Archive for the ‘san juans’ Tag

Summer of 14ers, 2016

My slow path towards summiting the Colorado 14ers continues. I have to admit that I burned out a bit on the driving and hiking, and pretty much stopped after August. This year’s peaks were mostly in the Sawatch Range, the bread and butter of the 14ers. They’re all about the same, with the exception of the Harvard / Columbia combo, which was the near-disastrous finale of the set. I failed to find a regular partner for the hikes, overall, so most of these were solo efforts.

My season started with a late June ascent of Mt. Princeton, which is normally a long slog from the bottom. But after starting on the trail nice and early before sunrise, I caught a ride in the back of a truck. This took me well beyond the radio towers to a spot about a quarter mile from where the trail leaves the road and heads off towards the peak. It’s an endless talus field, and not a lot of fun to hike, but as always, the view and accomplishment make it worth it. So the elevation gain was a very reasonable 3000′ or so, including my detour up the nearby 13er Tigger and back down to the trail, where another fellow gave me a ride back down.

Across from Mt. Princeton is the imposing Mt. Antero, which I hiked the following week. This was another uninspiring hike, and this time I didn’t catch a ride up, so I was stuck hiking the entire 15-16 mile round trip. 90 % of it is a road, with the last part a scramble up to the peak. This peak sees a lot of gem hunters and ATV traffic, which somewhat diminishes the experience. But the wildflowers were blooming and the lower stretches were very green. The peak really is one of the most beautiful in the Sawatch, burly with a delicate pointed summit, but the natural environment is looking rather worn out from all the human activity.

Mt. Antero from Mt. Princeton

Mt. Antero from Mt. Princeton

Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak from Mt. Antero

Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak from Mt. Antero

I moved over to the Elks the following week, and made yet another trip up Castle Peak, this time taking the ridge further over to the summit of Conundrum. This was made a bit easier by a driver who gave me a ride uphill, saving me about 500′ of elevation gain and a bit of distance. But the talus fields were pretty awful, and there was the usual scrambling to the summit of Castle. This time I had the energy to continue, and then re-summit Castle, and the weather was clear the entire day, thankfully.

The headwall and Castle Peak from Conundrum Peak

The headwall and Castle Peak from Conundrum Peak

My next two were Massive and La Plata back in the Sawatch. Neither was too busy on the days I hiked them, although the trailhead for Massive is shared with the one for Elbert, making for a very congested, noisy, and dusty start. That area gets a massive amount of people, but it looked like about 80 % of them were headed for the Elbert summit. The trail to Massive is just rather long, with a long section above 14000′ that continues well past the summit. I was intending on going up South Massive, but somehow looking at the climb back up, detracted me. I was also seriously low on energy.

La Plata is much like Elbert, a relatively short 9 mile round trip with lots of scenery and green valleys and endless switchbacks. It’s flat for the first mile, then really climbs.

Further south, Missouri Mountain is slightly spicier than the other ones in the vicinity, with a rather wet, slippery downclimb near the summit that required some care. Since it snowed just before, there was a fair amount of icy spots, but the weather was pretty stable. Overall, it was a cool August with early snow.

I attempted the Wilson group next, which was a long drive to the isolated trailhead in Kilpacker Basin. I slept in my car, and started up the very scenic trail. It’s one of the prettiest trails I hiked this year, and was full of wildflowers and greenery and had a bonus waterfall before the climbing began in earnest. I had enough energy for El Diente, which was a pretty extended and thrilling, exposed Class 3 climb to a tiny summit. Wisely, I hooked up with another hiker who was on his own and we took turns on the routefinding and was able to navigate up to the summit. It’s sparingly marked and easy to get lost, and a step up in difficulty compared to my climb of Wetterhorn last year. Going down was no fun, with lots and lots of talus. The remaining peaks in the area will have to wait, so that means another long drive next year for Wilson Peak and Mt. Wilson.

Kilpacker Basin and El Diente Peak

Kilpacker Basin and El Diente Peak

The next two were in the Sangres, two peaks with major elevation gain, Blanca and Challenger Point. I wanted to go up Ellingwood and Kit Carson, but my energy didn’t permit it, and the weather on Kit Carson was made more difficult by fog and snow on the Avenue. Blanca turned out to be a monster, since I started just below the 8000′ level and walked up the whole damn thing. The last part of Blanca was a steep, slippery slope with a few tricky Class 2+ sections. Challenger Point was an awful climb past the very beautiful and very blue Willow Lake, pretty much 2000′ of loose crap with no real trail. It was foggy at the top, but cleared enough to catch a view of the Crestones and nearby Kit Carson Peak.

The foggy summit of Challenger Point

The foggy summit of Challenger Point

After returning from Brazil and being out of shape, I got together with a friend and attempted the Harvard / Columbia traverse. Despite the cool temperatures and clouds going in and out all day, we summited Columbia first. The climb up was a mixed trail / scree scramble. It’s notorious for being awful, but the new, partially finished trail was a real help. Getting over to Harvard was problematic, as my partner went way ahead and inadvertently ended up in Class 5 stuff, and I lost track of him. I made it to the saddle between the peaks, took several wrong turns, slipped in a loose gully, and then it started snowing. This was the worst possible place for it to start snowing, as now there was no easy way out and I basically had to summit one of the peaks again. After waiting out the snow, the weather cleared up long enough for me to slowly make my way up the slopes towards Harvard. My goal was to get to the main trail and to treeline before dark. I skipped the true summit, and made my way down another scree and talus slope and eventually made it to the trail. The cold and distance and elevation gain had worn me out, and I didn’t make it back to the trailhead until past 8 PM. Luckily my friend had gone back up the trail looking for me, and we met up about 3 miles from the trailhead. We were both fine, but a lot of things didn’t go right.

So that was my summer!

 

 

 

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Colorado fall, 2016

This year’s trip took place September 23-24, as I drove with a friend to the San Juans, looping counterclockwise starting in Durango. The trip coincided with a rather cold system that dumped a rather unexpected amount of snow (up to 2 feet in places) and left many areas 9000 feet and above with a coating of white. US 550 tends to see different peak times depending on the aspect and elevation, but in general the area between Red Mountain Pass and Ouray is at its peak in the last week of September.

We lucked out, while it was a rather gloomy, blustery noon hour in Durango where we had lunch, the skies gradually cleared such that by late afternoon, it was a beautiful mix of snow, clouds, sun, and foliage. I was told by the owner of a jeep tour operation in Ouray that this is a once in a decade kind of scene.

Looking towards Ouray from the viewpoint north of the Red Mountain summit, 23 September 2016

Looking towards Ouray from the viewpoint north of the Red Mountain summit, 23 September 2016

Plenty of reddish color this fall

Plenty of reddish color this fall

From Crystal Lake, looking south

From Crystal Lake, looking south

We continued over to Telluride the following morning, via the always spectacular Dallas Divide. Dallas Divide is relatively low in elevation, just shy of 9000 feet, and tends to peak in early October. It’s best when there’s a bit clearer weather and Mt. Sneffels is visible, but the morning was pretty cloudy. In Telluride the weather was similar, with only rare peeks of sun- the leaves were slightly before peak, probably around a week early in town and along the road up to Lizard Head Pass. The top of the gondola station was awfully chilly, probably slightly below freezing, but with socked in clouds and general dampness, which made it feel even colder. By the time we reached Dolores, it was sunny and quite warm.

Between Telluride and Lizard Head Pass, 24 September 2016

Between Telluride and Lizard Head Pass, 24 September 2016

I’ve made regular posts about fall in Colorado over the past few years, generally with dates on the photos, so hopefully you can get a better idea about when to visit.

Fall in the San Juans, October 2014

Following my loop around Grand Mesa and the Crested Butte area in late September, I returned the following weekend (October 3-5) to drive the San Juan Skyway from Durango to Ouray. I then took Owl Creek Pass towards the 50, eventually ending up in the tiny, mellow town of Lake City. The colors were slightly past peak in the higher elevations, and it was on the dull side color-wise. I turned onto the dirt Owl Creek Pass road, which was still holding some remnants of the snow from the previous few days. The colors overall were still on the green side, although still scenic against the backdrop of spiky rocks.

West side of Owl Creek Pass

West side of Owl Creek Pass

Abandoned house, Lake City

Abandoned house, Lake City

I hiked up Uncompahgre Peak (14309′, 4361 m) the following day, with a couple of nice Texans offering me a ride up the terrible 4WD road to the trailhead. I hiked with them for about 2/3 of the route, before they turned back at around 13500′, tired from the altitude. It was mostly postholing in wet snow, and I was completely soaked. But the view, and the hike were well worth it. The peak is basically a massive block of rock placed like a birthday cake, with some pretty dizzying drop-offs, and a wide swath of Colorado and a bit of Utah visible from the summit. I joined up with a group of hikers who were in the area for a gathering of online members of 14ers.com, and hung out with them in the evening.

Heading towards the summit of Uncompahgre Peak

Heading towards the summit of Uncompahgre Peak

Looking north from summit of Uncompahgre Peak

Looking north from summit of Uncompahgre Peak

As for Lake City, it’s a really small town that was about to go into hibernation for the winter. Most of the restaurants had closed, and the temperatures were starting to really drop overnight. It’s the quintessential Colorado mining town, with neatly kept Victorian structures, a few bars, and clapboard houses.

And finally, a last flourish of fall along the Animas River in Durango from the past weekend (October 24), on an unusually warm day. A true Indian summer day.

Maple, Durango

Maple tree, Durango

Fly fishing along the Animas River, Durango

Fly fishing along the Animas River, Durango