James Peak – 13,272

RT Length: 7.84 miles

Elevation Gain: 2974’

I needed a win.  The past 7 (yes, 7) trailheads I’ve tried to access have been closed due to snow, Sage Grouse mating / nesting season, and/or calving season.  Note:  these were trailheads to obscure 13ers, so there wasn’t a lot of information on them in the first place, especially for this time of year.   One trailhead was open, but not passable due to snow.  I tried it again the next week, thinking the snow would have melted out by then.  It had, but now the gate was closed.  Ugh. 

So, even though there was a $5 parking fee, like I said, I needed a win.  I arrived at the St Mary’s Glacier/James Peak trailhead at 3:30am, the first vehicle in the lot. I paid the $5 at the self-pay station (located near the porta potties) and was on the trail before 4am. 

The trail starts at the north end of the parking area, and follows the road shortly before turning left and heading into the trees. There’s good signage here.

The trail started out a mixture of rocks, ice and snow, and eventually became mostly ice-snow.  I quickly put on my microspikes and wore them for the rest of the day.

After hiking for .75 miles I came to St Mary’s Lake. It’s covered in snow right now, and to the left of this picture.  St Mary’s Glacier is directly in front.  Here’s the route I took, crossing the bridge, skirting the lake, and then heading up the slope.

Here are some step by step photos to the top of the slope.

Once at the top I came to a plateau, and could see James Peak in front of me.  Well, I couldn’t really in the morning, as it was still dark, but I could tell it was a clear morning by the shooting starts I kept seeing (that was about to change).  At the top of the slope, just head northeast. 

This is where the wind started.   The wind never stopped, and in fact just got more intense as the morning went on.  I put on my balaclava and headed northeast. Here are some step by step pictures

The very last part of this hike included turning north and heading up this slope.  I did not need crampons/ice axe on my way up (microspikes were fine) but I did use my ice axe on the way down.  This could have been prevented by zig-zagging the slope (dotted line), but I felt it was better to get in some glissading practice.

I summited James Peak at 6:25am

James Peak: 

I was surprised at how fast the clouds were coming in:  The wind was stronger here on the summit, and soon I lost most visibility.

I headed back the way I’d come, careful to follow my footprints as it was getting increasingly difficult to see.  I faced the mountain and used my ice axe for the initial descent, then turned and glissaded for a bit. Here’s an overall view of the route back down to the lake

And step by step, once I got out of the clouds

The wind never stopped, but the clouds stayed up by the summit, making it for a clear morning down below (by afternoon it was snowing).

It was still morning, but the snow was already turning to slush, and the steps I’d put in earlier were now ice.  I kept slipping and couldn’t figure out why?  I had on my microspikes, but they weren’t catching me like they usually do (it wasn’t until I made it back to the truck and took the spikes off I realized in the dark I’d put one on inside out, and the spikes were facing the sole of my boot.  Whoops!).  Here are some photos of the way down the slope and back to St Mary’s Lake

And over the bridge, back on the trail that led to the street.

There was a sign near the bridge.  I’m guessing it said “St Marys Glacier” or “James Peak Trail”, or something like that, but it was covered in stickers and useless.  I thought to myself I should have brought some 14er Fireside Stickers.  Oh well, I’ll be back to make this a ridge hike, or at a minimum get some 12ers in the area:  I’ll bring stickers then.

It was less than a mile on the trail back to the parking area. Note:  Some parts of the trail were slick, as skiers and snowboarders have smoothed down the trail. 

I made it back to my truck at 8am, making this a 7.84 mile hike with 2974’ of elevation gain in 4 hours.

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.

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