Lead Mountain North Ridge: Crux of the Never Summers (Class 4)

TLDR: This is a fantastic and remote adventure in RMNP that utilizes some of the best rock in the Never Summer Range. You approach from wild and remote Skeleton Gulch, hit the main Never Summer Crest between Tepee Mt. and Lead Mt., turn south and begin scrambling. The crux of the whole range is the North Ridge of Lead Mt. (Class 4). You can stay on the ridge for aaaalmost the whole way, and it makes for a great challenge. There do appear to be workarounds near the toughest sections, but they also feature Class 4 scrambling. Once above this, you ridge stroll on looser but generally OK rock to the actual summit of Lead (2+). Then, for the most expedient way down, take the East Ridge (Class 3+/4). You can descend via Hitchens Gulch, the Ditch Road, and Red Mountain Trail back to the Colorado River Trailhead, OR you can retrace through Skeleton Gulch, descend to the river trail via the lower part of Thunder Pass Trail and head south to the trailhead from there. For mountain masochists, you could try the entire Never Summer Traverse or take Thunder Pass to Static Peaks East ridge (solid rock and Class 3), climb that, tag Richthofen, head south to Tepee, tag Lead, and then pop off the crest via Lead’s East ridge. ~16-17 miles roundtrip. ~3500 ft. gain/loss.

Here’s a video of the whole North Ridge scramble up to the summit.

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First light on the Never Summer Range from lower Skeleton Gulch. Tepee Mt. is the shape point right of the center.

Preface/Rating System

Quick disclaimer: I like to highlight and mark-up 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 that 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.

Quick Stats: ~16-17 miles roundtrip. ~3500 ft. gain/loss.

Half pano of the area. “Never Summer Peak” is on the left, Lead Mt. is actually the next summit to the right, and the dominating North Ridge is the central high point. The range drops precipitously to the west.

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The Never Summer Range is a fantastic, albeit lesser-known range of Rocky Mountain National Park. Part of its lesser-known status is due to a western location that’s harder to get to from the Front Range. During the winter Trail Ridge closes, giving the range another level of isolation. Another aspect is the lower elevation of the range. None of the peaks make it to the 13,000 ft. Access is also a bit helter-skelter. The eastern side you can get to from Trail Ridge. The northern side is best visited from Colorado 14 west of Cameron Pass. The western side you can get to from a few trailheads on long dirt roads, but it’s pretty scattershot.

The most popular area of the Never Summers is most likely the northern endcap, located in Colorado State Forest State Park (fees apply). From just west of Cameron Pass, you get a great look at it, and it’s jaw-dropping if you haven’t seen the Nokhu Crags before. Between the Crags, Richthofen (the highest in the range), Lake Agnes, and the American Lakes, this area pulls visitors. It’s also a popular backcountry skiing area in the winter. However, this area and the Rocky Mountain National Park area don’t connect unless you car position. So, they really operate separately.

Area overview map.

Overall, the range does not have great rock. Many of the summits require scrambling on loose and uncomfortable slopes. That pattern breaks in three notable areas: the east ridge of Static Peak, the North Ridge of Lead Mountain, and the East Ridge of Lead Mt. After two adventures to the range, I had done Static peaks East ridge (Class 3) and Lead Mountains East Ridge (Class 3+/4). The only thing left was the crux of the range, a sizable Class 4 ridge scramble up the North side of Lead Mountain, then a downclimb of the Class 3+/4 East Ridge to get off the mountain. Kind of like my ascent of North Arapaho from Wheeler Basin and descent of the Arapaho Traverse, you get two scrambles for the price of one.

Lead Mts. East Ridge (3+/4). This is your quickest descent route and makes for a fine scrambling adventure on its own.

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The Approach

Lead Mountain is an oddly shaped peak on the Continental Divide between the bulk of Richthofen to the north (and the almost invisible from the ridgeline Tepee Mt. in front of it) and Cirrus to the south. It’s not the tallest peak in the range and is, in fact, hard to see from many areas of Trail Ridge that otherwise support fantastic views of Cumulus, Nimbus, Howard, and Richthofen. For elevation-oriented hikers and peak baggers, there isn’t much to love here, but for the discerning scrambler and explorer, Lead Mountain is a winner.

A rare view of Lead Mt. from the east, taken from near the Mt. Ida trail.

If you’re doing this in a day, I’d say start before dawn. The approach is largely trailed and easy to follow with a headlamp so you can burn some distance. From the Colorado River Trailhead, head north toward Lulu City. Make sure to follow the signs for Thunder Pass. The trail will initially follow the river, pass the Red Mountain Trail, and go up and over some meadows and steeper sections. Eventually, you’ll break left at a large intersection and head to Lulu City (between 3-3.5 miles, the trail signs are a bit off in this area).

At the plaque for Lulu, it seems like the trail splits again (do not take the left variety, it heads to the river and dies on the other side). Stick to the right-hand variation and continue toward a footbridge across the river. Once across, you’ll begin a steady rise to the Ditch Camp area (passing a trail junction with the Little Yellowstone Trail). When the trail dead-ends into what looks like an old logging road, head left and through the Ditch Camp Group sites.

First mention of Skeleton Gulch.

Depending on how dark it is, there could be some momentary confusion here. You need to actually go through the Ditch Camp Group site (a large flat pad for tents should be visible on your right). After you pass the tent pad, look for this sign to continue to Skeleton Gulch.

On the other side, the trail meanders through the woods before connecting with the Grand Ditch. Almost directly across from where you are (slightly to the right), you’ll see a bridge over the ditch into Skeleton Gulch.

Take the trail ~1.2 miles up to the Skeleton Gulch campsite. From here on, you’re off-trail. You can either follow Sawmill Creek on its right (northern side) or go through the Skeleton Gulch campsite and cross the creek below it. In either scenario, you want to follow the stream uphill. The trees will break around the stream, and you’ll want to pick a gully on the northern side to gain some elevation. It’ll look like you’re heading up toward Richthofen, but this method avoids harder climbing.

Beautiful Skeleton Gulch. Lead Mt. is visible above and doesn’t look like much from here. Once you gain some elevation, the perspective shifts pretty quickly.
General route from higher in the gulch. Blue=Class2.

Once on a grassy plateau, sight the low point in the ridge to the left of the sharp Tepee Mt., which you can see from various points leading into Skeleton Gulch. If you choose your route well, you can get to the ridgeline without any Class 3 scrambling. From many points below, the North Ridge doesn’t look like much, but when you get up to the ridge, the seriousness of the route begins to take shape. Once you’re on the ridge, turn south and ascend to a high point (Class 2+). Once you top out on this ridge point, the rest of the route unfolds in front of you, and the scrambling begins.

Don’t worry, it’ll look a lot more intense when you get on the ridge. Purple=Class 4.

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The Route

From where you hit the ridge to the first high point requires a bit of Class 2+ navigating or light Class 3 if you stick to the ridgeline. It’s a nice intro but won’t last long.

Lots going on here, key takeaways: there are at least 3 sections of scrambling, each with Class 4 components (purple arrows). There are 2-3 ways to handle the crux, and the most direct way flirts with lower 5th class (Orange). Above the crux, there are some really great slabby climbing sections.

From the first ridge high point, a.k.a. the start of the scramble, this is what the rest of the ridge looks like.

You’ll start with some solid Class 3 scrambling that maintains elevation. For the most part, the rock is super solid; there were a few errant pieces that moved, so if you’re moving quickly, take a couple of extra seconds to check holds.

Enjoyable Class 3 up some nice slabs.

This part into a wild dip in the ridge where you’ll hit your first Class 4 downclimb and then a quick Class 4 reclimb up the other side.

In the danger zone.

I was both surprised by how long this first section took and how committing it ended up being. There were several sections where exposed climbing into and out of notches slowed me down, but the weather was gorgeous, there was almost zero wind, and the stellar rock helped A TON.

Eventually, you get up to a small knob that isn’t visible when you start but actually has a little prominence on either side. From here, you can stare up at the Crux section and contemplate your fate.

One of the more interesting perspectives of this area is actually from below. As you initially rise up from Skeleton Gulch, you can pick out some of the features I noted in previous pics.

Keep in mind, the ridge side facing us looks easy but a sizable cliff runs just below the picture frame which limits access to that side and you’d still need to scramble Class 4 sections to make it up to the ridgeline before cliffing out. Purple=Class 4, Orange=Class 5.

As you work way slowly up to the crux, the terrain hits high Class 4 pretty quickly and may sport a move or two at low 5. It’s certainly there if you want to stick true to the ridge. There are two “problems” you need to contend with if you employ a ridge-direct strategy: 1) there’s plant life growing in a seam you need to use to get up to the crux moves, and the alpine grasses in it are not great for foot traction. 2) An overhung lip limits your options to an exposed move to the ridge’s east side or squeezing into a pocket between two rocks and then figuring out how to scramble out of it.

Red=Class 3 approach to Class 4 alt. route. Orange=Class 5.

Although it’s still certifiably Class 4, there is a workaround to the right that breaks from the ridgeline briefly, attacks it at a relative weakness (light Class 4), and then turns left up this Crux Ridge (Class 4) until it reconnects with the main ridgeline above the Crux.

Work around. Once you get onto the Crux Ridge, there are a few surprisingly exposed Class 4 moves before you rejoin the main N-S Ridge Crest. Red=Class 3, Purple=Class 4, Orange=Class 5.

The workaround isn’t long and still gives you plenty to scramble over before you rejoin the ridge. You’re not saving a ton, but there are much better holds on the alternative route, and that can be a really nice confidence booster. If the ridge direct is calling, go for it, just know that it is harder.

Despite the difficulties near the ridgeline, the rock more than makes up for it all.

So, after the crux, you’re on to section three of the scramble. The difficulties are NOT over. However, the scrambling takes on more of a vertical profile. Up until the crux, you’ve gained maybe 150 ft. (net). The last section will pull you up another 250 ft. in short order. Thankfully, the rock remains wonderful, and you can stay true to the crest pretty much the entire way up.

You can pretty easily bail right and keep it at Class 3ish, but eventually you need to either go back to the ridge or climb up to the top of the rise, which could push you back into Class 3+/4. At this point, since the Crux is over, just stick to the ridge.

After some stout elevation gain, you’ll pop up to the top of the ridge, and the scrambling mellows back down into Class 2 terrain for a while. Congrats! Don’t take your foot off the pedal, though; you still need to go a quarter mile to tag Lead and then descend the East Ridge. Alternatively, you could go all the way to the saddle above Lake of the Clouds, but that requires additional miles, a 2+ traverse of all of Hart Ridge, and going up and over Cirrus.

Looking back after about 2/3rd of the way up the last section.

Here’s a link to Gopro Footage of the North Ridge scramble.

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Notes on the North Ridge

There isn’t much information out there on the North Ridge scramble; both Lisa Foster and Gerry Roach recommend staying west of the ridgeline for the majority of the scramble. The thing is they only have like a 3-4 sentence description of the whole route, which isn’t all that helpful aside from the generalized “stay west” advice.

I don’t know, partly because I love ridgelines and partly to prove that I could, staying on or within a few feet of the ridge crest was my goal, and it was exhilarating. This is a high-caliber Class 4 scramble. In the interest of transparency, I think you could possibly construct a bypass further west around more of the Crux ridge (like Foster and Roach suggest), but then you have to reclimb to the ridge; it’ll likely involve Class 4 sections anyway. The closest report I found that gives a bit more detail on a possible western workaround is here.

Sorry about the crap quality, taken on an old phone, but this is looking up at the Crux section.

Obviously, it’s a choose your own adventure type deal but let’s be real, if you’re out here trying to scramble this random ridge in a remote corner of Rocky Mountain National Park, you’re here because you enjoy scrambling on good rock in a pristine setting. If that’s the case, stay close to the ridge and enjoy the experience more.

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To the summit!

From the top of section three, you still have a quarter mile to go, but it’s easier. Note that the rock quality gets a little worse, still not bad, but off the crest, and even sometimes on the crest, stuff starts moving a bit. Watch for small rocks and if a rock looks loose, give it a tap with your hand or foot before putting weight on it.

What remains.

If you stay close to the ridge, you can flirt with some exciting exposure back to Skeleton Gulch. There’s also a small section of optional Class 3 as you draw near the summit but you can just as easily skip it.

Getting closer! Red=Class 3, Blue=Class 2

After a steeper Class 2 pitch, you get up to the summit.

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Lead Mt’s. East Ridge

This is the fastest way down. I’d scrambled up this route before and combined it with Hart Ridge. The rock is solid, and it’s a pretty enjoyable route on its own. Here’s a description I wrote on it for the website SkyBlueOverland where I’m a frequent contributor. You can also check out this summitpost page as well, which I used to prep for the route.

Here’s the abridged version; start descending down the east ridge with substantial exposure to the north. The rock quality is excellent, but you’ll still have to perform a few awkward moves.

Pretty soon, you’ll top a small subpeak, and then the route drops quickly away, leading to the crux and a pseudo-knife edge.

Crux moves. Purple=Classs 4, Red=Class 3

After the crux, you’ll have to downclimb the knife edge. Move for move, it’s not bad; just don’t let your eyes drift too far downhill.

After the knife edge, the exposure drops a bit, but you still have a series of small points to get over before the scrambling relents. Depending on your mood, at this point, it can be nice to keep scrambling or annoying that you’re not done yet. Stay alert until you’re safely on the saddle between Lead Mt. and “Never Summer.”

Lead Mountain and the East Ridge from inside Skeleton Gulch.

Right, well, you can either drop into Hitchens Gulch (right) or circle back to Skeleton Gulch (left). Snow does linger in both gulches well into the summer, so make wide moves around any snowy surfaces unless you have spikes. You’re still 7ish miles from anything, so stay focused on the return journey to your car. Take your time descending into whichever gulch you choose. Once you’re back on established trails, you can start hauling.

Video of North Ridge Scramble

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The Citadel and Mt. Hagar (Citadel E. Summit-E. Face: YDS 4, Citadel W. Summit-standard route: YDS 3. Mt. Hagar from Citadel: YDS 3+)

Preface/rating System

Quick disclaimer: I like to highlight and markup some of my pictures for route clarification. Black 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.


The weather was supposed to be fairly iffy today but my mountain weather app said we had a window, so the question of should we hike? morphed into, what can we hit quickly while we’ve got a bit of good weather? Often times it isn’t a good idea to play with weather forecasts but you really don’t know unless you go. Mountains tend to create some funk in the atmosphere, one ridge may bear the brunt of bad weather while another might not see a drop of rain. Nick and I knew our ability levels and decided to give it a shot, even if it meant turning around, which we had no problem doing. Nick had previously accompanied me on the Ten-Mile Traverse so we knew we had good communication, speed, and scrambling chops. We carpooled up I-70 in the dark and reached our trailhead at around 4:45 AM.

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To the Citadel

The mountains we settled on are in a highly-trafficked corridor but don’t often see a ton of use due to their committing nature. The Citadel is a fortress-looking double peak that requires Class 3 scrambling at a minimum, and Mount Hagar is connected to it via a ridge that, at it’s hardest, can run at a 3+ or 4. The kicker was the short distance, we could bag both and be back at the car in under 8 miles. With an early start, we’d be well off the summits before the t-storms and rain rolled back in.

The trailhead we used is not well known because it’s not really a trailhead. We decided to give it a shot after reading that there was a fairly good dirt road and an unofficial path up to the ridge-line. The alternative would’ve been Herman Gulch which is insanely popular and makes for a longer approach. The benefit of Herman Gulch is the well-defined trail, so if starting early and going off-trail gives you pause, use the Herman access. The way we went is known as Dry Gulch and is little more than a dirt road next to the off-ramp on I-70 (exit 216). Unlike Herman Gulch, however, when we pulled up to Dry Gulch, we were the only car there.

Dry Gulch is decidedly NOT dry and was especially wet after consecutive rainy afternoons. The navigation was fairly easy but we were both soaked by the time we finally broke through the trees. Generally speaking, you park by the gate, walk the dirt road until it ends, hang a left, pick up an obvious unofficial trail and follow it through the valley bottom until it juts up to the right at an unforgiving pitch. Be aware, if you start before dawn, there are multiple trail braids, they usually lead back to one another but some require more stream and puddle jumps than others.

Not too complicated, just very wet.

As you can see above, it’s not an overly difficult approach but because it is not an official trail, there are literally no switchbacks. Once you machete your way through the dense, wet vegetation near the valley bottom, the herd path goes straight up the ridge that the second arrow in the photo is pointing towards. If you start early, don’t panic at the myriad creek jumps and braided trails in the beginning, after a mile or two, the brush does clear and you very obviously begin to gain elevation. If, for some reason, you miss the turnoff, once the pine trees and willows begin to clear, point your boots to the right and begin climbing. Regardless of circumstance, you need to gain the ridge to your right.

Good overview of first parts of hike

The map above is really helpful. I supplement with pictures later on but the first hour was too dark to photo. The map is oriented correctly (Up=north, Down=South, Left=West, Right=East).

Once you gain the ridge, make your way towards the saddle outline in the pic above.

From the saddle in the photo above you connect with the trail coming up from Herman Gulch and the rest is a cake walk until you get to the Citadel’s upper difficulties. Another perspective of where we came from is shown below.

From the saddle, looking back into Dry Gulch.

From the saddle, continue up the ridge until The Citadel’s imposing East Summit takes shape. Before then, enjoy the views. We had a really excellent morning.

Looking north across the saddle to cloud covered Pettingell Pk.
Sun rising over the East, Herman Gulch below.
Mt. Hagar is the one in the clouds to the right, looking West.

Continue up the well-worn trail from the saddle passing some rock towers en-route to the summit block of The Citadel. From the saddle up to the base of the block you can really only see the Eastern summit and it is intimidating. The trail up to the summit block veers around any towers and rock ribs until the summit is right in front of you.

Easy strolling above the saddle.

Right before the tower feature in the above picture you get your first look at the Eastern (harder) summit of The Citadel.

The trail (easily Class 2) veers left around the tower.
All routes on the Citadel from this approach head to Saddle #2, marked with the arrow and the little snow-patch. From there, it’s time to choose how you want to climb.
Despite the clouds, this still gives the best perspective on the Standard route (Class 3).

Once you get to your second saddle, as indicated in the picture above, the standard route veers left, hugging the base of the Eastern Summit cliffs. If you choose this route, it culminates in a loose Class 3 gully OR you can climb better rock just to the left of it, still Class 3. This is depicted by the red arrow in the picture above. The standard route begins above the snow-patch in the picture. Hang to the left of the gully and find suitable rock to scramble up to the taller (and easier) Western Summit. From the top of the standard route gully, you also have a Class 4 option to climb the backside of the Eastern Summit. This is the standard approach for both summits.

Nick and I opted to climb the Eastern Summit directly. Our decision was helped by a climber in front of us. He had chosen to head up a loose gully parallel to the standard route and was dropping rocks down towards us. We didn’t want any part of that. Though there is a lot of solid rock on The Citadel (part of what makes it fun), not every route is solid and the fist-sized rocks the climber was sending down would’ve done some serious damage to us.

Eastern Summit Direct (Sustained Class 4 Slab Climb)

Instead of hugging the cliffs left towards the standard, we opted to head right and climb the Eastern face. This was a fantastic/exposed/heart-racing climb. I think in drier conditions it would’ve been more firmly on the fun side, but since we’d had so much rain, some of the open slab climbs were slick and forced some really exposed scrambling. Let’s unpack the route.

Fairly mellow beginning from Saddle #2. Loose Class 2.

As indicated by the picture above, the beginning was not difficult, just loose, especially as you traverse to the right of the organ pipe lookin cliffs and locate the first access gully. Once in the gully, use the solid rock on the right-hand side to climb up until just before the end of the second blue arrow in the picture above. Here, if you look to the right, you will see an exit that allows you to climb out of the gully and onto the main face.

Nick, at the exit from the gully. The exit involves substantial Class 3 climbing.

Right before we found the exit, we took a hard look at the head of the gully (circled in purple) and decided against going that way. If you wanted a challenge, I think it would go with a few upper Class 4 moves, possibly a Class 5 move or two, however, the exit to the right was the easiest escape.

The exit gully.

The photo of the exit gully above looks downright maniacal but it’s not, just a strange perspective looking up. There were great hand and footholds along the exit and I’d rate it at Class 3+ but no more. What the photo does a great job of doing is showing how wet the rocks were.

Sweet, let’s back it up and see where we’re at.

About 1/3 of the way up

So, after the gully exit we were now firmly on the main face and ready to take on the crux of the climb, a series of exposed, wet, Class 4 slabs with marginal holds. Here’s what that looked like, and unlike the gully exit picture, this one does not distort perspective.

VERY steep and exposed.

I’ve marked up the picture below and will try to explain why we chose the route we did.

We sighted a few lines of possibility and were attracted to the furthest right purple arrow because of the obvious seam running up the rock. This was a bit of a ruse as the seam had OK handholds but not much for your feet, especially with the slick conditions. Ultimately, we chose to use the seam for as long as we could and then traversed left as able.

Class 4 route options bordered by Class 5.

As all the purple arrows indicate, the ultimate goal was to shoot the gap between the Class 5 moves, though they are there for the taking if you choose. This was a tough, tough section and on more than one occasion we felt our tread slip on the rock. The key is to keep moving, not quickly, but consistently and only move one body part at a time, keeping three points of contact on the rock. If you stop on one of these slabs, you risk losing grip and may start to overthink your next moves which could lead to mental paralysis. Keep…moving…

Once you make it past the first slab, you have a tiny break in a dirt bed interspersed with some alpine vegetation, before the next slab begins. Don’t get too comfy, you’re not done yet.

Upper Slab section

Above are two lines you can take, the left side starts at Class 3 and uses some cracks in the rock to get closer to the end, however, there is a caveat. Once the crack system ends, you have at least two open slab moves that involve leaving the crack system and traversing right in order to keep the climbing at 4th Class. The little vertical orange marks in the picture indicate a small lip that runs between a 5.0-5.2. The traverse is necessary to avoid this. If you are thinking about attacking the lip, keep in mind, I saw no good finger holds above it, so any 5th Class moves you make will need to account for that. If you choose the crack system, also note that the vegetation is growing in dirt, not rocks. When that dirt gets on your shoes, you’re going to lose traction. On wet or damp mornings, this will absolutely be an issue.

Alternatively, if you have a dry day and good traction, you can attack the slab directly (purple arrow to the right) and work your way to the right side of the large rock sitting on top of the slab.

After the second slab you are back down to Class 3 climbing.

Making progress! As you can see, the 4th Class section is not long, but it is challenging.

Now, after the slab climbing, you’ll find yourself on a grassy ramp, which is not obvious from any point (so far) in your summit block climb. From the above picture it’s easy to pick out, but the ways into it (our way, traversing into it earlier, or continuing up the gully) all require some Class 4 moves. From what we saw, you really can’t avoid that reality.

A little easier but some Class 3 still required

Use the grassy ramp to get up to the next set of blocks, taking care to avoid pricking your hands on the sharp thistle plants growing there. If you hug the right side of the ramp as shown, you can keep the scrambling at mid Class 3. Once you are above this step, the grassy bit begins to peter out and you have one last, short Class 3 section before you are on the summit.

The last little section.

You’re almost there! The last section is shown above and compared to what you’ve already done, it’s easy pickins. If you’ve just about had enough of scrambling you can also bypass the block on the left and attack it from the other side at 2+.

On top! Looking over at the Western (and higher) summit.

Take a sweet moment to relax, you’ve earned it, but stay sharp, you’re scrambling isn’t over yet. Even by the standard route, the Eastern Summit is a Class 4, which means in order to exit the summit you have to perform at least one more set of Class 4 moves, and this time it will be a down-climb.

Quick comment on Citadels Eastern Summit: the whole climb was awesome and a little hair raising. We chose our route based on factors on the ground but that does not mean it is the only route. I think the gully exit was a great find and the slab climbing was supreme but I would love to go back and test some other routes on that face. Even though it isn’t large, I could see starting a line further to the right or testing the headwall of the gully to see if it goes. When I go back to try new routes I will undoubtedly report on them!

Extra photo below, as zoomed in as I could get without sacrificing route details. I hope this helps!

GREAT route, hopefully this give more detail!

From East to West

Standing on top of the Eastern Summit, we realized that despite our successful climb, eventually, we’d need to find a way off the thing. This is where some pre-climbing research came in handy. The standard route (which we avoided coming up) had a 10-12 foot Class 4 section from the split between the summits that we could down-climb to relative safety. Knowing its existence, we began to hunt for it.

It’s hard to tell but right in front of Nick (circled in Purple) is the vertical split that separates the two summits. The Class 4 down-climb is to his right about 7 feet.

Nick found it relatively quickly and performed the required moves with ease. To get to the down-climb from the Eastern Summit requires no more than a few Class 2+ moves. This is what the drop looked like from the top.

Here’s a view from the bottom-up. It is by no means an easy descent (or ascent if you scale the Eastern Summit this way) but it is thankfully short.

Class 4 down-climb.

I am not the greatest down climber in the world so to say I went down this section gracefully would be a stretch. I was forward-facing for the duration of the highest arrow in the picture above, turned to face the mountain for the middle arrow, and then flipped back around to face out for the bottom part. Why? Well, there was a sneaky step I couldn’t see while facing toward the mountain near the bottom, and it ended up being the crux move for me. I was still a good 5-6 feet from the end of the down-climb and I had good foot purchase and the ability to shift weight easily, so I did. I do not recommend this method as it exposes you to increased risk, however, if you down-climb this section, note that there ARE footholds there, but you may not be able to see them from above.

Below is yet another look, taken from the Western Summit that I think shows the best angle of the down-climb.

Class 2+ from the summit, brief Class 3 to get to the top of the drop, Class 4 down.

Once you are down off the Eastern Summit take stock of where you are. In front of you is the imposing Western Block, which you cannot attack directly from where you stand, to the right, the loose slope drops back down into Herman Gulch, and to the left, the slope rises to a small saddle between the peaks. IF YOU COME UP THE STANDARD ROUTE THIS IS IMPORTANT. Coming up the standard gully, the access climb to the Eastern Summit is BEYOND the height of land, crest the small saddle and then look to your right. If you take the dihedral BEFORE the saddle, it will be a tougher down-climb later.

From our new position, we hung left, crested the small saddle, and began looking for weaknesses in the Western Summit to climb up. This did not take very long and within five minutes we were on top of the Western Summit, having used a handful of moderate Class 3 moves.

From the Eastern Summit, you can get a sense of what awaits you on the Western Summit. Keep in mind, as before, between Nick and the route up the Western Summit is the split between the mountains, you cannot just hop over it.

Sorry about the fog, gotta use what nature gives yah.
Nick on the Western Summit, the route stays well to the left of the ledges shown.
A short Class 3 section right below the summit, which is just behind the slanted rock on the left.

That’s that, you’ve conquered both of Citadel’s summits! For added spice, you can continue across a small knife edge (North) towards a sub-summit that has some nice throne rocks to sit on. The moves do not exceed Class 3 but the exposure is SEVERE.

Extra Credit.

The summit rock only has space for one person and there was a very lovely Marmot Turd on top of it, so I elected to just touch the highest part of the rock and avoid the fecal fun.

The best part about the Western Summit is the great preview it gives of the traverse to Hagar. Even though we’d done a lot of scrambling at this point, we topped Western Citadel by 7:30 AM, a mere 2 hours and 45 minutes into our hike so time was, for once, on our side.

Hagar in the distance and the connecting ridge.
Hagar’s summit block difficulties. A lot of people rate it as low 4th, I wouldn’t, 3+ max, based off of what the Eastern Summit gave us, but hey, different strokes for different folks.

Citadel to Hagar Traverse

Onwards! Having taken care of The Citadel, we turned our sights southwest towards Hagar and kicked it into high gear. The descent off the Western Summit is a bit of a no-brainer, it’s more difficult if you hug the ridge, less if you skirt to the left and then regain the ridge a little lower. The first few minutes are low Class 3 on loose rock, so watch your step and never descend directly above someone else. If you kick loose a rock, yell “ROCK!” as loudly and as often as you can until either the rock stops rolling or it is safely beyond ALL routes on the mountain where people may be.

For the most part (i.e. 90% of it) the ridge is an easy 2 to 2+ tundra stroll with occasional (and always optional) Class 3 moves along the way. It’s the summit block of Hagar that makes the traverse worth doing.

Taken about 2/3 of the way down the traverse, looking back at the formidable-looking Citadel.

Ok, so there’s a lot going on in the picture below that’s worth explaining and a lot of it is subjective. The trip reports I read online classified the Hagar summit block as two sections of possible Class 3/4 climbing (ie 3+), the first section is up the summit block, the second is a knife-edge traverse to the true summit. I agree with the 3+ distinction but shy away from calling the main difficulties on Hagar Class 4, based on our experience on the Eastern Summit of Citadel. You can certainly find some Class 4 moves on the block, but you would need to be actively seeking them out. For the risk-averse, if you do not take the bypass, the summit block of Hagar runs at 3+.

1) The Class 2 bypass. 2) Solid Class 3 with good rock. 3) Class 3+ gully. 4) 3+ rocks to the right of the gully. 5) Maybe Class 4 option. 6) An in-betweener with some 4th Class moves early. These are not ALL the routes, but some clear lines I was looking at on the approach.

If you get to Hagar and you’re just doggin it and hating life, you can traverse left, around the summit block, come up the other side and keep everything at a 2+ ( with maybe a low Class 3 move tossed in there). Most people when writing trip reports on this peak tend to take route 3 or 4 in the above photo.

I believe route 3 to be the most common approach as it’s right on top of the ridge crest. What the route ends up looking like once you are at the base of the gully is roughly the same as the Gully Exit we used on E. Citadel, which is to say, harder Class 3, but calling this gully option Class 4 seems like a stretch. It also reminded me of the summit block moves on Navajo Pk. which is a Class 3, so I was fairly skeptical of calling it something more. See for yourself below.

The only way to make this a 4 would be to peel right into harder terrain or tackle the chockstone at the head of the gully. I just don’t see it reaching that level any other way.

My impression was that the variations up the summit block were all sorts of Class 3 with a couple of Class 4 options if you swung right and found harder rock or if you went between some of the routes (like Route 6). However, the obvious routes up the block (2, 3, and 4) are all Class 3. This is not to say that the moves are easy, it is still very much a scramble and after The Citadel you may be feeling tired. Take breaks as you need them, remain vigilant, find the best route, and go at your own pace.

We found that a route to the left of the gully was a relatively safe and enjoyable Class 3 scramble up stable rocks with plenty of hand and footholds so we opted for that (route 2 in the summit block photo). Here’s a look at the route entrance and the first section.

First few Class 3 moves.

The route swings right and gives you the following look.

Blocky terrain with good holds.

The last little bit is pictured below. Nick is standing on the ridge.

Once you regain the ridge, you walk along it for a minute until you encounter the next section, which is oftentimes described as a Class 4 knife edge. Below is the approach to it.

The “knife-edge” is in front of Nick in this photo.

Just like the Ten Mile Traverse’s Class 4 section, we debated this one at length. The conclusions we reached were similar. If you hung off the north side of the edge with rampant exposure beneath you, I’d call it a soft 4. If you, like most, moved across the top of the knife-edge, I’d call it a 3+. Why? Because, despite the HUGE exposure on the north side, at any point along the edge (save maybe 3-5 small moves) you can keep all of your focus on the south side of the ridge. The exposure on the south side is all of 5-6 feet and you can bail out at almost any point. Move for move it is Class 3+ and unless you flirted consistently with the more severe side (as in, hung off the north side and traversed it like a via-Ferrata), it would take some convincing for me to call it a 4. Take a look below.

Quick note: Why do I take on the ratings discussion consistently? Because it IS subjective, and therefore open to scrutiny. It is not my goal to make hard scrambles appear easier but I do expect people to own their actions, accuracy matters. If you do not have a lot of experience climbing exposed 3+ ridges, don’t do the Hagar knife-edge, especially since you can easily bypass it. At its hardest, this section is a 3/4 with exposure and toes that line for the duration.

Once you pass the knife-edge, the actual summit is just a short scamper away. Congrats! We were descending off Hagar by 8:30 AM. If you followed our route and took dry gulch up, you can descend into the head of the valley below Hagar. Then, contour left and maintain your elevation as much as possible until you run into your ascent trail. We were back at the trailhead by 10:30 AM.

Nice overview, excellent alpine day of scrambling!