Hilliard Peak – 13,422 and Keefe Peak – 13,516

RT Length: 24.35 miles

Elevation Gain: 5700’

Due to weather issues, I did this as a multi-day trip. Due to permit issues, I camped just before the camping permit boundary for Conundrum Hot Springs (worked fabulously!!!). My stats are taken from several GPX files meshed together.

I started from the Conundrum Hot Springs Trailhead at 4:45am, after a quick nap on Independence Pass after a long drive and a long day.  Here’s the trailhead:

I followed the class 1 trail for 6 miles to the permit boundary, which is noted by a very visible sign. 

It was obvious this is a popular camping spot (just before the permit boundary).  There are a lot of social trails that lead off into the trees as well for campsites, if you don’t want to camp right next to the sign.  Here’s where I camped.   It’s relatively close to the stream, which is great for filtering water

I set up my tent, as I planned on being here for a few days. The next morning, I started out at 4:45am.  The trail is still class 1, and crosses Conundrum Creek several times.  All creek crossings were easy.

After about 2 miles I came to the Conundrum Hot Springs campsites, an old abandoned cabin, and more small creek crossings.  I took the trail to the right towards Triangle Pass

I was now still on Trail 1981, headed southwest, into the willows

At 12000’ I left the trail, and followed a drainage west

At about 12200’ I turned right and headed north, across the basin.  Yes, there were a lot of crows. 

I kept heading north, skirting a small pond.  This was all class 2

My goal was to gain this ridge.  This was my route (still class 2)

Once on the ridge I placed a large cairn, turned left, and headed west up the ridge

The terrain quickly narrowed and became class 3, full of chossy, loose rock. It never got more difficult than class 3, but the terrain was sketchy.  I was able to stay directly on the ridge.

As the ridge rose, it curved, and I stayed more to the left

I topped out, turned the corner, and saw more class 3 ridge work as I now headed northwest

I lost a little bit of elevation, then followed the ridge to the summit

I summited Hilliard Peak at 9:45am

Hilliard Peak:

From Hilliard, I could see Keefe Peak to the northeast

But first, I was going to have to get over the crux of the route: This pointy mountain right here.

I followed the ridge northeast, and came across this fun formation. I easily passed it to the left

This brought me to a small saddle.  I ended up climbing this part by taking a game trail to the ridge, then crossing over to the right side and heading up

And now for the crux

This is the route I took

But there’s a lot you can’t see…  So here it is step by step.  This is class 4

This was a small, airy traverse, about 6 feet long, ad no more than a foot wide

The good news is after that it’s all class 2 to the top of Keefe Peak.

I summited Keefe Peak at 11am

Keefe Peak:

I decided to make this a loop, and head east down an old avalanche runout.  Let me preface this by saying it worked, but the runout is quickly growing back, and there was a ton of bushwhacking.  Plan your route carefully.  Here are some pictures of the route that led me directly back to the trail (1981) and Conundrum Creek below.

Here’s looking up at the route I took down.  You could also take this route up, and just do Keefe from this angle, and skip the class 4 section of the traverse.  It’s a lot of elevation gain in a short while though (3200’ in 7.5 miles) with a lot of initial bushwhacking, but it goes.  I came down the left side (when looking up), but would recommend sticking more to the right and avoiding the middle.

Back on the trail, I followed it back to my campsite, and stayed there for another night. 

Here’s a look at the route out from the campsite back to the trailhead.

And my topo map

Ellingwood Ridge – 13,222

Rt Length: 9.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 3622’

I’d been crying all day, so when I made it to the trailhead I was quite the mess.  My eyes were swollen, my nose was red, and I was tired.  My 23-year-old daughter coaches color guard, and last week, one of her team members was murdered.  I’m not going to go into the details of what happened (news article here), but my daughter wanted to be at the viewing and also at the funeral to support her students.  I wanted to be there to support my daughter.  She was determined to make sure she talked with each and every one of her students individually, which meant we were there a long time.  I watched high-schooler after high-schooler break down in front of the (open) casket, crying, some uncontrollably.  There was a slide show of the best moments of her 17 years scrolling, with several pictures including my daughter.  When all of the guard members were there, they held hands and stood in a semi-circle around the casket, grieving together.  This was one of the hardest things I’ve had to witness in my life, and I was just on the sidelines.  I was mad, angry, hurt, confused, and so many other emotions I can’t put into words, for everyone involved.  I cried excessively during the entire funeral, my arm around my daughters’ shoulder, trying to comfort her as well.  I dropped my daughter off at the airport (she’d been in Georgia for the summer, and flew back for the funeral), and drove to the trailhead.   I needed a hike, as I had a lot to process. 

When I got to the La Plata Gulch Trailhead it was raining, but after a few minutes a rainbow came out.  I needed that rainbow.  I also needed sleep.

I went to bed early, and was on the trail at 4:30am.  The trail begins by following the La Plata Gulch Trail

After following the trail for 1.3 miles, and after the second bridge crossing, there was a faint trail I took to the left

I followed this faint trail until I came to a third creek

At the creek the trail stopped, so I turned right and followed the creek.  It’s important not to cross the creek too soon! 

The creek had a lot of deadfall, but there is a faint trail that can be navigated.  I followed it until just after I saw this large rock formation on the left, at about 10630’.

AFTER this rock formation I crossed the creek, and made my way to a small ridge

I followed this ridge to treeline

At treeline, to my left I could see my route to gain the ridge. 

This is the route I took… up an obvious gully.

I started out rock-hopping on unstable rocks, which gave way to a scree and raspberry bush filled gully, which gave way to tundra.

I followed the tundra southwest

This is where the hike gets interesting.  I’ll show you the route I took that worked (I tried a couple of different things that didn’t, so I have a messy GPX file).  First, I put on my helmet for some rock hopping

Then, I went straight up the face of this

And then class 3’d this ridge to the right.  Notice the cairn in the red circle?  I erroneously assumed this was the summit of Ellingwood Point, but it isn’t.  In any event, DO NOT aim for that cairn.

Instead, you’ll encounter some class 3-4 scrambling as you go under the ridge, losing about 50 feet of elevation. 

I descended down what I felt was a class 4 chimney, before turning left and finding a somewhat grassy ramp that turned to rocks and took me back to the ridge

Just before reaching the ridge, I saw another cairn, and what I thought would be the summit of Ellingwood Ride.  This is also not the accepted summit.  DO NOT follow this cairn. 

However, when I made it to this point I could clearly see it was about level with the OTHER point I wasn’t supposed to summit (here’s looking back)

When I turned and looked south, I could see the true summit of Ellingwood Point.

The route wasn’t straightforward.  I made my way down, and over to the ridge.  I then lost 115’ of elevation as I made my way towards Ellingwood Point.  Here’s my overall route

Here are some step-by-step pictures

Make sure you choose the correct gully to descend!  It’s not the first gully you encounter, but the second that ‘goes’

Then I turned right and made my way towards the saddle, staying above the snow

At the saddle it was choose your own adventure up

I think the traditional route is to take the gully up, but it was covered in snow, so I made my way on the rocks until it was safe to use the gully, quite near the top.  This is the route I took

I did encounter a little bit of snow towards the top, but I was able to navigate around it.  Once at the top of the gully, I descended some class 3 terrain, and re-ascended another short gully

There was a small cairn there, letting me know I was at the summit

I summited Ellingwood Ridge at 9am

Ellingwood Ridge:

Here’s looking north at the route I took in.  As you can see, it’s difficult to tell where the ‘true’ summit is.

I was making this an out and back, mainly because there was a storm headed my way, so I turned and retraced my steps.  Here are some visuals of the harder areas to ‘figure out’

Looking down the gully, I stuck to the wall and did just fine

Then I made my way back down the ridge, keeping to the right, and heading back up that second gully, which is more obvious going this way, as it’s the only one that ‘goes’

At the top of the gully I once again lost elevation and navigated the west side of the mountain

Here’s looking up at that class 4 gully

And the ridge back to the tundra

The tundra to the rocky gully

And the gully to the ridge

As soon as I hit the ridge it started raining.  I followed the ridge to the stream crossing, then followed the stream back to the trail

Once on the trail, it was easy to follow it back to the trailhead

I made it back to my truck at 12:30pm, making this a 9.9 mile hike with 3622’ of elevation gain in 8 hours.

While I unpacked quite a bit emotionally, I didn’t come up with any answers on the hike, except that it’s important to listen when people tell us something is wrong, and to love each other, as you never know what the other person is going through.  I can’t combat the evil in this world, but I can appreciate and acknowledge, and even contribute to the good.  I raised a daughter who chose to go out of her way to be there for her students, when it would have been easy to say something like “I’m all the way in Georgia”, “I don’t do well with death”, “I can’t afford the trip” or “I don’t do well with funerals” and not show up.  She showed up and she supported her students as they grieved, and even shared some of her favorite memories of Riley with her parents.  That’s something to be proud of. 

On to the next trailhead!

Pear Peak – 13,462, PT 13220, PT 13513

RT Length: 11.89 miles

Elevation Gain: 3995’

I’m not a fan of the Rockdale Trailhead. It’s an adventure in itself, starting with a drive through Clear Creek

And then the road to get to the trailhead is littered with dips and rocks. I feel I’m a pretty good driver on 4WD roads, but I have a hard time avoiding some of the obstacles on this one.  If you drive to the upper trailhead be sure of your driving skills/vehicle.

I made it to the trailhead and was on the trail at 5:30am. The trail is class 1, and starts out by heading south along trail 1461.

After hiking for less than half a mile I came to the avalanche area. Last time I was here was recently after the avalanche, and it was difficult to navigate.  They did a lot of work in this area, and now you can drive a car through it (if vehicles were allowed, that is).  I passed around the gate, and continued along the trail.

Just before making it to Clohsey Lake there’s a junction in the road and it becomes a trail.  You can take this, or continue taking the road to the lake and pick up the trail on the other side. I chose to take the trail up and over the small mountain

I followed this trail south for 3 miles from where I parked, through pine trees, willows, across streams, and eventually to treeline.

After about 3 miles the trail kind of disappeared/fizzled out.  Last time I was here I found cairns to take me to the ridge, but this time I didn’t see any.  No worries though, I just kept rounding the hillside, heading northeast towards the ridge. You’ll want to just head towards the ridge, but easier terrain is to your left (northeast).

It was 3.75 miles to the ridge.  Once on the ridge I turned right and followed the ridge south.  I could mainly stay on the top of the ridge, dipping to the left a few times when necessary.  I was headed towards the black arrow.

To continue to follow the ridge I had to make it around this point. I aimed for just below the large boulder, then went left, following dirt and scree and hugging the mountainside.

This part was easy, but as I rounded the corner, I came upon gullies full of choss. This area felt class 4.  To navigate these, I hugged the gullies, dipping down to cross the first big one, and then remaining level before eventually finding what looked like a game trail to the ridge.

Here’s the view and my route from the first big gully. I stayed level to get across the chossy gullies. It’s harder/steeper than it looks.

Safely across the first gully, here’s looking back at the route I took down

Now I continued at level elevation heading south, until I found an obvious route to the ridge.  Until this time the ridge had been rock slabs, spires, and choss, but once it became rocks and tundra I headed up, then turned left to follow the ridge.

From this point on, the ridge ‘goes’.  It’s mostly on large, solid rock, but remember, these rocks can move. It’s about three quarters of a mile from here to the summit of Pear Peak.  The ridge felt consistent class 2-3. I didn’t feel there were any class 4 moves on this ridge.

If I ever felt the need to dip off the ridge, I went left.  Pear Peak is actually to the left, past the false summit (which isn’t really a false summit because you can see the true summit most of the time)

Here are some more ridge pictures

I summited Pear Peak at 8:45am

Pear Peak:

Now the easy part, as I turned northwest and descended the ridge to the Pear Peak/PT 13220 saddle.  This was class 2, once again sticking to the ridge and dipping to the left when necessary.

Here’s an overview of the rest of my route, mostly following the ridge, except for a short area on the way to 13220 where I stayed left (more on this later).  You also have a good view of the decent route from here. Now’s a good time to study it.

Ok, down the ridge to the Pear Peak/PT 13220 saddle.  It’s all class 2, and you’re aiming for a scree filled gully, circled in red

Once you make it to the gully, the choss and adventure begins.

I dipped down into the gully, crossed it, and then stayed level in elevation as I rounded the south side of the peak, aiming for two protruding rocks.

Once I started heading north, I followed game trails up gullies and back to the ridge.  This area seemed to go on forever.  

Once on the ridge it was class 3 to the summit

I summited PT 13220 at 10am

PT 13220: 

Here’s looking back at the route from Pear to PT 13220.  It was 1.5 miles from Pear to 13220.

Next up, PT 13517 (more ridge work!)

I followed the ridge the entire time.  The ridge to the saddle was class 2.  The difficult part is the ridge circled in red, which I felt was consistent class 3, with a bunch of class 4 moves thrown in.

The trek to the saddle was mostly on rocks, with a short ridge at the end (yes, you can stick to this ridge too)

I entered the final ridge by going around to the east, then ascending the ridge by heading northeast.

As I said before, this is a class 3 and 4 ridge.  There are too many specific moves to illustrate here, as the climbing is consistent, so I’ll just show a few of the fun ones. While the rock looks solid, and mostly is, please be careful of the ones that look solid but roll. If you can’t go straight up the rocks, look for game trails to the left.  Nothing should feel over class 4.  To put it in perspective, I consider difficult class 4 anytime I need to remove my DSLR camera from around my neck, or put my trekking pole away to climb.  I didn’t have to do either of those things on this ridge, but it was the most difficult climbing of the day.

The last little dip before the final push to the summit was class 2

I summited PT 13517 at 11:15am

PT 13517: 

PT 13517 was a little over a mile away from PT 13220. Here’s looking back at PT 13220 and Pear Peak

I turned and retraced my steps back to the saddle. 

Here’s the other side of that initial class 4 move

Back at the saddle, I headed east, and took the gully to the left down

The gully had scree, tundra, and bounders.  I was easily able to find a way down this gully, but it looked challenging to find a good way to go up. I was glad I chose to do Pear first.

Here’s my overall route down the gully, across the small basin (I stayed high here) and back down to the trail.  I followed a waterfall northeast, keeping the waterfall to my left to exit so I wouldn’t need to cross the water. This brought me to willows and the trail I’d used to hike in.

The hike out was uneventful, except it rained.  I know it looks like it was a beautiful day, but in reality, just before PT 13220 it was snowing, and it rained/hailed/graupeled a bit on my way down. There were also people fishing at Clohsey Lake who had a few dogs. I was about 100 yards from them, but their dog wouldn’t stop barking at me.  I’m sure that made for wonderful fishing.

I made it back to my truck at 1:45pm, making this a 11.89 mile hike/scramble with 3995’ of elevation gain in 8 hours, 15 minutes.  And now, for the fun drive out!

Here’s a view of Clohsey Lake and the basin from Pear Peak

Monitor Peak – 13,707 and Animas Mountain – 13,789

RT Length: 45.07 miles

Elevation Gain: 12,724’

I started this hike from Purgatory Creek Trailhead.  I’ve put together a route description of the trek from Purgatory to Ruby Basin, which can be found here.

For my first day in, I decided to camp at the Ruby Basin junction. I started at 3pm and made it to my camping spot at 6:45pm.  I made it to the train tracks just as a train was approaching, to which a passenger pointed at me and said “Hey look:  Wildlife!” and everyone got out their cameras and waved at me.  I smiled and waved back.  I gathered some acorns to snack on as I hiked (just before the railroad tracks there are tons of scrub oak, and the acorns are now in season). 

I was so glad it didn’t rain!  I think this is the first time I’ve done this approach where it hasn’t rained. As I got closer to my camping spot, I came across two girls camping there already. I chatted with them for a minute: they were headed to Ruby Basin too, to hike Turret.  I wished them well and picked a spot closer to the Ruby Basin junction to set up for the night.  I dried out my clothes as best I could, ate some popcorn, and went to bed.

It was a warm but windy night.   I was up early, and spent a good half hour just stargazing.  Eventually I got up and was on the trail at 5:45am, headed to Ruby Lake.  I made it to the lake just before 9am.  Today I was taking my time, so I sat by the lake for a bit, filtered water, and watched the trout swim by the shore, every once in a while snagging a fly for breakfast.  

My only goal today was to make it to Ruby Basin.  I knew it wouldn’t take long, but I wanted to hike in the cool of the morning, instead of the heat of the day.  Here’s looking back at Ruby Lake from just before making it to the basin

I made it to Ruby Basin, in all its willow filled splendor, at 10:45am.  For those doing the math, it took me less than 5 hours to hike from the Ruby Basin cutoff to Ruby Basin, and I took my time. 

There was a tent set up in the far side of the basin (east), but I didn’t see anyone camping there. Basically, I had the basin to myself.  I strapped on my creek crossing shoes and took a walk in the creek(s).  They were running at a trickle.

I relaxed for the next few hours, drying out, enjoying the sunshine, and going over my notes for my day tomorrow. This was my second attempt at these peaks. It hurt to turn around last time, but I had bad beta (and not enough beta, as I had other goals in mind and these peaks had been secondary).  I’d been up in my head that entire weekend, and in the end turned around much sooner than I should have. I went home, got better beta, and was now back to attempt these peaks again. Around 2pm I saw the girls I’d met the night before enter the basin, and to my surprise, they headed directly up Turret.  Rock on ladies!

Also, there were bees and crickets. Crickets everywhere!  They jumped around my ankles as I walked through the basin, munched on my journal and hopped onto my gear. I ate dinner and went to bed as the sun was going down (it goes down over Turret early this time of year).

Once again, I got up before my alarm, and spent some time stargazing.  I saw several shooting stars, and a few airplanes coasting across the night sky. There was no moon, but I could see the stars clearly. I made out a few constellations, and noted the frost on the outside of my bivy. I wanted to start at first light, but ended up starting a little earlier, around 6am.  These are the peaks I was attempting today

Here’s an overview of the route from Ruby Basin to the upper basin below Animas, Peak 13, and Monitor.  After about 20 feet of willows, I was able to stay on tundra the entire time. This is choose your own adventure, but it’s easy to find a class 2 route into the upper basin. I just kept aiming towards Peak 13.

Here’s a look at the upper basin.

I was headed towards Monitor Peak first. There are several ways to do this.  This time I took what I consider to be the ‘easy’ approach.  Directly below Peak 13 there are two ramps you can ascend. I chose the further one, as it was less steep. I followed the basin northeast, towards an obvious ramp. It’s just below a section of a white and black streaked slab.

Here are some closer pictures. There are two ramps here, an upper ramp and a lower ramp. Both go, but the upper ramp is less steep, and all class 2 in my opinion.

Also, while you’re here, look to your right.  Find this gully (circled in red). It’s the gully you will be aiming for when ascending the ridge (ascending to the ridge before this point is fruitless). Here’s an overall view of the climb to Monitor from the Peak 13/Monitor saddle. You’ll know you’re in the right gully because there’s a white vein of rock going through it (more on this later, but from this spot you can clearly see the white vein, so it’s a good time to get a visual of where you’re aiming).

But first, let’s get to the saddle, by going up that ramp.  As you can see, it’s wide, and easy to navigate.

The top of the ramp deposited me at the Peak 13/Monitor saddle.   Well, actually, I didn’t need to go all the way to the saddle.  I skirted the saddle and continued south across scree, following the ridge.

Now for the gullies. There are several of them, and in order to cross the first one I had to descend about 100 feet down, then re-ascend. Before doing that however, I got a good look at my route.  This looks harder than it is.  Here’s the route I took after re-ascending the gully.

But first, I had to descend on kitty-litter scree, and then re-ascend. 

When re-ascending there were a couple of ways I could have gone (all felt class 3). This is the way I chose. 

Get a good look at your intended route from above, as this is what it looks like from below.  Hint: aim for this rock, go behind it, turn right, and follow the areas covered I dirt.

Ok, now to find that gully. Luckily, from here there were cairns, and even a bit of a game trail.  I followed them south, staying well below the ridge

I rounded the corner, and could clearly see the correct gully.  I followed this gully to the ridge

Once on the ridge, I turned right, and followed it to the summit, dipping to the right at the end, but always following a class 2 game trail. 

I summited Monitor Peak at 8am.

Monitor Peak:

There was a summit register in need of new paper (but with 2 pencils), and great views! 

Next on the agenda was Peak 13. Spoiler alert:  I didn’t summit Peak 13. When I got to the area where I was supposed to “just go straight up” I found that while it was class 4, there were no hand/foot holds, and everything I tried to grasp turned to kitty litter in my hands.  Since I hike solo, I have a rule not to upclimb anything I don’t think I can downclimb (if I don’t have rope), and while I could probably have upclimbed this, I wouldn’t have been able to downclimb it, and a fall would be deadly (lots of exposure). In any event, I’ll describe the process of getting there.  Now is also a good time to get a visual of how I climbed Animas Mountain as well. These were my routes:

From the summit of Monitor Peak, I headed back to the Monitor/13 saddle, retracing my steps

Once at the saddle I followed it northeast, to an obvious stopping point. Here I turned to head up, and, like I said before, I deemed it unsafe, so I turned around, tried several other ‘ledges’, and in the end decided to just head back to the upper basin and summit Animas from the gully.  I was very happy with this choice.  Here are pictures of the two possible routes up to Peak 13 I decided not to take

Instead, I descended back into the upper basin by way of the upper ramp.

I followed the contour of the mountain all the way down to 12860’, and the only obvious gully that ‘went’

I then followed this gully north.  There are lots of divergences here, but if you keep heading north, they all seem to ‘go’. I just kept the spires to my left and followed the obvious contour of the gully. I as able to keep this all class 3.  If you’re in class 4 territory, back up and look for an easier route.

When I made it to 13580’ I headed east, towards the sandy saddle between Monitor and 13500’

I didn’t go all the way to the saddle however, because I saw cairns leading me up the ridge (class 2).

Here’s the overall route to the summit, all well cairned.  The circled area is a brief class 4 chimney section (less than 10 feet or so) that is the only obvious way out of the gully.  When you make it above the chimney you’re about 20 vertical feet from the summit on easy to navigate ledges.

To get up the chimney I jammed my arms into either side and used my forearms to lift myself up. On the way down, I faced the rock and put both hands/arms in the left crack to lower myself down.  You may be asking yourself why I was fine climbing this chimney and not the class 4 section on Peak 13?   It’s because the rock here was firm, and I didn’t have to worry about it crumbling in my hands as I was climbing.  When I made it to the top of the chimney I turned right and followed the cairns to the summit.

I summited Animas Mountain at 10:30am

Animas Mountain:

There was a trail register in dire need of paper.  With no place to sign I put it back and turned and descended the same way I ascended, back to the saddle, and then down the gully. Note, I did not descend the scree filled gully, but instead the rocky one I ascended, this time keeping the rock spires to my right.

Once in the upper basin I headed southwest on the slope, back to my campsite. It helped to stay to the right of the waterfall area, on the tundra. 

I made it back to my campsite in the Ruby Basin at 11:40am.  I ate lunch, packed up my gear, thanked the marmots for not messing with it this time, and headed back through the willows towards Ruby Lake.  It was a really hot day. I stopped at the lake to dip my bandana in the water and cool off my face.  The water felt so good!  As I was skirting the lake and looking at the clear water I couldn’t help but want to jump in.  I did some mental calculations, and before I could stop myself I set all my stuff aside and went into the lake.  I swam around for a few minutes, hopped back out, dried off in the sun (it only took about 30 seconds in the dry Colorado heat) dressed and was back on the trail within 10 minutes.

I made it to the Chicago Basin cutoff and decided to once again spend the night. There was a woman in a hammock waiting for her husband, who was running the Chicago Basin 14ers (woot!).  I couldn’t help thinking to myself how I wish I could find a partner who would support me like that (or join me?).   I set up my gear, talked with a man who’d lost his water filter and had a busted eyebrow (he got it crossing the creek?).  I told him where to find the train, and campsites, and made it an early night (again). I woke up before my alarm, and was on the trail at 4am, out and back at the Purgatory trailhead at 8am.  Side note: hiking in the Purgatory Flats area on the way out was by far the coldest part of my weekend.  By this time I’d already taken off my coat and gloves, but had to put them back on because the temperatures were so cold. I’m thinking this isn’t the best place to camp for the night.

CalTopo tells me my stats were 45.07 miles with 12724’ of elevation gain.

Sleeping Sexton – 13,460

RT Length:  12.7 miles

Elevation Gain:  5156’

This was actually my second attempt on Sleeping Sexton:  I was here last week but got turned around at the false summit due to getting ‘buzzed’.  I figured it was for the best however, because I had done some serious route finding that morning and now I could provide a clear and useful GPX file for the route, instead of one with a lot of attempts that didn’t lead anywhere.

I made it to the Maroon Bells welcome station, and this time the attendant recognized me.  We chatted for a bit, as he was interested in some of the summits I was doing.  Then he referred me to talk with someone at their offices in town, and we’re basically best friends now.

It was raining when I arrived, but people were walking around Maroon Lake anyway. 

I was on the trail at 2:15am. 

From the parking area, here’s an overview of the route above treeline to the false summit

The trail starts by skirting Maroon Lake, then taking the Crater Lake trail southwest.

There was a full moon out, so I didn’t need my flashlight.

At the junction for Crater Lake I continued following trail 1975 northwest. This is the trail you take if you’re doing the Northeast route for North Maroon Peak.  There are camping spots just before the next junction.

The trail continues to be a well defined, class 1 trail.  At about 10775’ there’s another junction.  If you’ve hiked North Maroon Peak before, you’ll recognize this trail.  I turned left here and crossed the creek, following the North Maroon Peak Trail (still class 1)

Here’s an overview of the trek to the false summit (or ‘the crown’) from the creek crossing.  I followed the North Maroon Peak’s Northeast Ridge Route until I made it to tundra, at about 11,600’.  I then left the trail and headed northwest, behind this outcropping, to the base of the white gully. I then trekked up the ridge and followed the white gully until it ended. Here’s a basic overview.

Here are some step by step photos of the way I accessed the white gully:  I followed the North Maroon Trail to treeline

At 11,600’ I left the North Maroon Trail and headed northwest

Here you can see the base of the white gully.  I didn’t want to climb straight up the gully, as it was very steep.  Instead, I accessed the ridge, and followed the ridge to the white gully.  (I did this after spending a lot of time last week trying to see if the smaller gullies ‘went’ to access the white gully, and turned back every time because I didn’t have rope.  I believe it’s much easier to access the ridge first and then head up).

Here’s exactly where I entered and exited the ridge.  I found this to be class 2 and direct access.  Now’s a great time to put on your helmet if you haven’t already done so.

Once on the ridge I followed it west, staying in-between the ridge and the white gully (to the right of the gully, but left of the ridge).  If you look for them, you’ll find game trails here (you may have to duck under some branches to use them though).

Once near the white gully, I found the terrain to the right to be more stable than the white gully itself, especially on my way down.

Topping out of the white gully felt class 3

From here it became ‘choose your own adventure’ as I followed the ridge southwest. I started out rounding the ridge’s north side, and then went back and forth between north and south sides of the ridge a few times.  There are cairns here, and nothing is more difficult than class 4.  In fact, if you’re extra careful/spend a lot of time route finding, you can probably keep this at mostly class 3. Here’s the route I took:

From the top of the white gully I rounded the corner and made my way back to the ridge.  It had rained the night before, so I had to be extra careful with every foot placement (wet = slippery)

Once back on the ridge I followed it for a ways

Before hitting a bit of a shelf and crossing over to the south side of the ridge

I followed the ridge to the false summit / ‘the crown’

From the false summit you can see the true summit of Sleeping Sexton

And now, the fun route finding begins!  I descended the false summit 125’ and crossed a gully.  There were cairns here to help in the crossing (circled in red). These are steep and go at class 3/4

After crossing the first gully I descended once again, another 160’

I was now at 13,130’, and parallel with the saddle between Sleeping Sexton and the false summit.  I followed the contour of the mountain to the ‘secret ledge’. Here’s what that looks like heading in

I crossed the ledge to the ‘saddle’, then skirted the side of the mountain and headed up to the summit

The ledge is not as bad as it looks.  There’s a cairn here (circled in red) DO NOT DESCEND HERE.  Instead, use it as a reference point and stay level with it (especially on your way back) and continue following the ledge. If you do this, it stays class 2 to the saddle.

From there it was an easy trek to the summit, first skirting the mountainside

And then ascending the ridge

I summited Sleeping Sexton at 6:45am, just as the weather started rolling in

Sleeping Sexton: 

Since the weather wasn’t cooperating I didn’t stay long.  I turned and headed back the way I’d hiked in.  Here’s looking back at the false summit / ‘the crown’

And a view making it back to the ledge

Here are some more images of that ledge, looking back.  Remember to look for the cairn, and stay level with it.

For reference, here’s the size of the route.  The route can clearly be seen over my shoulder (to the left)

I rounded the corner, and ascended the gully, aiming for the cairns

Crossed the next gully

And gained the ridge to the false summit / ‘the crown’

I actually stayed here for a bit because I had cell service.  I let my family know I was ok, and downloaded the weather forecast for the next day.  However, eventually the clouds told me to get going.

Clouds rolling in: 

Here are some pictures of my way back to the white gully

Back down the white gully to the ridge

And from the ridge back to the trail

Once back on the trail it was an easy, class 1 hike back to the parking area.

I made it back to my truck at 11:30am, making this a 12.7 mile hike with 5156’ of elevation gain in 9 hours, 15 minutes. 

It was still early in the day, so I ate lunch by Maroon Lake, read for a bit, looked at topo maps for tomorrow, and jotted down notes in my journal before making it an early night.  Oh, I forgot to mention the goats:  They were the same two goats I saw last week, and if for no other reason than them, wear your helmet until you make it back onto the class 1 trail:  They were kicking rocks down the gullies the entire time I was there. 

Buckskin Benchmark – 13,370 and PT 13039

RT Length:  18 miles

Elevation Gain: 5800’

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  I’m NOT a fan of the permit system. Even though I was on their website exactly when permits were released, I wasn’t able to get an overnight permit for Maroon Bells on a date I could go, so I had to get three back-to-back permits instead.  When I pulled up at the gate my paperwork confused the attendant.  He didn’t know what type of a parking pass to give me, but settled on an overnight pass that expired in two days time.  He then asked me to park in the further lot, as the closer lot was intended for day use. 

I balked at this:  I’d wanted a 2 night pass, but because of the reservation system I couldn’t get one.  Instead, I paid 3 times what those who were able to score a longer permit were paying for the same amount of time in the park.  I felt if I was paying that much more, the least they could do was give me a better parking spot.  Also, while annoying, the main reason I don’t like the permit system isn’t because of stuff like this:  it’s because it encourages bad decision making among people who feel they need to hike/continue when dangerous because it’s difficult to get a permit, etc.  One of the reasons I left California in 2006 was because of the permit system, and all the fees associated with said system. I hate seeing it brought to Colorado.

Ok, rant over.  I was on the trail around 5:30pm.  It was my intention to camp around 11,000’ and start early the next morning.  For those of you who haven’t hiked the Maroon Bells area before, the trail is obvious:

I followed the trail west, staying right at the junction for Crater Lake

And continued up the hillside to my camping spot at 11,100’.  I was surprised no one else was camping here, as it’s the perfect spot. 

I’ll spare you the details of the next day’s hike, as I came back to this spot, spent the night, and started from here the next morning.  I’d gotten to bed early after a long day of hiking, and woke up to sunlight.  I looked at my phone and it showed 5:30!  Ack!  I initially thought I’d slept through my alarm, and started rolling up my sleeping bag.  About 30 seconds later I realized I’d only been sleeping about an hour, so I happily went back to bed and slept soundly until 3:30am the next morning. I left my new water filter bag inside my tent and was on my way.

I was on the trail by 3:45am, heading northeast along the well-defined trail through Minnehaha Gulch. I crossed a stream and continued along the trail, not really ‘feeling it’ today.  I was more tired than I should have been, and wasn’t feeling very motivated.

I followed the trail all the way to Buckskin Pass

Once at Buckskin Pass, I turned right and headed north towards Buckskin Benchmark

This was an easy, class 2 hike, mostly on tundra

Towards the top it got a little rocky, but stayed class 2.  I saw several ptarmigans here, and a few crows

Right about now the sun was starting to rise, along with my motivation. 

Here’s the last bit to the summit.  It stays class 2 if you keep left

I summited Buckskin Benchmark at 6am

Buckskin Benchmark: 

The benchmark

The views from up here were amazing!  My spirits lifted, I actually ate a snack, and headed back down to Buckskin Pass. 

On my way down I made some mountain goat friends (those are Snowmass and Capitol peaks in the background)

My next peak was PT 13039

It was a tundra walk back to Buckskin Pass

And a trail hike up to the point circled in red

This is where it got interesting.  I wanted to go straight up and over the face, but it seems as if there have been several slides in the area, and nothing went at class 2.  This was supposed to be a class 2 hike, so I looked for a better way. My advice here is NOT to go directly up one of these gullies (you probably can, but they all looked sketchy/prone to slides).

Instead, dip down to the left.  This area stays class 2. 

Here’s what my route looks like from below

Once I was past this area, I turned right and headed southwest to the ridge (still class 2).

Then I followed the ridge south.  I could clearly see the cairn indicating the top of 13039

At the edge of the ridge is where it got spicy.  It turned form a class 2 hike into a class 4 climb.  I looked around for an alternate route, and realized the only way up to the summit was to climb the 30-40 feet or so up the chimney/gully to the summit block

I was a little disappointed because I’d left my helmet back in my tent.  I debated if I should continue or not, and in the end I figured I did enough class 4 climbing yesterday without incident and was warmed up:  I should be fine today.  Also, I’d recommend wearing a helmet.   I dropped my gear and headed up with just my camera.  Here’s the route I took

I made it about halfway up the chimney, and once again had second thoughts.  I continued on however, because I knew the worst was behind me and either way I’d have to downclimb that area again. Here’s another angle

I summited PT 13039 at 7:45am

PT 13039:

Here’s looking back at Buckskin Benchmark

From the summit you can see where I left my gear. 

I turned and exited the way I came

The initial downclimb was steep and committing.  I turned and faced the rock for this part.

I made it about halfway down and realized I hadn’t taken a picture of myself on the summit, but I wasn’t willing to re-summit again.  I figured I’d just get a photo at the bottom. 

I made my way back down the ridge

And back to Buckskin Pass

From the pass it was an easy, class 1 hike back to my campsite.

Side note:  there are also good camping sites at 11,500’.  Once at my campsite I was disappointed to find my water filter had leaked water all over the bottom of my tent.  I dried it out the best I could, packed up my gear, and headed down.

Also, the wildflowers were on point today

Here are some pictures from the trek out

Once I made it back to the Crater Lake area I started seeing tons of people on the trail.  They travelled in groups, and were spaced about 15 minutes apart (I’m guessing this is due to the bussing times). I met one lady who asked me how fat it was to Crater Lake, and when I told her it was another mile or so she looked like I’d just told her it was another 20 miles.  She was exhausted, and I’m pretty sure she turned around (the round trip hike to Crater Lake is about 4 miles).  There were several groups being led by guides, which leads me to believe guiding companies may be buying up the permits.

I made it back to the parking lot, cleaned up, and headed out.

I had another entire day of hiking yesterday, so my stats are estimates based on CalTopo math:  Today’s hike was 18 miles with 5800’ of elevation gain. 

V3 – 13,545

RT Length:  8.29 miles

Elevation Gain: 3542’

Ophir Pass Road is a serious 4WD road, but the trailhead for this peak can be accessed from the Ophir city side with just a high clearance vehicle.  There were a few small water crossings, but 4WD was never needed.

I parked in a parking area about 1.3 miles east of the town of Ophir, on Ophir Pass Road, in the Iron Spring area.  All the parking spots were taken but 1, and every vehicle was parked there overnight.  This is a popular spot to park to backpack/hike in the area. 

The mosquitoes were out here as well, so I made it an early night and got some sleep.  I was up and on the trail by 3:45am.  The trail starts on a blocked 4WD road to the south of the parking area.

I followed this road southeast and then south, through gates, aspen trees and two stream crossings with easily crossable bridges

After the second stream crossing, I passed below some power lines, turned left to follow the trail, and started gaining elevation.

The hike below treeline was nice, and the trails were class 1, but there were no trail signs or numbers, and several trail crossings.  I’ll do my best to describe the correct route.

I followed a well-defined path south.

At the first fork in the road, I turned right

At the second fork I turned right again, off the road and onto a trail (I’d hiked a total of 1.15 miles at this point)

I hiked west for a few yards, and then came across a trail junction.  I continued heading straight

I was now on the trail that heads south/southwest up the hillside.  This is also where I ran into a porcupine.  Porcupines don’t run, but we noticed each other while we were about 3 feet away from each other:  He quickly turned and waddled away in the dark, showing me his full backside of quills as he did so. 

I continued on this well defined trail

Here’s your first glimpse of V3.  Look carefully, the arrow points to the exact summit, which you won’t see again until you’re there.

After hiking for a total of 2.25 miles and 11350’ I came to a small water crossing over the trail, and a meadow to my right. I left the trail and headed through the meadow.  It was still dark, and there was a camper with a bright headlamp getting ready for the day.  He was confused why I was ‘off trail’ and tried to direct me back to the proper trail.  I assured him I was going in the right direction, apologized for walking so close to his campsite, and nicely told him I didn’t expect to find a trail to the summit.

I was now in a meadow and basin.  There were wildflowers I couldn’t yet see in the dark, and willows I kept encountering.  I found out the hard way to stay right to avoid the willows.  The path is obvious in the daylight.  Here’s the route I took.

And some step-by-step pictures of my way to the saddle, first hopping across a small stream

Staying right to avoid the willows and ascending a small gully that still had snow.  Microspikes were helpful here, both on the scree and snow.

At the top of the gully, I was now in a rocky upper basin.  I crossed a boulderfield and headed towards the saddle.

Here’s a look at the last bit of hiking to the saddle

Once on the saddle I turned left and followed the ridge southeast, staying to the left of the snow.

At the top of this area you can see the crux of the route.  Now is a good time to put on your microspikes and helmet, if you haven’t already.  It’s much steeper than it looks, and the scree isn’t manageable without microspikes (trust me on this one).

Here’s your intended route:

You’re aiming for this gully.  The scree here is steep; a 45 degree angle for an extended amount of time. 

Once at the base of the gully the class 4 climbing begins.  The route is obvious, curving around to the right.  There is really only one way to go:  follow the trail set out for you from the fallen scree.  Also note:  the scree and rocks here are loose. Very loose.  I wouldn’t attempt to upclimb or downclimb this area with another person:  take turns the entire way up and down.  You will be causing screevalanches on climbers below you. 

Here are some pictures from the inside of the gully. Pictures do not do the steepness justice (although the pictures down give you a better perspective).  When heading up, continue climbing southeast.

Here’s a look at the exit of the gully

At this point it became even steeper.  I did not have on my microspikes, lost grip, and slid on my stomach backwards for a full 12 feet.  I seriously thought I was going to slide all the way back down that gully.  I braced myself, and without taking off my pack located my microspikes in my backpack pocket and gingerly put them on while trying to balance without much traction. It was much easier to upclimb once I put on my spikes.  Here is where I aimed

I then turned right, and hiked south towards the summit block. 

I made it to the base of the summit block and was surprised to see a pine marten.  He sat there and looked at me.  I tried to get a picture, but he quickly turned around and all I got was a picture of his tail and backside.  Why are all of my wildlife pictures of animal butts?

Ok, now, don’t let this summit block scare you:  yes, you can upclimb it, but you can also skirt it to the left and follow it around and have a class 2 trek to the summit, which is what I did.

I summited V3 at 7:15am.  There was a lot of smoke in the air from far away fires this morning.


I was surprised there wasn’t a summit register, so I left one.  It was obvious this peak does not get a lot of visitors. 

I kept my microspikes on for the trek back down, which seemed easier than the trek up.  Here are some pictures of the way back down the gully.  Once again, do this one person at a time, and when you’re done, head far away from the gully, as the rocks will slide and they will pick up speed as they do so. 

Once out of the gully, the scree-surfing will begin.  It’s always fun when you can ride the same pile of rocks all the way down the hillside.

Scree Surfing:

Here’s where you’re aiming.  If you’re doing this with another person, you should be standing far away from the rockslide area while they’re ascending/descending.  I’ve circled a good place to stand out of the way.

And now to hike down the ridge to the saddle, and exit the basin.

I made it back to the meadow, marveled again the wildflowers, and saw the group of campers were almost done taking down camp (I guess the man I talked to this morning was part of a larger group).  I made it to the trail, turned left, and followed it back to the trailhead.

I made it back to my truck at 9:45am, making this an 8.29 mile hike with 3542’ of elevation gain in 6 hours. 

Fowler Peak – 13,498 and PT 13544

RT Length: 10.53 miles

Elevation Gain: 3985’

I’d already been away from home a few days before this trip, so I stopped at Ouray Hot Springs to get in a quick workout and a shower (they only charge $4 for a shower, which might be nice if you’re hiking around Ouray and want to freshen up every few days).  The only downside?  The parking was terrible, even on a weekday in the morning. 

After cleaning up I drove to the Rock of Ages Trailhead. The drive in was a bit bumpier than I remembered, but also fun, because I was seeing what Miles (my new Tacoma) can do.  He handled the stream crossing and ruts in the 4WD road without needing to be put into 4WD.

I made it to the trailhead and was the only one in the lot (another good thing about arriving on a Thursday). 

I walked around for a bit, and immediately realized the mosquitoes were going to be a problem.  I’ve ordered a topper for Miles, but it’ll take up to 3 months to get here, so until then I’m sleeping in the back seat of the cab  (It’s a tight fit but luckily I’m small).  I made the decision to get to bed as soon as possible.  I ended up waking up several times during the night because I was so warm, but at least waking up ended one of my nightmares:  a dream about sharks in a swimming pool swallowing children whole. 

Ok.  So, I woke up and was on the trail at 4:15am. The route starts at the south end of the parking area, and follows a well-defined trail south.

I quickly came to a gate, and walked around it.

Next, I saw this sign to my right, and continued on the trail

I followed the trail to treeline. 

Shortly after making it to treeline I came to the Elk Creek Trail junction. From here there are several options, but your main goal is to make it into the basin.  You can follow Elk Creek Trail and lose some elevation, then follow a faint road into the basin.  Or, you could continue along the Rock of Ages trail and eventually hook up with the 4WD road that enters the basin from above (a bit chossy, but I chose to take it on the way out).  On my way in it was dark, I couldn’t see any of these ‘routes’, and I chose to just head straight into the basin.

If you take the mining road, here’s what the entrance looks like from the Rock of Ages trail.  It’s about half a mile past the Elk Creek Trail junction, on your right.

If you take the upper road, this is what the junction from the trail to the road looks like

In any event, I made my way into the basin. Here are the routes.  To the left you can see the mining road, and to the right you can see the abandoned dirt road.  They both lead to the same place.  (On my way in I didn’t see either of these roads and just headed south through the basin).

Once in the upper basin you want to gain the ridge.  This sounds easier than it turned out to be. It’s “choose your own adventure”, and on the way up I chose wrong. I ended up getting into some class 4 scrambling, which was unnecessary.  It’s my advice to do PT 13540 first, and gain the ridge to the left (southeast).  However, all areas here ‘go’, if you’re willing to do some scrambling.  When I made it to the ridge I found thick wire cording going where the red line is (I’m guessing that could be used as leverage if needed:  it wasn’t moving anywhere). I ascended via the orange line.  The dotted orange line is probably a better route. The best route is my descent route (pictured later).

I’ll spare you the scree-y and large-loose-rocky gully details of ascending the ridge.  Once on the ridge I turned right and followed the ridge southwest towards Fowler.  The ridge was all class 2

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to put on your helmet.  Here’s a picture of that cable I was telling you about.  It goes up and over both sides of the saddle.

Here’s an overall view of the rest of the route to summit Fowler.

And step by step:  It started out chossy as I ascended the ridge

I made my way to the gully to the left/middle.  This area had more solid rock, but it was littered with scree/rubble.  At the base of the gully I took off my pack and decided to go up with just my cell phone (and a summit register in my pocket, just in case).

This is the class 4 part of the climb, and lasted for about 120 feet of vertical gain.  I started by going straight up the gully.  Here’s my route:

Step 1:  ascend the chimney.  I went to the right of the chimney, and found adequate hand/foot holds.

Step 2: Once above the chimney I stayed to the center of the gully.  This is also where I saw an anchor set up (circled in red).

If you decide to rappel here, bring a new anchor, as this one looks like it’s been here for a while, and what’s been added to it doesn’t look recent either.

Step 3: From the anchor I continued straight up the gully (still class 4)

Step 4: Here’s a view of the last bit of the gully, before topping out.  This felt class 3

At the top of the gully I turned left and headed towards the summit.  It was a bit of a false summit, but all class 2/easy 3

I summited Fowler Peak at 7:45am

Fowler Peak: 

I sat and enjoyed my views of the Wilson/El Diente Traverse for a few minutes before heading back.

There was a summit register, but it was one of those tube ones.  It hadn’t been closed properly and all the papers inside were wet, so I left it and also added a new register with dry paper to write on.  And a new pencil.  Here are some pictures of the trek back to the saddle

Back down the gully

To my stashed gear and back to the ridge.

I followed the ridge over to PT 13540.  This was a simple ridge hike, if a bit loose.  Lots of rocks here. I stuck mostly to the ridge the entire time, only dipping to the right a few times when necessary.

I summited PT 13540 at 9am

PT 13540:

I worked my way back towards the Fowler/PT 13540 saddle

Once at the saddle there was what looked to be a boarded-up mine.  In fact, it looked like everything here had been blown up at some point, except this area, which was strategically filled with large rocks (but may have been blown up too).  I passed it and headed northeast back to the old mining road

This area was steep, and I did some scree surfing, but it was much easier to navigate when compared to the route I took to ascend the ridge. I saw tons of mining trash here:  lots of old cans and pieces of mining equipment, most of which were in small pieces, all made out of cast iron.  This was the most intact item I came across

Here’s the route I took down from the ridge (I’d recommend ascending this way as well)

Once back on the road you once again have options to exit the basin.  You can stay high, to the right/east, and follow the old mining road, or you can stay low and left/west, and follow an old dirt road. 

Here’s a better look at both roads.  Both take you out of the basin, and back to Elk Creek Trail / Rock of Ages trail (If you take the mining road all the way to the Rock of Ages trail, turn left and follow it to the Elk Creek Trail junction, and then continue following the Rock of Ages trail).

Once back on the trail I followed it through the trees northwest, back to the trailhead. 

I made it back to my truck at 11:15am, making this a 10.53 mile hike with 3985’ of elevation gain in 7 hours.

It was still early, and quite warm, and the mosquitoes hadn’t magically disappeared overnight.  I had a friend meeting me here at 6pm to hike Wilson Peak tomorrow, so I’d planned on staying at the trailhead until he got there, then heading to bed.  I’d brought a lot of things to do, but they all required sitting down, and once I did that the mosquitoes swarmed me.  It was like one would find me and sing its song to its friends and there’d be dozens to shoo away. 

If I was outside I needed to have a jacket on, but it was hot! I tried sitting in my truck with the air conditioning on, but that wasn’t going to work for 7 hours straight.  It was kind of funny watching the mosquitoes (and flies!!!) swarm my truck:  they seemed to know I was in there with the air conditioning on. 

So, I entertained myself for the next 7 hours by reading.  I got out my current book (On the Road by Jack Kerouac) and read while steadily walking around the trailhead in circles.  Continuously moving seemed to keep the mosquitoes at bay.  Luckily, the trailhead has a large parking area and I was the only one there.  Every few hours I’d take a break in my truck, and then get out and read again.  I would have started a campfire to shoo the bugs away, but they’re currently banned.  I can’t wait to get the topper on my truck!  It would have solved the mosquito/heat problem.



RT Length: 4.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1742’

It was COLD when we woke up this morning, but thankfully, the heater did it’s job.


However, unlike yesterday when I woke up and got up with my alarm, today I decided I needed another hour of sleep. So we didn’t make it to the trailhead until much later than we’d wanted (we got the last spot in the parking lot).



The trail was well marked and easy to follow. Every time there was an option (junction) we turned left, following the mountain and heading up.



We even encountered some nuns. At first I thought they were hikers dressed as the grim reaper (hey, it’s been going on with this whole Coronavirus thing). They told us to have a blessed day.




You hit a kind of saddle after 1.6 miles. Here’s a basic overview of the rest of the route


The tricky part is knowing when to veer off trail. After hiking for 2.1 miles along this trail you turn right and bushwhack northeast up the mountain, or use one of the several of available game trails. All are equally steep. We took a different one up and back so we’d have a couple of good gpx routes.


At the top you’ll come to a boulder, and yes, this boulder is the highpoint.


There’s a class 4 chimney you need to climb to get to the top (towards the left… the boulder on the right isn’t the summit).


Some people might consider this class 3, but to anyone under 6 feet I can assure you, it’s class 4 and requires commitment.



There was a summit register at the top with tons of cool stuff inside.



We headed back down a slightly different way to the main trail


And easily followed it back to the section 16 trailhead


Note: the elevation gain was constant and more difficult than anticipated, especially for such a short hike. Here’s my topo of the route:


Now, on to the next trailhead!

Knights Peak – 10490, McKinley Peak (UR) – 10450, San Luis Peak – 10460, PT 10100 & PT 9410


RT Length: 10 miles

Elevation Gain: 4094’ (debatable?)

Time: 7 hours

Partner: Steffen

Another day of local highpointing! Today I’d wanted to hit 5 highpoints off Old Stage Road and Steffen volunteered to go with me to practice some routefinding below treeline.  It was snowing (lightly) when we made it to the first parking spot.  Actually, the drive took what seemed like forever because I was careful driving on the icy road.  I had to turn around a few times before finding a big enough space to park my truck while avoiding drifts and ended up parking a little ways further than I’d wanted to.


We donned our microspikes, left the snowshoes in the truck, and headed west along Old Stage Road. There isn’t a trail on this one (or if there is it was covered in snow) so we just walked up this slope and continued southeast up the ridge


Knight’s Peak, McKinley Peak, and San Luis Peak

There was snow here, and a lot of downed trees. I let Steffen route-find since he’s learning.  In places where I would have zig-zagged to avoid branches he just knocked down the ones in the way.  My bandana kept getting caught on branches (and eventually ripped in half).


About half way up the ridge we ran into an old set of tracks and decided to follow them up


The tracks led to a rock formation


This rock formation had a class 3/4 chimney we used a strategically placed log to climb. This part was unexpected and fun!


Looking down the chimney


From here we continued southeast towards the summit


The summit block had a rather fancy trail register


We didn’t sign the register, but we did climb up on the rock to make sure we tagged the high point.   From here we had a great view of our next objective:  Unranked McKinley Peak.  Here’s an overview of the route we took


Heading down from Knights Peak was fun! We passed some stashed firewood, which made no sense to us since this place was littered with fallen trees


We headed towards the saddle and then up the ridge. There were some neat rock formations here too.


Check out the view of Knights Peak! When you descend this peak be sure to stay to the north.


There’s a bit of a false summit to McKinley, but the actual summit isn’t that far away.


We went up these rocks


Skirted this rock formation to the right (south)


Carefully maneuvered our way up this ramp


And noticed the summit of San Luis Peak was to the right (east)


So we downclimbed the rock we were on to the left (west), skirted the large rock and re-climbed with a little scrambling back to the east



And headed towards the summit


This part was definitely class 3-4 climbing! It reminded me of the summit block on Sunlight in the Chicago Basin, but a bit longer


This part was challenging for me because it required taking off my gloves. The rocks were cold and covered in a thin layer of snow, so my fingers weren’t very useful.  I did summit however, and took some photos for fun.



Here’s looking back on the other two peaks we’d already summited this morning


Steffen headed down the summit block first. He wanted to climb the other tower, which we both agreed seemed to be about 10 feet lower than the summit of San Luis Peak



I slowly made my way down, being careful not to slip because there was no way to catch myself. Ropes would be a good idea on this part.  Helmets too.

We fixed the cairns (they were pointing towards the lower of the two spires)


And headed back down the rocks. Here’s the route we took, using the tree for added support.


Once again, there was no path down this mountain. We just zig-zagged our way down through the trees toward the road.  It was very steep, and I was glad we’d decided to take this way down instead of up.


We came across a cool cave that would make a great den. We didn’t see any tracks near here in the snow, so we assumed it was vacant


Steffen stopped to make a snow angel


And we exited the trees and followed the road back to my truck


Here we could have taken a short cut between the mountains back to my truck, but the snow was too deep. If we’d had snowshoes it wouldn’t have been a problem though


Our next peak was a little ways away, so after getting back to my truck we drove on Old Stage Road back the way we’d come and found a parking spot at the base of 10100.



There was less snow here but we kept on our microspikes, not sure of what we’d encounter. The first part of this climb was steep and ascended through lots of brush and trees, both alive and dead


We angled slightly left up the mountain until we came to a rocky area. We rock hopped up the rocks


And came to rocks that were not climbable, so we skirted the formation to the left


And went up a small gully


We turned left at the top of the gully and followed the ridge to what we thought was the highpoint, but was really a false summit. From here we could see the true summit of 10100, more to the north of us.  We could also see increasing clouds.


It was a short hike over to the true summit. Here we found a summit register and Steffen signed it (I don’t usually sign them, but added my WW for good measure).



The wind picked up and snow flurries began, so we decided to head back to my truck. It was amazing how different the trail looked on the way back with no visual cues to help with route finding.  On the way in I’d kept looking back at the mountains to remember how to exit, yet now the snow was so enveloping it covered our earlier tracks and I was unable to see any mountains.


In the snow we had a little trouble finding the correct gully to descend, but eventually found it and made our way back to the road.



With all this unexpected snow we debated our final peak of the day, but once we made it to the trailhead we decided to go for it. Peak 9410 is an easy hike on an established trail for 80% of the time, and a good introduction to easy route finding and peakbagging. We parked at the top of a hill at the trailhead for Gray Back Peak and headed southeast on a scree and snow filled trail.


This trail quickly became snow packed, but there was a nice trench to follow


We hiked it up past point 9153 and descended a bit, losing about 150 feet in elevation before regaining it and reaching the top of a hill. The trail continues south here towards Gray Back Peak, but we found this marker on a tree and left the trail, heading east.


Every so often we’d see a cairn or surveyors tape, letting us know we were on the right track. We headed east and once we reached the ridge northwest towards the summit



Once again, the summit views weren’t all that great due to the snow/clouds, but the short trek had totally been worth it.


We found a summit register but didn’t bother to sign it


And instead headed back down the mountain



And back to the truck


We made it back to my truck at 2:30pm, making this a 10 mile hike with 4094’ of elevation gain in 7 hours, with a couple of trailhead drives in the middle.


But those numbers are debatable. Steffen’s numbers were drastically different than mine.  We both used Strava to track our progress, and hiked the entire time together, yet his elevation gain read in the 5000’ range, while mine was in the low 4000’.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Our mileage was off too, making me wonder what’s up with the disparities.  Have my numbers been artificially low, or are his high?