#92 & #93 Casco Peak 13,908 – Frasco Benchmark 13,876 – French Mountain 13,940

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RT Length: 10.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 4549’

I chose this route mainly because I haven’t used the North Lake Creek Trailhead before, and since all the other routes started from trailheads I’ve already used I wanted to try something new. I began at 3am, and when I arrived at the trailhead my truck was the only vehicle in the lot.

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The trail begins at the east side of the parking area, heading north-northwest. There had been a recent avalanche in this area but the debris had been cleared off the path and in the dark I couldn’t even tell there had been an avalanche.

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After about 1/10 of a mile I turned right at this boulder.

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There is no distinct trail here, but if you continue northeast you’ll eventually run into what could have been a trail at one time (or a dried up creek bed).

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This led me to a creek crossing that was just deep enough to make it necessary for me to take off my shoes.

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There was another crossing just after this one, but it was small and easy to cross. From here I followed an overgrown 4WD dirt road switchbacking up the mountainside.

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Curiously there was an old outhouse right alongside the trail, which looked useable.

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The 4WD road led to a smaller trail that led to a bunch of dilapidated cabins (I’m guessing there were 3?) and here is where the trail ended.

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From here the goal is to head down the hillside that’s behind this cabin (a few dozen yards), cross the creek, and continue west.

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However, I was doing this in the dark on my way in and it proved to be more difficult that it sounds, especially the creek crossing.  I was unable to find a crossing in the dark due to avalanche debris in all the wrong places, so I once again sat down, took off my shoes, put on my sandals, and crossed the creek.  On my way back I noticed snow bridges that were no longer usable, but also a few areas to cross on the rocks.

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This part of the hike was actually a challenge in the dark, but simple in the daylight. There was no defined trail here, but many game/social trails.  I tried to follow a trail alongside the creek, but there just wasn’t one that was continuous.  What made this difficult in the dark were the overgrown grass and downed trees everywhere.

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However, if you just follow the creek (staying about 10 yards to the north of it) it will lead you up and out of Lackawanna Gulch and into an unnamed basin. Every once in a while I’d come across what looked like a proper trail, and even a cairn or two, but the trail always ended (usually at a tree or bush or over a cliffside).

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Here’s your path through the basin. You’re aiming for a low ridge at the end of the basin. Once again, there are lots of trails here, but I’m pretty sure they’re all game trails.  Also, the willows aren’t that high and the ground was mushy with water.  This wasn’t fun to cross in the dark, but at least there weren’t any trees to contend with. In the daylight it was beautiful.

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I was fully expecting to see some sort of wildlife, especially with all the hoofprints and game trails I was coming across, but alas, nope. From the north end of the basin I continued east on a low lying ridge towards Casco Peak. Knowing there was a lot of loose rock above me I was aiming for the lowest point on the ridge for my ascent.  You can basically gain the ridge from anywhere.  I took the solid line up, dotted line down.

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Before gaining the ridge I passed through some muddy/wet areas

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Here’s what it looked like as I was nearing Casco Peak

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I couldn’t see much but the sun was beginning to rise, which was helpful. I could tell the scree was pretty bad in some areas, but it looked like there was talus ahead (which I prefer to scree for an ascent) so I headed for the lowest point in the ridge and began the climb. The talus eventually turned to scree just before the ridge.

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Ridge gained I turned right (south) and looked at the rest of the route before me

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This wasn’t technical in the slightest. I just stuck to the ridge until I came to the base of the summit.  Here it became a short class 2+ trek to the top.

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I summited Casco Peak at 7am

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Casco:

From here the route to Frasco looked straightforward, but let me tell you, that section north of the saddle (named Fiascol) was a rough and loose ridge

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Here’s your first look at the ridge

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This is a class 2+ ridge that looks harder than it is. It took careful footing but wasn’t actually technical.  I mainly stayed to the top of the ridge, dropping to the left or right as needed.  Most of the time if I had to drop off the ridge it didn’t matter if I went left or right:  both ways went.  Here are some close ups of the route

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The final push to the top of Frasco is actually longer than it looks, with a small false summit

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I summited Frasco Benchmark at 8:30am

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Frasco:

This summit had a summit marker (curious, the unranked peak had a marker, yet neither of the ranked ones did?).

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To get to French Mountain from Frasco is straightforward: just follow the ridge (named Friscol). I was surprised at how narrow the beginning part of this traverse was.

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I descended 250’ to the Frasco/French saddle, stayed left (north) to avoid a snow patch

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and then ascended 320’ to the summit of French Mountain.

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I summited French Mountain at 9am

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French:

From French, here’s a look back on the route from Casco to Frasco to French

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It was a beautiful day so I sat for a bit on the summit, enjoying the views before starting my way back.

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Here’s a look at the look to Frasco from French

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I mainly stuck to the ridgeline. Around the French/Frasco saddle I saw a ptarmigan and a caterpillar I thought was living pretty high

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Here are the areas of avoidable snow on the ascent of Frasco from French

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After summiting Frasco a second time it was time to head back towards the Casco/Frasco saddle for my descent. Also, it wasn’t lost on me how much easier the route looked coming up from the Halfmoon Creek area: the scree was almost nonexistent on that side when compared to the Lackawanna Gulch side.  The decent along the ridge to the saddle was uneventful.

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However, I didn’t go all the way to the saddle: Instead I chose to descend earlier because I liked the scree here better.

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Here’s a look at the route back down the basin and towards the creek

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The scree here was the kind of scree you want to descend, not ascend. It allows you to scree surf, but doesn’t allow for much traction.  I put on my microspikes and headed down the slope, sliding one foot in front of the other.  I got a quick video:  quick because it wasn’t safe to take a video while scree surfing, but I was basically moving down the hillside with the sliding scree.  You can see why this wouldn’t be fun to climb up.

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Scree:

Here’s a look back up that scree slope from the bottom

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and a look at the route out of the basin

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Also, the flowers here didn’t disappoint

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As I exited the basin and descended into the Lackawanna Gulch I couldn’t help but think how much easier route finding was in the daylight. I wasn’t concerned as much with where I was because I had visuals that told me I was ‘close enough’ to where I needed to be.  I could tell the difference between game trails and actual trails (which is much harder than you’d think in the dark).

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The hike back was beautiful! I loved seeing the cabins, flowers, trees, and creeks in the daylight.  I took off my hiking boots and put on sandals for the last creek crossing.  The cold water felt wonderful on my feet!  I decided to keep my on sandals for the rest of the trek to my truck (maybe a quarter mile).

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When I made it back to my truck at noon my feet were still wet. This was a 10.5 mile hike with 4549’ in elevation gain completed in 9 hours.

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Author: Laura M Clark

Mom, Solo Colorado 14er Finisher, Outdoor Enthusiast, Traveler, and Girl Scout Leader with an MBA in International Business and Marketing. I value adventure, growth, courage, wisdom, integrity, accountability, and family. I enjoy yoga, wine, whiskey, traveling, reading, and the outdoors. I strive to be the person who inspires and motivates myself and others to succeed.

2 thoughts on “#92 & #93 Casco Peak 13,908 – Frasco Benchmark 13,876 – French Mountain 13,940”

  1. It’s a treat for me to be able to see Your multiple summits and look upon Your photos as the trek presents itself by Your guidance and constant fortitude. I’m still wondering about You freezing Your feet in crossing mountain creeks.You stated on Your way back to Your truck how good the cold water felt on your feet.The temperatures must fluctuate tin the scree that You must pass through.I try to read as much as I can on the things You put Yourself through and the wording from the Mountaineers dictionary.I’m learning a little by little about Your exciting life style.You brave the elements which are without end and come out victorious.I would that You could see through my eyes this Laura Clark and Wild Wanderer,You would also be awed and taken in by Her awesome abilities and non stop energy built within Her small petite frame. Thank You Miss Lady LAURA.

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  2. I return to your mountaineering accomplishments from time to time and notice certain things that I may have overlooked at first viewing. I look upon Your photos and am taken in by Your petite figure against the vast mountains that the lens of Your camera has captured in response to Your summit success.I find their is much to be learned by retracing Your every step as portrayed by Your photos and written words. Thank You Wild WANDERER @Lady Laura.

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