I began hiking the Colorado Trail with my Boy Scout Troop when I was younger. We went from Section 4 - Section 6 over a span of 5 days. Since then I have done a few day hikes of parts of the trail but haven't completed anymore sections. My friend Rob started hiking the Colorado Trail section by section after finishing the 14ers a few years back. He invited me to join him on Section 13, and now I am hooked! There were few posts in the forum about peaks you can climb from the CT and thought this report would help those people out. Section 13 was hiked in October 22, 2011 and Section 14 on March 29, 2012 we only did 8 miles due to losing the trail in the snow (Story Below) I also added on Mount Princeton which was hiked on March 30, 2012.
We started out in Golden at 3:00 am, and left for the Harvard Lakes Trailhead. (From this trailhead you can go North to gain the southeast ridge to Mount Columbia or follow it 3.4 miles to the southwest to gain the saddle of Mount Yale's east ridge) A little further up the road is the North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead to the standard routes of Mount Columbia and Mount Harvard.
Sunrise on the CT
It was a cold October morning, the N. Cotton Creek Road is snowy and icy in spots but does not pose much of a obstacle. We arrived at the trailhead and get ready for the day. At 5:35 Rob, Mike, and I start down the trail. Jerry our driver is going to hangout around Buena Vista and Mount Princeton Hot Springs for the day and pick us up at the Chalk Creek Trailhead later that afternoon.
Starting out the trail gains 2,480' ft while mounting the east ridge of Mount Yale. Towards the top of the ridge is the only place along the trail that we encountered some deep snow. Once on the ridge, there is a good place to camp and make a side trip of Mount Yale, and Mascot Peak. The summit of yale and back is 4 miles from the CT, and Mascot will add on .82 miles each way. The Silver Creek Trailhead is a good alternative to the Avalanche trailhead if you're going after Yale's east ridge, just adds about .3 miles and is easier to access after completing Columbia and Harvard.
Fall colors at Avalanche TH
Looking back from Avalanche
Mount Yale from CT
Mount Princeton from the Road
From there we drop in elevation while passing the Avalanche TH, and South Cottonwood Cr. Then gain the saddle west of Bald Mountain. Make sure to replenish your water supply at Dry Creek, I ran out shortly after. After awhile the trail meets up with FS-322. At this point you can climb Mount Princeton, which is around 11.50 miles round trip. We continued on down the road passing the Young Life retreat camp, and soon came to the Mount Princeton Hot Springs. We stopped in the Shop, bought a few tall boy beers and continued on down the road past the chalk cliffs to the Chalk Creek TH. This is a good place to refill your water in Chalk Creek, there was plenty of water in October. Jerry picked us up a little while later, and we went back to swim in the Mount Princeton Hot Springs.
I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Gudy Gaskill, at the Colorado Trail Foundation Christmas Party in 2011. She has put countless hours into making the idea of the Colorado Trail into reality. She is a very inspiring person, and still enjoys hiking to this day.
When Rob told me he wanted to do section 14 at the end of March I thought it would be the post holing hike from hell. I agreed to go anyways... What's the fun of doing something that is easy? Right? In preparation, and just to get out on a drive with my Grandpa we drove up the week prior to scout out the trailheads we would be crossing during the hike. Too my surprise the Chalk Creek Trailhead was completely clear of any snow, and the other trailheads were mostly snow free too.
Bridge across Chalk Creek.. DRY!
I picked Rob up from his house at 3:00 am and we drove out to the Chalk Creek Trailhead were we had finished Section 13. We set off down the trail at 5:30 am. The trail was free of snow until around 9,100 ft but still avoidable. At the top of the knoll at 2.1 miles we lost the trail in the snow and ended up on the wrong trail. We turned around and got back on the CT and continued on.
We dropped in Elevation to Raspberry Gulch RD (CO-273) This area had a nice place to set up camp to the left hand side of the trail. We did not encounter snow again until around mile 5, and that is when the snow started getting deep and it was hard to find the trail.
Right before Raspberry Gulch Rd
At mile 6.6 you can cut off on the Little Browns Creek Trail, where you can access Mount White and Mount Antero. A little farther up the trail the CT joins the Browns Creek Trail were you can access Jones Peak.
Left to Right - Jones Peak, Mount White, Mount Antero
After crossing Browns Creek we lost the trail again in the deep snow. We found what we thought was the trail but it was after hiking down it for awhile we realized it was the Wagon Loop Trail. We had told our ride that we would be at the Hwy - 50 Trailhead around 3pm, and at this point we were not going to make it there until after dark. So we decided to keep on going down that trail to CR 272, and make a loop back to the Mount Princeton Hot Springs. Rob called Wife when we got service and told her we would meet them at the springs.
We definitely learned that even with our small snow totals this year March is much too early to start hiking the CT above 9,000 ft. I think if we had a GPS with the waypoints programed in we would have done much better. Even though we didn't complete the whole section we still had a good time, and saw some great country. We'll be back in June to complete that section and Marshall's Pass.
Thank you to the Colorado Trail Foundation for building and maintaining this trail though out Colorado for us to enjoy. They need people to Volunteer and Contribute to maintain the trail. Check out those links if you are interested.
Mount Princeton 14,197
Date: 03/30/2012, Friday
Start time: 5:45 AM
Summit: 9:45 AM
Ending time: 1:00 PM
Elevation gain: 4,831 Ft
Mileage: 11.75 Miles
On the way back to the Hot Springs from our failed Colorado Trail hike I decided to go climb Mount Princeton the next day. That night we had a large meal of pasta to refuel, and sat in the Hot Springs for awhile.
Mount Princeton and the Chalk Cliffs
I woke up at 4:50, chowed down on a pop tart and drove up to the Mount Princeton trailhead. The Mount Princeton RD accessible to good clearance 4x4 vehicles up to 9,500 ft. You can go farther up the road but there are some drifts and ice further up at this point. I parked just below the junction for the Colorado Trail at 9,400 ft. I started up the road at 5:45 am. I arrived just below the radio towers to see the sun rise.
The camping spots near the radio towers are clear of snow, and dry. The snow drifts along the road were frozen and easy to get over without falling though. The Princeton Trail leaving the road is completely covered in snow, so as soon as the road starts going left hike up that snow and about halfway up the ridge the trail is snow free.
Where the trail leaves the road.
First view of Princeton
While crossing the Northface of UN 13,273, the gullies are full of snow. I used micro spikes to cross them.
At the rock wall blocking access to the old trail, I turned left and started gaining the ridge between UN 12,373 (Tigger?) and Mount Princeton. At the top of the ridge the winds were really strong and they continued all the way up to the summit. I didn't stay on the summit long due to the winds. I dropped down on the ridge to get out of the wind and followed the old trail back to the trail cut off, and make my way back across the snow gullies and back to the nice trail leading back to the road. I thought I'd be the only person on the mountain that day since I had not seen anyone yet, but once I started down towards the road a guy came walking up. I made it back to my vehicle at 1:00 pm, and drove back to the Hot Springs. After eating lunch with Rob and his family I drove back to Denver for some rest.
Hope you enjoyed the report, let me know if you have any questions.
Trail, Ridge, and Tigger
Northern couloir picture.. Possibly skiable
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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