| Alone in the Elks
Began: Italian Creek Road at the end of the 2WD segment (there's a small parking area at the beginning of the 4WD part of the road just below the Lily Pond Trail intersection).
Mileage: ~14 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: ~3300 ft
OK, so I like hiking by myself but am not so brave when it comes to navigating unfamiliar 4WD roads alone in my Subaru. I tend to err on the side of caution and park when the road gets rough, as I have no desire to get the car stuck. This has led to some LONG days.
After dropping Ben off at the airport, I drove out to the trailhead (4-5 hours). I had never driven over Cottonwood Pass before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to find the road clear and dry (one small icy spot on the Taylor Park Reservoir side, but it wasn't a problem). The 2WD part of the Italian Creek Road wasn't bad at all (completely dry on 11/4), although I was glad to have the Forester: there were several spots where traction control kicked in and I wanted the clearance. I considered driving up the 4WD part of the road a bit, but the initial section is pretty rough and was icy. Instead, I parked at the end of the 2WD section and found a relatively "flat" spot in the woods to pitch my tent.
There was very little wind overnight, and I didn't realize how cold it had gotten until I broke down camp the next morning (4:30 am): several of the tent stakes had frozen into the ground and were hard to remove. My water bottles froze shut overnight, so I turned on the car for several minutes to thaw them enough to get water for breakfast (the car said it was 19 degrees at 5 am).
Given the brisk morning temperature, I was eager to get started hiking. After an initial rough section, the road flattened out and was a fairly pleasant hike. I enjoyed looking back at the sunrise:
You certainly can see Italian Mountain for quite a ways on the road:
I had some trouble navigating the initial stretch of private land near the mine, given that my topo and the road signage were not in complete agreement, so I won't include my GPS track. I did try to avoid the private property as much as possible. The initial stretch towards Lambertson was a fairly gentle slope, with snow and willows to keep it interesting:
Looking at Italian, with Leo for scale.
I was planning on traversing from Lambertson to Italian, so I kept checking for a good descent. It looked pretty snowy, so I opted for the lower angle slope left of center:
The views of the Sawatch were quite nice, so I stopped several times on the way up to take photos:
I had my printed topo map and GPS out to check my direction, as Lambertson and Italian cross sides on the National Geographic map, making the best route up difficult to discern (at least for me). My printed topo and the GPS did not agree as to the location of Lambertson Peak, so I ended up summiting an extra point (Point 13051, which is north of Lambertson Peak). Point 13051 is to the right of center in the photo below and had some cool looking cliffs on the ridge:
Cliffs along the ridge of Point 13051
The summit block of Point 13051:
Although the day was not as sunny as I had expected, given the forecast, it was quite pleasant (read: very little wind). The ridge to Italian (and, apparently, to Lambertson) looked good, so I decided to give it a go:
I did wear my microspikes for part of the ridge, as the snow was variable (some was hard and windpacked, but much of it was very powdery for several inches with a hard, icy layer underneath). I was surprised to see a trail along part of the ridge:
I followed the trail for a bit, but it didn't seem to be going the direction I wanted to head, so I ascended back up to the ridge. Much of the ridge was devoid of snow, and much of the snow that was there was avoidable:
With Ben out of town, I had our dog with me, and I was a bit worried about the last segment of the traverse to Italian. I kept my fingers crossed as I turned the corner and found:
Large talus blocks balanced precariously and shifting with most steps. Definitely not my favorite part of the day, but at least the dog could do it. Note: I do not recommend this for dogs--Leo was able to do it, but he is decent at scrambling; given his age (11 years old), this was hard for him. I had to lift Leo up several times to get him over obstacles. Leo much preferred our trip to Argentine and Wilcox on Halloween.
Anyway, we eventually got to the summit of Italian. The views back along the ridge were quite impressive:
The three people in this picture are the only people I saw all day.
Summit shot (I have yet to perfect the self-portrait):
Castle looked quite impressive:
The initial ridge heading down Italian wasn't too bad (small cornice forming at the crest). It was steep, but the microspikes were useful.
American Flag Mountain looked interesting, but at this point it was noon and I knew I had a long hike back to the car:
I found a trail for part of the descent:
Unfortunately, the trail was indiscernible on the steep snow slope, which probably felt steeper than it was given the powdery, unconsolidated snow. I wished I had brought my ice axe for a glissade!
Looking back up at the slope I descended:
Another look at the terrain coming down:
Navigating back around the private land was interesting, and again I pulled out the map and GPS. In retrospect, I probably should have stayed on the road that said "Taylor Ck," but I thought it would take me through more private property. I got past the mine more quickly than I hoped and started the long trek back to the car. The upper portion of the 4WD road (which had been frozen in the morning) was fairly muddy in places. We finally reached the car at 3:15 pm. Now for the fun drive back to the metro (we got home around 7:45 pm).
Overall, it was a fun day. I would definitely recommend this outing and am posting to give more info about these peaks.
**Note: Times in this report may be off, given that I didn't change my clocks until today and I'm still between the old and new times. I tried to report in the new time, but I'm pretty tired today.**
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):