Taylor Peak – 13,157, Powell Peak – 13,197, Otis Peak – 12,481, Hallett Peak – 12,723 & Flattop Mountain – 12,330

RT Length:  19.75 miles

Elevation Gain: 5983’

I started from the Flattop Mountain Trail inside Rocky Mountain National Park, at the Bear Lake parking area,  at 4am.  I’ve been to this trailhead a few times, and it fills up before 6am, so plan on getting there early to secure a spot. 

There is great signage in this area, leading you to the trailhead

I followed the class 1, well-marked trail for 5 miles up to Flattop Mountain, gaining almost 3000’ of elevation in the process

As soon as I hit treeline the sun began to rise, and I saw a small herd of elk, led by one male bull.  He bugled to me, and the ptarmigans began to chirp .

Elk Bugling:

Ptarmigans waking up:

I continued following the class 1 trail to Flattop Mountain (which is really just a plateau).

At the top of the plateau is a sign.  At this sign I turned left, following the cairns.  Note:  there isn’t a sign indicating there is a trail to the left, but there will be dozens of rather large cairns to follow towards Hallett Peak

While you could certainly summit Hallett Peak first, my main goal were some 13ers further ahead, so I skirted Hallett Peak to the right, staying at about 12360’, which kept me on rocky tundra.

As I headed southwest, staying on the rocky tundra, I could see both Otis Peak and Taylor Peak.  It was my objective to summit Taylor Peak next, which meant I’d need to lose about 400’ of elevation to the Otis/Taylor Saddle (also where top of Andrews Glacier/Andrews Pass is located)

Here’s my route up to Taylor Peak from the Otis/Taylor Saddle. Note, my route up is solid, my route back down (after summiting Powell) is dotted.  I would recommend these routes in the same order I completed them.  The entire day consisted of class 2 terrain for all the peaks I summited.

Here are some close-up pictures of the terrain to the summit of Taylor Peak

 

I summited Taylor Peak at 8:30am

Taylor Peak:

From Taylor Peak I could see Powell Peak to the southeast. 

To get there, I’d need to contour southwest down the south side of Taylor, and then follow the ridge towards Powell Peak.  The route is obvious, and easily kept class 2.

Here’s the route from the Taylor/Powell Saddle

And some close-up pictures of the route

I aimed for the highpoint, a large rock on the ridge

Here are some closer pictures of the route to the summit

Powell Summit rock, easily scaled from the left

To be honest, I’m not sure where the true summit lies.  When I got to the large rock outcropping I saw what looked like a cairn a short distance away, further southeast, but when I went further southeast to that point, the rock looked higher.  When I got home my track showed the rock was the highpoint, but there wasn’t anything indicating it was (no cairn/summit register/etc.)  A point further northwest looked high too, so I made sure to walk over there, but my photos are from the rock outcropping.

I summited Powell Peak at 10:15am

Powell Peak:

https://youtu.be/0oxEIaN_wYg

I then retraced my steps back to the Taylor/Powell Saddle

But instead of re-summiting Taylor Peak, I skirted the summit to the left, staying at around 12750’

This was all class 2, but required a bit of rock hopping

As I continued to round Taylor Peak, Otis Peak came into view.  The path towards the summit was obvious

I made my way down to Andrews Pass, and then up towards Otis Peak

I summited Otis Peak at 12:45pm

Otis Peak:

I could see Hallett Peak to the northwest, and descended to the Otis/Hallett saddle

And then headed northeast up to the summit of Hallett Peak

I summited Hallett Peak at 1:45pm

Hallett Peak:

Now to head back to the trail.  This was all class 2, and there were cairns to guide the way.  Be careful not to aim for the obvious trail in the distance, as it will not lead you back to the trailhead.  This is the route you should take.   If you look carefully, you can see the sign you’re aiming for from earlier in the morning

At the junction I turned right, and followed the class 1 trail back to the trailhead

I made it back to my truck at 4pm, making this a 19.75 mile hike with 5983’ of elevation gain in 12 hours.

On the way out, I was stopped by another herd of elk, walking along the road.

On to the next trailhead!

Mt Chiquita – 13,054, Ypsilon Mountain – 13,513, Mt Chapin – 12,454

RT Length:  10.2 miles

Elevation Gain:  3555’

I parked my truck at the Chapin Pass trailhead and was on the trail at 4am. 

The trail starts out heading directly up to the pass. 

After hiking for .25 miles I came to an obvious junction and turned right, heading towards Chapin, Chiquita, and Ypsilon summits

The trail was very easy to follow.  I followed it east and rounded the north side of Mt Chapin (saving it for later).

The trail changed from Class 1 to Class 2 as I made my way up to the top of Chiquita, heading northeast. 

I made it to the summit just as the sun was starting to rise

 I summited Mt Chiquita at 6am

Mt Chiquita:

From the summit of Mt Chiquita I could see the summit of Ypsilon Mountain to the north. 

It was an easy ridge walk to get there, with a small false summit along the way. I just followed the ridge down 270’, and then up 722’ to the summit of Ypsilon.

I summited Ypsilon Mountain at 7am

Mt Ypsilon:

This was going to be an out and back for me, so I retraced my steps back to Chiquita, losing 722’ of elevation, and then gaining 270’

Back at the summit of Mt Chiquita I continued following the ridge southwest, back to the trail.  There is a trail to the summit of Mt Chapin from there.

Here are some close up pictures of the class 1 trail

I summited Mt Chapin at 8:30am

Mt Chapin:

I turned and retraced my seps back to the trail below

Once back at the junction with the main trail, I turned left and followed it west to Chapin Pass

I even saw a few bull elk lounging along the way

Back at Chapin Pass, I turned left, and followed it back to the parking area, which was now overflowing with dozens more vehicles than could fit in the area.  If you want to do this hike, get there early.

I made it back to my truck at 9:15am, making this a 10.2 mile hike with 3555’ of elevation gain in 5 hours, 15 minutes.

On to the next trailhead!

13078 and 12837

RT Length:  9.62 miles

Elevation Gain:  3588’

My beta was wrong.  It was my fault, and I knew it on my drive in.  When there are avalanche conditions in the high country, I spend my time putting together potential routes and topo maps.  Then I print them out and put them in a binder I keep in my truck, so I’m always ready for a hike. 

However, my spreadsheet had different information than I was seeing at the time.  Specifically, a “No Trespassing” sign on what was supposed to be public lands.  This could completely have been my fault, as wine might have been involved while I was putting together topo maps.  Actually, it most assuredly was.   This changed my plans a bit, but I could still get in a hike. 

I parked at the Green Timber Gulch Trailhead after driving through thousands of tourists fishing at Cottonwood Lake, and the slowest driver I’ve ever encountered on a 4WD road.  He had a 4WD vehicle, but didn’t go over 5mph on this easy 4WD road (dirt 2WD?) and refused to pull over.  There were 10 vehicles behind him.  Not cool. 

Anyway, as I was sitting in the parking area putting together a trip report from that morning, a family pulled up beside me, then got into their Razor and took off.  They came back covered in more dirt and dust than I’ve ever seen, and were laughing hysterically.  I was glad they were having fun. Instead of hopping into the creek they took a wet-wipe bath, which caused more harm than good.  They looked like they were covered in volcanic ash.  In any event, eventually they left and I had the site to myself for the night.  Note:  No camping here, but I was sleeping in my vehicle, so I was just parked.

The trail is obvious, and starts with a bridge crossing.

I followed the Green Timber Gulch Trail all the way to treeline and to the 12,837/13,078 saddle, for 3 miles.  This is a class 1 trail, with a few minor creek crossings.  It’s currently spring conditions, so there was a lot of water on the trail.  There was a lot of moose scat on the trail (I mean, a lot), but no tracks, so I’m assuming the moose has moved on.  This is also a motorized bike trail, so watch out for bikes.

Once at treeline I turned left and headed east towards 13078. This was a straightforward tundra walk, and there was even a faint trail most of the way.  Oh, and the sign says trail closed to motorcycles… hiking is ok.

I summited 13078 at 6:45am

13078:

I left a register, and turned and headed back to the saddle. 

My next goal was PT 12837.  From this height, you can clearly see the three false summits, which actually have more drop and gain than it looks like from here.  This is the route I took

Here are some step by step pictures.  First, to the saddle

Then I looked for a break in the willows, and cut over to the ridge, avoiding the rocks to the left, and snow to the right

Here’s the first false summit

There was a large cairn at the top, but was obviously not the true summit.  Here you can see the cairn, as well as the second false summit

Here’s the route I took to the summit (all very straightforward)

I summited 12837 at 7:50am The ground was relatively flat, so I jumped for the picture

12837:

Here’s looking back at the route from 13078, as well as my route back to the saddle

I headed back to the 13078/12837 saddle

And then picked up and followed the Green Timber Gulch Trail back to the trailhead.

I made it back to my truck at 9:30am, making this a 9.62 mile hike with 3588’ of elevation gain in 5 hours.

On to the next trailhead!

Sentinel Point- 12,527

RT Length: 8.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 2963’

I’ve wanted to hike Sentinel Point for a while now, but haven’t because it isn’t ranked.  I’ve been kind of waiting for a good excuse to hike it, and today was the day; My oldest daughter flew out from Georgia for the weekend, and this morning I took her to the airport to fly back home, so I needed a hike I could start later in the day.

Oh, and today’s Halloween, so of course I wore a pumpkin dress.  It was also quite cold, so there weren’t a lot of people parked at the Horsethief Falls trailhead.  I gathered my gear, and was on the trail at 9:30am.  The trail is clearly visible from the parking area.

I’d heard it was harder to do this hike counter-clockwise, so of course, that’s the way I chose to do it.  (Spoiler alert:  it is harder this way).  I followed the wide, class 1 trail for 1.4 miles, to the end of Horsethief Park, where the trail abruptly ended at a small waterfall.

At the first junction, I continued straight, heading east

At the second junction, I again continued straight, heading east.   I was also able to see Sentinel Point from here

I was following Horsethief Falls trail

The trail was class 1, until it abruptly ended at what I’m assuming is Horsethief Falls

It was flowing at a trickle.  I crossed the falls, then immediately started ascending the hillside, heading directly east.

From the falls area, I hiked east 1.5 miles to treeline, bushwhacking the entire way, doing my best to avoid the boulders. 

Here’s a picture of the route from later in the day.  You can see the obstacles to be avoided are mainly large boulders/rock outcroppings. 

This is the route I took, gaining about 2000’ of elevation in 1.5 miles

Once at treeline, I followed the ridge north

I was trying to get onto the other side of this rock formation

Once I did, finding the route to the summit proved difficult.  I kept trying to climb the rocks to find a summit, but they kept topping out.  My advice:  stay low and go further north than you think you should before trying to ascend to the summit.  Also, if you do this, you’ll find cairns.  Here are some photos…

This is the entrance area to the summit.  The cairn is circled in red

This was difficult class 3 climbing, but sketchy due to the little bit of unavoidable snow/ice. 

I summited Sentinel Point at 11:30am.  Well, I wasn’t sure if I’d actually summited, because I couldn’t find a cairn/summit register, but I did rock-hop all over those rocks to make sure I hit the summit at some point.  The rocks were stable, but didn’t have a large surface area, so I wasn’t able to get good pictures.  I got a video at one of the most stable areas (and it’s a terrible video, but you get the point)

I was making this a loop, and continued heading north towards the tundra

Here’s looking back at Sentinel Point

From here I actually found a bit of a trail, and followed it north, down to treeline.  Here are some pictures of the route

When I made it past the boulders to treeline, cairns started dotting the route.  Tons of cairns.  While the trail wasn’t well established, there were countless cairns to guide the way back to an actual trail.  Yes, this would have been the easier way to summit.  Cairns are circled in red

I slid down this on my butt, as walking down it seemed sketchy

It should be noted, there were several campsites below treeline along the trail, in case you’re interested in making this an overnight adventure

Once below treeline, I followed the trail northwest.  As I said before, there were tons of cairns to guide the way

Following the cairns eventually brought me to trail 704C, the Ring the Peak trail.  I followed this trail south back to make this a loop.

I made it back to the trail I hiked in on (704A), turned right, and followed it back to the trailhead

I made it back to my truck at 1:30pm, making this an 8.1 mile hike with 2963’ of elevation gain in 4 hours.

Chipeta Mountain South – 12,850 and Chipeta Mountain – 13,472

RT Length:  10.58 miles

Elevation Gain:  3281’

This was my third attempt at Chipeta Mountain this year.  The first time I drove out the road was open but impassible due to snow.  The second time the road was clear, but the gate was closed.  I saw several videos/pictures of people on the pass this year, but later found out they were part of a mining operation and the only ones allowed to access the road.  The road formally opened on May 28.  Today was May 29.  It had already been a long morning:  I’d woken up at the Gibson Creek trailhead, intent on hiking a few 13ers in the area (also not my first attempt these peaks this year), but after about 1000’ of elevation and deteriorating snow conditions I decided to make today a ‘me day’.  I hiked back to my truck, chugged a beer, and came up with a new plan:  I was going to drive to Marshall Pass, see if it was open, spend a day relaxing, and then tackle Chipeta Mountain tomorrow. 

Marshall Pass was open and snow/mud free to the pass.  I was surprised at how few people were dispersed camping this Memorial Day weekend.  I parked near the bathrooms and information signs.

I checked the weather, and it wasn’t supposed to rain until 5pm tonight.  I did the math, figured I had plenty of time to get in a hike before weather set in, gathered my gear, and was on my way.  I was on the trail at 8am.  The usual trail from the trailhead has a sign saying it’s no longer in use, so I took the very short bypass and started along the road instead.  This is road 243G, located at the north end of the parking area.  If was a bit muddy to begin with.

It was obvious from the start motorized vehicles hadn’t been on the trail yet this year, as there were numerous downed trees at the beginning (not much after a mile in, however).

I was following the Continental Divide and Colorado Trails north, along the west side of the mountains. 

After hiking for 1.7 miles snow started covering the trail.  Luckily, this snow wasn’t quite mashed potato snow, and I could get by hiking over it with just microspikes (on the way in),

After hiking for a total of just over 3 miles I turned right and headed east up the slope.  A map will tell you this is trail 484.1, but since it was covered in snow I headed east,  and once I saw them, I followed the posts to the saddle.

Once at the saddle I had a great view of Mt Ouray.  I turned left and headed north along the ridge.

Here an obvious trail picked up (the trail only lasted to the top of this hill).

From here you can see the rest of the hike:  it’s a straightforward ridge hike that starts out with tundra, and ends with a lot of loose rocks the size of tires.  Note:  The drop from South Chipeta Mountain to Chipeta Mountain is more drastic than this image would indicate.

Here are some step by step pictures of the ridge.

There’s a cool Quartz formation, with a lot of interesting rocks lying around

Then it’s on to South Chipeta Mountain

It’s rockier than it looks towards the top

From the top of South Chipeta Mountain (12850) you can clearly see the route to Chipeta Mountain (13472).  From South Chipeta you will lose 200’ of elevation, and then gain 825’ of elevation to the summit of Chipeta Mountain. 

This is also a simple ridge hike, but it takes time and careful foot placement because the rocks aren’t stable and tend to roll.  Nothing above class 2 however.

Weather unexpectedly started coming in early as I neared the summit of Chipeta

I summited Chipeta Mountain at 11:15am, after just over 3 hours of hiking

Chipeta Mountain: 

Here’s the view of Mt Ouray from the summit of Chipeta

I didn’t like the look of the clouds, and there was virga in the direction I was headed, so I didn’t stay on the summit long.  I retraced my steps back over South Chipeta Mountain to the saddle.

At the saddle I turned right and headed back down to the Continental Divide / Colorado Trail

At this point I needed snowshoes.  Strapped them on and followed my tracks from this morning south

I made it back to the trailhead at 2pm, making this a 10.58 mile hike with 3281’ of elevation gain in 6 hours.

I was still intent on taking a ‘me day’, so I decided to sleep in my vehicle here overnight.  Around 5pm a couple drove in, saying they were planning on backpacking part of the CDT/Colorado Trail.  The had along their dog, and a ferret on a leash (the woman had a ferret fanny pack as well, for when needed).  I asked them if they had snowshoes?  The woman slapped the man across the chest and said “See? I told you so!”  They didn’t have snowshoes but headed out anyway. When I woke up at 5am their vehicle was gone, so I’m guessing they didn’t end up staying the night, which was a good idea, considering there was a storm coming in.  I’m not sure what a wet ferret smells like, but it’s probably not ideal.

Humphreys Peak – 12,633 – Arizona Highpoint

RT Length:  10.55 miles

Elevation Gain: 3649’

Last week I saw a post indicating someone had successfully summited Humphreys Peak from the summer trailhead, so I decided to give it a go.  (Humphreys Peak Trailhead / Kachina Peaks Trailhead / Snow Bowl)

I woke up at 2am, worked out for an hour on the treadmill, and then drove to Arizona, stopping along the way for a few work calls.  I’m not a big fan of the New Mexico city of Gallup:  Nothing good has ever happened to me there.  This time, as I was getting gas, a man was sitting in front of the gas station entrance cleaning a knife with a blade at least 8 inches long, swinging it around every few minutes like he was practicing martial arts moves.  Also, all of the bathrooms in the gas stations and fast food establishments in NM and AZ are closed due to covid.  So was the bathroom at the Bookman’s I stopped at in Flagstaff. I had a voucher for Bookman’s I’d received in 2016, and since I was in the area I decided to use it.  I got this very appropriate book

Then I drove to the Snow Bowl, where the trailhead is for Humphrey’s Peak.  There were a lot of skiers driving down the mountain, but I was the only one going up.  On the drive in I saw a sign that said “Skiing Open 10am-4pm, TH-SU”. 

I made it to the parking area and found a place to park.  This is the trailhead

I walked around the trailhead, and noticed the beginning part of the trail goes right under a ski lift.  I also saw this sign:

Ugh.  That was unexpected.  I’d driven all the way from Colorado only to be thwarted by a technicality.  As I was standing there, I noticed two female hikers walking towards me, directly from the ski area where it said pedestrians weren’t allowed.  They told me they hadn’t had any issues (indeed, at least 5 more hikers came down after them, and all said the same thing).  I decided to hike the following morning, early, and try to make it down before the 10am skiing session began.  Side note: these women were badass, and had a great list of mountaineering accomplishments.  We talked for a bit, and I gave them some fireside stickers.

I sat in the back of my truck and started making dinner.  A young man pulled up with a similar set-up and got out to enjoy the sunset.  He spent his time sitting in a chair enjoying a beer, alternating drinking with doing push-ups. I went over and talked with him for a bit, and we ended up doing a few whiskey shots together (both of us had various bottles in our rigs).  He was a nice young man (reminded me of my son) and this was his third time this week at the trailhead.  He hoped to summit the next day as well.  After the sunset I wished him good luck and told him I’d see him tomorrow on the trail (either up or down). 

My view tonight

I went to bed and had a peaceful night’s sleep, waking up to my alarm at 2:45am, I was on the trail at 3am.  Interestingly enough, as I was leaving a vehicle pulled up:  it looked like there was another hiker hiking with me this morning.  We ended up leap-frogging each other on the trail. The trail starts at the north end of the parking area and heads northeast, across the slop and into the trees, before zig-zagging up the west slope.

Plot twist:  When I started out at the trailhead it was dark, all except for a really big light, accompanied by a loud buzzing sound.  Turns out they groom the trails at 3am, and there was a snow groomer working this morning.  Drat!  I decided to turn off my flashlight and wait until the groomer had passed me, then darted across the field to the safety of the trail in the trees, where I turned my flashlight back on.  I’m sure this would have been comical to watch. 

There was another trailhead once I entered the trees.  Note: I wore microspikes for the entire hike, and didn’t need snowshoes.  If hiking later in the day, they would have been necessary.

Once in the trees there was a lot of snow, so I had a hard time following the trail.  There were several downed trees covering the trail, and a lot of social trails.  If you’re doing this peak in summer it will be a straightforward, class 1 trail.  If you’re doing it with snow on the ground expect some route-finding.  I switchbacked northeast to the saddle.  The saddle you’re aiming for is the one that’s directly east of you from the parking area (it’s a clear, skiable path). 

As I neared treeline the snow declined and there was no longer a trail.  I kept heading northeast to the saddle

Once at the saddle I turned left, and followed the ridge north.  (Going right will take you to Agassiz Peak) There’s a faint trail here that picks up as you go along, as well as wooden posts to guide the way.  Stay to the left while on the ridge.

There’s also a trail sign here, indicating the way

I followed the ridge north/northeast as the sun began to rise

The girl I’d been leapfrogging with took a different route up (there were several snowshoe tracks to follow), and when we hit the ridge she got out a sleeping bag and decided to watch the sunrise.  She never did go to the summit, and was gone when I made my way back down. 

I continued on, following the ridge

I made it to the summit at 6:20am.  There were a lot of windbreaks at the summit

I found a buried summit register, left it there, and took a picture with the broken summit sign

Humphrey’s Peak:

It was cold and windy, so I decided to head back.  Here are a few photos of the route down.  I (mostly) re-traced my steps.

Here’s the saddle I was aiming for

And the ridge to get there

Once at the saddle I did my best to follow my tracks back down

Taken from the saddle, the parking area is circled.  Here you can see it’s a straight shot west from the saddle, but that area was all skiable and off limits, so I did my best to switchback down the mountainside, following the summer trail.

I lost the trail several times, but was able to follow snowshoe tracks down.  If you’re blazing your own trail, you can stay in the trees and parallel the ski area by heading west, which will lead you to the parking area.

Here’s the exit route back to the parking area

I was still really early, and there wasn’t anyone on the slopes.  I was making tracks on the newly groomed snow however.

I made it back to a still empty parking lot at 9:00am, making this a 10.55 mile hike with 3649’ of elevation gain in 6 hours. I never did see that man I met in the parking lot last night.  I can only think he had more whiskey than he could handle and had a hangover.  That’s what he gets for drinking with a pro. 

Here’s a topo map of my route

Mt Parnassus – 13,574, Bard Peak – 13,641 & Woods Mountain 12,940

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RT Length: 10.25 miles

Elevation Gain: 4965’

This was my third attempt going for Bard Peak. The first time I made it as far as Parnassus, but the wind and cold temperatures (and Raynaud’s) prevented me from going any further. My second attempt was from the Berthoud Falls area, and the snow just wasn’t cooperating. Imagine my surprise when I found out today this is actually an easy trail when not in full winter conditions!

I parked at the Herman Gulch trailhead and was on the trail by 4:30am. This trailhead has tons of parking, but beware: it fills up fast. There was a full moon and I could see by looking at the mountains I wouldn’t be needing snowshoes today, so I left them in my truck.

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The trail starts in the middle of the parking area. I took the Herman Gulch trail to begin, which is just behind the information signs.

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After hiking .2 miles I turned right (east) at this junction to follow the Waterous Gulch Trail.

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This trail is an easy, class 1 trail all the way to the basin. Last time I was here the area was covered in snow and I had no idea there was a trail that went that far. Today the hike was easy! No real route finding below treeline.

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After hiking for about 1.5 miles I came to a creek crossing in Waterous Gulch, crossed the creek on an icy log by sitting down, straddling the log, and shimmying across (due to the ice I would definitely have slipped if I’d tried to cross standing up). I turned left and headed north through the gulch on a great trail (still the Waterous Gulch Trail).

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Starting here there was snow on the trail, but just enough to be annoying: I could still figure out where the trail went

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I crossed a small stream and continued on the trail. Note: You can also choose to go right and not cross the stream here and take a parallel trail that leads you to the exact same place as the Waterous Gulch trail. I stayed straight here and continued to the end of the gulch on the way in and took the parallel trail on the way out. They were similar, but the one that follows the gulch also follows the stream, which was nice.

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I followed the class 1 trail to the end of the gulch, and after 2.2 miles of hiking turned right and continued following the trail up to the saddle of Woods/Parnassus. There are a lot of ways to gain the summit of Parnassus. Last time I hiked further south, avoiding the saddle, and I would not recommend that route. Instead, take the easy gully and aim for the saddle and go as far as you can before turning right and heading southeast towards the summit. This is where the intense wind started and didn’t stop. Forecasted winds were 17-24mph, but those winds don’t knock you over. For the rest of this hike I was using my trekking pole for stability, hiking sideways into the wind.

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The trail stopped here somewhere under the snow. I paralleled the snow to the saddle

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At the saddle I turned right and headed southeast towards the summit of Mt Parnassus. This is an easy hike on tundra.

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The terrain gets a bit rockier near the top.

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The summit is relatively flat. I summited Mt Parnassus at 6:40am, after just over 3.5 miles and 2 hours of hiking. Since this is my second summit of Mt Parnassus I’ll spare you the selfie and let you watch the summit video instead.

Mt Parnassus:

Bard Peak is just over a mile east of Mt Parnassus.

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There’s a bit of a trail from Parnassus to Bard. I followed it where I could. It was faint, so sometimes I lost it, but mostly followed the ridge. It’s important to follow the ridge when snow is present. This ridge is easy class 2 ‘scrambling’. Just watch for loose rocks. I could see a faint trail go to the right of the ridge (south), but it became covered in snow and would have been difficult to cross. Here’s an overview of my route

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And some close-ups in order:

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When I got to this section I did not feel comfortable traversing without crampons and my ice axe (luckily I had both). I sat down, strapped on my crampons, and crossed the snow. The snow was slippery at this time in the morning (not mushy, more like icy). You could probably traverse this section with just microspikes if you were here at the right time of the day.

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Because I could I kept the crampons on until the last of the snow.

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Here’s looking back on the section you want to avoid, and the reason I stuck to the ridge. You can also see a slip here would take you a ways.

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After taking off my crampons and putting them away I headed up to the summit of Bard Peak, keeping close to the ridge

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I summited Bard Peak at 7:50am, after 4.7 miles of hiking.

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Bard Peak:

There was a broken summit register and a benchmark on the summit

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Now to head back to Mt Parnassus. I backtracked down to the saddle, put on my crampons again, got out my ice axe, and crossed the snow.

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It was easy to avoid the snow on the rest of the way back to Parnassus

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From the summit of Mt Parnassus I descended the way I’d summited, back down to the Woods/Parnassus saddle

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When I made it to the saddle I still wasn’t tired so I decided to summit 12er Woods Mountain as well. This summit doesn’t require much guidance: it’s an easy tundra stroll to the top. This added 460’ of elevation gain to the hike. This is where the wind became the most intense (yes, it was still blowing). It was so windy I was hiking sideways with each step, and had to over-compensate each step to stay in a straight line, crisscrossing my steps as I went.

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I reached the summit of Woods Mountain at 9:40am. I’ll spare you the selfie of this one as well, since I’ve already summited this peak. Here’s the summit register and a video

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Woods Mountain:

This wind was insane! Time to head back down to the saddle and back down to the gulch

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I followed the trail back down the gulch, over the log bridge, and back to the trailhead. This is where I started seeing a lot of other hikers. When I made it to the trailhead the large parking area was completely full.

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I made it back to my truck at 11am, making this a 10.25 mile hike with 4965’ of elevation gain in 6.5 hours. Here’s a topo map of the route:

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I felt really good about the hike today: The weather had been warm, no clouds, not much route finding, and when I made it back to my truck I wasn’t even tired yet. The only thing that could have been better was the wind. It’s amazing how good conditions can change the outcome of a hike!

Almagre Mountain – 12,367 and South Almagre Mountain – 12,349

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RT Length: 14.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2936’

Oh, Old Stage Road, where the speed limit is 20mph but you can’t go above 5mph because the road is so full of potholes. Old Stage Road is a 2WD dirt road connecting Colorado Springs with Cripple Creek, and as of late is becoming increasingly difficult to drive. OK, not difficult if you drive slow, but then it takes forever! We made it to Old Stage Road at 5am and didn’t make it to the trailhead (Frosty Park) for over another hour. The last part (after turning onto 379) was very much 4WD, and fun to drive! There was snow and ice on the trail, and a few deep puddles to navigate.

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Eventually I came to a place where there was a layer of snow/ice on the road that I didn’t want to navigate with my truck, so I parked a third of a mile before the trailhead and decided to walk the rest of the way. This was an easy walk along the 379 dirt road, and in fact, we stayed on 379 for 3.5 more miles

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The road conditions varied greatly, but after the first mile snow was present along the entire route. The road followed the Ring the Peak Trail to Deer Park

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At Deer Park we left the Ring the Peak trail and turned right onto 379A

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We continued to follow the road, steadily gaining in elevation

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Snowshoes would have been a good idea, but we were too stubborn to put them on.

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After 5.25 miles we came to a locked gate and skirted around it

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This brought us to the defunct Stratton Reservoir.

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It’s hard to imagine this reservoir ever held much water. Almagre is to the north of the reservoir. Here’s the path we took

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Stopping to get a shadowselfie on the reservoir

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Following the road up to the saddle

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And then heading northwest to the summit

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There was a lot of wind here, and firm snow we were able to easily navigate with just microspikes

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We summited at 9:40am to quite a bit of wind

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There was no summit register, so we decided to leave one we’d brought, crouching down behind the solar panels to get out of the wind

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The wind was a bitter cold so we didn’t stay long on the summit. We made our way back to the saddle

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And got a good view of South Almagre Mountain (the microwave towers)

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We headed back the way we came

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And only stopped for a bit to re-apply sunscreen. Then we were starting the ascent of South Almagre. While we simply followed the road, the road was covered in snow/ice and was a bit tricky in places. I went first to kick in steps

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The road didn’t look passable after the first set of switchbacks, so we decided to just head up this wall of snow and straight towards the microwave towers

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As we neared the towers we heard talking, which was confusing since we’d made our own tracks and hadn’t seen anyone all day. Turns out there were some workers up in the towers adding connectivity and network bandwith due to increased demand during the Coronavirus.

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They’d tried to take the road we hiked in but their vehicle wouldn’t make it, so they instead turned around and hiked in from Elk Park. This is the initial way I’d summited Almagre a few years ago.

Being at the top of South Almagre we weren’t sure if we were indeed at the highpoint. Looking directly east seemed to be just as high (or higher) than the point we were at now, so we decided to traverse over to this pile of rocks

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While it was fun scrambling, our altimeter showed this area was actually 10 feet lower than the towers had been.

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Satisfied, we decided to head back, following the route we’d come in

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The snow section below the towers was a little steep, but we’d done a good job kicking in steps

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We followed the road back to the gate

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And with the increased temperatures were a little worried about avalanche danger here

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We gingerly crossed this area, and as soon as we were confident we were out of avalanche danger we put on our snowshoes for the long slog back down through snow, ice, and mud.

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The snow on the roads was now mush, and once we got further down we started seeing tire tracks

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And more and more and more vehicles. I started to get worried we wouldn’t be able to drive out on this road because so many people were driving in.

We made it back to the truck at 2:30pm, making this a 14.5 mile hike with 2936’ of elevation gain in 8 hours. I have to say, the hike felt shorter with more elevation gain, but that may be because I was tired from my hike the day before.

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I decided to follow a few vehicles back to Old Stage Road, and this ended up being a fabulous idea: There were dozens of vehicles in the half mile back to the road all trying to go the opposite way. I applaud them for social distancing and still getting outdoors!

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Colorado Mines Peak – 12,493 & Mt Flora – 13,146

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RT Length: 7.75 miles

Elevation Gain: 2334’

The weather always wins. The day before this hike instead of getting 1-3” of snow we got more like 8” and I’d spent quite a bit of time shoveling my driveway.  This extra snow occurred all over the state and the peak I’d intended to climb now wouldn’t have a reachable trailhead.  So I did the easy thing and just switched my plans to hike a peak with a 2WD trailhead.  Admittingly, I didn’t do much research and just left the house with a topo map and a vague idea of where I was headed.  Luckily this is one of those peaks you can do that with.

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I’d never been to Berthoud Pass before and was surprised at how large the parking lot was. It was 12* when I arrived around 5am and I decided to put on all my gear while sitting in my truck.   Then I waited for a little bit of light before heading out.  It had snowed here quite a bit yesterday as well and there were several feet of fresh, sugary powder on the ground.  Since there were no tracks I wasn’t sure where the road/trail was so I just headed up the mountain (dotted line).  This was more difficult than I‘d expected, as I kept sinking up to my waist in the snow.  Snowshoes weren’t helping.  Eventually I made my way to a road (solid line) and realized where it went all the way down to the parking lot (whoops!) and took it all the way up to Colorado Mines Peak.   The road is located at the south end of the parking lot and without snow should be easy to find.  In the afternoon there were several tracks made to the road by others who’d known what they were doing.

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The road was easy to follow because there were poles placed every 50 feet or so along the trail. I was postholing here as well, and my legs were getting quite a workout.

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As soon as I was out of the trees the wind picked up and never stopped. It wasn’t more than 20mph, but it just wouldn’t let up.

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There wasn’t much route finding on this part of the trek, as the road was easy to follow all the way to the top of Colorado Mines Peak. At the top there were radio towers and buildings, etc.

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I wasn’t sure where the summit was, so I just walked all around, taking pictures of the various structures.  They’re larger than they look.

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It was windy and cold and I didn’t feel like setting up my camera so I just got a quick selfie

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I didn’t see an established trail from the top of Colorado Mines Peak to Mt Flora, but I could see a trail heading up the ridge of Mt Flora so I headed northeast down the side of Colorado Mines Peak towards the saddle

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The wind was still blowing, forming a cornice along the ridge

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The trail from the saddle up was easy to see. Snowshoes weren’t needed here, but due to the wind and cold temperatures I didn’t want to take off my gloves to take off my snowshoes, so I left them on.

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Did I mention the wind? At about this time it was getting really annoying.  I kept thinking every time I went around a corner or over a hill that the wind would die down, but it didn’t seem to matter which side of the mountain I was on: I was getting pounded by the wind (and ice)

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This was all very frustrating because this was a relatively easy hike, yet I was starting to get a headache from the constant wind

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After winding around the mountain for what seemed like a long while I could see the last bit to the summit. Here the sastrugi was beautiful and in most places solid, making it easy to cross

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There were several large cairns indicating the path to the summit

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The summit was large and relatively flat, with cairns, signs, and windbreaks full of snow

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I’m not sure what time I summited, but it still felt like early morning.

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It was still early in the day when I summited and I wasn’t tired at all, yet I was starting to feel nauseous. This wind was really getting to me.  My balaclava had frozen to my face and I was worried I was getting frostnip on my nose (I was).  I walked around the summit and looked at some of the other peaks I’d wanted to hike today

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This should have been such an easy hike (and it was) but I decided here not to continue on. Yes, I’d wanted to summit a few other peaks today, but the forecast called for increased winds in the afternoon and I’d already had enough.  This wind was making the morning miserable. Looking ahead at an added 6 miles of wind sounded like torture, and that’s not why I hike. I told myself I’d come back and do this hike again when the conditions were better (less wind). So I turned and headed back towards Colorado Mines Peak

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As the wind increased and I became ever more nauseous I celebrated my decision to head back and enjoyed the views

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Instead of going back up and over Colorado Mines Peak I decided to follow the trail that went around the mountain. Until the trail was obscured by snow and I couldn’t follow it anymore.  Then I just made my way around the mountain until I found the road again.

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The snow here was thicker and I was glad I’d kept on my snowshoes

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Here’s a look back at my tracks to the road

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Once on the road again I noticed all of the tracks I’d made this morning were gone

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Here the wind let up and I took a minute to take some ibuprofen. Almost immediately I began to feel better.  I could see the parking lot was full of vehicles and if I had skis I’d just slide my way down there.  The snow was all powder and the skiers seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely.

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About halfway down the mountain I came across plenty of new tracks and two trenches on either side of the road. Needless to say, hiking down with a trench is a lot easier than trenching on the way up.  I was thankful for everyone who came after me and made a solid trench.

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I was also thankful to be out of the wind. The trees were lined with fresh snow and made for a beautiful trek out.

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I made it back to my truck around 11am and was surprised to find people tailgating in the parking lot. I guess that’s a skiing thing?  The parking lot was buzzing with activity, too many vehicles, people and pets, and I had to be careful not to run anyone over in the parking lot on my way out.  I looked at my nose in the mirror.  Yep, I’d definitely gotten a little bit of frostnip.  I wish I could find a way to keep my balaclava from freezing?  Hmmmm.  Maybe I just need to try a different brand.

I started this hike around 6am and finished just before 11am, making this a 7.75 mile hike with 2334’ in elevation gain in 5 hours. I was a little disappointed I hadn’t done more today, but felt trenching in powder had given me a good workout just the same.  Any day above treeline is a win.  I’ll be back to complete this hike soon.

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Mt Wilcox 13,408 & Otter Mountain 12,766

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RT Length: 8.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 3221’

I’d already considered this a successful Memorial Day weekend:  I’d climbed 3 peaks in the San Juans without (major) incident.  Saturday I did all the “mom” stuff:  Washed all the sheets, did the laundry, went shopping, vacuumed, re-planted a few plants destroyed in the storm last week, and took my daughter ice skating.  As we were having dinner I asked my 16 year old what she wanted to do tomorrow?  Sleep and study for finals.  Hmmm… it looked like I had another morning free to hike!  I didn’t want to do anything too far away because it was Memorial Day and I wanted to make something special for dinner, so I did a very quick search of peak conditions and settled on a peak I didn’t need much info to hike:  Mt Wilcox.

Mt Wilcox is generally done as a loop with Argentine Peak and Square Top Mountain, but I’ve already done both other peaks previously and just needed to tick off this one in the area, making it the perfect choice for this morning.

Yes, Mt Wilcox seemed like a quick and easy 13er, and there was a close 12er I could hike if all was going well.  I didn’t do much research but I also couldn’t find much information in the 10 minutes or so I spent gathering information.  I looked at a few trip reports, printed out a shaded topo map and was ready to go.

I arrived at the Guanella Pass Campground / Silver Dollar Road trailhead at 4am and was on the trail by 4:15am.  I put on snowshoes in the parking lot and kept them on for the entire hike.  I did not regret this decision:  they were a bit overkill in the morning, but very helpful on my way back.

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I followed the Silver Dollar Road Trail for a little over a mile.  The road was still covered in a few feet of crunchy ice.

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I followed the road all the way to Naylor Lake, which was covered in ice as well.  I steered clear, but it looked like others had recently tried to ski across it?!?!?

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There were a few cabins here, some mostly covered in ice.  There were footprints and ski tracks everywhere.

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At the lake the trail ended and I headed Northeast through the trees and up a small gully to treeline

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My beta told me to ascend here, to which (in the dark) I said nope.

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There had to be an easier way!  I decided to trek along the small basin to see if there was an easier way to get up and over this part.  I knew from looking at my topo map once I got above this area the terrain would just slope.  I came to this point and thought to myself “this is doable”, picked a line, and made my way up.

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It was still pretty steep, but nothing as dramatic as the suggested route.  It’s amazing how snow changes things!  On the topo map this area looked very similar to Elkhead Pass, which I was unable to downclimb, yet this was manageable.

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I made it up this difficult area and then was greeted with a long white climb up snow

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Every so often I’d look back, waiting for the sun to rise.  The Sawtooth looks pretty cool!

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I kept heading west until I could see the summit of Mt Wilcox.  When it came into view I thought to myself “That’s it?  That looks too easy!”

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What I didn’t realize was it’s much further than it looks.    I had a hard time focusing on the path ahead of me because I kept turning around to watch the sunrise.  Alpine sunrises are the best!

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They turn the snow pink for 5 minutes or so

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The snow here was very consolidated and easy to navigate.  I wasn’t making any tracks though

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This hike wasn’t very challenging, but it didn’t seem like I was getting any closer to Mt Wilcox

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I’d climb over one area, just to be greeted with another slope

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The summit was snow covered, with amazing views!

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The hike to the summit hadn’t taken me very long and I wasn’t tired, so I decided to head over to Otter Mountain.

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This was very easy.  I hiked northeast down the slope of Mt Wilcox to about 12,300’ (losing about 1100’ in elevation) and then just ascended Otter Mountain

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Here’s a look back at Mt Wilcox from the base of Otter

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The only downside (besides the 400+ feet in elevation gain I had to regain) was the sun was rising as I was hiking up Otter Mountain.  I was hiking directly into the sun, which was less than ideal

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I kept trying to race the sun, trying to make it to the shadows, hiking faster than it was rising, and when I was almost to the top I won!

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The last 100 feet or so in elevation gain were on dry tundra, so I took off my snowshoes and hiked the rest of the way with them in my hands

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Yay summit views!

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I summited Otter Mountain at 7:15am

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Otter Summit Views: 

One thing I really like about 12ers is it’s easy to breathe while you’re hiking to the summit.  I turned around to look at Mt Wilcox and the path I’d taken

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Time to head back.   I knew I could just take the slope of Otter Mountain down to the parking lot,

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But I wanted to get day pictures of the hike, so I made it a loop.  I stayed high to avoid the drainage area (which was a serious drop from every angle).  Here’s the path I took back

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Just Because…

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And a look back at Otter Mountain and the route I took from the Mt Wilcox ledge area

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Time to try and find my tracks and head back down!  Another reason I wanted to make this a loop was to see how difficult the downclimb would be.  I can climb up terrain no problem, but the downclimb still puts me on edge sometimes, and I considered this great practice without too much commitment (a fall wouldn’t be too far and it would land me in the willows).

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I hate saying this, but once again, it’s steeper than it looks

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I made it down successfully to the willows

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And trekked back to Naylor Lake.  It looked like someone had been skiing in the area recently.  As I passed the cabins I noticed a “No Trespassing” sign near an open gate.  Note: in the dark on the way in I hadn’t seen the gate OR the “No Trespassing” sign.  It wasn’t reflective and had been covered in snow.  The gate was 90% covered in snow, open, and had tracks going straight through it.  The rest of the hike was done in slushy conditions, even though it wasn’t yet 9am.  I was glad I’d worn snowshoes.  I made it back to my truck at 9am, making this an 8.5 mile hike in under 5 hours.  I made it home by 11:30am, 30 minutes before my promised 12pm arrival.

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OK, so obviously all I thought about on my way home were those “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs.  I was mad because I hadn’t realized this was private property and because I’d been following tons of footprints (meaning others hadn’t been respecting private property either).  I was mad at myself for not doing more research before the hike (I hadn’t checked maps that would have given me this information) and I was upset all the trip reports I’d looked at (although few) hadn’t mentioned private property and I’d taken their advice.  Also, I kept seeing NFS trail signs, so I had no idea I was on private property.

The first thing I did when I got home was look up a map and find a way to fix this.  I didn’t have this map on my trek:  I made it when I got home.  (The topo I had just had slope angle and terrain, and didn’t include the lakes (etc)).  Please don’t take my route (the dotted line).  There’s another route you can take to the left of Naylor Lake that will get you around the lake, looks easier than the route I took in some areas, and will keep you on public lands.

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Also, I will gladly donate tons of Girl Scout cookies to the Naylor Lake Club as penance (and you should close your gates and put up reflective signs for us early birds if you don’t want trespassers… just sayin’).

The best part about my hike?  I met some friends by the side of the road on my way down!

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Relive:

Oh, and Memorial Dinner was a great American dish:  Beef with Broccoli (but at least I grilled the beef on the grill before adding the glaze… ).