McHenrys Peak – 13,330

RT Length:  17.46 miles

Elevation Gain:  4442’

I started from the Glacier Gorge trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park at 3:30am.  There were already several parties in the parking lot (probably 10 vehicles), but didn’t see another person on my route all day.   This is also a bus stop for access to Glacier Gorge (and lots of other hikes).  All this means is that it was overly crowded the last 2 miles of the hike on my way down.  Passing people became impossible, and more of a stroll as I hiked out with hundreds of other hikers. 

I followed the class 1 trail, staying on the Mills Lake trail.  There were wonderful signs that made getting lost difficult. 

I passed Alberta Falls at 1.15 miles, and continued following the trail to Mills Lake

After hiking for 3.35 miles I passed Mills Lake, and at 3.85 miles I passed Jewel Lake.  Side note:  there’s great fishing here.  Lots of hungry trout, eager to feast on any worm you drop in.  The larger trout are in the stream above Jewel Lake, and in Mills Lake.

I continued following the class 1 trail all the way to Black Lake (6 miles in).  This part of the trail had a lot of wood foot bridges, and rock slabs to cross.  All class 1, but the rock slabs were tricky to navigate in the dark.

I made it to Black Lake, and continued on the class 1 trail, up a waterfall, and across more rock slabs.

Here the trail kind of fizzled out, but I continued following cairns as I crossed a small creek, and headed southwest towards McHenrys Peak. There are a ton of cairns in this area (circled in red). 

Here’s the overall route to Frozen Lake (not pictured) and up Stone Man Pass.  There are plenty of cairns to guide you, but for the rest of the hike be careful:  there are a lot of granite slabs that are quite steep to navigate (all class 2), and slippery where wet.

Here are some close up pictures to Frozen Lake

I easily rock hopped and crossed the lake on its north side, and continued heading west towards Stone Man Pass

There are still tons of cairns in this area, but choose your route based on the best conditions.  The rocks are very slippery where they are wet.  I was aiming for the gully below Stone Man Pass.

I didn’t think the gully was that bad.  I stayed right on my way up, but took the other side down.  I’d recommend climbing up the left side of the gully, as it was more stable, but both were fine.  Here are some pictures of the gully

Once at the top of the gully, I turned right and headed northwest towards McHenrys Peak.  Everything you can see here is class 2, and there are cairns to guide your way.

I rounded the mountain, and was now on the west side of the peak.  Here is got a bit trickier.  There were still cairns to follow.  I headed up a rock slab, and rock filled gully.  This was easy class 3

Here’s the overall route of the rest of the climb.  I felt this was difficult class 3, with some exposure. 

There was a chimney to head up, and then a short but intense scramble to the summit

I summited McHenrys Peak at 9:50am

McHenrys Peak:

The summit looked like it could have several actual summits, so despite the large cairn and summit register, I made sure to walk all around the summit to make sure I’d actually summited.

Now to head back down. The trickiest part was descending the initial section, and finding my way back around the side of the mountain.  Once I was there, it was easy to find my way to Stone Man Pass, and then back down to Frozen Lake.

And then I followed the cairns northeast, back towards the trail that would lead me to Black Lake

Then followed the trail all the way back to the trailhead. 

I made it back to my truck at 2:30pm, making this a 17.46 mile hike with 4442’ of elevation gain, as per CalTopo.  Strava told me it was a 15.02 mile hike with 6573’ of elevation gain.  I tend to go with CalTopo when I write, for consistency purposes, especially since Strava tends to grossly exaggerate elevation gain. 

Also, there were a few elk along the trail who didn’t seem bothered by my presence… they wouldn’t even look up from whatever they were eating to acknowledge me.

On to the next trailhead!

Pagoda Mountain – 13,479

RT Length:  17.74 miles

Elevation Gain:  4544’

I started from the Glacier Gorge trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park at 3:30am.  There were already several parties in the parking lot (probably 10 vehicles), but didn’t see another person on my route all day.   This is also a bus stop for access to Glacier Gulch (and lots of other hikes).  All this means is that it was overly crowded the last 2 miles of the hike on my way down.  Passing people became impossible, and more of a stroll as I hiked out with hundreds of other hikers. 

I followed the class 1 trail, staying on the Mills Lake trail.  There were wonderful signs that made getting lost difficult. 

I passed Alberta Falls at 1.15 miles, and continued following the trail to Mills Lake

After hiking for 3.35 miles I passed Mills Lake, and at 3.85 miles I passed Jewel Lake.  Side note:  there’s great fishing here.  Lots of hungry trout, eager to feast on any worm you drop in.  The larger trout are in the stream above Jewel Lake, and in Mills Lake.

I continued following the class 1 trail all the way to Black Lake (6 miles in).  This part of the trail had a lot of wood foot bridges, and rock slabs to cross.  All class 1, but the rock slabs were tricky to navigate in the dark.

I made it to Black Lake, and continued on the class 1 trail, up a waterfall, and across more rock slabs.

This is where my report may differ from others.  I took a different route in than I did out at this point, and liked my route out better.  It was easier to follow, and there were less willows/shrubs involved.  Here’s the overall picture of what I did.  There is a cairn circled in red, indicating the route to McHenry’s Peak.  Don’t take that route, but leave the trail and head behind the bush.  You will then easily see cairns that will guide you through the upper basin.

Once again, there is no established trail to Green Lake, but there are some tramped game trails (all covered in grass, not much dirt to be seen) and lots of cairns.  This is also choose your own adventure.  You’re aiming south, towards the mountains (circled in red).  There are several small streams to cross in this area, all easily hop-able.

 

I navigated a bit to the right of the waterfall to get to Green Lake (cairns here too)

Once at Green Lake, I turned left and headed southeast.  Here’s my overall route on scree, navigating around large boulders and rock slabs to keep this all class 2.

Here are some close-up pictures of my route up the gully, to the saddle

Once at the saddle, I turned right and headed up the ridge.  I went directly up the ridge on the way up, which was class 3.  I kept it class 2 on the way down by staying more to the left of the ridge. 

Here are some pictures of the ridge.

I summited Pagoda Mountain at 9am. There was a plastic tube at the summit as a register, lacking a lid, but with a ziplock bag inside.  I didn’t bother opening it.

Pagoda Mountain:

I had a great view of the Longs Peak keyhole route

Now to re-trace my steps back to the saddle, before the storm hit

And back down the scree to Green Lake

Once back at Green Lake, I turned right and followed the cairns north out of the basin

This time I went behind the rocks and picked up the old trail, circled in red

Then followed the trail all the way back to the trailhead.  It started raining just as soon as I made it to treeline, accompanied by a flash of lightning, a loud boom, and a wide rumbling all around me.

I made it back to my truck at 1:30pm, making this a 17.74 mile hike with 4544’ of elevation gain in 10 hours. 

On to the next trailhead!

Chiefs Head Peak – 13,579

RT Length:  18.17 miles

Elevation Gain:  5476’

I parked at the Sandbeach Lake Trailhead at Rocky Mountain National Park, and was on the trail at 4:30am.

The Sandbeach Lake Trail was a class 1 trail I took all the way to Sandbeach Lake.  There were 2 creek crossings, but they had footbridges across.

It was 5 miles to Sandbeach Lake. Once at the lake, the fastest way to skirt the lake and find a trail is to go right here

But I wanted to see the lake, so I did, and then followed the lake past a small stream, and caught up with the trail there.  

After crossing the creek, I followed the trail northeast to treeline.  When the trail ended, there were plenty of cairns to guide the way (circled in red).

Once at treeline, I kept aiming for Mt Orton (unranked). There were cairns to mark the way until I was in front of Mt Orton

I then skirted Mt Orton to the left, and went through a very small saddle

I could now see an easy path to Chief Head’s ridge.  Here’s the route I took

And some close-up pictures

Once on the ridge, I followed it .3 miles to the summit, on rocky terrain.  I was able to keep it all class 2 by staying to the left.

There wasn’t a summit register, or a cairn, or a marker, so I just walked all over the rocky summit.

I summited Chiefs Head Peak at 11am

Chiefs Head Peak:

From the summit I had an amazing view of Pagoda, Longs, and Meeker

This was an out and back hike, so I turned and retraced my steps back down the mountain, around Mt Orton, and to Sandbeach Lake

The cairns picked up again, and I could now see Sandbeach Lake, so route finding was easy until I hit the trail.

Back at the lake, I picked up the Sandbeach Lake Trail, and took this class 1 trail all the way back to the trailhead.

I made it back to my truck at 3:15pm, making this an 18.17 mile hike with 5476’ of elevation gain in 10 hours 45 minutes.

On to the next trailhead!

Warren Peak – 13,307 – Rogers Peak – 13,391 – Mt Spalding – 13,863 – The Sawtooth – 13,520 – West Evans – 14,257 – Mt Evans – 14,268

RT Length:  10.28 miles

Elevation Gain:  3263’

The permit system was simple, especially for Summit Lake. I bought it the day before, and there were 23 spots left for entry between 8-10am, the time I picked since it was the earliest. There were two other vehicles in the parking lot when I was on the trail at 4:45am. 

I was headed northeast, to the summit of Mt Warren.  This was simple, class 2, and straightforward.  Except it was dark and the rocks were slippery because of the rain.  Here’s the route I took.

After hiking northwest for .75 miles, I summited Mt Warren at 5:10am

Mt Warren:

I continued following the ridge northwest, to the summit of Rogers Peak.  This was also class 2

The summit of Rogers Peak is the top of this rock. 

I climbed up it (not difficult) but took the video from below. 

I summited Rogers Peak at 6am

Rogers Peak:  

Now to re-trace my steps back to Summit Lake.

I re-summited Mt Warren, and continued southwest towards Summit Lake

Once at Summit Lake, there was a class 1 trail that let me up to the summit of Mt Spalding

While this was class 1, there were a couple of quick class 3 scrambling moves.  Large cairns made the route obvious

I continued following the ridge west towards the summit, on the class 1 trail

This rock is the summit block. I climbed it.  The summit area (besides the block) is flat

I summited Mt Spalding at 8am

Mt Spalding:

From Mt Spalding I could see my next objective to the southwest:  The Sawtooth

I continued following the class 1 trail south towards Mt Evans, but once I hit the ridge to The Sawtooth I left the trail and headed west. Here’s my overall route

And some step-by-step pictures

I summited The Sawtooth at 8:35am

The Sawtooth:

From The Sawtooth I could see Mt Evans to the east (actual summit hidden)

I made my way back to the Class 1 trail

I was still off trail, but just before linking back up with the actual trail I came upon a couple of mountain goats.  They didn’t seem to mind my taking their picture.  I never would have seen them if I’d been 50 feet away, on the actual trail.

Now back on the trail, I followed it southeast

I came to a small saddle, and while there are cairns on the other side, the true trail descends the gully a few feet, and picks up below.  There are cairns to indicate this way as well

I followed the cairns southwest, until I made it to 14175’.  I then left the trail, put on my helmet, and aimed for the ridge, and West Evans above. This was all easy class 3

I summited West Evans at 9:25am

West Evans:

From West Evans I could see the summit of Mt Evans to the east.

I descended back to the class 1 trail, and followed it east to the summit of Mt Evans

Just before the summit I followed the large switchbacks to the summit

This is the actual summit of Mt Evans. I still had on my helmet, so I scrambled up.

I summited Mt Evans at 9:40am

Mt Evans:

There were summit markers… not on the summit

And tons of tourists.  Time to head down.  I made my way back down the switchbacks, and headed east to the summit house

Once at the summit house I continued northeast, back down to the road below. At times there was a well-defined trail here

Back on the road, I followed it north to Summit Lake, and my truck

I made it back to my truck at 10:30am, making this a 10.28 mile hike with 3263’ of elevation gain I 5 hours, 45 minutes.

On to the next trailhead!

Kelso Mountain – 13,164

RT Length: 6.32 miles

Elevation Gain:  1937’

I arrived at the Grays and Torreys Trailhead the night before, curious to find there were only a handful of vehicles in the parking area.

I picked out a prime spot (that proved later to be a bad choice), and settled in to read a bit before heading to bed.  I talked to an awesome CDT thru hiker, and noticed two girls fiddling with a camper in the parking lot.  A very old camper, on top of a very old Tundra.  They were all over that camper; on top pulling at buckles, on the back, fiddling with the door, banging on the sides, etc.  When I saw them bring out a hatchet I stopped reading and walked over to them.

I said hello, told them I was a mom and a Girl Scout Leader, and also told them my kids ages, trying to let them know I wasn’t a freak. I asked them if they needed any help? Yes, yes they did.  It seemed they’d locked the keys to the camper inside the camper.  I asked them how old they were. 16 and 17.  Wow!  I was impressed!  Not only had they driven this clunker up to the Grays and Torreys Trailhead, they’d convinced their parents to let them do it alone, in their dad’s truck.  When I was their age my mom wouldn’t have let me do that.  I know because I’d asked, then had to resort to the “I’m sleeping at Kelly’s house” thing as I went to bonfires in the woods where my mom had no idea where I was at.  Kudos to their parents.    The girls has about 15 14ers under their belts, and wanted to tackle Grays and Torreys in the morning, but it was going to be a long night if they couldn’t get the back open.

OK, time to problem solve.  I didn’t think breaking a window was a good idea if we could help it.  I knew how to open a car window with duct tape.  I asked if they had any, and they brought out a small roll of electrical tape. That wasn’t going to work.  Next, I looked at the door handle, which didn’t look too secure.  I was thinking we could probably jolt it back and forth and it might break.  As I was jiggling the handle, I asked how close the next set of keys would be?  They said it didn’t matter, because the keys to the truck were inside the camper as well.  I was really thinking I’d just drive them back to Denver or something to pick up the keys from their parents, when one of the girls got the fabulous idea to look for another set of keys to the camper, and found them inside the glove box inside the truck.  Problem solved.  I wished them luck, happy they hadn’t broken a window with a hatchet, and told them to knock on my window if they needed anything during the night. 

It rained.  Around midnight I heard something crawling around underneath my truck. It sounded slow, and it was trying to get itself inside the gears.  I pounded the side of the truck and it seemed to creep away.  Half an hour later it came back, so I knew if I didn’t get rid of this thing it was going to be a long night.  Also, I wasn’t going to make friends at the trailhead if I kept banging on the side of my truck all night.

I got out of the topper and into the front seat of my truck. I turned it on and revved the engine a few times.  When I was done, and crawling back into the topper, I saw a porcupine waddle away from underneath. It seems my secluded spot at the back of the parking area had been a bad idea, as it was easy access for porcupines.  No one else had porcupine trouble that night (that I talked to).

I was up and on the trail at 4:30am, and the trailhead was now about half full of vehicles.  I crossed the bridge, and began following the Grays and Torreys trail.

This is a class 1, wide, easy to follow trail. 

My beta said to follow the trail all the way to the Kelso/Torreys saddle, so that’s what I did, but you don’t need to do that.  You can gain the ridge at any point after about 11900’.  If I had to do this again, this is where I’d ascend the ridge

But, I had beta that said to go to the saddle, so that’s what I did.  I followed the trail for about 2 miles, and then made my way to the saddle. There’s a trail the entire way.

When I got there, I turned to go east up the ridge, but noticed it was all class 3 and above.  This seemed silly to me, because there was clearly tundra below.

So I backtracked and took the tundra route to the ridge.  This was a fabulous idea, easy going, and I didn’t need a helmet.

This is what I was trying to avoid, which looks ok from this side, but more spicy from above.  Just take the tundra route.

It was here, around 5:30am, when I saw my first helicopter flyover for the day.  It got dangerously close to the mountains, and I was worried someone needed SAR.  All kinds of scenarios went though my head. I knew CFI was doing work in the area, but the post I’d seen a few days ago said they weren’t starting until next weekend (I found out later they posted again with the proper dates last night, but I was already at the trailhead, so I didn’t know this).  I was worried someone needed help, and the helicopter couldn’t find them.  I spend a lot of time looking for someone myself as I hiked.  

Helicopter:

The helicopter came back around about 20 minutes later, and took a different path.  Once again, I was worried they were searching for someone.  Then about 20 minutes after that I saw the helicopter carrying wooden ties, and knew it must be CFI doing trail maintenance.  THANK YOU CFI!

Once on the tundra, before gaining the ridge, I came across some mountain goats lounging, watching the sunrise.  I stood there and watched it with them.

Then I continued on towards the ridge

After making it to the ridge, I followed it northeast to the summit.  This was a simple ridge walk on tundra.

I summited Kelso Mountain at 6:30am

Kelso Mountain:

At the summit cairn there was a journal that was recently placed there.  I know some people get worked up about this type of thing, but it’s there for a good cause, and it will be taken back down.  Needless to say, I text the man battling cancer a good morning, and sent him pictures of the goats. 

Then I retraced my steps back down the ridge

I left the ridge at 11250’ to head back into the basin.  I aimed southwest, towards the obvious Grays and Torreys Trail

The goats were still lounging around, so I stopped for a bit to enjoy their presence.  They seemed unbothered by the flyovers.  I didn’t get too close, but it was neat they were so relaxed.  The views were incredible.

After a few minutes I got up again, and headed down the tundra to the trail below, noticing there were tons of people hiking like ants below.

Once back on the trail I realized it was still early, and considered Grays or Torreys or both, but I had a 10am meeting I needed cell service for, and I wasn’t 100% sure I’d have it on the mountain, so I headed back to the trailhead.

Check out the CFI helicopter picking up ties

I made it back to the trailhead at 7:30am, and the parking lot was already full.  It’s a Tuesday.

I got back to my truck at 7:30am, making this a 6.32 mile hike with 1937’ of elevation gain in 3 hours.  This would be an easy addition to Grays and Torreys.

On to my meeting!

Wild Wanderer: Soloing Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks

I know I’ve been silent for a few months, and I want to thank those of you who reached out to me asking how I was doing.  Yes, I was still summiting peaks, but I was summiting repeat peaks, so I wouldn’t need to write up trip reports.  Instead, I was spending my writing time… writing a book!  I’m proud to say I’m officially a published author!!!  I’m not going to promote the book for a couple of weeks, as I’d like some friends to read it and post reviews first.  It takes 10 positive reviews to counter each negative one, so if you enjoy my book, please post a positive review on Amazon.  If you notice a spelling error (etc.) please let me know:  I can still fix it before the big launch.  Please go easy on me: I’m more of a blogger than a writer.  Thank you all for your continued support!  Don’t buy the hard cover. 

You can purchase the book here on Amazon.

Mt Princeton in Winter – 14,197 and Tigger Peak – 13,300

RT Length: 15.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 5615’

There was a fairly recent conditions report on this peak, I so I chose it figuring there’s be a trench to treeline.  I had some appointments I needed to be back home by 4pm for, and this seemed like a logical choice for today.

I arrived late, as I woke up to 6 inches of snow at home and had to shovel my driveway before leaving the house.  The roads were icy so I took the drive slow.  I pulled into the parking lot just before 5am and was surprised to find a fresh layer of snow on the ground.  The entire lot was covered, and there were no tracks from any other vehicles.  I parked near the entrance and put on my gear.  I was on the trail by 5am.

The trail starts at the west end of the parking area.  There’s a bathroom and plenty of parking and excellent signage.

I followed this road (Mt Princeton Road/322) as it switchbacked up the east side of the mountain.  I was the first one making tracks, and wore my microspikes the entire day (but lugged along snowshoes).

I continued following the road 3.3 miles to the communication towers

At the towers I turned left and followed trail/road 322A

This is where the snow started getting deep.  There wasn’t a visible trench, so I postholed a bit, but was stubborn and didn’t put on my snowshoes.

I was still following the road, but there was a lot of snow in this area.  The drop-offs were steep (better pictures later, just be aware of avy danger here).

I followed the road to treeline, and then gained the ridge to the right (continuing on this road will take you to the Lucky Mine, and another access point to summit Tigger, but I found the snow was too steep covering the road and decided against that route)

Once on the ridge it was windblown, and I could easily see the summer trail. 

At this point, what I should have done was gone straight up and over Tigger Peak. 

But the trail looked easily to follow, and the mountain looked windblown, so I continued to follow the summer route.  Here’s the overall summer route

As I said earlier, I was following the mostly bare trail.  I crossed a couple of slide areas without difficulty, and then came to one that gave me pause.  I could see remnants of old footprints/tracks in the snow further ahead, but I did not feel comfortable crossing this section this morning, even though I had my ice axe and gear. A slip would have been too costly, especially since I hike solo.

I decided instead to change direction immediately and head south to the ridge, rock hopping to the top.  Most of these rocks were large, and luckily, few of them moved.  The snow in-between the rocks was troublesome at times, and I postholed to my waist, but I felt more comfortable with this route.

Once on the ridge I followed it northwest to the summit.  There were several social trails here, but staying on the ridge proper, or going slightly east worked well.

I made it to the summit at 10:45am

Mt Princeton:

It was a gorgeous day above treeline!  However, I had plans and needed to bet back down.  I decided to head back over Tigger Peak.  Circled is the small slide area I wished to avoid

Here are some pictures of the ridge to Tigger Peak, complete with a few small false summits

From Tigger Peak, here’s looking at the descent point

I continued hiking the ridge, and then started the longest part of my day:  rock hopping back down to the trail.  I just had to head northeast, and I could see the trail in front of me, but a lot of these rocks moved and progress was painstakingly slow.  Here’s the route

From there I picked up the trail and followed it back to the road

And followed the road back down to the trailhead. 

Here are some better pictures of how steep some sections on the road were

Something cool:  I was the first to make prints on my way in, but on my way out I saw coyote prints following my tracks.  Some of the prints were directly in my footsteps.  Looks like I had a stalker.

The snow on the road became slushy as I descended. 

It was downright muddy by the time I made it back to my truck

I didn’t see another person the entire day, which was a shame because it was a perfect day to be above treeline!

I made it back to my truck at 2:45pm, much later than I’d originally anticipated.  Luckily, I had cell reception and could call my appointments and move them to 6pm.  This ended up being a 15.4 mile hike with 5615’ of elevation gain in 9 hours, 45 minutes.

You can buy the Mt Princeton summit sticker here

La Plata Peak in Winter – 14,336

RT Length: 10.93 miles

Elevation Gain: 4620’

Detailed La Plata in Winter Report  

I’ve already done a detailed trip report on this route, so I’m just adding pictures and some notes/a story for today’s hike.  Funny thing:  It’s been almost exactly 2 years since I’ve done this hike. The end of January seems to be a good week for La Plata in winter.

I was really, really tired on the drive in, so when I got to the trailhead I decided to take a 20 minute nap before starting.  I was also hoping someone else would arrive so we wouldn’t be the ones doing all the trenching:  no dice.  We started out at 6:30am, and were the only ones in the parking area, so we had no hopes of anyone trenching before us. 

I put on my snowshoes at the truck, knowing I’d eventually need them and not wanting to take off my gloves to put them on.  It was -2 degrees when we started hiking.  I kept the snowshoes on for the entire hike.  We started out following road 391 to the trailhead.  This was a well packed down road, but not in the beginning.  It looked like someone had tried to drive the snow packed road.  They made it across the bridge, then obviously backed up.  Funny:  that was probably the hardest part of the road.

Here’s the trailhead.  Note, there’s private property all around:  stick to the trail

The trail was trenched!  Woot!  We followed the trail a short ways, and check this out:  An old cabin!  This is my 5th time on this trail and I’d never see the cabin before.  On our way back we spent some time trying to figure out how old it was by looking at the boards, logs, chinking, etc. 

On we went, following the trench as it wound through the trees and across the log bridge/through the willows. From here, it’s all uphill. 

We were following the summer route, and I kept looking for a trench indicating the winter route, but we never came across one.  It’s my goal this year not to let a good trench go to waste, so we decided to follow the summer route to the basin and see if we’d be able to summit this way.  We hiked on some seriously steep slopes below treeline, where a slip off the trenched trail would send you sliding quite a ways into the drainage below.  The trench ended as soon as we made it to the basin, so we decided to make our own trench up the ridge to the headwall.  Here you can see our basic route

Also, I don’t recommend this route in winter:  there’s avy danger.  Today however we didn’t see enough snow to be worried.  I’d wanted to teach SkydiverHiker how to use his ice axe, and there didn’t seem to be enough snow/ice to make it relevant on the way up.  Here’s our route up the headwall.

I should also note it was really, really cold in the morning before the sun reached us.  Several times we considered turning back, but in the end we knew the sun was just over the ridge:  all we needed to do was make it up the headwall and we’d be fine.  This part was slow going and slippery.

Once we made it to the ridge and I felt the sun warm my face I was ecstatic!  Also, I screamed.  Raynaud’s attacks are no fun, and now that the sun was warming my fingers and toes the blood rush felt like I was picking up a hot pan I couldn’t let go of.   Not fun.  Luckily SkydiverHiker is used to this and let me scream as loud as I needed without judgement.

It’s a really long ridge hike to the summit of La Plata Peak.  My route says about 2.3 miles of ridge work.  I don’t have a lot of pictures of the hike in due to my frozen fingers, so all of these pictures are from the hike out.  Here’s a look at the ridge today

We trudged up this ridge, but it was such a nice day we didn’t mind much. 

I kept looking back to see if anyone was poaching our trench, but never saw anyone.  Such a shame!  There were some small cornices forming on the ridge. Nothing too dramatic, but we stayed away from them.

At one point we stopped to get a shadowselfie and a picture of Sayres Benchmark

We summited in bluebird conditions:  no wind, no clouds, just a nice, sunny day. There were some small cornices at the top.

Here’s a summit photo and video of the summit

NE La Plata

We actually stayed for a but at the summit because the weather was so nice.  The views were amazing, and demanded to be appreciated.  I should have put on sunscreen, but didn’t.  I have much better pictures of the route down because:  warmth.  Check out that ridge!  Here’s the overall route.

And some step by step to the headwall

Here’s looking down the headwall

I decided to go first to blaze a trail.  Here’s looking back up at SkydiverHiker, waiting patiently

I spent a long time gingerly making a nice trail for SkydiverHiker to scree surf down

SkydiverHiker decided to glissade down instead (smh).  This was his first real time, as I’ve had him practice before, but never where the run out was so long.  He learned first hand about hitting rocks, keeping his feet up, and how long it takes to stop once you place your ice axe. He may have rolled a few times (on purpose, of course).

The snow was getting dangerously soft:  we were booking it out of there, but I got a final shot of our paths down (lots of rollerballs).

We made it back to the trench and started our hike out

This part was pleasant, but my feet were thawing out, so every once in a while I’d get a sharp pain in my toes (note:  two days later, I’m still having pain.  Raynaud’s sucks).  We saw our first people of the day; snowshoers who were just following the trench as long as it went.  We let them know they had another 20 yards or so to go, and continued on our way.

We took some pictures of Lake Creek as we crossed

And made it back to my truck at 3:15pm, making this a 10.93 mile hike with 4620’ of elevation gain in 8 hours, 45 minutes.

Some final thoughts:  It was a shame we were the only ones on the summit today, as it was a beautiful day. Also, if possible, take the standard winter rout that goes up the ridge sooner:  our route had more avy danger than is recommended. 

Mt Columbia in Winter – 14,073

RT Length: 14.28 miles

Elevation Gain: 5498’

I’d already summited 3 peaks this week, but with my being so close to 100 14ers and winter weather moving in I really wanted to try to get in one more summit.  I did a lot of weather watching:  the storm kept changing areas, times, wind speeds, etc.  I finally settled on Mt Columbia because I haven’t done it yet in winter and someone said they’d trenched it earlier in the week (remember, my motto this year is not to let a trench go to waste).

I didn’t make it all the way to the Harvard Lakes Trailhead on the drive in. There was too much snow and I ended up backing my truck up for about half a mile to find a good parking space.  I parked here. There’s room for 2-3 vehicles if everyone parks nicely.

I gathered my gear and started hiking along the road. It’s about a mile from where I parked to the Harvard Lakes Trailhead along this road.  Alost as soon as I started hiking my flashlight stopped working, so I had to get out another.  When that one stopped working as well I walked for a bit in the dark, then sighed and got out my emergency charger/flashlight.  It was then I realized I’d missed the trailhead, so I had to backtrack a ways.  I was also very glad I’d decided to turn around/head back when I did on my drive in: the road isn’t driveable to the trailhead.

I made it to the proper trailhead, and followed the Colorado Trail as it switchbacked up the side of the mountain.

After hiking on the Colorado Trail for .8 miles I left the trail and followed the ridge.  Luckily, this part was (mostly) already trenched.

From here on out it was a ridge hike.  I followed the ridge to treeline (about 1.25 miles).  Some of the area below treeline was trenched, but there were many areas under several feet of snow.  I was stubborn and reused to put on snowshoes, postholing up to my waist several times. 

Also, it takes forever to get to treeline!

Finally, it became impossible to go any further without snowshoes, so I put them on, just before making it out of treeline. Here’s a good overall view of the route above treeline.  It’s important to note the true summit is still not visible (it’s behind that ridge, to the north).

Now this became a ridge hike, above treeline.  I could see the clouds moving in, and indeed, it was snowing off and on.  The wind was also picking up.  Taking off my snowshoes, I followed the ridge as it wound northeast.  First heading towards point 12042

Once there, I lost some elevation, and the ridge split.  I don’t think it matters which side of the ridge you take.  I went right, since there was less snow there. Here’s an overview of the route

My camera died here (due to the cold), so I started using my phone.  Here are some more close-up pictures

Around this point the wind became unbearable, and I could no longer take off my gloves to take pictures with my phone, so I don’t’ have any from this point on.  Also, as you can tell, the weather moved in and you wouldn’t have been able to tell much from the photos anyway. What you need to know about the rest of this hike is it’s further than it looks, it’s all class 2, the ridge goes on forever, and what you think is the summit… isn’t.  The summit is actually the northernmost point, not what looks like the summit from below (that’s PT 13544).  It’s a rocky summit, and I couldn’t find a summit marker (but I also didn’t look for one).

The wind didn’t let up, and I summited in whiteout conditions.  It seems the 50% chance of snow after 11am was happing at 9am.  I tagged the summit, turned around, and retraced my steps down that long ridge.  My fingers and toes were burning inside my socks and glvoes.  I had on ski goggles that kept fogging up, and I had to be careful of my footing since I couldn’t see much in front of me.  As I got further down the ridge the weather let up a bit, and I could see my way back (these pictures were actually taken from my way in).

I put my snowshoes back on and kept them on for the rest of the hike.  The snow started picking up again, especially as I made it back to treeline. 

I made it back to the Colorado Trail, and followed it back to the road

And now to follow the road back to my truck

Along the way I was passed by a cross country skier.  He seemed impressed I’d just hiked Mt Columbia, especially since it was now snowing quite a bit.  I’m not gonna lie, I was a little worried about my drive out.  I wished him well as I took off my snowshoes and kept trudging along the road. 

Just as I made it back to the trailhead I turned and saw a white dog running towards me, no owner in sight, clenching a deer leg in its mouth.

The skier said it was his dog, assembling a deer one piece at a time.  His wife soon followed after the dog, they packed up and were on their way. I made it back to my truck at 12pm, making this a 14.28 mile hike with 5498’ of elevation gain in 9 hours.

The snow was really falling, so I got out of there quickly. The roads weren’t as bad as I’d thought, and completely clear by the time I made it to town.

In the end, I was glad I’d hiked today, but will most likely do this one again to get better ridge pictures.  I should have picked a better weather day.

Mt Columbia Summit Sticker can be bought here

Uncompahgre in Winter – 14,309

RT Length: 16.42 miles

Elevation Gain: 5068’

This was a last-minute decision.  I left the house at 10:30pm and made it to the trailhead by 4am, after a rather tricky/slick/whiteout conditions drive over Monarch Pass (note to self:  check the weather along the route, not just for the peak you’re climbing).  I also had a gas station mishap in Gunnison (long story) so my truck smelled like gasoline when I parked.  I was pleasantly surprised to find CR 20 nicely plowed from Lake City.  There was 1 other vehicle at the trailhead, and only room for 2.

The other vehicle looked outfitted for sleeping, and there were window coverings on the windows, so I wasn’t sure if there was someone sleeping inside.  I tried to be quiet as I hit the trail at 4:30am.  This is the lower trailhead, so I followed the 4WD dirt road (now packed with snow) for 4 miles to the upper trailhead.

There was some ice on the trail, but it was mostly an easy road to follow

And here’s a look at the stream crossings.  There were snow bridges over the water, and you could hear water flowing under the snow.

I was still hiking in the dark when I saw a flashlight behaving erratically up ahead.  As I got closer, I realized it was a skier.  My flashlight was acting funky, so I couldn’t see him clearly, which was good, because he told me he was changing his pants (putting on warmer ones).  His name was Paul and he sounded like he was in his 20s.  He said he’d “see me up there” and I continued on. 

From this point it was clear he’d been trenching with his skis, but even so, I didn’t need to put on snowshoes until I made it to treeline.  I continued hiking along the road

I made it to the upper trailhead and the bathroom (I didn’t check to see if it was open, but it looked like there were game trails leading up to the door)

This is where the trail got ‘iffy’.  There was no longer a trench, but if I strayed from the old trench I’d sink up to my waist in snow.  I put on my snowshoes and only postholed every 30 steps or so.   Here’s the upper trailhead

From the upper trailhead the trail heads northwest to treeline and then through willows.

Once at the willows I had to gain this small ridge.  This was easier to do in the morning than in the afternoon (pics of my glissade route later).  Here’s my path

Just as I made it up this ridge the sun began to rise.  I had a great view of the sunrise over Uncompahgre

And looking back

There was no trench here, nor any sign of a previous one, so I got to make my own.  Here’s my basic path

And step by step.  Lots of trenching, but pretty straightforward.  Your goal is to gain the ridge.

You’re aiming for this sign on the ridge.  There are a lot of these signs in the area, all saying to be careful of vegetation, so make sure you aim for the one obviously on the ridge.

Once on the ridge, I turned right and followed a faint trail northwest.  The snow on the switchbacks was a bit sketchy.

I gained the ridge again and traversed a short distance along the backside, looking for a short gully to climb

I took off my snowshoes at the gully and climbed up, carrying them (bad idea)

At the top of the gully I found cairns and a trail that wound back to the east side of the mountain to the summit, so I stashed my snowshoes and kept going.

I walked back and forth all along the summit to make sure I hit the actual summit. The summit is towards the middle… the pictures were better towards the west though.  Also, usually when there’s a lot of snow I can see herds of animals, or at least their tracks in the basins below or on the ridges.  No tracks today, so they’re all probably below treeline now.

It was a long drive back home, so I turned and retraced my steps

I made my way back to the gully and found my stashed snowshoes.  I seriously wished I’d stashed them below the gully, but because I wasn’t sure of the conditions above I’d brought them with me.  I carried them gingerly in my left hand as I headed down

At the bottom of the gully I put my snowshoes back on and kept them on for the remainder of the hike.  I turned left and followed my tracks back to the ridge.

Once in the ridge I had some switchbacks to go down before following the ridge proper.  It had only been about an hour or so, but the tracks I’d made on my way in were already gone, so I got to make new ones.

Once down the switchbacks most of my tracks were still there, so I followed them back down the basin.  Side note:  From here I could see the skiers tracks, and the skier still in the basin below.  He’d chosen a different route to gain the ridge, and seemed to be stopping for lunch.  Since he was on skis I expected him to pass me on the way down.

This is where I ran into a little bit of trouble… The skier had gone over my tracks on his way in, and in doing so made them slippery as the sun warmed.  They’d turned into ice, and my snowshoes couldn’t grab onto my tracks.  The snow was too soft to make new tracks.  I tried to retrace my steps down, lost footing on the ice, and glissaded into the willows. The slipping wasn’t calculated, but the glissading was:  Once I’d started I quickly assessed the risks and just decided to keep going.

Here’s a look back on that short glissade

And now, to hike out.  The trench was still in place, so it was relatively easy.  Here are some pics.

I made it back to my truck at 1:30pm, making this a 16.42 mile hike with 5069’ of elevation gain in 9 hours.  I never did see the skier.  Here’s a topo map of my route

Also, on the way out there’s ice climbing!!!