Greenhorn Mountain: Pueblo County Highpoint

As my EMT class, drew to a close, I went on a mission to have this weekend free of clinicals or of NREMT studying. Although last weekend was mostly obligation free, I did have the Love Your Valley event on the calendar for Saturday. Last weekend, there was nothing I had to do.  I plotted a trip to the east to hike the high points of Pueblo and Las Animas Counties.

Because this spring has been so dry (so dry that some Arizona National Forests and state lands are going to closures already), I didn’t even bother to check the weather. As I drove over Monarch Pass on Friday night, the skies over the Wet Mountains looked black. I was already fairly committed and the weather around Salida didn’t appear to look much better for the next day so I continued on towards Greenhorn Mountain. I headed up Ophir Creek Road about three miles when the driving rain that had started near Westcliffe turned to slushy snow. I decided the wise course of action was to sleep low in case this turned into an epic spring snow since there were 25 miles of gravel between me and the trailhead.

I woke in the morning to partially clearing skies and decided to make a go of it. The gravel road was in really great shape. Any car could make this drive. There were no ruts or large rocks, just a touch of washboard on some steeper sections. In about forty-five minutes, Sprocket and I reached the end of the road and started our hike towards Greenhorn Mountain.

Greenhorn Mountain’s name came from a Comanche warrior named Tabivo Naritgant, “dangerous man,” who was known by Spanish as Cuerno Verde. Tabivo Naritgant’s Spanish name came from the distinctive green horned headdress that he wore in battle. The warrior was killed by forces lead by Juan Bautista de Anza who had been offered the governorship of New Mexico to deal with the raiding Comanches.

With my recent reading about the history of the west percolating, I ascended the Greenhorn Trail cutting north of Greenhorn Mountain towards North Peak. Initially, I’d planned to just hike Greenhorn slowly cutting across the side of the peak but the trail felt like a much easier way to climb, even if it made the total hike a bit longer.

I know I say this frequently, but Sprocket’s joy on the trail is so sustaining for me. He is such a happy pup with new sniffs and places to explore. Every time I start to think the (old) boy is losing the spring in his step, he surprises me.

We made a quick run from the saddle up to the top of North Peak since it was only 200′ of gain from the saddle. after that, turned to navigating our way south along the ridge to Greenhorn proper. It was a pretty straightforward hike with perfect elevation practice up and downs along the way.

While we were up there, the low clouds broke to show off the southern end of the Sangre de Cristos and the Wet Mountain Valley. The clouds started to form the beginnings of baby thunderheads but nothing seemed to threatening until I was well back down the road toward pavement. Greenhorn Mountain has an elevation of 12,347′ but it’s prominence clocks in at 3,767′ thanks to its status as the high point of the Wet Mountains. (I guess their name actually comes from the amount of snow they receive in the winter not from the fact that I almost got rained out.)

Sprocket lead the final charge up to Greenhorn Mountain like a champ. This dog, man, this dog.

After a quick cuddle on the summit, we headed down to stay in front of the building clouds. We had talus filled hike down the southern face of the mountain to reach the Bartlett trail, an old road, that made for an easy walk back to the car.

Colorado 14er: Mount Of The Holy Cross

Mount of the Holy Cross is barely a 14er, with its summit reaching 14,005′, but it is not Mt. Holy Cross it is “Mount of…” which I find sort of pompous but I digress. I’d heard that Holy Cross was a beautiful mountain and I was kinda skeptical since it’s listed on 14ers.com as part of the Sawatch Range which never quite does it for me. (I have become a mountain snob, I won’t lie to you.) I was wrong. Holy Cross was a great mountain to climb. It is, however, the highpoint of Eagle County, and it was my 49th county highpoint in Colorado, bringing me to just over 78% completion!

Famed western photographer William Henry Jackson, photographed the mountain in 1873 from the flanks of neighboring Notch Mountain (Notch actually obscures Holy Cross from US 24 so it cannot be seen) while traveling with the Hayden Party. Some questions exist as to whether Jackson doctored the photo so that the cross was more distinct.

Photograph. Mountain of the Holy Cross. 2004.0286.16.
The National Museum of American History

In 1874, another famous artist of the American West, painter Thomas Moran climbed to the flanks of Notch Mountain to make some sketches of Mount of The Holy Cross for a painting. Moran’s inspiration by Jackson in turn inspired Henry Wordsworth Longfellow to write a poem “The Cross Of Snow.”

Anyway, in addition to being Mount of the Holy Cross, there’s a lake named Bowl of Tears and another snowfield called the “Supplicating Virgin.” This also finally explains to me the name of “Shrine Pass” leading from Red Cliff to I-70 near Copper Mountain (no joke this always made me think of the Shriners…). In the 1920s there was a large push to develop the area around the mountain, as well as the mountain itself, as a place for “devotion” and worship. The Colorado Mountain Club pushed back, advertising a 1923 outing as an opportunity to “see it BEFORE it is desecrated in the name of religion. It is a glorious mountain, in a splendid and so-far inaccessible setting of ragged ridges and sparkling lakes.” After their trip, they were clear to note in their report that the cross was barely visible as a result of it being late summer.

As a result of all the interest surrounding Holy Cross, President Hoover declared the area a National Monument in 1929 leading to the construction of Tigiwan Road in 1932 and 1933. The Tigiwan Community House, spotted on the drive to the Half Moon Trailhead, was built to house pilgrims and the CCC built the stone house visible on Notch Mountain from the summit of Holy Cross was built to shelter them as they viewed the cross.

Then, as quickly as it had grown, the pilgrimage movement ended in the late 1930s. In addition to economic hardships followed by World War II (and the heavy usage of the Leadville area by the 10th Mountain Division for training), for various possible reasons the cross always seemed to be less impressive than promised. (One suggestion is that rockfall happened in the right arm to make it less apparent.) In 1950, the National Monument was decomissioned by Congress.

Okay, giant historical aside is over but I owe a huge thanks to Kevin Blake’s article “Imagining heaven and earth at Mount of the Holy Cross, Colorado” for allowing me to really geek out on this.

As a hike, Holy Cross is a bit of a bear because the standard route from Half Moon Trailhead climbs about 1000′ to Half Moon Pass before descending 1000′ to East Cross Creek and only then can you make the 3200′ ascent to the summit. This, of course, means that one must also climb 1000′ on the “descent” of the mountain to get out of East Cross Creek’s canyon.

I’d given a half-hearted effort to climbing Holy Cross back in fall 2015 so I knew it’d be nice to get the climb to the Pass out of the way before going for a summit and decided to camp at East Cross Creek. I arrived at the trailhead about 2pm and really hoped that I wouldn’t wind up just getting drenched on my way to camp since the clouds were looking somewhat ominous.

Although a few drops fell on me as I started to pitch my tent, it never actually rained overnight. I had hoped to crawl into the tent and do some reading but I lasted about 30 minutes before I promptly fell asleep… at 5pm.

My headlamp appears to have jumped from my daypack, which I discovered when I woke up about 11pm, so I set my alarm to go off at 5:30 since hiking before that without a light source would be rather silly. I hit the snooze button once and started climbing up the ridge of Holy Cross about 5:45.

Notch Mountain in the background

It never ceases to feel magical to be in the mountains as the sun makes its way over neighboring ridges. This one was no exception. Suddenly, as the sun crested Notch Mountain, Holy Cross started to shine.

There’s a great stairstep-y path leading a good chunk of the way up the talus slopes before you cross a somewhat flat section of the ridge and then tackle the final steep, 500′ easy scramble to the summit.

I’d been worried the last 800′ to the summit that the weather was going to take a turn significantly before the 10am predicted by the National Weather Service but it actually seemed to get better while I was lounging at the top. By this point, I was basically dreading the ascent back to Half Moon Pass with my pack. It wasn’t particularly heavy but it was enough to just not want to do.

It was only after grinding the first 500′ of the climb out of the way that I had a chance to really appreciate that I’d gotten my 49th Colorado County Highpoint (of 64) and my 14th 14er (using the CMC list).

Sources:

Blake, Kevin (2008) ‘Imagining heaven and earth at Mount of the
Holy Cross, Colorado’, Journal of Cultural Geography, 25:1, 1 – 30. DOI:10.1080/08873630701822588.

Longfellow, Henry Wordsworth. “The Cross of Snow.” The Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44629/the-cross-of-snow.

“Mountain of the Holy Cross.” National Museum of American History, National Museum of American History, americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1276028.

Jackson County Highpoint: Clark Peak

With all my focus on getting the house built, my Colorado county highpoint quest was temporarily delayed. (Over a year has past since I grabbed Pikes and Devils Playground!)

When I managed to find myself with a three day weekend, I started scanning my list deciding where I should go. I finally settled on Clark as a primary objective and getting something else (perhaps a third try at Pettengel) if my old pup was up for two consecutive days of hiking. Clark Peak is not quite a 13er, measuring in at 12,951′ but it does have the dubious distinction of being the “tallest Colorado peak this far north” aka there are no peaks in Colorado north of Clark that are taller. A much less random assertion is that Clark is also the highpoint of the Medicine Bow Range.

I’d heard rumors that the 4×4 road approaching the trailhead to Jewel Lake was in pretty rough shape so when I entered State Forest State Park in the waning daylight hours I didn’t really know what length of hike we were in for the next day. As it turned out, I was able to make it 2/3 of the way up the 4×4 road and on some more examination on the way down from the peak in the morning, I’m pretty sure the obstacle where I stopped was totally do-able by Ruth (although perhaps a spotter would have made me more apt to take it on) and was also the last piece of any consequence on the drive.

The hike up to Jewel Lake went quickly and I refrained from letting Sprocket swim as I wanted him to save his energy for the stiff climb from the lake to the summit (about 1600′ in less than a mile!).

The weather was glorious so we didn’t hustle ourselves too hard up the grassy slopes, pausing frequently to enjoy the view.

Clark Peak marks my 48th highpoint in Colorado. Of the ones I have left Blanca Peak (and its associated slope point) is the highpoint of three counties and Crestone and East Crestone can be combined leaving me with 13 more outings. I’m going to try and get a couple more in 2017 but summer 2018? It’s on.

Pikes Peak & Devils Playground: El Paso & Teller County Highpoints

The main goal of our roadtrip was to start checking off some peaks on the County Highpoint list again. I hadn’t gotten one since summiting Bushnell back in March so it was high time to make progress on the goal. Since this time of year is a little tough in terms of access, I had limited peaks to choose from and decided to go ahead and drive up Pikes Peak since I would not only grab the El Paso County Highpoint on the summit but also the Teller County Highpoint, Devils Playground along the way.

We arrived at the toll booth quite awhile before they opened but happily passed the time chatting with some other people in line. I even made some coffee on the stove in the back of the XJ for the drive. I snapped a couple of shots of the mountain going down the road but most of them turned out really well framed just like this one:

When we left the toll booth, they’d said that because of high winds on the summit, the road was closed at mile 16 although they were fairly confident that wind speeds would drop and we could continue up at some point. I wasn’t too upset since mile 16 is where Devils Playground was located. We arrived and immediately started up the small slope. Sprocket was delighted to be playing in the snow. He ran right up to the summit and stood on the rocks and waited for me. Clearly, my dog knows what’s up. Teller County marked my 46th Colorado County Highpoint!

With perfect timing, the road opened all the way to the Pikes summit when we were just below the Devils Playground summit. I had so many good laughs watching SP frolic his way back down to the Jeep. He definitely knows how to have fun.

Just a couple minutes up the road, we reached the summit, my 47th county highpoint in Colorado! It was pretty windy so we didn’t stick around too long before heading back down the mountain.

Colorado County Highpoints: Northern Plains

After saying goodbye to Bart, Leigh, and Boone, Sprocket and I headed north from Burlington making our way to Yuma, Colorado. There was snow on the roads but it wasn’t icy (or as it would be later slushy).

Normally, one would be able to pretty much drive right to the Phillips County highpoint but the north-south road was drifted with about 4-8″ of snow so Sprocket and I jaunted north from the intersection just to the south.

After Phillips County, it was just a short drive to Sedgewick County with its short hike out to the highpoint. There was some pretty deep drifted snow on the way out past the abandoned barn but after that the going was fairly easy and the snow was already starting to melt rapidly!

We made our way north into Nebraska, grabbing lunch in Sidney, before making our way to Colorado’s Logan County highpoint. By the time we arrived, the snow was almost gone!

We tried to visit Panorama Point but unfortunately the snow was really drifted on the last mile to Nebraska’s highpoint. I wanted to drive all the way home that night so I was aware of time constraints, plus the landowner’s sign warned that because of bison in the area hiking wasn’t allowed.

Instead, we headed south through Pawnee National Grassland to Shannon Benchmark, the highpoint of Morgan County. On our way out to the highpoint, Sprocket was reminded of his hatred for prickly pear. (He used to almost refuse to walk across the field of the Log Hill property.)

I briefly debated spending another night in the area and trying to arrange a visit to the Terry Bison farm for the next day but after the blizzard adventure, I decided to put it off for another time but in the space of three days (including one mostly weathered out!) I’d added 9 Colorado County Highpoints to my total bringing me to 45 of 64 (70.3%)!

P.S. Ruth was the best ever: we had a tank of gas going over the mountains where we got 30mpg! (XJs love 45 mph and elevation; there’s a reason we make a good team.) I can’t imagine a better vehicle for someone with a county highpoint hobby.

Colorado County Highpoints: South End of the Plains

Last December, I headed to the central plains to collect a few more highpoints before the end of 2015. As I start to think about attempting to finish the Colorado County High Point list before the end of 2016, I really wanted to finish out the plains highpoints. Sprocket and I started out our loop with the southern most points of the plains.

Appreciating the plains points takes a little bit of extra attention. I studied the cholla and the yucca plants. I poked around small towns and stopped at view points and informational markers:

The highways were lonely and many of the dirt roads were even lonelier.

Ruth even summited a couple of the highpoints along with Sprocket and I:

My ascent of Two Buttes (Prowers County HP, 4711′) came on Day 2 in some crazy winds: sustained 24mph with 51mph gusts at the time of my hike kicking up white caps on Two Buttes Reservoir. We were there, though, and it was only about 400′ of ascent to the summit so Sprocket and I decided to tough it out and get ourselves to the top.

Bushnell Peak: Fremont County Highpoint

When I’m home on a Friday, my day usually starts out with puppy cuddles and gently transitions to coffee at my computer for #hikerchat. A couple of weeks ago, as the chat was just gearing up, Mike mentioned that his climbing partners were hurt and wanted to know if I was down for a summit. I am always down for a summit.

We started trying to decide where to go and I immediately gravitated to my county highpoint list. Many of the peaks were out because of distance or potential avalanche danger. I narrowed in on Bushnell Peak in the northern Sangre de Cristo range. I could find precisely one report of it having been climbed in late-winter conditions around the end of March. It had been quite awhile since Colorado had received any snow and none was predicted for the coming week so we decided to go for it.

‘Scuse the dirty windshield

We met up in Poncha Springs and headed south in the growing dusk to the trailhead. We really lucked out, I did not realize that all the roads in the Raspberry Creek area are closed starting March 15th for Sage Grouse protection! The road up towards the trailhead was rough but not very difficult. Be careful though; there are some sharp rocks here and you can get yourself in trouble really quickly with a slice to the sidewall of your tire.

We were able to drive up to about 8,800′ and I probably? could have pushed up to about 9,000′ in the jeep. We discovered when hiking the next day that once the road entered the trees, the snow was both slushy and about a 1′ deep. Parking down at 8,800′ added less than a mile so it wasn’t too big of a deal.

Early early alpine starts are not my forte so I was glad that Mike pushed me to hit the trail at 3am. I rolled out of bed at 2:45, walked Sprocket around a bit, and was ready to hit the trail. As I mentioned above, we shortly ran into snow and the postholing started. I started out breaking trail and immediately began to think, “There is no way we’re going to reach the summit with these conditions.”

The old mining road peters out as it reaches the wilderness boundary and attempting to follow it in the dark was more difficult than I had expected. We crossed Raspberry Creek and I wasn’t seeing the road continuing up the creek drainage that we expected to follow. Mike and I briefly consulted and we decided to just head directly up the southwestern ridge of Bushnell.

This wound up being a really great plan. Just out of the flats we started to run into bare ground on the top and south sides of the ridge. From about 9300′ up to nearly 10,200′ we enjoyed just patches of snow and mostly easy forest walking. As we reached an aspen grove, the slope abated a little bit and the sun started to rise.

What started out to be a glorious sunrise lighting nearby Twin Sisters and the Collegiate Peaks to the northwest faded a bit as dark clouds began to gather just on the eastern side of the summits. We briefly discussed the weather and both agreed that the clouds seemed to be moving more north than west towards us so we pressed on.

The snow got harder and more difficult to traverse but the final pitch to the summit looked to have plenty of exposed rock that looked easy enough to walk up. Here, my spirits started to rise. I was feeling strong and I realized “We could actually do this.”

The wind at this point was cold so we just kept moving. At the summit, I snapped just a couple of photos, including this selfie, before hi-fiving Mike, and getting moving again. I’m pretty sure I excitedly fist pumped as I walked the last few feet to the summit for my 36th Colorado County Highpoint.

Downhill travel is always faster and that pace really helped to warm me up, plus I was motivated to down out of the wind! As we approached the valley floor, we found ourselves descending into a beautiful spring day.

Thanks for an awesome, confidence building day Bushnell. I had a blast and I was so so excited to know that my recent efforts to prepare for the mountains are working. Thank you to Mike for the suggestion to get out and do something big and for being willing to work with my goals!

Central Eastern Plains Highpoints

I have been very adamant about one goal for 2015: I was going to reach 50% on Colorado’s County High Point list. I spent most of #SummitSummer working to make this a reality. I’d secretly hoped to make it to the 50% mark with “real” highpoints (aka mountains and not flat plains points) but that was just a secret hope. When I’d summited Douglas County’s Thunder Butte that had put me within four high points of my goal. I’d toyed with plans that would have let me get a few of the “real” highpoints before the snow fell but thanks to life, they didn’t quite work out.

But, the goal was still in reach, I had the Eastern Plains in my back pocket and I really hoped to make one of what I figure will be three trips before the end of the calendar year. I got distracted by Christmas things (getting my tree and crafting) and before I knew it, I was down to just two windows of time. Pushing it off until the last second seemed a little bit dumb knowing that a winter storm could roll in and make driving hundreds of miles on dirt roads the opposite of fun so we seized on last weekend.

Shay was kind enough to let Sprocket and I spend Friday night at her place. We got up early on Saturday morning to begin our adventure. Just outside of Byers, we saw a herd of bison then a herd of antelope. I decided this whole flat land thing wasn’t that bad.

We pulled up to the Washington County High Point, wandered around the side of the road matching up the GPS point with what appeared to be the highest non-road spot and snapped a photo with our new selfie stick; Sprocket was a little bit unsure and is demonstrating pro side-eye.

We headed back to US 36, passing through Last Chance, and headed on to the Yuma County High Point, another road side “attraction.”

We wandered around on the side of the road being sure we touched the high ground and enjoyed the sunshine a bit.

Getting to the Kit Carson County High Point and Overland Benchmark East (the Cheyenne County High Point) was a little interesting. Some of the roads I attempted to travel southward from Flagler were just two-tracks between two fields. The dirt was mostly dry but there was some snow drifted in as deep as 9″ in some places but they were just small and never encompassed both my front and rear tires at once. Since, there were ample turn around possibilities and the snow wasn’t that deep so I just kept pressing forward. Ruth didn’t miss a beat and plowed right through the narrow slushy “drifts” and we eventually made it to a windmill near Kit Carson County High Point. Afterwards, we hiked south to Overland Benchmark East where I reached my 50% Colorado County High Point goal for the year!

It was only about 12:15 when I got back to the Jeep from Overland BM so we headed south to the Kiowa County High Point. Along the way, we reached a fork in the road.

And then we found an interesting monument:

Somehow, the flat wasn’t boring, just kind of relaxing, actually.

We saw some more pronghorn:

We hiked out from the end of County Road 44 to the Kiowa County High Point and enjoy some pretty views of mountains off to the west.

I knew I was starting to run low on daylight so I sadly had to forgo Crowley County’s High Point in order to reach Lincoln and Elbert’s high points while it was still light (they were fairly directly on my way home).

It felt a little bit like we were racing against dark to get to the Elbert County High Point:

But we made it, just as darkness was falling, for our 7th county highpoint of the day.

Thunder Butte: Douglas County Highpoint

After our hike of Buffalo Peak, Sprocket and I headed down Stoney Pass and for Thunder Butte. I wasn’t totally sure I was going to tackle it that day but it was certainly our next objective for the weekend. When we arrived at where we would begin our hike, it was just after 3pm and although the skies to the west were looking a little unsettled, it appeared that the weather would hold for a couple of hours so off we went through the patchy burn.

This hike was one where we walked along on almost entirely flat ground for a good chunk of the distance and then did all of our climbing at once heading fairly directly up the southwestern slopes.

As we climbed, Pikes Peak came into view to the south and I could better see the storm clouds building to my west. I hustled Sprocket upwards but we were only making marginal time. Sprocket was clearly tired from our adventure on Buffalo Peak earlier in the day and he was taking his sweet time.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since some internet sources suggested that this climb would be made a lot less fun as a result of increased brush on the slopes after the fire. Maybe it was a result of some fall die back but this wasn’t too big of an issue. Of more concern was not brushing up against charred trees.

Finally, we found ourselves on the summit. A few photos and a look around and it was time to head down. I was starting to hear thunder rumble in the distance and my fellow #omniten and #teamawesome member Justin had burgers waiting down in Woodland Park.

The light on the way out was amazing. I was so happy to spend another fall day out enjoying nature with Sprocket.

And the light on Sheep Nose with Thunder Butte lurking in the background? That’s pretty awesome too.

Buffalo Peak: Jefferson County Highpoint

Sprocket and set off Thursday after school for some more fun in the mountains of Colorado. I selected the county highpoints of Jefferson and Douglas Counties in Pike National Forest. It was a long drive in the dark to get there but we arrived at Stoney Pass (not to be confused with Stony Pass in the San Juans) just before midnight and I happily crawled in the back with Sprocket and fell asleep.

Sprocket had me up fairly early and we started the climb up to Jefferson County’s Buffalo Peak (sometimes known as Freeman Peak). The reports that I had read for this hike on cohp.org and Peakbagger made it sound absolutely horrendous—from what I could tell, I’d signed up for some not-so-fun deadfall laden bushwacking.

The first stretch out of the parking lot wasn’t that bad. I’d used Caltopo to create a proposed line of attack that was direct as possible while still bypassing the miscellaneous knobs and rock outcroppings on the hike and then exported it to Gaia GPS for use in the woods. This worked out really well for me on the ascent; I wasn’t regaining elevation and was taking a pretty direct route to the summit.

The weather was everything I could have hoped for. It was sunny, there were still fall leaves in the trees (although I think they were about a week past peak) and the woods had that delicious fall smell that makes you want to hike then eat cider donuts.

After a bit, I finally got this glimpse of Buffalo Peak. The slope relented for a bit just after I took this photo and then quickly steepened again.

The views continued to improve as we moved higher and the slight breeze that was kicking up felt really good. The view below is looking back to the north-northeast looking at Green Mountain with Stoney Pass between it and the ridge below my vantage point:

Finally the rocks of the summit came into view! This actually turned out to be the false summit. If you want to avoid some extra scrambling, you can bypass this to the right (north) and climb the actual summit. Sprocket and I chose to climb the false summit then wander its ridge to a small notch that we descended before reascending to the true summit.

I don’t think this gets climbed too often…

I got a little lazy on the descent and wasn’t paying too much attention to either the GPS or to my surroundings and found myself going too far to the west. (That creek drainage made for such quick going though!) We wound up wrapping around a small knob and then making more directly for the car.

All things considered, this wasn’t nearly as terrible as trip reports would have lead me to believe. I think a chunk of that comes from the fact that Colorado bushwacks are rarely as terrible as a normal off-trail outing in the Pacific Northwest. And man, I know I said the colors were a little faded, but I am definitely not complaining about the aspen show on my 27th Colorado county highpoint.