watershed is illegal. However, many routes like Niwot Ridge, the standard route up Navajo Peak, the Arapaho Traverse, and South Arapaho are in the watershed and routinely climbed without issue. Use your best judgement when you’re up there.
This is a spectacular and completely inconvenient route considering that the far more obvious Arapaho Traverse exists so much closer to the 4th of July Trailhead. However, for mountain masochists and people who have ever wondered if there was another legal way to climb North Arapaho, there sure is. Be aware that while some people continue to debate whether or not the crux on the Arapaho Traverse qualifies as Class 4, the North Ridge of North Arapaho absolutely does. You’ll be performing a series of angled Class 4 slab traverses and climbs while your bum hangs out over the infinite. The good news is the holds are bomber and move for move; it’s quite enjoyable. You do, however, stare right at the crux as you’re climbing up to the ridge, which is either exciting or terrifying.
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The first part of this scramble is easy. From the parking lot, hoof it up the trail to Arapaho Pass. You can knock this whole section out in the dark as long as you have a headlamp. Once you get to the Arapaho Pass Sign, take a right to continue following the Arapaho Pass Trail.
Stay on the well-defined Arapaho Pass Trail as it passes scenic Caribou Lake. The views to the northwest are particularly nice.
Once you get out of that area, the trail drops down through a forested and rocky set of slopes until you creep into Coyote Park, another beautiful subalpine field with great views. When you get down to around 10,300 ft. above sea level, start scanning the terrain to the right, you’re looking for this view.
Caltopo has this at about 6 miles into your journey (give or take). Anyway, once you see that old avvy chute, break from the trail, cross the creek and begin traversing left (north), trying to maintain your elevation as much as possible.
This is true off-trail navigation. If you go up to much, you’ll either cliff out trying to round N. Arapahos spindly west ridge or have to descend once you get near Wheeler. There are some game trails here that help, but you will have to break from them eventually because animal herd paths don’t usually lead to Class 4 ridges. It’s about a mile of traversing before you get into the mouth of Wheeler Basin. I’ve heard there is an old trail here that makes navigation a bit easier. I never found it because I got too excited and climbed up too high… Ultimately though, even my wonky path made use of game trails to enter Wheeler Basin. I then bushwhacked up the south side.
Gerry Roach describes Wheeler Basin as a fairyland, and he ain’t wrong. There are a series of meadows along the south side and mature trees with minimal undergrowth that made following herd paths easy (at least initially).
Eventually, a large avalanche path that looks like it broke from the side of Apache Pk. dumps debris across the basin. I used a system of downed logs to cross the creek to the north side and continued along its banks until treefall, and I swear the longest long grass I’ve ever been in forced me to ascend above the trees. From above the treeline, I just talus hopped around the vegetation difficulties and rounded back to the valley center when it seemed logical. If this seems vague, don’t panic, it’s a basin surrounded by cliffs; follow the direction of the stream until you eventually get to this meadow.
Great, let’s orient ourselves.
Nice, not too bad. There’s a fun boulder field you can play in on the other side of the meadow (bouldering potential?). Get through or around it and climb a steep grassy ridge. On top of this grassy ridge, turn around for killer views of the basin and the gnarly western side of Navajo Peak.
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From the grassy slope, you transition onto a scree and talus slope to the ridgeline. This part kinda sucks; lots of moving rocks. The best and most stable rock is actually more to the left (north), and you can perform a series of angled traverses that make the most use of the sturdier rock. If you go for more direct, just watch the loose rocks and never ascend right above someone else. It’s here that you get some good and scary looks at the ridge and the crux section.
Here’s a marked-up version of what you’ll be expected to do.
The crux section is longer than any Class 4 you’ll encounter on Neva or the Arapaho Traverse. The crux buttress is also tilted, so you get this lovely off-kilter feeling as you’re climbing. I took some GoPro footage of the main parts of the scramble; I’ll toss a link in at the bottom of the description for added visual aids.
From the ridge crest, head south. The ridge narrows at a gap with views down to another little alpine glacier that’s seldom viewed since it’s deep in the off-limits Boulder Watershed. Once you pass this notch, the Crux difficulties begin in earnest.
Because of the seriousness of this kind of climbing, pictures are lacking (look for video link at bottom). The order of operations is to first get up the step below the crux, perform an exposed traverse across a gap and swing to the western side. From the tilted bench you’re now on, find a diagonal-looking route up the buttress, that’s your Class 4. There’s climbing, traversing and some interesting problems to work through. The route is not just straight up. Once you find your way beyond a notch, the scrambling finally drops back to Class 3.
For the next hundred yards or so, stick close to the ridge crest, dodging any difficulties on the east side. You can usually stay pretty true to the crest. There are some surprises, so look for sneaky downclimbs, and secret ledges and keep bailout options in mind before committing to anything.
Eventually, you get to the low point of the ridge before it starts heading up to North Arapaho. Here, locate a long, green ramp on the east side of a set of crazy-looking cliffs. This ramp will lead you past the cliffs and up to another section of scrambling. This is the first place you gain significant elevation in a minute so expect a slower pace through it.
The ramp features some Class 3 sections and looser rock in the middle. You can ratchet the scrambling up to 3+ and 4 but trade the loos rock for sturdy rock and good holds on the ramp’s left side.
At the head of the ramp, you have two options. You can climb up to a notch and through it to the other side (Class 3). On the other side, the rock ends into a big ole sandy chute. If you take the sandy chute up to the right (west) it’ll lead you up to the ridge crest (loose Class 2). Form there, you can veer around a final gathering of scramble rocks and continue up to the summit via loose Class 2 gullies.
But wait! There’s more scrambling if you want it. Instead of popping over then notch and into the sandy chute, turn right and clamber up the ramps headwall. It goes at a fun and surprising mix of Class 3+ and 4, with, again, bomber holds. From the top of this scramble, head left (south) up along the crest, where all that’s left to decide is whether you want to mess around on some more Class 3 scrambling (left) or take the path of least resistance (Class 2) up to the surprisingly broad and gentle summit plateau. You’ll see the enormous summit cairn and know that you’ve arrived!
After the handshakes and champagne, stow the silliness because you still have to do the Arapaho Traverse backwards before you’re out of scrambling danger. Translation: more scrambling, hurray!
The Arapaho Traverse has been well-documented in a few stellar resources, so I won’t go through all the bells and whistles with you but I will do a quick description and link to a bunch of useful resources. Before we get into that, here’s a marked-up picture of the whole North Ridge Route, as seen from the summit of Navajo Peak.
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Video of North Ridge
As indicated before, here is some footage of the more dramatic parts of the North Ridge, hope it helps!
- GoPro Footage, North Ridge – North Arapaho Peak
The Arapaho Traverse and Exit
Essentially, get off the summit plateau by finding a strong use trail that dips down in between two rock outcrops.
The hardest moves are downclimbing between the two rock portion(Class 3+).
Once beyond this, find the first opportunity to juke right and get out of the sandy mess at the bottom of the notch. Use this trajectory to find the trail and hug the western side of the ridge.
You can dance along the ridge if you want, but the trail and path of least resistance hugs the western edge until you’ve passed a few obstacles. Eventually, the trail will circle back to the crest. Scramble up the rocks in the pic below.
This reclimb will get you up to the top of the traverse crux. There looked to be cairns marking a very circuitous path down and to the west. I suppose you could follow them and skip this part, although you lose a ton of elevation in the process, and if you’ve just come over the North Ridge, you’ve already dealt with the hardest stuff anyway. The crux is fun.
After downclimbing a sneaky step underneath the crux, pick up the social trail and keep on keeping on. After this, the trail winds up a few ridge highpoints. There are ways off of them, but they might not be at the very crest of the ridge, where a few isolated Class 5 moves wait. If you lose the trail, stop, turn around, and hunt for the path, it is there, and it takes you beyond any remaining difficulties with minimal Class 3 thrown in here and there.
Before you know it, you’ll be on South Arapaho Pk! From here, you have some Class 2 to contend with on the way down to the next saddle (stick close to the ridge and avoid descending to the right before the slope allows for decent traversing). A strong official trail meets you at the saddle, from there follow it right and it will intersect with the Arapaho Pass Trail after a significant descent. Turn left, and take the Arapaho Pass Trail back to your car. Done!
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Summary and Additional Resources
While helpful, my Traverse info is just the quick and dirty version, here are some better resources:
I also used a couple sources to help get into Wheeler Basin, keep in mind the Caltopo route on the Arikaree link for getting into the basin was lower than what I ultimately ended up doing.
And once more, here’s a link to my Gopro footage, which covers the most dramatic parts of the North Ridge, including the Crux components!
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Cool route. I’ve wondered about that particular one but never had the stones to go figure it out. Glad you found my Wheeler recon useful. It’s an incredible place.
oh man, i was practically drooling when i read your report. The Outer Sanctum is a fantastic name for a blog too!