Monday, July 21, 2008

Missouri Mountain (7/21/08)

Route Name: Northwest Ridge from Missouri Gulch
Start Elevation: 9658 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,067 ft.
Total Elevation Gain: 4409 ft.
Round-trip Mileage: 10.6 mi (according to my GPS)


This was our fifth day of 14ers in a row. By now I think the legs were so used to the daily beating that they just went along with it with little complaint. We decided on doing the Missouri Gulch route for Missouri. We left our home base and were on the road around 6:15am, a modestly early start. We found CO-390 and headed off US24 for Vicksburg. This got us to the Missouri Gulch TH about 6:50am.

We headed up the trail which begins with a bridge over Clear Creek and then involves several steep switchbacks in the trees. This trailhead is at 9800 feet and so its a long day of climbing. We made it up through the switchbacks with very little stopping and soon found ourselves at the broken down cabin (okay, so it took us about an hour). There we put the good ole suntan lotion on (heavily!) and it wasn't long till we were out in the trees. There was one stream crossing just below the cabin which involves walking over three fairly thin logs to cross. We were also surprised along the way at how many Columbines there were to see. One of the meadows was just full of them. Great sight! From this point on the trail wasn't nearly so steep and actually was just beautiful hiking. The trail progressively takes you up into Missouri Gulch with Missouri Mountain being the high point on the ridge ahead of you the whole way. At some point the Mt. Belford trail breaks off and this junction was well signed. We couldn't get past how beautiful the hiking was and how well done the trail was. There were a few more stream crossings as you went deeper into Missouri Gulch, and these involve hopping rocks to get across. Dad ended up with a wet shoe on one of them as one of the best stepstones had water running over its top.

We were worried about the amount of snow we would find back in there and from a distance it did look as though we would still see a lot of it. We ran into some backpackers hiking out that day and they said there is some snow to cross, but it ain't bad, and some of it can be avoided even. Deeper into Missouri Gulch the trail starts to approach the base of the Missouri Mountain summit, here there is another junction where the Elkhead Pass trail heads to the left and the Missouri trail ascends to the right.

From Missouri Gulch

From here you ascend a grass slope with some switchbacks. At the top of that slope we crossed an easy snowfield. From here the trail veers to the right and heads for the rocks at the base of the 13er Point 13, 784'. There is an amazing rock trail leading you up to the face of Point 13,784'. The trail then traverses along this face with a steep dirt trail in which much of the left side of this trail as you ascend is washing out. This trail works its way up to the saddle on the Missouri ridge. Just before you reach the saddle the hiking gets much steeper. There was a large snowfield covering the approach to the saddle. On our ascent we decided to veer around the snow and climb steep loose talus up to the ridge. This worked but it was very steep climbing. On our descent we went through the snow and found this to be the easier route. The snow involve some straight down-hiking in the snow but the steps were deeply melted in.

Once on the summit ridge heading for Missouri the first 3/4 of the ridge were easy hiking along and near the crest of the ridge. Nearing the summit there are two crux points along the ridge. There is a 20-foot descent on very steep loose dirt and rock with some exposure below. The exposure is a steep talus slope. Once this 20-foot descent is completed you hike 50 feet on level ground with the exposed talus slope to your right and your walking area very narrow. At the end of this 50 foot run you then ascend 10 feet or so through a near vertical notch where the trail continues. From this point it is a very steep loose dirt trail to the summit. We summited at 11:01am after a 4hr 9 min climb.

We enjoyed as usual the views from the summit and met a marmot up there as well. We only ran into one other person during our time on the summit which was a pleasant change from yesterday on Princeton. We spent a good 30 minutes or so on top and began our descent. The descent went very easily. We downclimbed through the steep sections on the ridge and made our way back to the saddle. We had fun descending through the large snowfield and I tried out the yaktrax's there. The rest of the hike out was just a beautiful hike on great trail. We ran into a large youth group on the trail coming up. They would backpack the night and then hike Belford the next day. We didn't so much enjoy the long hike through the switchbacks in the forest and Dad almost had a bad accident. He nearly tripped up and ran off the trail into a tree. Luckily he didn't hit the tree at any great speed and it actually saved him from rolling down the side of the hill for a good ways.

We made it back to the car at 2:44pm after a 3hr 19 min descent. It was great to finally have a rest for the legs after 5 14ers in 5 days. The drive out felt good and we really enjoyed the Missouri hike. From there we headed to Leadville for the second day in a row and we had "lunch" at Doc Holliday's bar and grill. We had more outstanding burgers there.


I have two GPX track files from this hike. One for the ascent and one for the descent. The route in both directions should be nearly identical. I put them into KML for download.

My Track


If you would like to see all my photos from this hike click the photo below and it links to my Google Photos Album:

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mt. Princeton (7/20/08)

Route Name: East Slopes
Start Elevation: 10,843 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,197 ft.
Total Elevation Gain: 3,354 ft.
Round-trip Mileage: 6.72 mi (according to my GPS)


We were off fairly early this morning from our home base, around 7am or so. We made our way to the Mt. Princeton road. Somehow we got lost a bit heading for the road which is CR-322. We took CO162 from Nathrop and couldn't quite follow the signs or the GPS right to catch 322. The blue line leading into the image is where we came from. The GPS wanted us to follow the yellow route which took us into a no trespassing camp. We finally found our way to the green route which then brought us to CR-322 and the proper passage. You can click on the image posted for a closer look at what happened. That image is from Google Maps Terrain view on the southeast slopes of Mt. Princeton. Once we were on the proper road we quickly ran into a Y-junction where the left route takes you into a private ranch and the right route takes you under a sign marked "Mt. Princeton" and into a large parking area. The road does continue on from this point with 4WD heavily recommended. We proceeded and drove up the narrow road with many water-eroded gullies in it. The rocks were very small in comparison to the South Colony Lakes road and the driving much nicer. This road took us up to around 11000 feet where we found some parking at the radio towers there. We'd heard that parking can fill up and be a problem on Princeton and we were fortunate to find a space, with the time being just before 8am. We were also surprised to find a few not quite full 4WD vehicles had also made it up there.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Crestone Peak - Snow-ed Out (7/19/08)

Route Name: South Face/Red Gully
Start Elevation: 11,680 ft.
Broken Hand Pass Elevation: 12,955 ft.
Low Point: 12,243 ft.
Our Turn Around Elevation: 13,700 ft. (estimate)
Summit Elevation: 14,294 ft.
Total Elevation Gain: 2,732 ft.
Round-trip Mileage: 5.7 mi (estimate based on route length)


We were up before 5am this morning with the hopes of hitting the Broken Hand Pass trail shortly after 5. We almost accomplished it, we were on the trail by 5:15am on our way up Broken Hand Pass again. It was cold and dark for the first 25 minutes or so. We did finally get some light before we hit the snowfields. They were hard and icy this morning. We crossed the two main snowfields well and then reached the steep snow climb into the pass. This was noticeably melted since Thursday and we were able to hit rocks easier for the second half of it after leaving the snow. The rest of the climb up the pass was familiar. Heading down the southwest side of the pass was all good trail. It was quite steep in parts but remained an easy to follow this trail. This took us down towards Cottonwood Lake for a beautiful, quiet early morning where there was still even some frost on the ground. We followed good trail, some of which was merely flat rocks through the grass around the small ridge that sticks out from Crestone Needle to our first views of Crestone Peak and its Red Gully.

The red gully of Crestone Peak

We stopped at a major rock cairn in the middle of the bowl before the Red Gully to scope out the route and gear up. The climb up into the bowl and onto a grass shelf leading into the gully was well-cairned. This route takes you a hundred or two feet up around the bottom of the gully to an easier entry point that skips the very steep bottom part of the gully.

The entrance to the red gully involved crossing a large stream of water on the right-hand side of the gully and ascending steeply for a brief period to reach a point where you can cross over to the left-hand side for better terrain. We were amazed at how steep the initial climbing was in the red gully, and for the most part, it remained this steep for the first few hundred feet we climbed. About a hundred feet up we ran into a stretch where there was a fairly steep snow field on the right hand side of the gully with a very steep notch to climb out of at the end, and the left hand side of the gully was flat, smooth, red rock to climb up through an exposed section. Denny went the left-hand route while David and I went the right-hand route which involved kick-stepping up through the snow with crampons.

Above this section was steep climbing and route-finding and another small snow-field crossing with crampons. This was followed by more steep climbing and route-finding to a point where it appeared as though the gully would get less steep for a period, only it was also completely snow-filled from this point up. We found ourselves on the left-hand side of the gully with a steep pitch to climb before the snow. Two other climbers we met were on the right-hand side of the gully also trying to gain the snow and cross it at this point. David started out with crampons and climbed the snow a bit while we waited and watched.

At this same time the other two climbers began crossing the snow patch. One went first with both their ice axes and traversed fine. He then tried to return one of the ice axes to his partner and trouble began. They couldn't figure out how to do this properly and eventually decided on tossing the ax about 10 feet. Well in the toss the axe was dropped and careened several hundred feet down the gully. Luckily nobody was hit. These two men eventually gave up on the crossing and sat for a while now watching us. The three of us debated for a good 10 minutes what to do having seen the amount of steep snow ahead of us, and we decided to throw in the towel for the day. We weren't ready or comfortable for that much snow climbing and descending.

The other pair turned around as we did also. We feared the steep climbing out of the gully but found it wasn't as bad as we thought on the way down. We all descended through the section with the polished red rock rather than going through the lower snow patch. And we made our way down and out of the Red Gully with no problems. We gained the trail heading out of the bowl and started to make our way back to Broken Hand Pass quite disappointed, but relieved to be off the mountain. We passed the other pair of climbers by Cottonwood Lake where they had stopped to take a nap in a beautiful spot. We were at least blessed with beautiful sun and views of the wildflowers on our way out.

When we hit the snow on the descent of Broken Hand Pass it was melted even further and very soft. We made our crossings with ease though we used the crampons for more practice. We made it back to camp around 1pm and rested. We slowly started to pack up our gear and by 3:30pm we were on the trail heading out of South Colony Lakes. It was an odd experience having not summited for the first time ever.

We made it back to the jeep after the long hike with what felt like extra-heavy backpacks and were on the road by 4:50pm. It was another bumpy ride down the South Colony Lakes road with a few scrapes on the bottom of the jeep. We headed out to Westcliffe and got some food at Poag Mahone's, an Irish pub we ate at a few years ago after backpacking. Those burgers never tasted so good! Mmmm, and the beer, ah yea.


For reasons I cannot remember, I have no track file from this hike. Thus finding out exactly where we stopped is a great difficulty. Using the pictures I have and looking at the maps I've approximated where the snow forced around turn-around. I edited the GPX track from my 2009 hike of Crestone Peak to give an idea of what the 2008 track should have looked like. Here it is embedded in Google Maps:


Here are the 11 photos I took from this hike. Take note of the one of us looking up ahead and massive snowfields. That was our turn-around point. The caption notes however, it was much steeper than it looks:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Humboldt Peak (7/18/08)

Route Name: West Ridge from South Colony Lakes
Start Elevation: 11,697 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,064 ft.
Total Elevation Gain: 2,367 ft.
Round-trip Mileage: 4.02 mi (according to my GPS)


After wearing our legs and knees badly on the climb and descent of Crestone Needle the previous day, we decided to do Humboldt today. My thigh muscles were especially sore from the downclimbing on the Needle. It wasn't so much the distance as the types of muscles used for continually lowering a full body's weight from rock to rock. These muscles would end up being sore all week from the Needle. We slept in a little today and were up sometime after 6am. We hit the trail for Humboldt a little after 7am, and this was after David heated up some hot water for chocolate and oatmeal. A good backpacker's breakfast.

We enjoyed the walk up the Humboldt trail which was great trail. We took many pictures across the South Colony Lakes basin, especially while watching some hikers head up to Broken Hand Pass. We could see their tiny figures crossing the snowfields we'd crossed yesterday. The trail to the upper South Colony Lake was very easy. Beyond there it gets steeper but still follows good switchbacks to gain the ridge. We made it to the saddle on Humboldt's ridge at 8:15am.

From the saddle the hike gets a little more difficult and is easy to moderate class 2 from this point. Its a good rock scramble with a few difficulties following cairns for the rest of the way. We had been heading along the climber's left side of the ridge and found on the way down that much of the cairns and better trail follow the climber's right side of the ridge. At the peak of the ridge the cairns take you to the south side of the summit where it appears as though the summit is a tiny block ridge above you. The cairns eventually lead you along side of the summit and then gain the summit. Watch out for the marmots up here! We ran into a marmot chewing on some guy's trekking pole and had to scare the animal off.

We spent a good 20 minutes up top taking pictures and looking for the real summit high point. There is a lot of space up top there. The marmots were coming up very close to us and our packs, so one must beware not to leave their pack unguarded. The pictures were outstanding of the Crestones, Kit Carson and all the Sangres.

The hike down went much better as finding the cairns and a good route were easier. We ran into several parties still on their way up as we descended. We made it down in slightly quicker time than on the way up and headed back to camp after another perfect weather day. We heated up some good food for lunch and enjoyed the rest.

Broken Hand Peak, Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak from Humboldt

Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Kit Carson Mountain

Pano from the summit of Humboldt


I took a KML track file for this hike. It shows our complete route from our camp at South Colony Lakes to the summit of Humboldt. This track is of our ascent route:

My Track


Here are the photos from this hike. The photos of Humboldt itself are nothing special, but the views from Humboldt are some of the best.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Crestone Needle (7/17/08)

Route Name: South Face
Start Elevation: 11,697 ft. (camp at South Colony Lakes)
Summit Elevation: 14,197 ft.
Total Elevation Gain: 2500 ft.
Round-trip Mileage: 3.12 mi (according to my GPS)


We were up today at a very dark 5am. I was greeted at that early hour with full moonlight and a silhouette of Crestone Needle. We got up and had our headlamps a-goin' and got our food and packs quickly ready. It was cold! We were on the Needle trail by 5:30am and not too long after were able to turn off the headlamps. Sunrise was 5:45-ish. We had to traverse two major snowfields on our way up to Broken Hand Pass. These were a bit daunting at first as the slope was steep and a fall on the hard snow could send you down quickly to the rocks. We used our axes and very slowly crossed the snow. After surviving these first two fields the fun wasn't over. There was an even steeper climb in the snow and ice to get up into Broken Hand Pass. There were two rock fingers sticking out in the middle of the lower part of the pass. Below them was all snow (thankfully above them was all dirt and grass.) We tried out our crampons for the first time in ascending this snow and it actually went rather well. Above the snow the pass was a steep climb for parts and then good steep trail for the latter parts. The pass itself at the top was very windy.

From the pass it was a good hike along the ridge over to the Needle. There were a few easy ups and downs along the ridge until its very end. We'd read about a steep 70 foot downclimb and they were right. The beginning of this downclimb to reach the Needle's East Gully was the crux. It involved doing a moderately exposed horizontal climb on firm rock for about 15 feet and then dropping down over an opening to a large rock. This drop down was over a 3 foot opening with a good 15 foot drop below it. We all made these maneuvers fine and from there it was a steep dirt descent for another 50 or so feet. This puts you at the entrance to the Needle's East Gully. What a sight!

Panorama from the lower East gully on the Needle
We'd done extensive reading on this hike via route descriptions and trip reports and so much of what was to come looked very familiar from the pictures. The first 300 feet of climbing up the East Gully was enjoyable. Our route finding went well and we kept the climbing to a moderate and even enjoyable level. About 300 feet up when the elevation is around 13,600 feet is when you crossover from the east gully to the west gully. At this point and beyond the east gully gets very steep. The right hand side of the gully turned into a noticeably steeper rock face to climb. The narrower left-hand side of the gully was a dihedral. To the climber's upper-left could be seen the route for the crossover to the west gully. This involved a very steep climb up a rock rib separating the gullies and then a shorter descent into the west gully. There was an exposed maneuver to get across the lower opening of the dihedral and onto the rock rib. And then once on the rock rib it was a very steep, not too far from vertical climb up the rib to its top. At the top of the rib was a rock pile that noticeably looks like a shark's tooth. The descent into the west gully involved a very steep 10 foot downclimb onto a rock ledge and then following that rock ledge 20 or so feet into the west gully.

The west gully was good climbing and we followed it for what seemed like 100 feet to where the gully seemed to split. The route to the left looked like standard gully while the route to the right quickly led to an opening. David thought he saw a cairn up to the right and we followed him on it. That route took us to where the gully opens up and seems to connect with the upper east gully. Our route finding began to fall apart a little after this point. We climbed through steep terrain up to a point where two more narrow gullies remained to reach the summit ridge. The one on the left was very steep but dry. The one on the right was slightly less steep but filled with snow and ice. We made our way up the gully on the right finding our way around the snow and this eventually took us to the summit ridge. This was a careful but easy walk over some rocks to the summit. Wow!
We spent a good 20 mins on the summit taking pictures, enjoying paradise, and making our phone calls. The downclimb went much better than expected. We were certainly a bit nervous about descending all of this very steep terrain. David and Denny descending the same snow gully from the top while I and another guy with us named Josh, descended the steeper, dryer gully. Both descents went well and in about the same time. We found our route well to the west gully once more and descended it with ease. We carefully made our way out of the west gully and onto the crossover rock rib once more. I led the way down the very steep descent to the east gully, just barely being able to face outward as he did so. The maneuvers to traverse the bottom of the dihedral back to the east gully took some long reaches but we all made it.

Descending out of the east gully provided us with one more route finding challenge. We found an exit from the gully to the east which we thought was the trail. We quickly found out as all our options that way cliffed out that we'd left the east gully too quickly. We hopped back in the gully and descended another 100 feet and finally found the proper route. We all carefully climbed back onto the Broken Hand ridge and made the somewhat exposed maneuevers at the downclimb area and that was it. We made a good hike back to Broken Hand Pass and once more descended out of there. We reached the steep upper snowfield and put our crampons on once more. Denny led the way and I was video-taping and suddenly Denny got his crampons tangled and he slipped. He slid a good 15 feet and had to self-arrest with his ice axe, which he did well. Amazingly we caught it all on video.

After this we all took an extra bit of carefulness in our snow maneuvering with the crampons and descended safely out of the snow and onto the remainder of the Needle trail. When we got back to the lakes we were greeted by the herd of bighorn sheep wandering around. What a hike!

The classic view of Crestone Needle and Ellingwood Arete


I took a GPX track file from this hike. Upon first investigation of the file I found there were several sections with trail points all over the place because the narrow gullies we hiked in killed the GPS reception. I've used a GPX editor to "clean up" some of these areas by dropping points that were out of bounds. This has left a few small gaps in time between points. This track is of our ascent route.

My Track


My photos from this epic climb are all included below:

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