Black Mountain: Moffat County Highpoint

After we finished with our Mount Zirkel hike, we made a quick stop at the semi-famous Clark store for a cold drink and a snack before driving to Craig. I grabbed some more food in Craig (I guess a sixteen mile hike will do that to you…) and we pressed on to the Black Mountain trailhead.

I had initially planned to spend the evening lounging in the back of the Jeep finishing the book I’d brought but as I drove up, it occurred to me that we probably had enough daylight left to hike the 5 1/2 mile round trip and we definitely had enough daylight to make it to the summit and come out by headlamp if necessary. After a summer of nomadic jeep life, showering and sleeping in my bed after a long day of hiking was sounding pretty good.

I decided my tired legs were up to the challenge. I was a little bit worried about Sprocket pushing on over the twenty mile mark for the day but I also figured that if he started flagging, we’d turn around and I’d just climb the peak quickly in the morning.

I really didn’t need to worry: Sprocket seemed a little bit tired at points but we made the 2.8 miles to the summit in a very respectable 1 hour.

It wasn’t the most exciting summit but it was my twentieth county highpoint in Colorado!

We quickly headed down the mountain with it spitting rain but also with some pretty golden sunshine:

We made it back to the car just before dark and then headed home for a shower. ūüôā

Mount Zirkel: Routt County High Point

After a busy week of moving, Sprocket and I were ready for some adventure. I had new teacher orientation last Thursday and when I got home, I did a quick workout and then we hit the road. Friday, I needed to take a final exam for a class so we spent the day exploring Steamboat Springs (and doing a little bit of studying). I treated myself to a fantastic dinner at Mahogany Ridge Brewery ($1 tapas! And a filet mignon!) before heading north to the trailhead for Mt. Zirkel.

First thing in the morning, the weather was looking a little bit dreary but I decided it didn’t look particularly threatening and I had several miles to hike before we’d start to climb out of the trees anyway. We headed up the Gilpin Creek trail which climbed very gently up into the basin.

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When we reached the creek crossing where I was supposed to leave the trail, I waded through the very wet brush and eventually ran back into a trail. Turned out, it was the Gilpin trail. I didn’t really figure that out until I got to the sign that proclaimed “No camping within 1/4 mile of Gilpin Lake.” We’d not gone exactly the right way but it just meant traversing across and up to Pt 12006′ instead of straight up to it.

The clouds were still blowing in and out but I hadn’t heard any thunder or felt any rain so we continued climbing.

Eventually, we reached the saddle right below Point 12006:

A quick scramble took me to the summit of 12006 where I got my first view of Mount Zirkel. The ridge from Point 12006 was a quick and easy scramble and soon we were walking along easy tundra towards Zirkel.

Looking back at Point 12006:

I don’t know what it is about the alpine tundra but it seems to make Sprocket¬†so happy:

It didn’t take long to climb the last bit to Zirkel’s summit. The clouds parted just enough to give us some pretty good views:

Looking northwest to Big Agnes:

Zirkel’s southern tundra covered ridge:

Sprocket really does hate summit selfies. He even appears to be scowling here:

Since I wasn’t entirely sure if the weather was going to hold out, we didn’t linger too long on the summit (besides it was pretty windy). We rambled south to Red Dirt Pass Trail. The route out via Red Dirt Pass Trail and Gold Creek Lake Trail was longer by a little bit but made our hike a nice loop.

The descent on the Gold Creek side was also really gradual and through some nice open forest.

By the time we were approaching Gold Creek Lake at about mile 13 (according to my vivofit…which has proved fairly accurate), I was definitely feeling it. My legs had been a little sore to start the day but had held up pretty well. Sprocket took a¬†quick swim break at this very pretty little lake while I shoved an Epic bar in my mouth and we headed back down the last couple of miles to the car.

I really really enjoyed this hike. It was just challenging enough to be rewarding and was absolutely gorgeous. I’m so glad I got to explore this new area but like all the best hikes, it added to my list of mountains to climb: I can’t wait to come back for Big Agnes Mountain.

Colorado 14ers: Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak

Last Saturday night, Sprocket and I headed up Castle Creek and then up into Montezuma Basin. I got tired at about 12,000′ and I decided the best thing to do was to stop and go to sleep. Navigating steep 4WD roads by your vehicles headlights isn’t the most fun thing in the world. I woke up at about 5:45, fifteen minutes before my alarm, to a couple of hiker mocking the cars “dropping like flies.” I won’t lie, I was happy to fire up the Jeep and cruise past them to the very end of the road at 12,800′.

 

From the end of the road, we headed up the mountain. sprocket was so excited. He started by swimming in the creek and rolling in the snow. Who wouldn’t want to start the day like that?!

We made our way up the slope, happy for the toeholds already kicked in the snow next to the glisade track.

The slope on the ridge was fairly gentle and we made pretty decent time on the way up. I was eyeing the saddle between Castle and Conundrum trying to decide if I was willing to chance the descent into the basin (ultimately, because I hadn’t brought an ice axe I declined that option…).

Sprocket made friends with a guy who, along with his friend, was taking his sister up her 2nd 14er. They made for great trail company and totally tolerated my fuzzy adopting them for the hike to the summit.

We took a quick selfie on the summit of Castle Peak (14,265′) before continuing on to Conundrum. The weather wasn’t looking exactly¬†sketchy yet (it¬†was only 8:15) but there was clearly moisture in the air so we got to getting on over to the next peak…

It was a surprisingly quick traverse to Conundrum (14,040′) where I got a good look back at Castle Peak that I was going to reascend because I’d decided not to glisade from the saddle.

Sprocket was, once again, the best hiking partner I could ever ask for. He attacked the trail with gusto, politely made friends, and proved himself once again to be an awesome mountain dog.

We briefly enjoyed the views and then headed back downhill.

At the Jeep, we paused for some water and snacks before driving back down Montezuma Basin road. I headed up Pearl Pass about a mile or so and chickened out where a stream ran down through some cut up rock that also happened to be the road. I’m pretty sure I¬†could have made it up that way but there was a log placed to divert water that was¬†slippery and the ass-end of the Jeep wanted to slide towards the edge of the road and I just decided to throw in the towel.

My pup snuggled in on the pillows and looked pretty darn contented on the way down the hill. His face might look slightly worried here but that’s mostly because he doesn’t like his photo being taken…

Bennett Peak: Rio Grande County Highpoint

After a day with successful summits of both Summit and Conejos Peaks, I headed eastwards through the mountains to the small community of Jasper. In Jasper, I turned north onto Blowout Pass road. Blowout Pass wasn’t a particularly difficult drive, it was just steep and narrow however, I was very much hoping I didn’t run into someone coming downhill (and if I did, I was totally going to invoke the rules of the road and make the downhill car back up the hill). At the top of the pass, we found a lot of cows grazing on both sides of a cattle guard. I’ve never had issues with cows, they mostly just ignore vehicles passing through, and I pulled over to sleep for the night.

The cows didn’t go away.

They hung out for almost an hour licking the Jeep and generally trying to decide what was going on. Eventually, they got bored (I assume) and wandered away. After the cows left the rain started. And just kept going alllllll night.

Fortunately, in the morning, the clouds seemed to be parting so we headed up for the short hike to the summit of Bennett Peak. I honestly didn’t feel all that great after eating a can of tilapia for dinner and then skipping breakfast (thanks cows for making it kinda weird to get out and cook…) but the hike was short and straightforward up a quad track. It made for some sort of miserable hiking because where there was no rock it was kind of muddy and then on the uphills there were big chunky rocks that weren’t all that fun to walk on.

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We took a quick photo at the summit to celebrate my 16th Colorado County Highpoint and then headed back down the trail.

I was happy to see that the cows hadn’t tried to climb over the jeep or something crazy in our absence. Driving down the south side of Blowout Pass made me a little bit nervous (I didn’t really want to back up for miles to find a place for someone to pass me) plus I decided gas was closer if I headed out to the north. The road was pretty muddy just getting off the top of the pass and again further down. At one point I found myself going a little too fast (and had already gone back to 2WD) and ended up sideways in the road. I slowed down, went back into 4WD until I got to pavement, and safely made it down to Del Norte.

Conejos Peak: Conejos County Highpoint

After our successful summit of Summit Peak earlier in the morning, I was in no hurry to get to the trailhead of Conejos Peak. From what I understood, it was a rough but not particularly difficult road to the trailhead so there was no reason to make it up there much before dark. I dallied in Platoro and had a hamburger for lunch at Skyline Lodge (sadly they make all their hamburgers well done…besides that the lodge atmosphere was great!).

Sprocket and I easily made our way up FS 105 followed by 3A to the trailhead. I went up the road in 2WD, 2nd gear. There was one spot on 3A where high clearance might be nice but totally not necessary. I was happy to have low range headed down hill but again, nice but not necessary.

When we reached the trailhead, I took a look at the sky and realized that although it was about 3pm, it looked relatively free of thunderstorms. The hike to Conejos doesn’t gain¬†that much elevation so I figured that worst case scenario we’d get a preview of the next day’s hike and we set off down the trail

The whole way up, I kept scanning the sky to the southwest to see if the storms were looking threatening. As you can see, there were puffy clouds to the northeast but nothing that said, “don’t summit!”

Admittedly, after my experience on El Diente and my recent descent from Ice Lakes, I was cautious but felt confident about our quick bailout options down the basin so we continued upwards. I occasionally felt a little nervous but the clouds seemed to be getting dark over the ridgeline and then disappearing.

This was one of those hikes where my summit picture really was the start of my photo taking rather than the end since I was feeling so much better about not leading my unsuspecting pup into danger. It was all to no avail since Sprocket is anti-summit selfie:

We made great time back down the gentle summit ridge:

This hike really had one of the best grades to a 13er that I’ve experienced so far. The start was really gentile to get warmed up then it was fairly constant but awesome the whole rest of the way up:

There was a small part of me that worried about taking Sprocket on his second 6+ mile hike of the day but I had no reason to worry: with the cool temperatures, this pup was ready to hike allllllll dayyyy:

Back at the car, we slowly began descending to the Conejos River. There was a part of me that was¬†sure¬†that the rain was going to hit us any minute but it continued to hold off (for a few hours anyway… more on that tomorrow).

Clearly, it was a good day:

Summit Peak: Archuleta County Highpoint

After leaving Silverton on our failed Vermilion try, we headed for Pagosa Springs where we gased up and continuted on to South Fork for a prime rib dinner. After dinner, we cruised to the trailhead for Summit Peak. Along the way, the sunset was pretty sweet.

In the morning, we started up the trail bound for Summit Peak, the high point of Archleta County. Treasure Creek Trail is fairly undefined. I really struggled to follow it but with some GPS points managed to find myself in the upper basin where I finally located the trail again.

Below the summit of Summit Peak, I was faced with a decision: make my way up the eastern slopes or traverse around to the southeast. I decided to scramble up the eastern slopes seeing nothing that prevented me from getting up with Sprocket. As it turned out, the easiest way up¬†is¬†up the southeastern or south facing slopes: they’re nice and grassy although SP and I are used to (and love) the scrambles for making up elevation in a hurry.

On the summit, we took some quick pictures and headed down the mountain. We decided against going for Montezuma Peak, another 13er just north of Summit, but I do not feel one bit bad about this because the area was so pretty.

Rather than taking the same descent route, we meandered below the face of Summit Peak, around a high alpine tairn, and then more directly down the face of the mountain to the car. In the end, it was a quick, fairly painless summit and another Colorado county highpoint!

San Juan Islands, Part 2: Orcas Island and Mt. Constitution

As we were making plans for our weekend in the San Juans, my only request was that we hiked Mt. Constitution. I didn’t care where we stayed, what we ate and drank, but I really wanted to grab that county highpoint. Fortunately for me, Liz and Lauren were totally on board with the plan and we were all excited to check out Orcas Island. I think Liz was regretting her agreement to the plan when a 5am wake-up was planned to make the two ferry hop to Orcas. However, by the end of the day, I don’t think any of us were upset about getting up early because everything was glorious.

The man taking this photo was very concerned with how small we were (and he was also probably a bit surprised at the young lady bouncing all over the boat handing her phone to him requesting a picture).

When we arrived in Eastsound, we were all starving an indulged in second breakfast at Brown Bear Baking. We spent a little bit of time debating which three treats to get and someone brilliantly suggested we actually get four. A gentleman waiting in line with us leaned over and stage whispered, “The answer is always more” so we listened and ordered ourselves a slew of treats. Everything about this was a major yes and we made short work of everything. Brown Bear Baking, you deserve all the thumbs up.

After breakfast it was time to get started on our hike. The maps clearly showed a meandering hike along Mountain Lake before the trail began climbing much steeper to the summit. We rambled alongside the super clear lake exclaiming all the while about how beautiful it was and how it was still so early. (I mean, it was standard hiking time but it just felt like we’d accomplished so much already for a vacation day…)

The forest was classic northwest gorgeousness with the sun filtering down through the very green trees as we walked along the cushion-y path. (Seriously, no where else in the country has trails as pleasant for the feet as Washington and Oregon.)

It was a little jarring to emerge from the woods onto a road for the final jaunt to the summit. After seeing just a couple of parties, the sheer number of people that had driven up was kind of overwhelming but the CCC-built observation tower was pretty cool.

The view was absolutely astounding. Sadly there were some distant clouds on the Cascades and the Olympics but it was really cool to get a perspective on Puget Sound from 2,000′ up and from much more northerly perspective than I’d ever been.

After the hike, we headed to Island Hoppin’ Brewery to have a sampler. Their brewery dog has a life that Sprocket definitely envies: living surrounded by water at a brewery…

After our beers, we hustled down to the ferry landing to make sure that we made our ferry. We were plenty early so we relaxed in Orcas Village while waiting for our boat.

It was hard to object to the gorgeous weather on the ferry ride back to Anacortes.

Once we were back on Guemes Island, while Lauren and Liz prepped dinner, I headed out for a run/hike to the highest point on the island. (The peakbagger in me gets the best of me sometimes.) I had such a great time traveling with these girls. I felt super fortunate to have a chance to check out the “other San Juans” (the Island type as opposed to my Colorado mountains), go for a hike, and mostly spend some time with people I feel totally myself around.