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.  


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!

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!

East Buffalo Peak – 13,300 & West Buffalo Peak – 13,326

RT Length:  11.95 miles

Elevation Gain: 3489’

It was an easy 4WD road to the trailhead.  I was surprised I hadn’t seen a single vehicle on the long drive in.  There weren’t any cars parked at the trailhead, but the dispersed campsite was free, so I parked there, being sure to leave room in case anyone else wanted to camp. I read a bit, tried to eat (and failed), sipped whiskey, watched a curious camp robber, and once again, got to bed early.  The trailhead was just to the west of where I parked (trailhead circled in red)

I woke up hungover.  Or, at least, I felt hungover.  I hadn’t had enough to drink last night to give me a hangover, but here I was, with a pounding headache.  Probably has something to do with the fact I have a difficult time eating while I’m hiking, and I’d already hiked 7 peaks above 13K in the past 2 days.  On the positive side, I wasn’t cold this morning: that’s two mornings in a row!  It was 38 degrees.  I slowly gathered my gear, forced down a breakfast bar, and was on the trail at 6:30am, trudging slowly.  It was going to be a long day.

I made my way towards the trailhead (now with a vehicle parked there I hadn’t heard drive in), and followed the trail southwest to a closed 4WD trail.

This road obviously hadn’t been in use in quite a while, as there were trees growing directly in the middle of the road, and large trees that had fallen across it years ago

I followed this 4WD road for 3 miles, almost to treeline.  As the sun came up, crows started cawing.  They must have known about my headache. Also, this is when I realized I’d forgotten my sunglasses.

There was one set of tracks on the trail, which ended when the road ended.  When the 4WD road ended, the cairns picked up.  Initially, I’d wanted to hike West Buffalo Peak first, but I wasn’t able to find a marked route.  So, instead I took a visual of how I wanted to head back, in case there wasn’t a route, and followed the cairns south that would lead me towards East Buffalo Peak instead.  The cairns initially brought me to willows.  These willows were easy to navigate.

Once out of the willows, I was on tundra.  There were still cairns to guide the way.  I was heading south to the ridge. 

As I was ascending the ridge, I could see East and West Buffalo Peaks

Ok, back to that tundra ridge

Once near the top of the ridge I turned right and headed southwest towards East Buffalo Peak

Here’s the overall route I took up the ridge

And some step-by-step pictures.  First, I skirted the initial hump to the left

Next, I continued to stay just a bit left, rounding the south side of the ridge

From here on out, I stayed right in the middle of the ridge.  It looked like there were game trails here, but they were half-covered in snow.  The rocks were a bit loose, but this was no more challenging than difficult class 2.  I still had a headache, so I decided to drink water, something I rarely do while hiking.  Where there was snow, I re-filled my water bottle.

I topped out and it was an easy walk on tundra and rocks to the summit, heading southwest.

The summit was large and flat and the summit was at the far west end of the summit area, marked by a large cairn.

I summited East Buffalo Peak at 9:30am.

East Buffalo Peak:

From East Buffalo Peak, West Buffalo Peak looks like a straightforward ridge hike.  To be honest, it wasn’t any more difficult than class 2, but it was a little harder than it looked.

I started out by following the ridge west, and came upon some drop-offs. These were easy to navigate

I made my way to the saddle on tundra.  What had initially looked like a rocky ridge was in fact, a very rocky ridge.  I stayed a few yards from the ridge proper to the left.

Here are some step-by-step pictures of the ridge up to West Buffalo Peak

I was initially worried about this area circled in red

However, while it was loose shale, I was able to go straight up and over the top without any difficulty.

From there, it was an easy stroll to the summit of West Buffalo Peak. 

The summit is at the very west end of the peak.  There’s a wind break here, and a summit marker (which says “Marmot Peak”)

I summited West Buffalo Peak at 10:30am

West Buffalo Peak:  

(Sorry about the orientation:  I didn’t realize it when I took the video, and now it’s a pain to fix it…)

I was making this a loop, so I turned and headed northeast, just for about .13 miles. 

Then I descended the ridge, heading northeast towards the 12917/West Buffalo Peak saddle, and then turned right and headed east.

I was hoping to pick up cairns here, similar to the ones I found hiking up East Buffalo Peak, but wasn’t able to locate any.  I wanted to hook back up with the 4WD road.  Much of the route would be below treeline, and in current conditions lined with snow, so as I hiked east, I visualized where I wanted to end up and got out my compass.

The orange line is how I ascended the ridge to East Buffalo Peak this morning.  So, from where I was at, I needed to aim towards the meadows.

Much of this route is below treeline, so pictures won’t be that helpful.  Here’s an overview of the route I took to get to the meadows.  Once at 11650’, (and crossing a drainage) I did my best to stay at around that same elevation, skirting the mountainside, heading towards the meadows. There were some ups and downs along the way, but nothing major.

Here are some pictures of the route

Once in the trees, there were tons of elk tracks.  These were helpful in figuring out snow depth, and I frequently followed them when pertinent.  At one point, I could smell elk near, looked up, and saw a buck with rather large antlers startle about 15 feet from me and bound away.

I made it to the meadows, and followed them back to the 4WD road by trying to stay above them, in the trees

Here’s looking back at West Buffalo and my route back to the 4WD road.  If you’re planning on doing this as a loop and doing East Buffalo first, it’s a good idea to get this visual on your way in.

I was now back at the cairns that would lead me to the road (the same ones that led me to the willows earlier this morning)

I followed the 4WD road back to the trailhead (the crows were still there along the way)

I made it back to my truck at 1pm, making this an 11.95 mile hike with 3489’ of elevation gain in 6.5 hours.

On to the next trailhead!

Mount Marcy – 13,490 and Silver Peak – 13,513

RT Length:  16.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 5573’

I wanted an early start for this peak, but not too early.  I knew it had snowed the past couple of days, but only a few inches:  I had no idea what to expect when it came to conditions, above or below treeline.  I got a later start than usual because I was making this a loop and wanted to get pictures on the way in of the route.  I gathered my gear and was on the trail at 5:30am.

I started following the Gibson Creek trail west, and after about .1 of a mile, turned right onto 1336 (the sign is still damaged) and followed 1336 past the first junction (this is where the loop connects) and turned left onto 1349.  I had hiked for a total of 1.3 miles at this point.

There was now snow on the trail.  It was still dark, and I could hear an owl hooting in the trees. I saw lots of rabbit tracks, and some elk tracks as well.  Mine were the first footprints. I continued following trail 1349 as it switchbacked up the mountainside.

At 10350’, and after a total of 3.4 miles of hiking, the trail will stop increasing in elevation and start heading towards trail 1351.  It was here I left the trail and headed west up the ridge.  I was worried there would be a lot of downfall here, like there is when heading up towards Gibbs Peak, but the ridgeline was surprisingly manageable below treeline.

Along the ridge I came across two separate sets of bear tracks, both heading south

I kept heading west, following the ridge.  Just at treeline, and before topping out, I skirted the ridge to the left. 

There is no need to ascend to PT 12245.  Instead, I stayed just a bit south of the point, then gained the ridge by losing elevation.

Once on the ridge the conditions varied.  They started out with easy, lightly covered-in-snow tundra.  I followed the ridge southwest.

I was able to see Mount Marcy and Silver Peak clearly at this point. 

I continued following the ridge southwest, through varying conditions.  There were a lot of elevation gains and losses. I was aiming for the point in the middle. The difficult areas are circled in red (only difficult because of today’s current snow conditions). The rest of the ridge was a class 2 ridge walk. 

The snow had drifted in some areas, and snowshoes were helpful.

I went straight up and over this, using snowshoes in the beginning, and then taking them off to scramble up the rock.

Here I dipped down to the right to navigate the rocks, and then quickly re-gained the ridge

Here are the next few obstacles, and the path I took.  If I didn’t stay directly on the ridge, I dipped to the right.

I kept aiming for the highest point on the ridge

The last push was the hardest.  This was difficult class 3 climbing on the snow.  I stayed mostly in the center of the ridge

Here are some closer pictures of the class 3 scrambling to the top

From the top, here’s looking back at the ridge

I now turned right and followed the easy ridge towards Mount Marcy

It was difficult to tell where the true summit was, and there were two cairns at the top.  I went with the one furthest north, as it had a summit register and required me to pass the first cairn, thus ensuring I’d hit the summit at some point. 

I summited Mount Marcy at 11:40am

Mount Marcy:

I headed back the way I’d come, and headed towards Silver Peak.  I didn’t re-summit the high point, but skirted it to the right on easy terrain

And then followed the ridge to the saddle

Here’s looking back at Mount Marcy.  The black arrow is how I accessed the ridge

But now, to continue towards Silver Peak

I made it to the saddle, and picked my route. By sticking to the very top of the ridge I was able to keep this class 3, although there were some tricky moves with the snow. Here’s the route I took

And some closer pictures of the ridge

Topping out of the ridge was class 2

I then headed south towards the summit

I summited Silver Peak at 1pm

Silver Peak:  

I was making this a loop, so from here I wanted to descend into the Lakes of the Clouds basin.  To do this I followed the ridge about 50 feet south, then turned left and headed east.  It’s important to follow the contour of the ridge, as it cliffs out if you go too far north.  Here’s a visual from earlier in the day.  You’re trying to avoid the cliffs I the circled area

Please note:  I’ll show you how I made it down to the Lakes of the Clouds, but I do NOT recommend this as a winter/winter conditions route, and it’s probably not ideal in summer either.  There was snow in the top of the avalanche chute, and it was mid-October.  The gullies were unstable and difficult to navigate while covered in snow, and it was hard to find a direct route down.  The only positive was the creeks were low, so I was able to walk directly in them to avoid the willows.  (Willows:  another reason to avoid this route, just go back and take the ridge down). 

I made my way into the basin, first heading south, and then east

Once I could see them, I was aiming for this lake, where a trail would pick up

The route required me to cross/use an avalanche route/drainage area.  To navigate this, I stayed as high as possible, once crossing the drainage

I stuck to the stream whenever possible, which would ultimately lead to the lake

I have to say, this part of the hike was miserable.  I had to watch every step, and took considerable time dusting snow off rocks to make sure I had secure hand/foot placement.  It was getting later in the day, so snow stuck to my microspikes.  I lost a spike somewhere along the way… probably in a stream crossing, as the snow that had built up on my foot became engorged with water, much as a snow cone would when adding syrup, became heavy, and slushed into the muck.  Long story short:  my feet were wet the entire hike back to my truck.

Here’s looking back at how I came down from Silver Peak.  The top of the avalanche area is circled in red, and flows all the way to the lakes

I skirted the lake to the left and at the north end of the lake came upon trail 1349, which was packed down this morning by fishermen heading to the lakes

I took Trail 1349 for 3.75 miles, back to Trail 1336, and the to the Gibson Trailhead.  This is a great, class 1 trail.  The only downside are all the softball-volleyball sized rocks littering the path

I made it back to my truck at 4:30pm, making this a 16.6 mile hike with 5573’ of elevation gain in 11 hours.

West Apostle – 13,597

RT Length: 12.04 miles 

Elevation Gain:  3575’

I was the only one at the Lake Ann/Huron Peak trailhead at 5pm on a Friday, and I was thrilled!  The 4WD road to the upper trailhead was a little rougher than I remembered it, but the drive had been worth it to be the only one there. I jotted down some notes from the days hike, sipped some whiskey, and looked at notes for tomorrow. It was still light out when I curled up in the back seat of my Tacoma and drifted off to sleep to the sound of pounding rain:  that meant fresh snow on the peak tomorrow!

I woke up and things seemed dry outside, which was odd for the amount of rain I’d heard last night.  I put on my winter gear anyway and was on the trail at 5:30am. The trail starts at the south end of the parking area, and continues heading south, towards Lake Ann.  Be sure to take the Lake Ann trail, NOT the Huron Peak Trail

I hiked 4 miles south along a class 1 trail to Lake Ann

Stay left at this crossing

At the second crossing I went right

And crossed a creek on a ‘pretty-solid’ bridge

Finally, I started gaining elevation as I made my way towards Lake Ann

Just after making it to treeline, go left at this junction.

And you’ll arrive at Lake Ann

The goal is to skirt the north side of the lake, and enter the upper basin

Here’s an overview of the route

And some step-by-step pictures into the upper basin

Once in the upper basin I aimed to ascend the amphitheater.  This can be done multiple ways. I decided to stay left on the way up (solid line), and follow (very faint) game trails, and I went right on the way down (dotted line).  The orange arrow is where you’ll eventually be aiming.

Here’s another picture of the amphitheater

Once at the top of the amphitheater I was in another basin.  I turned right, and followed the ridge.  I’m sure the best way to ascend this gully is straight up the gully, but today there was unconsolidated snow blocking that route.  Even with microspikes I wasn’t able to get traction the gully direct, so I took the rocks to the right. 

Here are some closer pictures of the gully

At the top of the gully I went left

Which brought me to the ridge (and a cairn!)

I turned left and followed the ridge northeast.  This is a class 2 ridge, which I was able to stay on the top of the ridge to hike most of the way.

Here it gets a little dicey.  If there hadn’t been snow, I would have taken the ridge all the way to the summit.  However, with the snow and ice today things were slippery, and the exposure was real (to the left).  I decided to dip down to avoid some of the worst of the exposure.  I did this a little later than I should have, as it as getting spicy already.   The area with exposure is circled in red.  This is how I summited West Apostle

Here’s a picture of the ridge

And this is the exposure I was avoiding

So, I dipped down to the right and kept it class 2

I summited West Apostle at 9:30am

West Apostle: 

There was a summit register, but it was a pipe one missing its lid, so I replaced it with a jar. Here’s looking back at the false summit

I headed back the same way I summited, heading west, avoiding the area with exposure

Here’s what that looks like after dipping down

Back on the ridge, I followed it to the saddle.

The cairn was helpful in finding the correct exit from the ridge in all this snow.

I made my way back down towards the gully, staying as much to the west as possible, avoiding the gully direct and sticking to the rocky area.

I then re-entered the basin, and headed west towards Lake Ann

Back at Lake Ann, it was easy to pick up the class 1 trail and follow it back to the trailhead.

I made it back to my truck at 12:30pm, making this a 12.04 mile hike with 3575’ of elevation gain in 7 hours.

Jenkins Mountain – 13,432, PT 13,145 & PT 13,232

RT Length:  13.75 miles

Elevation Gain:  5322’

Snow had been forecasted for today, but not until later in the afternoon. I made it to the North Fork Creek Trailhead on an easy 4WD road, and it was foggy out.  I was hoping the fog would lift as the sun came up, but it ended up snowing off and on all day. Luckily there was no wind, so the snow was actually enjoyable (if annoying because I couldn’t see very far).   I was on the trail at 5:30am.

I followed North Fork Creek Trail for 2.75 miles southwest to treeline at 11,250’, without gaining or losing much elevation. I never crossed the creek.

Here the trail stopped. I’d hoped by now the sun would have lifted the fog, but unfortunately, it started snowing instead, and visibility wasn’t great.

Here’s a view of the route I took to the ridge, from back on the trail later in the day

I followed the path of least resistance and headed southwest towards a rocky gully and the ridge (better pictures later).  There was a fog, so I didn’t get great photos, but here are some pictures of what I could see:

The rocky gully area brought me to the ridge between point 13050 and 13015. I couldn’t see far, which was frustrating, but I knew to continue following the ridge southwest. Luckily, I came back to this spot later I the day, so I have clear pictures of this part of the hike.  The rocks here rolled.  In the morning they were icy, so I had to be especially careful.

I followed the ridge towards 13050. This ridge was easy to follow, even when it was snowing.  I stuck to the ridge proper, only dipping down to the left one time.  This can all be kept at class 2.

Once at PT 13050 I turned right and headed northwest towards Jenkins Mountain, first losing about 230’ of elevation.

This was another ridge hike, where I briefly dipped down to the left to avoid some rocks

Here are some pictures of the ridge, up to the first “false summit”.  If you can’t stay on the ridge, dip down to the left.

From the top of the false summit, I lost a little bit of elevation, but it was an easy ridge hike to the true summit of Jenkins Mountain.  I’m sure this would be a piece of cake on a clear day. Today however, the ridges were frustrating because I didn’t have visuals of how far they ‘went’

I summited Jenkins Mountain at 10am

Jenkins Mountain: 

I was happy to see it looked like the weather was starting to improve.  There was a summit register.  I turned and headed back towards PT 13050.

Halfway down the ridge I could see PT 13050, as well as PT 13140

I didn’t completely re-summit PT 13050.  Here’s an overview of the route I took to PT 13140

And some step-by-step pictures

I could stay on top of the ridge for most of the ridge;  it wasn’t until the end I needed to dip right.

After the false summit I needed to dip down and lose about 75’ of elevation

I regained the ridge

And this is how I summited PT 13140.  I’m sure there was some sort of a trail here, but it was currently covered in snow. The last few feet are ‘choose your own adventure’, all class 2.

I summited PT 13140 at 11:30am

PT 13140:

From the summit, here’s looking back at the trek from Jenkins, as well as the next few points for the day

For reference, this is how I gained the ridge to the saddle between PT 13050 and 13015.  It’s kind of a ridge itself.

And another view, from PT 13140, looking back at how I exited the basin and gained the ridge. I headed back to PT 13050.

Here’s looking northeast at PT 13015 from 13050.

This was a class 2 hike all the way to PT 13015

From the summit of PT 13015 I could see my next peak:  Pt 13232. 

This is the route I took to get there:

This route had me turning and following the ridge for a short distance northwest, descending a scree, rock, and snow filled gully, crossing the basin, finding another gully and ascending it to a slanting plateau/ramp, taking the plateau to the ridge, and then following the ride to the summit. Here are some step-by-step pictures:

I lost 850’ of elevation, heading int the basin

I then headed northeast and crossed the basin, heading towards an access gully (alternately, you can lose more elevation, skirt the then re-ascend the ramp, but I wanted a more direct route. 

Here’s a closer look at that gully. It was as 2+ gully, but wasn’t technical at all.

At the top of the gully I turned left and headed towards the saddle, then took the ridge to the summit (all class 2)

Here’s looking back at the way I took down and across the basin from 13015

The ridge was rocky, but easy to follow.  I tried to stay where the rocks met the tundra.

I summited PT 13232 at 2:45pm.  It was now snowing, but it was a nice, gentle snow.

PT 13232:

I could see the trailhead from the summit to the northeast: now I just needed to get there.  I descended the ridge to the northeast. Not far, just a few yards, found a scree filled gully, and took that to tundra.  I then aimed northeast towards North Fork Lake Creek, until I found the trail and followed it back to the trailhead.

Sorry for the foggy pictures here: I was in the clouds and it was snowing much of the day.  The trailhead is circled in red

I descended to the north, and round a gully to take down heading southeast, and turned left at the tundra

I then headed northeast towards North Fork Lake Creek

For reference, here’s looking up the gully I took down from PT 13232

Once on the trail I followed it back to the trailhead. 

I made it back to y truck at 4:30pm, making this a 13.75 mile hike with 5322’ of elevation gain I 11 hours. 

On to the next trailhead!

Also, it’s fall

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.

PT 13543, PT 13533 & Little Baldy Mountain – 12982

RT Length:  19.45 miles

Elevation Gain: 5950’

Route: Horn Creek Trailhead via Macey Trail

I was here last week and summited PT 13541 via Horn Lakes Trail, and to put it nicely, it was awful!  Once the trail ended at the creek crossing (Dry creek, which was flowing fast), I was met with hundreds of feet of 8-foot-tall willows to navigate, standing in about 18 inches of standing water.

There was no way I could recommend that route, so I went about trying to figure out another one. While this route is a bit longer, bonus: no willows in water!!!

I parked at the Horn Creek Trailhead and was on the trail at 4:30am.  The trailhead was full of vehicles (last week I was the only vehicle in the lot). The trail starts at the west end of the parking area, which holds about 20 vehicles. There are information maps here and a clean restroom. Dispersed camping is allowed for 14 days, and there are horse corrals.

I followed the Rainbow Trail for just under half a mile to this junction, then turned left and continued following Rainbow Trail / Macey Trail.

This trail is very well defined:  it’s used for OHVs.  I followed the trail as it hugged the side of the mountain, heading south

After hiking for a total of 3.3 miles I came to another junction, and took the Macey Trail west. This trail is a little more narrow, but still class 1.

There’s a trail register a ways after the junction. I signed it and continued on.

Just after Macey Falls, and just before making it to the first Macey Lake, I left the trail and headed northwest.  I’d hiked 6.5 miles total to this point. I’m guessing this is a camping area, because I left the trail at this marker (seen on the right side of the trail).

If you see this sign, you’ve gone a couple of yards too far.

I bushwhacked northeast to treeline, about half a mile. This wasn’t too bad: there were downed trees, but not too many. I was mostly pushing my way through thigh-high flowers and grasses. I started out by skirting a small pond to the right.

And then hiking up through grasses, flowers, and trees.  The elevation gain was moderate and I never came across a large obstacle (cliff, water, drainage, huge boulder, etc.)

After about half a mile I was at treeline, and could clearly see the ridge

I made my way to the ridge, staying mostly on tundra and rocks.   The willows are small and completely avoidable.

Once on the ridge I turned left, and followed it southwest

The ridge has a lot of ups and downs.  I crossed over two small bumps (kind of like ears), then lost 150’ of elevation and gained it again to the true summit of Little Baldy Mountain.  This is the best way to describe where Little Baldy Mountain is (an unranked 12er).  There is a cairn on the first hump, but it’s the second cairn you’re looking for (if it really even matters? It is unranked.  Just follow the ridge and you’ll hit it).

The ridge is a bit rocky, with some tundra thrown in, and all class 2. Here you can see the route to PT 13517 and 13541

Here’s an overview of the route I took.  I summited PT 13517 first, then took the ridge to PT 13541, and then went saddle to saddle. 

Here are some step by step photos. First, the ridge to PT 13517

The ridge was mostly tundra, but became rocky at the end.  All of the rock above treeline feels like Crestone rock:  conglomerate with lots of hand holds. The only difference is these are rocks, and not slabs. This stays class 2

I summited PT 13517 (unranked) at 9:15am

PT 13517:

Here’s looking back at the ridge and the route in

Here’s looking back at the Horn Creek approach: Look at all that water and willows!!!

Now to head over to the ranked peak of the day: PT 13541. Check out those Crestones!

The trek over to 13541 was straightforward, and a simple ridge hike until the last bit or so (circled in red)

I hiked down to the saddle and enjoyed the views for a bit. Doesn’t Kit Carson Peak look like a cooked (or uncooked) turkey from this angle?

From the saddle, here’s looking up at 13517

Most of this ridge to PT 13541 is just a tundra hike, until the end, where it becomes rocky and there are some steep drop offs to avoid. Here’s an overall view of the route: A little more than half way up the ridge I left the ridge and skirted the mountain to the left to head towards the summit

The ridge gets a little rocky, but this stays class 2

Just when you think you’re at the summit…

You’re close, but not there yet.  I had my helmet with me but decided it wasn’t really necessary. I dropped my gear and headed towards the true summit. This was easy class 3, with plenty of hand/footholds.

You can stay on top of the ridge the entire time, or dip down to the right.  The summit is in the middle of this short ridge

I summited PT 13541 at 9:55am I didn’t feel safe setting up my camera, so I took a selfie

PT 13541: 

I left a summit register, and then went back to get my gear.

It was a really nice day, so I enjoyed my time here for a while. I took a ton of fun photos, and did some visual research for another peak I still need to figure out how to climb in the area (next week???). When it was time to head back, I made my way back to the 13517/13541 saddle the way I’d come, then traversed over to the 13517/Little Baldy Mountain saddle.  This was all class 2 on tundra and talus

Here are some more visuals: 

From the saddle, here’s looking back at PT 13541

Once at the saddle I followed the ridge back up and over Little Baldy Mountain and the two small humps

After the second rocky hump I left the ridge and descended southeast, back towards Macey Lakes

Once in the trees I just kept aiming southeast until I made it back to the trail (Macey Trail 1341)

Now on the trail, I followed it back to the Rainbow Trail

And then followed the Rainbow Trail back to the trailhead

I made it back to my truck at 2:30pm, making this a 19.45 mile hike with 5950’ of elevation gain in 10 hours.

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.