| CO Road Trip! Mt. Yale, Mt. Sneffels, Castle Peak, Bierstadt
I had this crazy idea a while ago. First off, let my start by saying this; I by no means am a "True Mountaineer", I get somewhat squeamish with exposure and I don't much like loose dirt and scree. So I never intend on hiking all of the 14ers. That being said, I do enjoy the physical challenge and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a high summit. So I set a much more attainable goal for myself: One in every range.
This would be perfect, it would allow me to see the state and climb some of the 14ers away from the often crowded front range.
So, my Girlfriend and I took my week vacation at the end of summer to do an epic road trip across the southern portion of Colorado. While this trip wasn't entirely about 14ers, or bagging peaks, we planned it so that we could hit a peak in the Sangres, the San Juans, and the Elks. So begins...the story of our epic trip: 7 days, 1700 miles in the car, 16,000+ feet of elevation gain.
Day 1: Mt. Yale. - Backpack up Como road
We chose Mt. Yale as a warm up to the more difficult peaks we had planned for our trip, and since BV is on the way, we figured hey this will only take half a day, lets start with this. Slept at the trailhead the night before and got started up the mountain at 4am.
Sunrise on the way up Yale
The trail up through the dark was easy to follow, almost no blow down (much in contrast to the trail up to Harvard). Daylight started to break just about the time we hit treeline. It was a wonderful, cool, quiet (save the occasional bark from a pika). We ran into a few people coming down from a sunrise hike at the bottom of the steep switchbacks up to the summit ridge. I guess we weren't going to be the first to summit this day!
On a side note: another group we met affectionately referred to section as "The Dick Puncher" ("I would rather get punched in the dick than have to hike up this section"). I do not think they were too far off with this line of thinking.
Anyway, it was tedious up to the summit ridge, but it went quick enough I guess, and at the top we were finally greeted with direct sun!
From here it was short jaunt to the summit. We hit the summit around 8:30, and just sat back, took in the view and relaxed for a bit. I was starting to feel some withdraw from caffeine (forgot to make coffee this morning), but otherwise I felt good!
Fun on the summit ridge
We met another group up there, and chatted with them, and finally started down after ~40 minutes up top. The hike down was uneventful, and we reached the car shortly before noon.
This sucked. There is no other way to put it, it was hot, dusty, and we were exhausted after driving two-hours down from hiking Mt. Yale. The worst part of this road, was that people just drove up past you on the way. There isn't much greater discouragement, then hiking for 2 hours, just to have someone drive past you. In any case, we didn't even make it to the lake. We stopped hiking at a good looking campsite around 6:30. We made an excellent dinner (pita pizza), which lifted our spirits some. After this we crawled into bed with our sites set on Blanca peak in the morning.
A few pictures...
Haboob over the San Luis Valley
At least dinner was good!
Day 2 - No Blanca Peak - Mesa Verde
Morning came too early. We were tired, achy and slow to get out of bed. It took us entirely too long to get moving up the rest of the road. Both of us debated just sleeping in and hiking down, neither of us really felt like climbing up Blanca anymore at this point anyway. But I didn't want to tuck tail and run without at least giving it a good look, so we slowly pushed up the rest of the road. We got to Lake Como to find a few people milling around, and we could hear people heading up Little bear as we approached the Blue Lakes. From here we could see the rest of the way to the summit.
Blanca and Ellingwood
This would be as far as we would go. I have honestly never felt less of a desire to climb a mountain. I was tired and burned out. I felt angry at the people with cars up at the lake (This is certainly no easy feat to get a car up here), I was mad they didn't have to walk on the road. I was defeated. We sat there for a few minutes, and then started the slog out. Mad about hiking all that and not even having one summit to show for it. I was mad that we did Yale the day before, I was mad that we burned out. But at this point, I just wanted to get to the car before the road heated up too much.
Days 3-5 Down Days
After packing up and heading to the car, we drove all the way out to Mesa Verde for a couple of recovery days filled with easier stuff, touring the ruins at Mesa Verde, Four Corners, and House on Fire in Utah. I included a few pictures from this time in the slide show, but since these aren't 14ers, I will leave them out of the report!
At the end of day 5 we headed back into Colorado and through Ouray to the rough road leading up up to the lower trailhead at Yankee Boy Basin, with our eyes set on Sneffels for the next day. FYI: The Outhouse here is probably the worst one I have ever encountered.
On another quick side note: the view of Sneffels coming down into Ridgeway is spectacular, and prompted my girlfriend to turn to me and say; "We're Hiking THAT?!"
...Anyway, on with the report!
Day 6 Mt. Sneffels - Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The night at YBB was kind of rough... there was some early rain followed then by a few random cars driving up and then back down at all hours of the night. This was quite creepy and made sleeping in the car a little uncomfortable, but 3am came soon enough and it was time to wake up and start the hike!
We got an early start to avoid monsoon potential, but also so we could watch the meteor shower as we hiked up the road (we had spent the past couple of nights out watching them, and were excited to see the shower when it peaked). A few other people were getting started at this time as well, it was nice to not be alone this early.
The hike started clear but after about 20 minutes the skies started to cloud over. sadly we ended up not seeing a single meteor, I felt kind of gipped, 20 minutes should have been plenty of time to at least see a few. Oh well, the early start would prove a good decision later so, I suppose it all worked out. We started the "off trail" section of this hike just about sunrise, which was sadly somewhat muted in terms of color due to the clouds.
Going up Sneffels
We turned into the gully that leads almost up to the summit, and we were actually pleasantly surprised to find that the rock was pretty stable ,not terribly loose as long as you kept to the rocks and avoided the dirt. Then comes the V-Notch at the top. The pictures in the route description here do not do this notch justice. The notch isn't terribly hard (I would rate it at one or two moves of mid-class 3), but it's spooky. There is a good amount of exposure to the left and it was kind of sketchy positioning yourself such that you could start climbing into the notch. Anyway, once through the notch the climbing became superb! Great blocky scrambling with a wonderfully open feel, I only wish the rest of the climb was like this!
Another side note: I know a lot of people think this is a crappy trail, it's not great, but the rock is pretty stable most of the way, and the views are unbeatable. I would venture to say that this is my favorite 14er to date. So don't be scared off from this trail, it is not as loose or crappy as people might lead you to believe!
It was quick up to the summit once we got through the notch, and on top we ran into the other early climbers, talked briefly snapped a few photos and headed down, it was only 8am, but the weather was looking grim. The view from this summit is IMO the best view in the state. Even in overcast the mix of colors and jagged rock spires, and the blue lakes were almost indescribable. The grass on distant peaks looked as if someone poured velvet across the mountain slopes. I wanted to stay longer, but I also wished to be back to the trail before weather rolled in, so we didn't linger on top.
Best view in the state.
We got past the notch, helped the next party through and then started down the gully. At the bottom of the gully (I believe this is called Lavender Col?) it became apparent that we were going to get some weather. I was a little worried about lightning, but it wasn't even 9am, and we were somewhat protected by the walls around the gully, so I didn't fret too much. The weather rolled in when we were about halfway down the scree slope above the trail. It started as a mix of snow and rain at first, then heavy graupel. We threw on our rain gear and waited a few minutes for it to pass. There wasn't too much else we could do, and anyway we were pretty much back at the cairns marking the return to the trail. So we just sat there and laughed about how our helmets were getting put to good use protecting us from the hail. We saw a couple of people coming down a steep gully on the SW ridge, I guess they bailed from the weather, but boy that descent looked nasty.
8:45am Hail? Yes.
The weather cleared briefly after the storm passed, allowing for the sun to color the landscape in front of us. We took our time back to the car, admiring the scenery. If you have not been to YBB, you must go, it will blow your mind. The clouds had built back up by the time we had gotten to the car, and the rain once again started. It was now 10:30, two convective storms already, big monsoon day I guess!
From there we drove north into Montrose and Black Canyon.
After setting up camp in the park, we took the afternoon and drove around the south rim, which was very pleasant, with astounding views into the canyon. It rained this night. It rained a lot, late into the night with thunder and lightning and everything. I figured that this had to be some sort of front, the monsoon doesn't stay this strong this late into the night. We were dry in the tent, but the prospect up packing up a wet tent before sunrise was not particularly attractive.
Day 7 - Maroon Bells
We got up very early so we could get to the parking lot of Maroon Bells before it filled and we had to take the shuttle. It had stopped raining, but packing up a wet tent in the dark at 4am was about as miserable as it sounds. On the road we got our first good weather report on the radio since the trip had started, and indeed a front had moved through the night before, and it looked liked the next couple of days would be good weather! Excellent news for our plans to do Castle peak. We were able to get to the Maroon Bells lot before we had to take the shuttle, and we were excited to see that the Annual National Parks pass was accepted at the entrance booth. So if anyone did not know this, now you do.
After the short hike up to Crater lake and back, we decided to take the afternoon to nap before driving up the Castle Creek road. Once we did drive the road, I got my car up to the campsites before the first stream crossing, debated crossing the stream, but ultimately decided against it since the road up until this point was pretty rough, turns out we would have been fine as beyond the stream the road seemed to get better, at least up until you got close to the pearl pass junction. Oh well.
We ate dinner and converted the back of the car into a bed one last time.
Day 8 (LAST DAY) - Castle Peak
Once again, we were up well before sunrise, and walking the road by 4am, we wanted to make sure that we would get back to Fort Collins before dark, so we wanted to be back from the summit before noon. The walk up the road was tedious, and we were tired, but I wasn't going to allow for a repeat of Blanca peak, I was not going to use the excuse of being tired today. I was determined. Last day, go big or go home. That being said, when a car drove past us after about an hour on the road, I had no shame in throwing up my thumb in hopes of a ride. Luckily the people in the car were happy to accommodate us and while we didn't get too much further before they stopped, we had the mentality that every little bit helps.
We stopped at the pearl pass junction, thanked our fellow climbers and continued up. We followed the road up into the basin as the sun started to rise. We got to the end of the road at about 6:30, and started up the boulders to trail that leads up to the ridge. The trail leading up to the ridge was tough, but nothing we hadn't already seen this week.
Once on the ridge, we found the climbing to be more difficult than anticipated, I liken it to all the crappy sections of Kelsos ridge, but without the good parts. Loose, fractured rock, narrow sections of scree and talus that drop off into the abyss on both sides.
Down into the Abyss...
We muddled past though, and soon we were onto of the sub summit just before the final pitch.
Last Pitch to summit!
The final pitch was the hardest part yet, with a cliff band about half way up that blocks the route to the summit. On the way up we bypassed this to the left and got onto steep very unstable scree that was difficult/scary to ascend. Coming down, we found an easier way that put us directly above the cliff band, here we opted for a short ~15 foot class 3 down climb, very doable and much more pleasant. My advice is just go up the cliff and avoid the loose crap to the left.
What surprised me most about this peak was how quickly the summit appeared once you started up the last pitch, it looks steep and intimidating from the false summit, but it doesn't take more than 5 minutes from the bottom to the top.
View of Conundrum from Castle
Anyway, with hazy skies (We couldn't even see Snowmass and Capitol Peak), tired legs, and groggy minds, we spent very little time on top. After taking a few breaths and snapping a few photos, we started down. At this point there were several more groups coming up behind us, and it was fun to watch them climb over the various obstacles along the ridge leading to the summit.
If by any chance the couple that gave us a short ride up to the pearl pass junction on Wednesday the 15th, I got some good pictures of you guys on the ridge from far away, I would be happy to share them with you! just send me a PM
Example of climbing along the ridge
Anyway, the descent was pretty uneventful, and once we got off the ridge we pretty much put it on auto pilot for the hike out.
The drive back to Fort Collins was tedious, it was long, and as we got closer to the front range, the solitude and light traffic we had enjoyed throughout the week was replaced by gridlock and congestion. We finally made it back to town around 7pm and crashed. This was the end of our epic road trip.
But, in case you hadn't notice, Bierstadt is included in the peak list of this trip. Since I was unable to hit my original goal of "One in every range" (DAMN YOU SANGRE!) and since we realized on the drive back to FoCo that I Castle peak was my 13th 14er, we decided to grab one more on Saturday, thus climbing 14 14ers.
So we got up Saturday morning and joined the rest of Denver on their weekly trek up Mt. Bierstadt. This was uneventful, except for the bull moose tromping around in the willows near the parking area in the morning.
I know a lot of people here don't much like to see the crowds on the front range 14ers, but I personally think it's great to see so many people enjoying the mountains. I didn't include any pictures from this one, I figure you all have seen enough from this trip, so I thought I would spare ya in the end.
Anyway, this was a fantastic trip that yielded both success and failure, it tested my physical and mental limits, and it gave me a wonderfully unique opportunity to see parts of the state that are somewhat seldom visited.
I hope you all enjoyed the trip report here, and I hope it was both engaging and informative!
P.S. A big thank you to anyone who answered any of my questions that I posted leading up to this trip, your information proved extremely valuable, and I am certain that things would not have gone as smoothly as they did without it.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):