Denver Area “Peakbagging”

One of my 2015 goals is to complete 50% of the Colorado County Highpoint list. To help me reach that goal, I decided to use some of this time on the Front Range to knock out the metro-area county highpoints. There wasn’t too much exciting about any of the four that I grabbed (the same goes for the three county prominence peaks as well) but they’re checked off the list!

Denver County’s high point is found in the middle of a busy road surrounded by strip malls. It’s not one of the prettiest places I’ve been so Sprocket and I took our photo op crouched next to the road focusing on the fluffy clouds in the sky instead:

Next up was Araphaoe County. Located in a subdivision, this one at least had better views:

Not my most adventurous hike:

I made one more stop before calling it a peakbagging day, and hit the Adams County highpoint. Located on the edge of a corn field with jets flying over head into DIA, I kind of liked it in a weird sort of way:

The next day, I decided to head out again and get the last metro county highpoint and three county prominence points. First up was Inspiration Point, Denver County’s prominence peak:

Then it was off to very windy Broomfield County Highpoint (I blame my squintyness on the wind):

Next it was off to Broomfield County’s prominence peak, West Morgan Hill:

And then I rounded my adventure off with a drive through a neighborhood to get as close as I could to to Adams County’s prominence point, Hyland Hill. I was too chicken about being sketchy in the neighborhood to take a photo…

While not my most exciting peakbagging adventures ever, it brought me to 11/64 county highpoints and 6/64 county prominence peaks in Colorado!

Colorado 14ers: Uncompahgre Peak

After the wild weather the night before, I wasn’t sure what Sprocket and I were going to wake up to. I shouldn’t have worried. We had the most gorgeous fall day for hiking! I had left home unsure if I’d take Sprocket on the hike but he quickly decided for me: this dog knows what sleeping at a trailhead is all about and he was not about to stay behind.

Sprocket and I made decent time heading up the trail, enjoying the views. Considering that we were on a 14er, we hardly ran into anyone at all!

Sprocket seemed to be soaking up every minute of the hike. He’s been quite the summit dog this fall—he definitely always seems to feel that the correct direction is up! (He also totally impressed me on this hike when he was able to pretty much ignore another off leash dog that wanted to play. Sprocket instead was focused on the hike.)

Just in case there were any worries about Sprocket handling the short scramble section on Uncompahgre, let me lay that to rest by saying he definitely lead me through this section:

Celebrating Sprocket’s first 14er!

I feel so lucky to call this place home:

Colorado 14er: Wilson Peak

For my birthday weekend peak I decided to take on Wilson Peak (14,017′) the third of the 14ers in the San Miguel range. In addition to being a 14er, Wilson Peak is the San Miguel county high point.

I got a bit of a late start on Saturday but fall promised a high likelihood of a thunderstorm free day so I hit the trail from the Rock of the Ages TH at 9am enjoying the last of the morning chill.

Wilson Peak from Rock of Ages Trail:

Lower Silver Pick Basin:

Selfie time!

Upper Silver Pick Basin:

Approaching Rock of Ages Saddle:

From left to right, Gladstone Peak, Mt. Wilson, and El Diente.

Wilson Peak summit:

This short snowy section turned several parties in front of me around. I found that when I took it slow and careful it was pretty much a piece of cake. The snow wasn’t slicked out by the big guided group in front of me; instead, they’d made really nice flat foot spots to pair with pretty sold hand holds the whole way across.

Final scramble towards the top:

Summit of Wilson Peak!

Looking down on Silver Pick Basin and the trail:

Hello Lizard Head, some day I will climb well enough to summit you…

It felt so good to be out on such a beautiful fall day! The day seemed so leisurely since I wasn’t getting chased out of the high country by lightning—fall hiking in the San Juans might just be the best!

Mileage: About 10mi RT
Elevation Gain: About 4000′
Time: 5.5 hours

Leon Peak: Mesa County Highpoint

After an emotionally charged first week at my new job followed by a fun Paonia based weekend, I got a text from one of my #omniten buddies Josh letting me know that he would be passing through Grand Junction along with Shawn of Teton Sports and Jordan as part of a Teton Sports #yourlead tour.

Happy to see old friends, Sprocket and I loaded up after work on Friday and headed north. After enjoying a pizza at Hot Tomato in Fruita (fresh Palisade peaches, gorgonzola, and rosemary!!!) We all pitched our tents basically on the side of the road, got eaten alive by mosquitoes, and headed for bed. In the morning, we hiked just a short way into McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area enjoying the gorgeous views.

While the guys had to load up and head east for Denver, Sprocket and I decided that the day was young and we were going to go up to Grand Mesa and hike the Mesa County Highpoint. Although Leon Peak was a pretty short and sweet hike, it was Sprocket’s least favorite form of hiking. Big talus boulders do not make this puppy happy!

As always, I can count on him to push through and follow me to the top! He even drooled a bit on the benchmark before I could snap a photo:

Checking out the remains of the old lookout was pretty cool. It was built in 1911 or 1912 but was abandoned after the end of the 1915 season due to heavy lightning activity on the peak.

The views all around were pretty much amazing though. I loved this hike (aside from knowing Sprocket wasn’t really crazy about it).

Distance: Round trip about 2.8 mi

Elevation gain: 600+ feet

Sprocket rating: Not particularly dog friendly. One imaginary thumb down.

Delta County High Point: Mount Lamborn

Since Sprocket and I had driven all the way up to Paonia, I decided it was time to tackle the Delta County Highpoint, Mt. Lamborn. Mt. Lamborn, 11,396′, towers over the Gunnison Valley as you drive west from Delta towards Paonia. I was really excited about the hike since the mountain sits at the very edge of the West Elk Mountains and promised a great view in all directions. It definitely wasn’t a disappointment!

Parting ways with friends at the end of our float, I stopped for a delicious dinner at the Flying Fork Cafe in Paonia and then continued out to the Bell Canyon Trailhead for the Lamborn Trail. When I read the description on SummitPost I must have glossed over the part that read a “very rough four wheel drive road leads to the base of the canyon” but for once it wasn’t overblown hiker talk the road was pretty rough. (Not technical or hard to drive: just rocky, rough, and in some places rutted. It’s the kind of place where you use low gear not for obstacles but to go slow.)

We camped right at the trailhead and got a nice early start which was great for SP. He doesn’t like hiking in warm temperatures but loves to join me on my hikes. We started making our way up the canyon enjoying ourselves but moving quickly in the morning coolness.

Apparently humans and pups aren’t the only users of this trail. Sprocket’s paw looks so little compared to this ursine print:

As we approached the summit, the views of the Elks were incredible!

The summit:

Way out there in the distance is the Sneffels Range! It’s hard to see here but I could pick out Mt. Sneffels, Storm King and Castle Rock, and more.

West towards the Uncompahgre Plateau:

Looking west towards Delta. The very edge of Grand Mesa can be seen on the right:

On the way back to the car, my pup lead me the whole way. We had an awesome time on this county highpoint. It was gorgeous and a great workout!

Mileage: about 10.3

Elevation gain: 4200′

Storm King and Castle Rock

After a few busy weeks of driving back to Colorado, the Outdoor Retailer Show, and adventuring back to Ridgway, it was definitely time to get out and do some classic Colorado hiking.

I’ve been wanting to hike Montrose County’s high point, Castle Rock, for quite awhile. Castle Rock doesn’t appear much higher than its neighbor Storm King from Highway 550 and Log Hill Mesa but the whole ridge is very prominent. I set off to follow the directions on Summit Post but on the ground things didn’t appear quite as described. Instead, I found myself at the base of these cliffs to the south of where I was supposed to ascend the ridge.

I poked around a bit and found this gully that looked like it would “go” to the top of Storm King. Although it was really steep, it was an extremely direct way to attain the ridge. I think I totally preferred it to the wooded ridge recommended on Summit Post.

The gully attained the ridge just south of Storm King and I ambled south towards Castle Rock first, stopping a couple times to enjoy the views to the west and to get the lay of the land.

The ridge is fairly flat and it took me very little time at all to get to the summit of Castle Rock. Although things that I’d read seemed to insinuate that Castle Rock wasn’t all that impressive, I found the view amazing. I could look out to the east and the Cimarron valley, southeast to the West Fork Cimarron basin, southwest to the Sneffles Range and Ridgway, and west towards the Uncompahgre Plateau and beyond to Utah’s La Sal Mountains.

Ridgway and the Sneffles Range:

Castle Rock panorama:

I ambled over to the summit of Storm King before heading back to the Jeep definitely please with this hike!

14ers: El Diente & Mount Wilson

Thursday at 2am, we got up and headed out for another try at El Diente (and Mt. Wilson). This time we headed up via the Kilpacker trail and started our hike at about 3:45am. We arrived in Kilpacker basin just as the sun was coming up and were treated to this view of “The Tooth” catching the first rays of light:

Our timing was great. We did the easy trail hiking in the dark and started our scramble up the south slopes of El Diente while watching the sun creep along the ridges and valley floors.

Reaching the summit of El Diente was awesome. There was just the right amount of difficult third class scrambling to make it fun without being intimidating. Since we still wanted to do the traverse to Mt. Wilson, we didn’t spend too long on the summit, taking just enough time to share a Good2Go bar and drink some water.

From El Diente, we finally got a glimpse of Mt. Wilson:

From the left: Wilson Peak, Mt. Gladstone, and Mt. Wilson:

We started across the traverse. While parts of it were lots of fun, there was lots of crumbly, tippy, loose rocks with plenty of exposure. It demanded a lot of attention as we moved slowly towards Mt. Wilson.

The last pitch up the summit block of Mt. Wilson was quite the climax to the day. The last few moves are definitely class 4 with plenty of exposure. Finally, though, we were on top. It was almost noon so we didn’t linger very long on the summit and started our decent down into Navajo Basin via the northeastern slopes.

When we finally reached the basin floor, it was time to get walking. The clouds were gathering and we knew that it wouldn’t be long before we got wet. Fortunately, we got to see Navajo Lake from above before packing the camera away from the rain that was almost upon us. The six mile hike out was really wet but we’d made it!

Trail Stats:

Miles hiked: 16
Feet of elevation gain: ~5,200′
Time: 12 hours 45 minutes
14ers summited: TWO (Mt. Wilson and El Diente plus West Wilson)

Nature 1, Us 0

Wednesday morning, we hit the road at 3:45 am to climb El Diente and Mount Wilson. We arrived at the Navajo Lake trail and began the first few miles of our hike in the dark. As we reached the meadows below the lake, the sky began to lighten and we got our first glimpse of El Diente (and South Wilson).

Finally we climbed the trail over the headwall of Navajo Basin and got to see the slopes of El Diente. We enjoyed a snack on the shores of the lake before starting the long scramble up to the West Ridge.

Our chosen route was steep. The going up the scree was slow but our views got better and better as we moved up in elevation. Mostly it was just a lot of two steps up, one step back but there were a few places we got to do some scrambling.

Finally, we popped out on the ridge and we saw El Diente for the first time since leaving the meadows. Wow.

Our views out to the west weren’t too bad either:

Traversing the west ridge was a lot of fun. We weren’t making awesome time because there were plenty of places where we had to cross some sketchy areas like this: (Yes, it’s a long ways down)

Just as we started to feel within reach of the summit, the infamous Colorado summer thunderstorms began to develop. We watched as the clouds began to get more and more ominous. As we watched the clouds began to move to our south so we began moving again.

Within minutes, things went from sketchy to very bad. As my hair stood straight up and we got a fuzzy sensation, F sternly instructed me to get down and the two of us hit the rocks and rolled down the ridge 20ft. BOOM, lightning struck over head. Luckily it was cloud to cloud that time.

As we regrouped, we realized 1) that we needed to GET OFF THE RIDGE, 2) that we’d put holes in several hundred dollars worth of clothing, that F had 3) bent his thumbnail back ripping some flesh and 4) sliced 3″ of his hand open on the rocks.  We bandaged his hand with my t-shirt and hair tie (my free tshirt from S2V met a bloody death and I doubt my coworker wants her hair tie back…).

Two miles of ridge top traversing did not sound like a good idea but we weren’t sure we had much of a choice. The alternate routes on El Diente were on the other side of the summit and the sides of the ridge were full of cliffs. As we scrambled our way along the ridge F spotted a chute that appeared be decendable to Kilpacker basin and we both agreed it was worth a shot to get ourselves out of a sketchy situation. So we “skied” down 1000ft of scree while trying to avoid going over the cliff.

When we arrived in the basin the imminent threat of severe weather seemed to have been replaced with a slight summer drizzle and we were treated to a side view of How Close We Were.

Instead of following our tracks out to the Navajo trail, we decided to hike out Kilpacker trail to see if trying the South Slopes approach would be a better idea next time. Just shy of the trail head we met a father and son who had made it to the top of El Diente before the storm but had to abandon the traverse to Mount Wilson. They kindly agreed to drive us back to the Navajo trailhead to pick up the Jeep.

Bummed about not making it to the summit, we took Last Dollar Road from Telluride back to Dallas Divide. Along the way, we saw elk herds, some Aspen and pine groves, and lots of trails to explore.

The Jeep even got to have some muddy fun:

Back in Ridgway over pizza and beer, we began to make plans to give the climb another shot. We’re on a mission now!

Hike by the numbers:
Miles hiked: 11.8
Feet of elevation gain: 3800′
High point: 13,600′
Stitches needed: 9
Summits reached: 0
Dollars worth of clothing torn: a lot 😥

Mt. Sneffels Climb

Wednesday, F, Ezra and I decided it was time to climb Mt. Sneffels. The climb marked the first 14er for both Ezra and I as well as the first 14er F has climbed (he’s driven up Mt. Evans).

We started our climb in beautiful Yankee Boy Basin. From the last parking area, it’s only about 1 1/2 miles to the summit so we took our time on the way up. We stopped for awhile to photograph this really friendly marmot:

As is normal in the San Juans, the views just get better and better (and my list of mountains to climb gets longer and longer).

We even found a bunch of fulgurites (is it still a fulgurite if it’s not a tube?):