Wednesday, 23 July 2014 00:00

Teakettle Mountain - a legendary summit with incredible views

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Rick McBee standing in Teakettle Mountain's infamous handle Rick McBee standing in Teakettle Mountain's infamous handle

Ray Payne on Teakettle

I had always dreamed of climbing Teakettle Mountain ever since seeing my dad's photo (left) of him standing in the Teakettle's handle back in the 1980's. Naturally, as a small boy, this feat was legendary, epic and awe-inspiring - surely one of the drivers behind my own quest to summit the highest 100 mountains in Colorado. So, when I received an email from Rick McBee asking if I'd be interested in climbing Dallas Peak and Teakettle Mountain, I was ecstatic. The climb up Dallas was remarkable and was probably one of my favorite ascents to date. After conquering Dallas, we were all thirsty for more technical climbing and prepared for an early morning start up Teakettle via the standard route in Yankee Boy Basin. An early morning drive to the start of the climb brought us to a small parking lot and the steep south slopes of Teakettle. Teakettle remained out of view for most of the climb, but it was always there in my mind. I had much less anxiety about Teakettle than Dallas Peak and felt quite confident after our success there; however, I knew it could still pose some significant challenges, especially on the upper parts of the climb prior to the ridge as well as the summit block. The 13,819 ft. summit of Teakettle Mountain is pretty close to the Yankee Boy Basin road as the crow flies; however, the route up takes you through some quite interesting and somewhat dangerous sections of "trail," mostly unmarked and full of loose rock and dirt. 

Our group composition shifted from the prior day - we lost Ben and picked up a new partner named Brad Tucker - a good friend of Rick McBee's from Montrose. Brad was a dentist and somewhat new to climbing high peaks; however, he had done many rock climbs with Rick in the past and was a reliable and experienced climber (much more experienced at roped climbing than me). 

We departed the parking lot at around 5:30 AM and bushwhacked straight up the side of the mountain, following game trails and small drainages until we reached a plateau below the huge and formidable boulder field below the ridge between Teakettle and Coffee Pot. We enjoyed views of Potosi Peak and the rising moon to the east of us on the way up the steep grassy slopes.

Moon rising over Potosi

We were all spread out across the slopes as to not damage the vegetation on the way up - we never did find a trail on the lower section of the mountain.

Teakettle grassy slopes

lI tried to stick with Natalie Moran so that I had someone to talk to on the way up the mountain - she was full of great stories!


As we climbed up the slopes, views of both Mount Emma and Gilpin Peak were fantastic - the only thing that was missing was some clouds to make the sunrise more exciting; however, I welcomed the opportunity and chance at a storm-free day climbing in the San Juans.

Mount Emma from Teakettle Mountain

As sunrise hit the valley, the views back across to the south were great. Yankee Boy Basin never seems to disappoint.

Views north from Teakettle

Finally, the sun hit the tips of the peaks across the way, briging new light Gilpin Peak and Yankee Boy Basin.

Sunrise in Yankee Boy Basin

The sun even began touching the tip of Mount Sneffels, which looks a bit less impressive from this vantage point than normal.

More sunrise in Yankee Boy Basin

As we climbed up the slopes quickly, the rest of our climb came into view - a chossy rock gully. Oh joy.

Brad looking across

It was cool seeing the little hole in the rock, which is not to be mistaken for the Teakettle's handle; rather, this hole was just another sweet feature of the area. The goal was to climb that rock gully to the right of the hole and follow a smaller gully up to the left below the hole.

Teakettle Mountain

Natalie points out the route to Brad and Rick on our ascent.

Group photo

As we climbed up the face, more nice light was hitting the peaks behind us to the south.

A bit of alpenglow in Yankee Boy

I spotted a Bighorn Sheep up above us to the east; however, I only had my 24-70 lens on me at the time, so this was as good as I could do to photograph him. He made a ton of noise as he deftly climbed the seemingly impassable terrain of Teakettle Mountain.

Bighorn Sheep

We reached the base of the chossy boulder gully - it looked pretty inviting - all I remember is that Natalie was thinking it would be much better to do this in spring when there was snow - I agreed. The rocks were loose and mixed with dirt and scree - a true climber's nightmare.


As we continued to gain elevation at a quick pace, Dallas Peak came into view for the first time - showcasing just how insane of a climb it really is - and how awesome it did feel that we accomplished that sucker just one day prior. It felt good to be knocking out the toughest peaks in Colorado.

Dallas Peak comes into view

The next shot is just to demonstrate how rugged the terrain around us was. It was impressive to say the least.

The higher we climbed, the more we could see out across Yankee Boy Basin. The tip of Sneffels came into view, giving some credence to my belief that it is one of the most impressive mountains in Colorado. This whole area is a sight for sore eyes.

Yankee Boy Basin Panorama

The chossy gully was really loose and steep and at times we had to stagger ourselves to prevent rock fall injury - groups really should take caution in this part of the climb due to how loose the rocks are. We knocked rocks down continuously as we went up.

Choss Gully

Here is another view of the ugly chossy loose nastiness we went up.

Choss Gully

And here is a view looking down the gully and out across a sea of San Juan peaks.

A view down the gully of Teakettle

Once at the top of the gully, the views really opened up and we could finally see Coffee Pot, an unoffical peak to the east of Teakettle and impressive in its own right.

Coffee Pot

As Natalie emerged from the gully, she also enjoyed the views of Coffee Pot - with Dallas Peak behind her for scale!

Natalie Moran on the slopes of Teakettle

And of course, the selfie.

Matt Payne Teakettle Mountain

The ridge also afforded us views of Uncompahgre to the east - such an impressive view!

Sea of Colorado Peaks in Black and White

After enjoying the ridge for a few minutes, we decided to move on. The route took us up and over a few more small ridges and the actual mountain finally came into view - such a small little spire of a peak above us.

Teakettle Mountain

The trail from here became less solid but easily climbable, just not very sturdy. A lot of loose dirt and worn scree.

Dirt trail on Teakettle

From the loose dirt trail, Natalie enjoyed the views, snapping off some photos with her small camera.

Base of Teakettle Mountain

We finally reached the infamous Teakettle handle at the base of the technical portion of the climb and we all got a chance to celebrate from inside the handle - a San Juan classic! Brad -

Teakettle Mountain

Matt enjoying the views of Dallas Peak.

Matt on Teakettle Mountain

Natalie - 

Natalie Moran on Teakettle

While we were busy having fun in the handle, Rick was prepping the climbing gear for our ascent up the 5.3 face of Teakettle Mountain. 

Setting up the technical climb

Rick led the climb quite easily and set some bomber protection for us to follow.

Teakettle Mountain crack

Here is a view looking up the face of Teakettle - an impressive spire with lots of great holds.

Brad on Teakettle

I went next to last and found the climb quite challenging but highly rewarding. Not nearly as difficult as Dallas Peak or Vestal Peak by any means, but the route was harder than I was expecting. I found the crux quite exhilerating and the summit was insane! It only measured 6 square feet at best and there was room for two or three people tops. The view of Sneffels and friends was outstanding. Who else can say they carried a Nikon D800 up to the top of both Dallas and Teakettle? :-)

The view from Teakettle Mountain's summit

I stayed on top while Brad belayed Natalie from below. Here's Natalie topping out. This is seriously how big the summit is. That's my boot.

Airy Teakettle summit

Here I am giving the two thumbs up on top. Such a strange summit - no room to even get up and move around. No 360 pano this time!

Matt Payne on Teakettle Mountain

After successful summits from the whole group, we stopped to let Rick bask in the glory in the handle of the Teakettle. This shot is one of my favorites I've taken, ever. I just LOVE it. I hope you do too! This photo one grand prize at the Colorado Springs Creative Photography group's annual photo contest in 2013 and I also submitted it to the National Geographic Travel Magazine's contest a few months ago.

Teakettle Mountain Black and White

As we descended, we came across a few groups of people and we were all noticing storm clouds starting to build - we pondered a climb of Coffee Pot but after examination of the route by Rick and Natalie, we decided against it. 

Coffee Pot Storms moving in

The whole party was quite ecstatic for our success - two for two. Here's Rick celebrating our conquest.

Rick happy

Another shot of Rick with the rugged San Juans behind him.


Unfortunately, Brad got really bad altitude sickness on the way down, which was good timing, considering the alternatives. We all helped him down the mountain as he vomited several times throughout the way out. We all really felt bad for the guy, but he was a real trooper! Natalie surely did not let it get her spirits down in this shot of her.


And this final image - hopefully not my last photograph of myself on the side of a Colorado Peak. I've since moved to Portland, Oregon and won't have many opportunities to climb in Colorado. I do have two trips planned this year, but my days of 20-30 peaks in a season are probably over. I'll continue to write about my adventures here in the Pacific Northwest, and I've begun recruiting other writers to keep this site alive, including Regina Primavera. If you are at all interested in contributing and getting trained, and want to reap the potential benefits - fame, fortune, experience (hahaha). Seriously though, let me know! Until next time... 


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