Hunter Peak – 13,497

RT Length:  15.22 miles

Elevation Gain:  4854’

Due to weather, I wasn’t able to summit Hunter Peak along with the rest of the ridge last week, so I was back again to try to summit with the little bit of snow it had received in the past few days.  I parked at the Conundrum Hot Springs Trailhead, and was on the trail at 4:30am. 

I followed the class 1 trail south for 5.75 miles

After hiking for 5.75 miles, and at 10040’ of elevation I left the trail and headed west up the hillside, staying in between two drainages.  This included a lot of bushwhacking, but I was headed towards the arrow, staying more left, but really just trying to find a route through the trees to get thee. I didn’t see any game trails.

As I made my way out of the trees, I had a good view of Hunter Peak, and my intended route to the ridge

I made my way southwest towards the ridge, entering the basin

I was about halfway through the basin when I saw a cool cave in the middle.  I wasn’t headed that way, but took a picture of it anyway.  I thought I saw what looked like a bear standing at the mouth of the cave, but I was too far away to tell

A minute later, I heard talus scattering, and looked over to see a black bear running as fast as it could away from me.  It was at around 12000’, booking it towards treeline.

Here’s a video of the bear running away from me.  He was quite a fast bear.

I continued heading towards the ridge.  There were several choices for gullies.  Here’s the route I took.  This was all difficult class 2.

And some step-by-step pictures up the gullies to the ridge.

Once on the ridge I turned right, and followed the ridge northwest, immediately going up this gully

After ascending the gully, I made my way to the ridge, and stuck to it.  This was class 2

There was another, final gully to ascend, also difficult class 2

I summited Hunter Peak at 10:30am

Hunter Peak:

The views from the summit were beautiful! 

But it was starting to snow, so I retraced my steps back down the ridge and gully

Both ways go, but the red dirt on the right is easier

Then it was down and out of the basin

It was starting to snow, so I headed towards that clump of aspens

Then bushwhacked east, back down to the Conundrum Hot Springs Trail

Once on the trail, I followed it north back to the trailhead

I made it back to my truck at 2:15pm, making this a 15.22 mile hike with 4854’ of elevation gain in 9 hours, 45 minutes.

On to the next trailhead!

Cottonwood Peak A – 13,588

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RT Length: 11.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5110’

I got a bit of a later start on this one that I’d intended, as when my alarm went off at 12:30am I hit snooze and slept another hour or so (I’d already summited 7 peaks in the past 2 days and was a little tired). I made it to the Hot Springs Trailhead after first being led by GPS to the Hot Springs (which the sign indicated clothing optional: it was also closed due to Covid-19 fears).

The drive to the trailhead is easy 2WD on a dirt road.

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There was 1 other vehicle parked there when I got there, which I thought was odd. It was a newer VW and didn’t look like it had been there overnight. I tried to be quiet in case someone was sleeping in their car but thought to myself “Great! Someone else is trenching the trail for me!”

The trail is a loop, and I was surprised to find out it was actually an established trail. The morning was getting better and better!

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Just as an FYI, you cannot see the peak from the parking lot, but it was dark so that didn’t matter anyway. I signed the trail register (which was difficult due to the cold temperatures and ballpoint pen available). I wanted to summit Cottonwood Peak first, so I took the trail clockwise, starting to the left

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The trail starts off wandering through chaparral

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Here the trail was clearly marked and easy to follow.

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I rustled a sleeping ptarmigan as the trail switched to scrub oak

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Once I entered the aspens the trail started to deteriorate. What I’d been pleased to discover was a good trail became a trail in much need of maintenance. I was navigating over fallen trees for the rest of the hike, and it became increasingly obvious no one had used this trail since the Fall and no one would be trenching for me today.

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Around 2.4 miles there was a great spot for a campsite (10130’)

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What I found disturbing were the number of dead animals I encountered on this hike. There were deer remains everywhere (I’m pretty sure it was more than one deer, spread out over a few miles) and a lot of bird feathers. It let me know there was a predator in the area, I just wasn’t sure which kind?

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I encountered the first real snow after about 2.6 miles. It was still early in the morning so I didn’t need traction, but I did posthole from time to time. Here the trail was difficult to see, as it was both covered in fallen trees/branches and snow.

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Here things got interesting: I came across bear tracks! They looked like they were from the day before, and since there was only one set of prints I knew it wasn’t a mama, and that it was just passing through. I followed prints along the trail for about a mile

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Since the trail was difficult to follow and the snow was getting softer I found myself straddling the ravine and following the small stream around the mountain

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It became increasingly apparent I was the only one to use this trail in a long time. I circled around to a gully, which would have been challenging if there’d been more snow. Instead it was a steady climb up, and when I had the option, I took the gully to the right, also easy to navigate

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The second gully ended near treeline, and I became excited as I thought I could see the peak.

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Of course in my mind I knew I was too close to treeline for that to be the peak, but surely it had to be just behind it? As I continued on I saw another peak behind the first one and figured that was the summit

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Up, up, and up I continued, doing my best to avoid the snowy areas.

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Imagine my surprise (and dismay) when I finally reached the top of the second peak and noticed I wasn’t anywhere near the summit: it was still quite far away

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Not only was I still a good distance from the summit, but I would need my ice axe and snowshoes. Luckily, I had both. I sighed, broke down, and put them on. There was no way I was turning back now. The weather was great (the best day I’ve had all year) and while I’d already done 30 miles this weekend with 15K of elevation gain and was physically exhausted, I wasn’t quitting this close to the summit. I left my trekking pole here and continued on, ice axe in hand. The only way across the ridge was to walk directly on top of the cornices. Luckily the snow here seemed firm

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The last bit to the summit was easier than expected

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I summited at 9:30am

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Summit Views:

There was even a summit tag on top

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This hike is traditionally done as a loop along with Unnamed 13123B, so I went over to get a good look at the route

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Hmmmm…. The route didn’t look that difficult. Actually, the ridge looked better than the one I’d just traversed, but it was a really nice day and the snow was warming up fast. I knew I could summit 13123, but I was unsure of the snow conditions on the route back below treeline if I were to make this a loop. I didn’t want to re-summit Cottonwood because a) I’d already done 5000+ feet of elevation today and b) the snow was getting softer by the minute on this side as well.

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In the end I decided to go with the safer route and descend the way I’d summited, figuring that while the conditions wouldn’t be ideal, at least I knew what to expect.
I turned and headed back the way I’d come, first over a pretty cool cornice

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And then back down the ridge

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My favorite part was toe-heeling it across the cornices

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Here’s the route back

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I decided to keep my snowshoes on, and this time stuck to the areas with snow.

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The snow was a terrible mush and I was glad I’d decided to return the way I knew, even if it meant postholing and navigating felled trees

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I kept my snowshoes on for longer than needed, but they came in helpful when I hit the boggy areas where there was no discernable trail but a lot of willows/snow/downed trees

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They were cumbersome in areas such as this:

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On the way back I scared the same ptarmigan as this morning and saw a cactus in bloom

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I made it back to my truck at 12:30pm, making this an 11.5 mile hike with 5110’ of elevation gain in 7 hours, 15 minutes. The VW was gone.

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I was really happy with my decision not to make this a loop today, and look forward to trying the trail counter-clockwise next time, when there’s less snow…

#80 Pacific Peak – 13,950

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RT Length: 13 miles

Elevation Gain: 3706’ (From McCullough Gulch lower gate closure)

There are so many routes up Pacific Peak I wasn’t sure which one to take? I ended up making the decision the night before, and decided on the Southwest Slopes because I liked the way it looked best on a topo map (particularly the headwall area).  I arrived at the Blue Lakes road and found the gate closed to the McCullough Gulch Trailhead.  So I parked at the closed gate, right next to a small stream of water running off the road.  I gathered my gear and was off at 2:30am.

About 20 yards into my hike I heard a loud noise that sounded like a large animal slipping and sliding on the scree below the road and to the right of me. Well… at least whatever it was was running away from me.  Quickly.  The 2WD dirt road to the trailhead was clear, dry, and easy to follow.  I was confused as to why it was still closed, since besides some extremely minor avy debris and a short area with water running by the side of the road, the road was clear.

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I hiked on this dirt road for 2.2 miles from the closed gate to the start of trailhead. This is where the snow started, and in the dark obscured the beginning of the trail.

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For the next mile the snow was intermittent and soft. I’d need snowshoes for about 30 steps, then not need them for dozens of yards, and then I’d need them again for 30 steps or so.

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I crossed a bridge

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And headed left on a trail (the road ended here)

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This is where I put snowshoes on and wore them for the rest of the hike. This is also where the trail finding became difficult.  I kept losing and finding the trail and losing it again, so I gave up trying to stay directly on trail and just headed northwest, keeping the creek to my left and the ridge to my right.

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At the end of the boulder field I came across a sign indicating the trail kept going straight. Here I turned right (at the cairn) and followed the gully up and to the northwest, avoiding the large boulders

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At the top of the gully I rounded the hillside and was deposited below a lake. I walked around the right side of the lake, found the rock rib, and decided to climb the snow next to it to the notch(so I didn’t need to take off my snowshoes again).

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Here’s a look back down from the notch

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I was at the top of the waterfall area and just needed to turn the corner to the right to see more of the basin

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Wow! Lots of snow here!  I headed northeast, skirting what was probably a small lake to my left and couldn’t help but wonder how many feet of snow I was standing on top of?  Way to go June 2019 in Colorado!  You’ve got the snow thing down!

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I kept rounding the basin, staying to the right

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Once again: So.  Much.  Snow!  I kept heading northwest towards the end of the basin.  It’s best to stay high here so you don’t have to regain elevation.

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I made it to the headwall. This is the crux of the route, and I decided it was time to take off my snowshoes and put on my crampons.  I got out my ice axe and garden tool (haven’t purchased a second ice tool yet).  The sun was just starting to rise

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I was pleasantly surprised at the conditions of the headwall: continuous snow coverage that was consolidated just right for crampons.  It was tiring, but I had no difficulties gaining the top of the headwall.  I mentally high fived myself for choosing this route today.  Ok, just a few hundred more feet of elevation gain and I was there!  I made it to the saddle between Atlantic and Pacific, singing “Home for the Holidays” as I went.  To be honest, I that song was in my head for most of this hike.  Oh, and that’s a false summit…

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There was a lot of snow here, and some of it felt steeper than the headwall

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It seemed pointless to summit the false summit, so I skirted the bump to the left and continued towards Pacific.

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From here the postholing began. The snow here looks solid, but it hugs a ridgeline and much of the snow underneath has melted away, leaving a hollow cap.  At times the cap was thick enough to support my weight, and at others I postholed up to my waist into (or between) large rocks.  I have a few bruises from the fun

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Still, it was better than hiking with crampons on the rocks (I was too lazy to take them off, so I stuck to the snow)

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I summited at 6:45am

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Summit Video

Here’s a look back on the route from the saddle to the summit

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The wind was intense here, so I decided to head back down. I made it to the saddle and Atlantic looked very inviting. I’ve already summited Atlantic, and I’m on a bit of a time limit today, so I didn’t feel it necessary to summit Atlantic as well (but it was tempting… you should do it!).

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I had to stop and enjoy the view from the area just below the saddle (where the wind finally let up a bit). It was breathtaking!

Saddle

From here you can see most of the route back. It’s important to follow the basin and stay close to Quandary Peak on your way out to exit in the correct area.

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OK, time to start down the headwall.

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The headwall was steep (so steep you can’t see the route down it here), but not as bad as a lot of gullies I’ve done lately. It’s supposed to be 40-45 degrees at points, but I was able to walk down the entire headwall without turning and facing the mountain.

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At the base of the headwall I switched out my crampons for snowshoes, but kept ahold of my ice axe. I followed my tracks southwest

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Rounded the ridge, and walked out of the basin

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The snow was really starting to soften up at this point. For June 21, this is a ton of snow!

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I made it down past the rib area without incident, and was just getting ready to skirt the small lake when it happened.

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I was stepping off a rock and into snow and immediately my left leg sank and slid up to my upper thigh. I’ve postholed thousands of times, but never experienced anything like this:  Try as I might, I couldn’t move my leg.  It wasn’t hurt, but my snowshoe was stuck in the snow and keeping me from being able to move my foot and leg.

As I’d stepped on and slid into the deeper snow the snow had immediately softened up and settled like concrete around my leg, making it immobile. I thought to myself  “So this is what they mean by not being able to get yourself out of an avalanche because the snow settles like concrete” and got to work.  Luckily, this hadn’t been an avalanche and I still had my ice axe in my hand, so I started digging myself out. It took me a solid 15 minutes of work to free my leg.  Also, my butt was now wet from sitting in the snow for so long.  Lovely.  At least no one was around to see.

The hike back to the trailhead was uneventful. In the light of day I was easily able to follow the trail and saw things I hadn’t before, like the log bridges and small pools and the actual trail itself…

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There was also a lot of evidence of postholing from previous hikers using the trail. I hadn’t seen any of this in the dark (I’d paralleled the actual trail)

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There was a snowbridge over the creek, and the creek was raging!

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Stream

Back on the 2WD road I started seeing other hikers. Quite a few of them actually, and I figured they must have opened the gate. Sure enough, they had and there were cars parked at the summer trailhead as I passed.

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I still had 2 miles to go however, but on a positive note, I saw a rather scruffy looking fox on my way back

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Fox

Yep, the gate was now open

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I made it back to my truck at 10:45am, making this a 13 mile hike with 3700’ in elevation gain in just over 8 hours.

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Ugh! It looked like some kids had thrown mud at my truck!  There was dried mud/dirt on every corner, like someone had used my truck for target practice with mud pies.  I was going to have to wash it after picking my daughter up from camp (she’s a counselor at a Girl Scout Camp and off this weekend so I was on my way there now to pick her up).  It was a 3 hour drive, and I made it in plenty of time before release.  While we were walking back to the truck my daughter said “How did your truck get so dirty?”  I told her I it happened at the trailhead this morning.  She went and took a closer look, put each of her hands on two of the marks and said “Mom, how big are bears?”  That’s when I took a closer look at the blobs and realized no one had thrown mud at my truck:  It’d been visited by a bear!  I could see swishes of hair and even faint claw marks on the paint.  Cool!  Maybe that’s the animal I’d heard at the start of my hike?  Now I didn’t want to wash my truck!  Luckily, I took a few photos before it rained on my way home.  I just wish I’d looked at the ground around my truck when I’d noticed the mud… I would probably have seen bear tracks!

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