August 15-16th, 2009.
We headed out on Saturday about mid day from Boulder and made good time to Marble. Don’t forget to get Gas in Glenwood Springs where you have some choices, if you get all the way to Redstone there is one place but you pay a premium.
From Marble we headed up to the high side of town and continued East on the dirt road for Lead King Basin. You have to look carefully for the Left Turn to get on the 315 road to the Geneva Lake Trailhead, (which accesses the west side of Snowmass). There are a couple of low water crossings and the road has some dangerous exposure, you really need a good 4wd vehicle. We saw two disabled vehicles enroute, an outback with a flat and a bronco that was broken down. The Touareg ate it up just fine. More on “eating it up” later. We parked at the obvious parking access for the Geneva Lake Trailhead, gathered our gear up, and headed in hiking towards the waterfall below the lake.
The trail stays to the left side of the creek and up over the shoulder before passing Geneva lake on the right. At every fork in the trail we basically took the left option to stay up on the slope and make our way on to Little Gem Lake. After arriving at little gem lake it was already dark so we decided we could go ahead and push on to Lake Siberia which looked to have some flat areas beside it on the topos. Stunning vistas all the way up, a very scenic route in.
We didn’t need much room for bivy camp and settled in for the night. The morning had good weather and sun, we were just below the summit on the west side and we ready to make our way up. Jason pointed out something truly strange, which was foreboding of things to come. He had left his Garmin GPS outside of his bivvy sack and something in the night had actualy chewed off the little rubber buttons on its front. Not the rubber on the sides or the top, just the softer rubber used on the buttons, we could see the teeth marks. We laughed it off since it still worked just fine. Looking up the west side we could see 2 dark troughs that marked two routes up the west side. When wet I’d heard to go to the left of these two and head up that way toward a fin shaped rock.
We had some fun scrambling, a traverse across iced loose scree, Fridge and Car sized Boulder maneuvering. We made a key observation which was that the more stable rock had lots of lichen on it, from years of stability. The loose rock was all uniform light grey colored and could be nasty in places.
We got separated just after moving past the fin rock and going up the ridge. I chose to stay on the blocky ridge top, which did have exposure on the other side, but was 100% solid and fine. My friend Jay traversed across the west face which at this place gets pretty vertical. After both arriving on the summit we decided not to hang out too long since there was a massive thunderhead to the west even though it looked like it might miss us to the North. We could see our tents at Lake Siberia 2000′ below our feet from the summit.
We both decided the best way back down was across the extreme western ridge staying on the big blocks. It involved more actual climbing but was way more solid.
Fantastic views and exposure on the other side and surely a more direct route to Lake Siberia. We both wished we had come up this route which is not one mentioned in the Roach guide. Back in camp we made another pot of coffee, took a short rest and then hoofed it all the way back to where the Touareg was parked. We thought all the danger was behind us but little did we know we were about to experience the Curse of the Lead King Basin. After packing everything up in the Touareg we got in, started her up and then both uttered “WTF?”.
The car was in drive but the transmission was like in 4th gear. That meant it would not go up the 4wd rough dirt road back. The car was reporting that we needed to “Bring it to the workshop” which was not a good suggestion being we were many miles for paved roads. We did everything we could to figure out what was wrong, checking fuses, turning everything off, different combinations of control settings, nothing worked except reverse gear and highway gear. We both had to be at work the next day but it was looking like we were going to have to hike out, maybe camping again on the way, then maybe getting in cellphone range the next day to call off any rescue…. not good. We decided that the best option was to attempt to drive out in reverse.
The road is gnarly and dangerous with a good 4wd going forward, in reverse it was completely insane. But we made it to Marble without rolling down the exposures to our deaths and from Marble we were able to go forward keeping in in 4th gear and get all the way down to Glenwood springs. We did more taking-apart, got a meal down, but all our tinkering and diagnosis was to no avail. We were at least able to call home and tell our wives what was up and not to freak out on the lateness and we were essentially all right. Incredibly we were able to make it back on I70 all the way home though we really didn’t know if we would make it over Vail Pass. In the end the root cause was revealed at the dealership days later…. some small creature, Pica’s most likely, had crawled under the Touareg and Eaten through the transmission harness completely disabling the transmission controls leaving only 4th gear and reverse working.
You can see in the picture the munching that took place over the 36 hours the vehicle was left parked around 10000′. So there you have it, that is the curse of the Lead King Basin… if you leave your vehicle there you better have some way of protecting the underside of your vehicle or be prepared to do some electrical work.