| Maxwell Smart?
Princeton via Maxwell Gulch
My wife, son, and I had rented a cabin at Rainbow Lake, near the Avalanche Gulch trailhead, for the week. So, I decided to take a look at one of the lesser used routes up Princeton. My plan was to be out the door early and finish at the standard trailhead by mid-day.
I got out of the cabin by around 5:15 and started the short run (about 1.5 miles) down the road (CR306 & CR344) to the South Cottonwood TH9,000' on the Colorado Trail. It was already bright enough to see without a headlamp, so I put it away once I left the road. After about a mile along the creek, the trail begins climbing south and east for about a mile to about 10,000 feet. There are a fair number of downed trees in this area from the wind storms, but all have been cleared from the trail. I continued south along this runnable stretch of trail for few more miles until reaching Maxwell Gulch at my 6 mile mark.
After reaching Maxwell Gulch, I kept my eyes open for an old mining road I have seen described by some previous Nolan’s 14 runners. I left the CT and followed what appeared to be an old road southwest into the lower part of the gulch. This lasted for maybe 100 yards before turning into a bushwhack. I then saw another area that appeared that it could have been an old road. Again, that turned into a bushwhack rather quickly.
At this point I gave up on finding any kind of trail, crossed Maxwell Creek, and continued southwest, climbing gradually. At about 10,600’, I crossed a clearing that lead south and up a steep slope leading directly to the lower part of Princeton’s NE ridge. I had intended to go further into Maxwell Gulch before climbing to the ridge, but the clearing was too good to pass up.
I hit the ridge around 8:00 a.m. and found myself in some waist-high scrub trees until reaching tree-line. I would classify those as a mild annoyance at worst, as they only lasted for about 400 yards. There was some scrambling required in this area as well. From this point, the hike became a long, slow trudge up the ridge. The talus walking was mixed with several stretches of scrambling.
Above 13,000’ the wind started to become a factor, and combined with the fact that this was only my second full day at altitude, my pace felt like a crawl. There were a few patches of snow on the final stretch to the summit, but with a little route-finding I was able to avoid the snow, as well as most of the exposure. After being a little apprehensive about the narrowest part of the ridge, the wind turned out to be the only thing making me uncomfortable.
I reached the summit at 10:45 to find three others on top already. All had hiked the standard route from the radio towers. I spent about 15 minutes on top chatting with the other hikers and taking some pictures before starting down the standard route.
The descent down the ridge went pretty quickly and I decided I may as well grab “Tigger” peak while I was so close. So, I climbed the additional 300 ft from the saddle and reached its summit at 12:00.
Just as I summited Tigger, I heard Erica calling in loud and clear on the FRS radio. She was on CR321 just outside BV and en-route to pick me up at the standard trailhead. A lot of radios advertise a ridiculous range in unobstructed conditions and don’t deliver, but I was pretty impressed with the clarity of these from 6-8 miles. I told her I would be at least an hour coming down and knew I would have to get moving to do that.
After shedding some layers, I began descending NW on the talus toward the chalet at the end of the road. Once the slope eased a bit, I cut directly down to the road - about halfway between the Princeton trail turn-off and the end of the road.
From there, the run down was pretty fast and uneventful. I reached the 2wd trailhead at 1:10 pm to find Erica and GreenHorn Jr. waiting for me. I should have taken a picture, but I was relieved to be finished and I forgot. In all, I covered 15+ miles and about 5,500' verticle in just under 8 hours.
My initial thoughts after finishing were that I could never recommend this route and that I would not even plan to repeat this route the next time I attempt Nolan’s 14 (opting instead to take the CT to the runnable standard route). As usual, my thoughts have softened a bit with time. I think a few extra days at altitude would have allowed me to cut at least an hour off my ascent time, which really wouldn't make this such a bad climb. As a descent route, I think it would actually be reasonably fast, and by holding to the ridge longer than some others have I think one can avoid the worst of the bushwhacking near Maxwell creek.
If someone is interested in adding some extra mileage and scrambling to their Princeton climb, this may be a fun one for them.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):