James Peak: Gilpin County Highpoint

I had hoped to head up Mount of the Holy Cross on Saturday, but after I had kind of a tough day on Elbert, I changed my plans and headed for James Peak. I’d hoped to climb this back in July but when the power steering pump on my FSJ died, I skipped it in favor of playing mechanic at Aleya‘s place. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I’d learned about the existence of the Kingston Peak Jeep Trail in the meantime which cut way down on the elevation gain and hike distance.

I got a little nervous heading down a loose hill from the “stone house” since I’d have to reascend it to get out but I figured if it was really a problem, I could go out to the north. Just a few minutes later, we were at the start of our hiking route to James Peak. The “trail” is a former jeep road and the hiking went really fast as we approached the peak.

This angle of James Peak is really pretty but we wrapped around the peak to the south (left in the above photo) and ascended up the much gentler south side.

As we reached the south side, views of Loch Lomond, Ice Lake, and several other smaller lakes.

From here, the ascent went quickly as we gained the ridge and then the summit.

There were a few people on the summit but I still really enjoyed taking in the views from the peak.

We made quick time back to the Jeep and started our slow drive down the mountain. James Peak is my 26th Colorado County Highpoint; I’m steadily approaching my goal of being at 32 by the end of 2015!

Colorado State Highpoint: Mount Elbert

Yesterday was my 30th birthday and since I was going to be in school I knew I needed to “celebrate” the weekend before. I have been loving my weekend county highpointing adventures with Sprocket but since this was a “special occasion” I decided to go big: Colorado’s highest peak, Mt. Elbert.

Way back last winter, Kelly and I had discussed lots of mountain plans but summer got crazy and we hadn’t adventured together since January. Since we’d had so much fun on that desert trip, it had been way too long since we had hiked something!

Kelly found a great camping spot along Halfmoon Road. I met her there after dark on Thursday so I didn’t get a look at it until morning. Wow!

We hit the trail on Friday about 7am and started to plug our way up the peak. For the first time in recent memory, I felt terrible heading up the mountain. From the time we hit treeline, I felt pretty terrible. I had a headache and just couldn’t seem to get it together. The weather was fantastic and I couldn’t possibly let this day go to waste so I just kept plugging along and it was all worth it.

Once we reached the top, we took a little bit of time to enjoy the view, get a photo, and then make a game plan for the rest of our day.

We resolved to go down into Leadville for food but first, we decided to continue an extra mile south to South Elbert, an unranked 14,000′ peak. From the summit of South Elbert, we got a great view back to Elbert. …and of the slope we were going to need to reclimb to get back to our North Ridge trail.

The reclimbing of Elbert proper was really tough since my headache only sort of had resolved itself and I was hungry and Kind bars weren’t really taking the edge off. Once we started down, I started to bounce back a bit and really enjoy the gorgeous fall weather.

In Leadville, Kelly stopped in to ask about mountain bike trails at Cycles of Life and we also asked for a food recommendation. The Tennessee Pass Cafe was adorable and the food really hit the spot after the long hike.

Afterwards, we headed back to camp where we enjoyed some Colorado craft brews, some gourmet s’mores, and raspberry-rhubarb pie before calling it a night right after dark.

Thank you so much Kelly for joining Sprocket and I for a special birthday hike!

Vermilion Peak: San Juan County Highpoint

Back in July, I started off my county high pointing adventure inauspiciously by being driven off of Vermilion Peak (13,894′) at 9:30 in the morning by thunder and lightning. I shouldn’t have taken it for granted that I only had 1,000′ vertical feet to go and should have started earlier but I was disappointed all the same.

It’s been bugging me ever since so when I had to go down to Ouray last weekend for some teacher training, I decided to give Vermilion another try, this time from the Hope Lake trailhead.

I’d spent the night at a friend’s place in Telluride. I set my alarm for 5am and made it to the trailhead right at 6. Sprocket was anxious to start hiking and he let me know! He happily hit the trail and we moved right along the Hope Lake Trail. I was really pleased to find that this trail had a really great grade; it’s definitely someplace I’ll keep in mind when I have friends come to visit!

As we reached treeline, the world was getting light around us. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Wilson group—I’ve climbed its three 14ers and really am looking forward to come back and climb centennial Gladstone Peak.

When we reached treeline, Vermilion Peak also came into view. I always love when you get to see your final destination along the way.

As always, Sprocket just wanted to charge up the mountain. He’s not appreciative of breaks. While I took a breather on the first talus slope, he whined and did his best to motivate me to keep moving up the hill. He’s such a pal, that Sprocket.

As we climbed upwards, Hope Lake came into view. I was on the western side of the mountain so it took awhile for the sun to come to meet me.

I really enjoyed this hike. The two talus benches gave me the opportunity to gain elevation and then to get a little bit of a breather as I walked along the top of the benches. It was so nice to reach the sunshine at the top of the Fuller-Beattie saddle.

There is a fairly decent boot track up to the Fuller-Vermilion saddle but I got off track fairly early on and made it really difficult on myself. It was a little bit scary at times because Sprocket isn’t very aware of rockfall either that he causes or that I cause so we have to carefully figure out how to stick together. I was really worried about descending this slope and was very relieved to discover that the boot track had just taken a much more gradual pace than my very vertical then horizontal path.

There are only 400′ to climb from the Fuller-Vermilion saddle to the summit and it went really quickly. There is an excellent climbers trail and Sprocket and I breezed right up.

I was pretty excited to finally make it to the summit:

The Wilson group from the summit:

I love the San Juans so much. This view looking north towards the Sneffels range in the distance:

Sprocket spent most of our summit time hanging out right next to the summit cairn. His summit excitement was a lot more stoic than mine. 😉

We looked down into Ice Lakes basin during our traverse over to Fuller Peak (13,761′):

On the top of Fuller we continued to take in the views before heading down the mountain.

Vermilion from Fuller:

I thought about heading up Beattie Peak but I was a little worried about Sprocket’s paws on the talus. We needed to make it out over a lot of talus terrain and I didn’t want to risk having to limp/carry/coax him with sore paws. In retrospect, he could have totally handled the 300′ of gain but although I’m good at reading Sprocket, ultimately, I’m dealing with an animal that can’t speak and certainly can’t predict how he’ll feel an hour and 1,500′ later.

Vermilion-Fuller-Beattie Basin with Wilson Group in the distance

Since Sprocket and I both had gas left in the tank so we ran up to Hope Lake for the puppers to take a swim before we made the drive over Ophir Pass and back to Ridgway. My 24th Colorado County Highpoint was probably one of my most favorite. The weather was great, the views around the San Juans were gorgeous, and the hike was a really fun one.

Rio Blanco County Highpoint

Saturday morning, Sprocket and I headed up the Mandall Lakes trail bound for Mandall Pass and the Rio Blanco County Highpoint. Initially, I had grand plans for a loop including Orno Peak and Point 12008 but I was just feeling tired and sluggish so I forced myself on to at least the county highpoint where I could reevaluate what else I wanted to do.

The Mandall Lakes trail climbs up in to a series of meadows with a whole lot of small ponds: Slide Mandall Lake, Black Mandall Lake, Mud Mandall Lake, and Twin Mandall Lakes. It was a lot of fun to alternate between these fairly large meadows and the shade of the trees. We had some great views back south towards Flat Top Mountain that we’d climbed the day before.

For awhile, it seemed like the pass wasn’t getting any closer and then suddenly we were at the base of the final climb! I had lost the actual trail (located to the right, or east, of the small ridge-thing and shown on the map) so instead, Sprocket and I scrambled up to the left of that ridge-protrusion thing and found ourselves at the pass.

I was still feeling kinda “meh” so I headed straight for Rio Blanco CoHP (12,027′). Although it looked like fun and not difficult at all to head out to Orno Peak, I just really wasn’t feeling it. Sprocket and I took a break at the summit, soaking in the views.

Looking north-northeast:

South-southwest:

South-southeast towards Orno Peak:

Looking back at Rio Blanco County Highpoint:

Even those days when you’re out in the wilderness and you’re not feeling in top form, it’s pretty hard to complain:

Flat Top Mountain: Garfield County Highpoint

Another weekend, another camping trip for Sprocket and I! This time, we headed to the Flat Tops for a couple of county highpoints. I was excited to explore yet another new area of the state and Sprocket was just happy it was time to go. We stopped so I could get dinner in Glenwood Springs where I treated myself to another fantastic #selfdate at The Pullman.

It was almost 11:30 by the time we pulled into the Stillwater Trailhead. I had entertained fantasies of getting up early and hiking to the summit for sunrise but when my alarm went off at 4:45 I just could not fathom getting up so I slept until about seven when I woke up to this:

I looked up at Flat Top looming above us and then started up the trail.

Almost immediately, we came to Stillwater Reservoir and were treated with a pretty fantastic view of the upper Bear River valley. The famous Devil’s Causeway is further to the east above the valley.

I was also able to get a look at the saddle between Flat Top Mountain and its unnamed neighbor from the causeway of the reservoir:

Just past the reservoir, we passed into the Flat Tops Wilderness. I always try to get a photo of Sprocket and the wilderness sign and he always is way more interesting in continuing his hike than being photographed…

We moved along at a pretty good clip since the trail was well graded and the elevation gain was pretty steady. It was a really pretty hike alternating between small meadows and the forest.

Once I hit the saddle, I was able to look north towards the Rio Blanco County Highpoint (Saturday’s hiking goal). I am actually a little bit surprised that these photos don’t more distinctly show the haze in the air from distant wildfires (as in really distant: the biggest fires around are in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon right now).

The elevation gain continued steadily from the saddle. The trail appeared and disappeared but the walking along the ridgetop was pretty easy. We saw some cattle in the distance but they seemed to move on shortly after seeing us.

Looking down to Stillwater Reservoir

Finally, we reached the summit! It was a little deceiving as we approached: I could have sworn the highpoint was the more southerly “Edge” benchmark and I naturally wanted to drift that way instead of to the very north end of the almost truly flattopped mountain where the summit was.

It was a really pretty hike that I think both Sprocket and I really enjoyed. We covered nearly 9 miles with 2100′ of elevation gain in 3:40 having reached the summit in about 1:50. We had the whole mountain to ourselves and ran into a few groups as we were almost done with the trail.

Back at the car, I decided it was too late in the day to start the 12 mile round trip hike to Rio Blanco’s county high point so we headed the 13 miles back into Yampa to explore the town. Exploring town took us a whopping 10 minutes (it’s not very big) but they had a nice city park where we relaxed for awhile. When the adorable looking Antlers Bar & Cafe opened at 3, I headed down and had dinner. It is totally my favorite thing to visit a local bar and talk with interesting people and the Antlers didn’t disappoint! After dinner, Sprocket and I headed back down the Bear River valley to camp and get ready to tackle our next hike.

Colorado 14ers: Democrat, Lincoln, Bross

A few weeks ago, I was planning on going to the Flat Tops to get a couple of county highpoints. My friend Heather was thinking about joining me but nothing was set in stone so when Heidi mentioned she was getting some friends together to tackle “Decalibron” I started pushing Heather to commit to joining us! Once I convinced her that yes she could do four 14ers in a day, she agreed.

As it turned out, she was dog sitting for a friend so Meadow joined us for the trip as well. We were quite the crew setting out for the trailhead! The pups were pretty darn adorable:

We were the first ones to reach the trailhead so we snagged a pretty good sized spot, took a little mini-hike to stretch our legs after the drive, and made some dinner. Heidi and company pulled in just after dark and we were totally to discover that Heidi’s friend Kami and Heather’s friend Kami were the same person! Sometimes this is a small small world.

Once everyone arrived, we had a little pow-wow to decide who was leaving camp at what time. When it was all settled, we’d decided to leave camp at 4am which meant people were setting alarms for 3:30am. Lovely. Being in love with sleep, my sleeping bag, and cuddling with my puppy, I asked Heather to make sure I was awake at 3:50.

As is normal with a group, we didn’t get moving until almost 4:20(ha) and then started making our way up the Democrat-Cameron saddle. Just as the sky began to lighten, we arrived at the saddle and started up Democrat. A couple hikers who had already summited Mt. Democrat earlier in the summer declined going to the peak but the summit crew arrived the peak (14,148′) in time to see the sun crest over Cameron and Lincoln, peaks we’d climb later in the morning.

We all scarfed down some food, we took some photos, and then we headed down the mountain.

Photo H. Platte
Photo B. Langton

The ascent up unranked Mount Cameron (14,238′) seemed to go quickly. Heidi and Kami had planned snacks for all the summits (except for Democrat) so we enjoyed “cab” on Cameron (yes, at about 8am).

Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte[/caption]

From Cameron over to Mount Lincoln (14,286′) was a really quick jaunt. This was the peak I was most excited about summiting for the day because Lincoln is the highpoint of Park County. Reunited as a whole group, we enjoyed “lagers on Lincoln” before moving on to Mount Bross.

Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte[/caption]

Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte[/caption]

At our next stop we had “brownies on Bross” (14,172′) before somehow I kinda convinced everyone to hike out to unranked South Bross (14,000′) with me. Heather had already promised to come with me but I was totally pumped that we had a whole crew!

The descent was really lose in places and not all that much fun. I can totally see why everyone does the loop the way we did! Logan (plus her pup Indy), Barret, Sprocket, and I alternated jogging and hiking down the slope. Sometimes for me that’s the most comfortable way to get down and I was happy to follow Logan’s lead!

Finally, we got back to the tents, packed up, waited for the rest of the group and headed out. It had been a fantastic day in the mountains with great people, perfect weather, and tons of fun. I had a blast hiking with everyone.

Photo B. Langton

Heather and I stopped for lunch at Backcountry Brewing in Frisco before driving back to De Beque (there may have also been a stop at Sonic in Rifle for HUGE ice cream treats for us both). We had a couple of pretty tired pups in our car and we were both excited to get back to showers. 🙂

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…

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!

Colorado 14ers: Grays Peak & Torreys Peak

I decided last fall to start chasing the Colorado county highpoints and since I found myself headed to the Front Range to meet up with some friends, I decided to knock at least one more off the list. Grays Peak, high point of Summit and Clear Creek counties, had the benefit of being a dual county high point as well as being a 14er. I left Ridgway at about 6pm and drove straight to the trailhead.

I set an alarm for 5:30am but it was rendered unnecessary by the influx of cars into the parking lot about that time. This was my first experience with a 14er in the Front Range and I was absolutely astounded at the traffic on the mountain. Fortunately, Sprocket was very not concerned; the only thing that seemed to change was that he didn’t visit much with anyone because he was mostly focused on keeping track of me and passing slower people (which was pretty much everyone, I guess).

I made really great time up until the climb actually started and then started grinding along. Sprocket was loving the cool temperatures and was rather impatient for his mommy to get going. (It was pretty chilly with a dusting of fresh snow just at the summits!) I hadn’t totally decided whether to summit Torreys as well because it was clear by the speed at which clouds were passing over the summits that it was windy.

We only spent a couple of minutes at the Grays summit admiring the view and then I decided that it was cold but not TOO cold plus it was barely 8am so over to Torreys it was!

I’d gotten a glimpse of a mountain goat on the shoulder of the mountain on our way up so we took a few pictures and headed back down. I’m almost a 100% certain Sprocket would consider a mountain goat to fall under the deer/elk/moose/cow rules but I didn’t much feel like finding out and we headed down the mountain.

I took more photos on the way down the mountain than on the way up for a change since the mass of humanity seemed to have spread out a bit and made the hiking a little more pleasant. (I also got a kick out of watching Sprocket strategically walk up to people figuring out how to duck through their group.)

All in all, it was a good hike: a little busy for my taste but ultimately I got some awesome views of an area of Colorado that’s pretty new to me! I have a lot of hiking to do on some more remote 13ers in the area to work on my mental map that I like building of places.