De Beque, Colorado: Twin Peaks

On an absolutely gorgeous Saturday morning, Sprocket and I set off to climb Twin Peaks (7400’+) above De Beque. On one of our De Beque Canyon Project drives we’d found a fairly major drill pad up towards Twin Peaks and I had a sneaking suspicion that it might be one that was going to be accessed during the winter and I was right! We drove right up and headed out.

I had a vague idea of how to go about getting to the summit but I have to admit that I could probably have done with more map and satellite imagery study before we left. I definitely broke trail up a gully … and at the top ran into the same road that we’d been on. (We took the road down and although it was a lot longer, breaking trail there would have been a lot easier).

Sprocket was not impressed with the foot deep snowshoe trench I was making for him. Although he was following the trench, he kept finding himself punching through to the sage below.

I chose to pretty immediately head for the ridge, aiming for the end of a cliff band on the south eastern end of the Twin Peaks ridge. I made pretty good progress through the trees but Sprocket wasn’t having a very good time. A few hundred feet shy of the ridge and about a mile from the true summit, he started whining and in short order made it clear he was not having a good time. There was no need to push the pup more than he was willing to do so we paused for a photo and headed back down the mountain.

The next morning, sans puppy companion, I headed right back up. I reasoned that I’d already trenched in a good chunk of the trail, had a hunch about a slightly higher parking spot, and not only learned about the road but had walked it down so now was as good of a time as any. Besides, it looks like it’s going to be pretty warm this week and the road was definitely better driven snow-covered than muddy.

Along the way, I rather impulsively decided to attain the ridge closer to the higher of the Twin Peaks rather than the spot I’d been aiming for with Sprocket reasoning that I wouldn’t have to walk over the lower summit, down to the saddle and then up.

I’m not sure that was the best plan. Going uphill in the trees was a lot easier than walking across a flat meadow and ascending a slope of sage, Mormon’s tea, and some unidentified leafless things. Unlike the trees that seemed to encourage compacted snow, these “fluffier” plans stood above pockets that compressed unexpectedly under my snowshoes.

Not really wanting to need to come back yet again, I pushed on. The summit looked so close and the ridge didn’t look THAT steep.

ha. Ha. Ha. Ha ha ha. Between the aforementioned plants plus the challenge of moving upwards in really fluffy not so kickable snow, it took me almost two hours to go the mile from where I left the road to the summit. (It had taken me 40 minutes to that point and only 1:10 from the summit all the way back to the car…)

Finally, I attained the ridge and realized it was all worth it. I could see all the way to the La Sal Mountains in Utah, way out onto Grand Mesa (even spotted Leon Peak!), an amazing view of the Battlements, and sweet views of the Roan Cliffs around me.

It didn’t take me long to walk up the ridge to the true summit. I’d worked hard to get to this summit but the whole time I felt capable, strong, and confident and on top of that, to be rewarded with this view? Amazing.

On the way out, I was tired but made good time. My pants were drenched and I was ready to get a shower ASAP!

De Beque, Colorado: Castle Rock

Looking for a quick Friday afternoon hike, Sprocket and I set off towards Castle Rock (5,200+’). We drove as close as snow covered roads would allow (which was actually pretty close, I guess it’s the one benefit of oil drilling activity around here? It certainly beats in roads!).

After traveling cross country for awhile, we ran into a snow-covered road and followed it south to the base of Castle Rock, passing some sweet rock walls that looked much brighter than usual against the white snow.

The closer I got to the rock, the more I started to doubt whether I’d be able to summit it. As much as I tried to pretend that my goal for the day was to be out in the sun and snow (and it was, kind of!), I couldn’t deny that I wanted to get a February summit in the books sooner rather than later.

As I reached the base of the tower at its southeastern corner, my hopes fell even further. I walked around the rock counter clockwise, looking up at the northwestern side and thought, no way is this happening:

This rock on the western side looked really promising but with snow, wet boots (and boots at all!), and pretty much nothing to hold on to I wasn’t going to be making any progress here either.

I got to the southern corner/face and pondered this for awhile because this looks totally reasonable to scramble alone on crumbly wet shit in snowboots, right?

Well, I did it (sorry, Mom). I was delighted by this AWESOME castle summit register and the views were incredible. I didn’t stay on top long because Sprocket was having a panic attack about what he perceived was a VERY BAD PLAN and the longer I stayed up there the more I was agreeing with him and worrying a little bit about getting down safely. (The up is always easier than the down…)

But mostly, I’d say I was psyched about the whole thing:

So basically, Castle Rock is falling apart. As I descended, I realized that very little is holding the top of the rock on so definitely approach this one at your own risk!

We were running a little late on getting back to De Beque for a meeting but we hustled back to Ruth and on the way, I think Sprocket forgave me for “abandoning” him for my perhaps ill-advised climb.

Mt. Garfield: First Summit of 2016

Going into the last weekend of January, I started to panic a little bit. Last year, I’d hoped to summit at least one peak per month, I figure that way I can’t ever get too removed from doing something that really revitalizes me. I didn’t quite make it and scratched in both January and April of last year. Not wanting the same thing to happen this year, needing some good elevation gain, wanting to capitalize on a brilliantly sunny day, and celebrating Sprocket’s return to activity, we headed for Mt. Garfield.

Sprocket and I had attempted Mt. Garfield last April with Josh but we started too late in the afternoon and the southern facing slopes that make for such amazing winter hiking were way too hot for late April. (We did have a sweet beer sampler at Palisade Brewing so all was not lost.)

Mount Garfield has a reputation for being steep and that reputation is definitely deserved (it gains about 2000′ in a litte under 2 miles). Sprocket and I slowly made our way up the slope enjoying the views to the south that just kept getting better and better.

I found that about 1300′ of the elevation happened in about 0.7 miles, after that the grade flattened out a lot and we made even better time. Sprocket loved the flat snowy sections of the trail.

Finally, we were almost at the summit. The last bit of elevation gain was on a more northerly aspect so there was a lot more snow. I hadn’t tossed any traction devices in my bag which would have been really nice for the ascent (and especially the descent on this section!) but we made our way up pretty easily.

The summit was amazing. I couldn’t see as far into the Book Cliffs (or Roan Cliffs…the nomenclature changes right about on top of Mt. Garfield so I think either is okay) as I thought I might but it was still amazing what I could see: the Book Cliffs stretching off to the west, Battlement and Grand Mesas to the southeast, the Sneffles range to the south, and the Uncompahgre Plateau to the southwest.

After taking in the views, we ran down the trail and made it back to the Jeep pretty quickly. I’m sure this is a hike I’ll do again, the option for snow-free elevation gain in the winter is a huge, huge plus.

Douglas Pass, Upper 4A Mountain, and East Douglas Creek

Last Friday was a bit of a wash for Sprocket and I. He needed to spend the day at the vet trying to find the answer to his chubby cheek and I spent it anxiously waiting around for news about my fuzzy child. Although Friday night was a bit of a struggle, by Saturday, Sprocket was wondering just why we were not out doing our usual Saturday hike. Since he’s on instructions to take it easy for two weeks, I knew we couldn’t go for a hike but I figured that a Jeep ride wasn’t out of the question.

We headed west on I-70 to Loma, Colorado where we picked up the southern end of Colorado 139. This highway leads north to Rangely and I’ve never explored it! My hope was to resume my attempt to reach a highpoint that was foiled by a gate low in De Beque canyon.

Sprocket looks unsure about wearing his cone but he was mostly happy to be out and about. He never really did understand why he couldn’t go out and get his sniffs.

Douglas Pass was pretty neat. For a numbered state highway, it was definitely narrow in places, had some fairly worn asphalt, and climbed pretty steeply. Ruth took it in stride and we paused near the top of the pass to take in the view back to the south.

At the top of the pass, we turned on to Upper 4A Mountain road. This road climbed gently up and down small knolls and was occasionally punctuated by a mud puddle or two (Saturday was a gorgeous bright spot in the middle of about of week of Pacific Northwest reminiscent grey).

It took Sprocket a few minutes to figure out how to maneuver his cone out the window but he got the hang of it and spent most of the ride like this:

Sadly, we ran into private land just three miles shy of my goal for the day. Reluctantly, we turned around, half heartedly explored Kimball Mountain Road (and also ran into private land), and headed back to the highway.

Impulsively, at the top of the pass, I decided to head north to Rio Blanco County Road 27 for a long shot access to the peak I was looking for. Alas, barely out of the canyon bottom of East Douglas Creek, I ran into a private gate.

Back at home, I did what I probably should have done originally and went to the Rio Blanco County website. County webpages can be really useful because a lot of time their GIS personnel have access to more updated information about access, road closures, gates, ect. than maps that haven’t been updated for a long time and found that it appears that the only access by road is actually from the northeast (towards Meeker and Rifle). Looks like SP lucked out and gets another ride.

De Beque Canyon Project: Road 209 and “North Switchback Road”

Check out the first two posts about the beginnings of our De Beque Canyon Project here and here!

We tackled one last canyon spur after reaching the gate on Garfield County County 204 before calling it a day. This time, we headed up Brush Creek also known as Garfield County 207 or by the name of the private ranch in the canyon “Kessler Canyon.” This road passing through the Kessler Canyon gates is actually the county road, so we headed up through the gates.

Although there were some oil and gas spurs along the way, there were fewer than we’d seen on other roads in the county. Finally, I saw a spur heading towards the east canyon wall. I was a little skeptical at this point that it would lead to anything at all but the rules of the project demanded that I explore it.

The road continued all the way to the base of the steep wall and then switch backed a couple of times and appeared to be preparing to actually climb the wall. And then I reached this debris slide. While it would be easily passable on a quad and even though it probably could have done it in the XJ, I played it conservatively and Sprocket and I started hiking.

The road climbed steeply for about a mile. Although I didn’t notice any more major washouts, it had clearly not been traveled by a vehicle in a long time.

Finally, we reached an oil and gas site as the grade of the road lessened. According to my map, we were near a road that ran along the top of this ridge and I decided that road (potentially accessible from the Douglas Pass area) would be our turnaround point. The gas site is clearly still used for something as the route down to it from the main road on the ridge had been mowed. Finally we reached the very well traveled route on the ridge.

A prominent sign pointed to where we’d come from and proclaimed them to be the “North Canyon Switchback.” It did not designate whether that was a “trail,” a “route,” or a “road” but I’d go with the first two and not the latter.

Sprocket and I took a peek off to the other side of the ridge and then headed back to the Jeep.

The downhill hike went quickly. There were some storm clouds gathering but nothing too serious. Mostly it was getting later and I was getting hungry!

Before we turned for home, however, we finished driving up canyon. We ran into this “No Trespassing” sign about two miles from where the county (aka public) road was supposed to end (AGAIN). Not wanting to make enemies or call attention, I obeyed but I’m looking in to it!

De Beque Canyon Project: Garfield County Road 204

After our goal was foiled on County Road 207, Sprocket and I returned to Roan Creek and headed further west. We were greeted by a herd of cows walking down the road which Sprocket found both exciting and a little terrifying. They’d snort and he would run to the back of the Jeep until curiosity would get the best of him and his head would be sticking out the window again!

As I drove up the canyon, I poked around up all the open and non-posted spur roads. I always love to see what’s just around the corner, up the hill, or in the canyon. Our explorations on Roan Creek were a perfect easy Saturday afternoon adventure:

Most of the spur roads lead to less than scenic oil and gas wells. At least there is usually a lot of room to turn around when you reach one!

Eventually, we reached a gate at the end of the county road and traced our steps back to Carr Creek and further east to the entrance of Kessler Canyon.

De Beque Canyon Project: Garfield County Road 207

Since we can’t always go galivanting off to the high mountains, Sprocket and I started a little project exploring the De Beque area a little closer. De Beque sits at the confluence of Roan Creek and the Colorado River. Roan Creek drains a surprisingly large area among the Roan Cliffs and so we’re out to explore as much of the area as we can.

Grand Junction is located in broad valley you see in the lower right (just southwest out of the frame) and Highway 139 visible on the left leads north to Rangely. Private land is really common here so the trick is to find public lands to play on close to home!

We started out driving from De Beque to the far northwestern reaches of the canyon system. I had hoped to drive out of the canyon and link up with Highway 139 and although it seems so possible, I’m pretty sure all roads are gated preventing the linkup. (But finding out for sure is half the fun of the project!)

Our adventure really got down to business on Garfield County Road 207 up Carr Creek. We were hoping to head up the Left Fork of Carr Creek to Upper 4A Mountain but we found the road gated just before we would have started climbing out of the canyon.

Plan foiled.

Interestingly, the gate came just before a very prominent jog in the road as shown on the county road map. If this jog in the road was open, the road would be reentering public lands just as the county road ended. I’ve emailed the county road and bridge director to see if I can get anymore information on exactly where the road should be closed.