Friday, June 28, 2019

Mt. Antero + Mt. White via Little Brown's Creek

Mt. Antero + Mt. White
Brown's Creek Trail to Colorado Trail to Little Brown's Creek Trail
Trailhead Elevation: 8,914 ft.
Mt. Antero Elevation: 14,269 ft.
Mt. White Elevation: 13,667 ft.
Distance: 17.34 mi.
Elevation Gain: 6,165 ft.
Start Time: 5:35am
End Time: 2:11pm

Trip Report:
In 1993, Mount Antero became the fifth 14er I climbed. I was a young teenager and hiking to the tops of mountains was still very new to me, but it was quickly becoming something I enjoyed. My main recollection of that hike from 26 years ago was riding in my uncle's jeep to around 13,000 feet and thinking how nice it was to shorten this otherwise long hike. A small part of me felt like it was cheating a bit, but then I was only 13 and the thought of hiking 16-17 miles was out of the question.

Flash forward those 26 years and now I'm a fit hiker + ultrarunner and I am in a place in my life where I welcomed the thought of a 17-mile hike and even knew I would enjoy it. For a couple years now I've been hoping to repeat Mount Antero and have been looking at the best options to do so. The hike up the jeep road in Baldwin Gulch is the standard route but something about 16 miles on a jeep road didn't seem enticing. The views off the road I'm sure are great, but hiking a road just isn't all that exciting. So I found a number of trip reports describing a route up Little Brown's Creek to gain Antero. This caught my eye. It is all single-track trail until you gain Antero's upper slopes and meet up with the jeep road. The Little Brown's Creek drainage and trail is described as being very scenic. So I set my sights.

The route is relatively simple when you break it down. You start at the well marked (it even shows up on Google Maps) Brown's Creek Trailhead. You hike up the Brown's Creek trail 1.4 miles til its junction with the Colorado Trail. You take the CT north for about 0.3 miles til it intersects with the beginning of the Little Brown's Creek Trail. Both intersections are signed. You then follow the Little Brown's Creek Trail (easy to follow) until it ends around 12,600 feet. By that time you're above treeline and the jeep roads leading up both Mt. Antero and Mt. White are visible for a relatively straightforward finish to the summits.

We made our start right around sunrise, my father and I, to get a chance to make both summits well before noon. My father was planning to follow me for awhile and then set me loose. We had radios along to communicate and keep track of one another. We instantly fell in love with the Brown's Creek Trail. It is a delight for hiking and made for a good start to the day. We only ran into one other hiker during our ascent on this portion. During the descent we bumped into a number of hikers and a horse caravan, all mostly heading to Brown's Creek Falls.

A beautiful morning on the Brown's Creek Trail

It took us just over 45 minutes to get up to the Colorado Trail. It was a great morning for hiking with temps in the low 50s and clear skies. The weather report for the day gave us confidence we would have a good one.

The sign for the Colorado Trail junction is just up ahead.
Our route to Little Brown's Creek had us taking a right turn (north)

Once on the Colorado Trail things were relatively flat and it came out to be a quick stroll to the next junction of the day. It was here that my father brought up the fact it was time to send me ahead. He still hikes well for a man in his 60s but knowing my aspirations for the day it was time to split. So I pushed on ahead and picked up the pace heading up the Little Brown's Creek trail.

Left turn here for Little Brown's, right turn to stay on the CT

The first mile or so on the Little Brown's involved fairly consistent elevation gain as the trail traverse across slopes to get into the Creek drainage. Its worth noting, that from the moment you leave the Creek on the descent at around 10,200 you don't pass any more water until the trailhead. If one was desperate enough they could follow the Colorado Trail south of its intersection with the Brown's Creek trail and regain Little Brown's Creek itself about a quarter mile down for water.

Part of choosing Little Brown's Creek as an option is I was hoping for a trail with modest gains and some easy flatter portions of trail to get long miles. I'm in the midst of training for my first 50-mile ultra race (having previously done a 50K) and I'm doing my training in the flats of Michigan. I get plenty of long runs and miles but almost no hills. This trail would fit well into my training of getting nearly 6000 feet gain over good miles.

The trail stayed neared Little Brown's Creek at several places while pushing ever upwards through the forest. There were just a couple of spots where careful attention needed to be paid to follow the trail. You would enter flats in the forest with little ground vegetation and the trail became less obvious. Also a couple of spots where the trail would braid in the midst of a climb (assuming obstacles from previous years had led hikers to do this) and one needed to watch carefully for the true trail to present itself. In the dark these could prove a real challenge to follow, in the light a reasonable eye should be able to navigate just fine.

Hiking along Little Brown's Creek which was moving well this year with all the snow melt

The first snow obstacles come about at around 11,800. The snow really begins to pick up on the south side of the valley with the Creek cutting through the snow. The trail itself finally hits snow in a large flat area. I tested the snow for firmness and found I would posthole yet in the morning and so for about 200 yards I walked on snow following the general direction of the trail. It popped out of the snow for another couple hundred yards leading me closer to 12,000 feet.

First bits of snow around 11,800 ft. elevation

Ahead I could see a 200 foot headwall almost completely encased in snow. The snow covered from north to south with no way of avoiding it entirely. There was some rock melted out up the middle which I used to begin my climb. Eventually snow was the only option.

The headwall in snow around 12,000 feet

I had brought microspikes and my ice axe for this hike knowing the encounter with snow was coming. This slope was a 30-40 degree angle which wasn't overly steep, but enough to get you sliding if the snow as still firm. I found the top inch or so to be soft with firmness beneath. That actually made for a perfect consistency as the surface gave grip to my spikes but yet I didn't posthole. The sloping headwall of snow continued into a much longer snowfield but at a much more flat angle on the ascent. The ice axe was helpful to provide some piece of mind but I wouldn't say it had been 100% necessary.

Heading straight up the snowfield now at about 12,100 ft.

After passing the snow obstacles I could see ahead clearer paths to gain the upper slopes of Mount Antero. It was in here I began to plot out where to leave the Little Brown's Creek Trail (or what was left of it) to make my line up to Mt. Antero. In my GPS I did have a line from a previous hiker from years back to give an idea of what they had done. As I moved forward I could see what looked like a trail heading steeply up the slope ahead towards the Antero jeep roads. At the time it seemed an obvious choice so I took it. On one hand, it worked and it got me upwards. On the other hand, it was very steep, with loose dirt and really worked to sap my energy.

This picture really doesn't do justice to the steepness of my route up Antero to the jeep road

The next picture was taken from the side of Mt. White. My ascent line is very faint in the shot but can be seen just right of center crawling up the slope towards the horizontal jeep road. Many satellite maps will show it looking like an erosion line on the slope. I ran this from about 12,600 to the road at around 13,000. I would personally recommend against repeating that line. On my map at the end of this post I drew a yellow line in which would be a more reasonable gain over to the Antero jeep roads. Using the following picture, that suggest line would come up just to the left of the vertical snow field in view gaining one of the switchbacks of the road. This would definitely be a preferred descent route as well. The suggested line avoids the very steep and loose slope which I used.

A view of Antero's upper slopes from the side of Mount White.
The upper switchbacks of the jeep road can be seen in the top left corner

Once I gained the first section of jeep road I wasn't entirely done bushwhacking yet. One of the lower switchbacks was still half covered in snow so I bushwhacked up the slope again to gain the road above the snowfield. This again involve more loose rock and dirt and a heavy usage of energy. I have found in my training that I can move long and fast on easy terrain, even with a slight uphill to it. But my muscles for steep climbing are still in need of more stength.

The upper parts of the road were generally snow free and had a small stream of snow melt running right down the middle of them. I followed the remaining road up to its ending at a saddle at 13,700 feet.

The upper jeep road on Mt. Antero

The saddle at the top of the jeep road leads to views of the remaining climb to Antero's summit. At first glance my jaw dropped a bit and I was met with some doubt. In the 360 photo I share next you can see a pair of snow fields that apparently cover the route to the summit. Under normal summer conditions this would appear an easy climb. The snow fields are a steep angle with 1000 foot runouts below. I could even seen a faint set of footprints through the first field. If it would turn out to be as bad as it looked, I would have my doubts.

Immediately after leaving the saddle was a 10 yard snow crossing but fairly well melted in bootprint. I did take my axe out for this simply to protect against a potential 500 foot fall. The crossing was fairly level. After that small crossing the ridge eases up a bit for its first half with easy class 2 work to get started.

Halfway across the ridge I began to meet the snow difficulties I had seen from afar. Much to my delight there was easy scrambling in the rocks above the snow that allowed me to completely avoid a sketchy snow crossing. The photo below shows the sketchiest of snow fields where faint boot print can be seen crossing. The angle was nearly 50 degrees on the snow.

Steep snow crossing that I was pleased to avoid.

There was one more small bit of snow to cross but it came at a point where the summit ridge flattened out for a moment. The final ascent to the summit was a fairly typical Sawatch scramble up easy class 2 rock. I hadn't seen a single soul other than my father since leaving the trailhead and I had an amazing summit to myself. I was surprised to see that nearly every mountain range in Colorado was visible from this summit. Pikes and the front range to the east. The Sangres to the south. The Sawatch and even the Elks to the north. The San Juans to the southwest.

I summited around 9:45am making for a 4:10 ascent from the trailhead. It was quite windy and a low 42 degrees on the summit, but with the sun out I wouldn't say I was freezing up there. I spent about 10 minutes enjoying the top and grabbing some calories before continuing on to the next objective of the day. Before leaving the summit I was able to make radio contact with my father and find that he had made it up to the snow around 11,800 and was likely to wait around there for me to descend.

Looking to the south from Antero's somewhat snowy summit

I made quick work descending Antero's summit ridge and soon found myself back to the jeep road. I descended the upper switchbacks and bypassed the snowfield blocking the lower switchback again. I was able to follow jeep road all the way down to the Antero-White saddle at around 12,800 feet. It was a nice open green meadow

Descending the upper switchbacks on the jeep road.
The slope leading up Mt. White is straight ahead. 
Some snow blocking parts of White's jeep road

From the saddle I began scouting my route up Mt. White. In theory its as straightforward as following a switchbacking jeep road up to about 13,300. However, one of the lower switchbacks on White was buried in snow much like I had found things on Antero. Ahead of me I could see what looked like an overgrown portion of road that appeared to shortcut and avoid the snow covered road. In the photo below you can see it start up just below center of photo. I used this shortcut to bypass the snow and gain the road halfway up the slope.

Looking up Mt. White's slopes from the Antero-White saddle

Once on the road it was smooth sailing on a surprisingly good road up the side of white. I cruised along quickly. The road heads to around 13,300 where it ends and leaves one with more class 2 rock scrambling with a "pick-your-own-route" finish.

Jeep road on Mt. White heading for 13,300.

There were no cairns and no obvious trail segments and so it was pretty much a push upwards through the most reasonable looking line towards the summit of White. There was a false summit to be gained but the true summit revealed itself not far off. I topped out at 11:14am. This made for about an 1:20 time going from Antero over to White. I spent time on White's summit trying to make contact on radio with my father as well as attempting visual contact. I knew roughly where he was down below but we were just too small to see each other at that distance.

Looking to the northeast towards Buena Vista from White's summit

Looking to the south to the Sangre de Cristos from White's summit

Looking over to nearby Shavano and Tabeguache (14ers) from White's summit

Looking down to the snow at and above 11,800 in the Little Brown's Creek drainage.

A hiker can be seen in center crossing the snowfield.
Hiker's from the Baldwin Gulch route on the road
would enter frame just from the left as this hiker did.

While on the summit of Mt. White I had my father start his descent from 11,800. With his aging knees the descent is the hardest part for him and so it works well to give him a head start and let him take the time he needs to descend safely and without fall. I spent about 10 minutes on the summit and then began my own descent. I retraced my route on the rocks up high on White and regained the road. I made smooth sailing down the road until near its bottom I ran into snow. It was soft and I postholed to my knees in a few spots. But other than some slightly wet socks I made it through. Now I didn't return entirely to the saddle as I descended off White. Satellite maps will show you a section of jeep road hugging the south side of the valley (the north slopes of White) that runs for over half a mile. I followed it for about 4/10 of a mile (not to its completion!) and then traversed down and across some snow to gain the visible Little Brown's Creek trail. If you follow this jeep road to its completion you'll end up further away from Little Brown's than you want and with steep terrain below.

Once back on Little Brown's I descended to the snow at the top of the headwall. I didn't use spikes on the descent but I did pull out my ice axe with the hopes of glisadding. I found the snow to have about 2-3 inches of near slush on top now and my glissade was very wet. I made it about 2/3 of the way down the slope and ran out of momentum as slushy snow had piled up between my legs. My back side was drenched (thankfully, the good dry mountain air had me dry within the hour).

Once between the snowfield I worked my way across the flatter snow until I was back to about 11,800 where I would touch no more snow. It was fascinating to see how Little Brown's Creek was carving its way under the large bit of snow there.

The Creek flowing heavily below the massive snow pile

At this point my father got on the radio and said he had just talked to a couple of ultrarunners coming up trail and that I should expected to see them soon, and I did. We had a fascinating conversation. It was a man and woman, both of whom looked to be excellent runners. They were out scouting for the Lonesome 100 race which uses this very route. I told them of the snow I found above. In talking the woman got to mention her history at Hardrock 100 and come to find out I had just read an article about her in TrailRunner Magazine. I got to meet Betsy Kalmeyer who is a 5-time winner, and 19-time finisher at Hardrock, more than any other woman. So we talked about the sadness of Hardrock being cancelled this year about all the snow in the San Juans. I also asked about Run Rabbit Run up in Steamboat which I am preparing for. She said she helped design the course, and the man with her said he has probably paced people on more miles there than any other person. He will be there in September. Always a treat meeting new people on the trail!

Things were warming up fast on my descent and I was making really good pace trying to eventually catch up with my father. Temps rose from the 60s and into the 70s and by the time I hit the Colorado Trail they had hit 80s. My one big challenge on the descent was I could tell my water supply was starting to get low. I had brought my Sawyer mini filter along in case I did run out. I made a mental error however. I thought there were more encounters with Little Brown's than there actually were. By the time my water ran out at about 10,400 I had already passed the last close encounter with the Creek. My memory served me poorly. I was at a point where I really didn't wish to backtrack to the last time at the Creek but I was also close enough to the trailhead that I could just gut it out. My solution ended up being to catch my father.

One of the sections of beautiful trail near Little Brown's Creek

We radioed when I hit the Colorado Trail and he had just started onto Brown's Creek so I knew I wasn't far. I finally caught him about a quarter mile down Brown's Creek trail, so our timing was near perfect. He had a pretty good reserve of water/Gatorade so he shared some with me to quench my thirst. It was a beautiful day still aside from the growing heat. We topped out at 82 degrees.

Weather just doesn't get better than this ... well maybe if it was 30 degrees cooler

We were back to the warm trailhead at 2:11pm. I had a 2:50 descent from the summit of Mt. White. Upon getting back to the car I really wished we had brought a cooler along as the protein bar and the nalgene of water I had left in the vehicle were too hot and melted to be of any use.

In summary, I would very much recommend this route for Mt. Antero. The distance and gain are very similar to the Baldwin Gulch jeep road route and I believe the singletrack trail to be much more enjoyable for the long miles.

I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).  


  1. I'm thinking of doing this same hike up to Antero. Would you say there were any good camping spots about 4-5 miles in?

    Thanks for any info you have and great TR!

    1. Thanks! And yes, there would be a lot of great camping once in your in and along Little browns Creek. I'd love to go back in and do it myself and to the loop with Browns Creek.

  2. Thanks for the report and tracks. I'm going to do this route saturday. What would you estimate the mileage to be without Mt. White?...trying to decide if I want to include it.

    1. My garmin watch was at 7.4 miles when I hit the Antero summit, so a basic out/back summit of Antero only would be around 15 miles. If I were in your shoes I'd go for the Antero summit, come down to the saddle in between and then just weigh how you feel and how the weather looks. Have fun out there!

  3. This is very nice. I am always looking for fun, alternative routes in the mountains.
    Not just to avoid some of the crowds, but also simply for a beautiful and enjoyable experience in the mountains.
    Thank you for writing this.


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