| Francisco Combination from Halfmoon Creek
Mountains: French Mtn. (13,940') - CO Rank 63
Frasco Benchmark (13,876') - Unranked
Casco Peak (13,908') - CO Rank 69
Route: Started at Halfmoon Ck TH (10,240') and climbed the "Francisco" Circuit… South Slopes of French Mtn. to summit, traversed to Frasco BM via the East Ridge, descended Frasco's South Ridge down to Fiascol and up Casco's North Ridge to summit. Descended Casco's N.E. Slopes down to the Road.
Stats (from Roach's 13er book… our altimeters stated otherwise):
Elevation Gain - 4604'
Roundtrip Mileage - 11.7 miles
Roundtrip Time - 9:20
Stephanie, Eric and I met up at a Park n Ride outside Boulder at 4AM to begin the drive out to the Halfmoon Creek TH. Our plan was to climb the French Group (Francisco *Classic* described by Roach). The 4WD road up to the TH was routine but icy conditions didn't permit us to go any further up the road towards the 4WD parking lot at 10,800'. We parked down at the TH by the creek crossing, grabbed a quick nap and began hiking up the road at 7:40AM. The road was covered by some drivable crusty snow, some drifts and several sections of ice. We wouldn't recommend driving up to the 4WD parking lot unless you ride on tires that mean business.
The road is long and does not gain elevation quickly. It took us an hour and a half to get to the basin where we saw Casco's prominent summit for the first time. In the basin we kept close to the trees as much as possible to avoid bushwhacking through the willows. Snow was seldom deep and was crusty most of the time.
We cut across up the South slopes of French Mountain rather than follow the road all the way to Iron Mike Mine. We were soon past the willows and came face to face with our route options for the day.
We decided to climb a bench and follow a gentle incline up to French Mtn. We summitted at noon. It was breezy up on summit and we decided to descend to a wind shelter to get some food before moving on to the unranked Frasco Benchmark.
The ridge to Frasco from French was a routine walk with some nice views of the monstrous 14ers nearby. Stephanie walks atop a neat cliff on her way up to Frasco.
We summitted Frasco at 12:55PM. It was a beautiful bluebird day and we saw very few wispy clouds. From Frasco we considered going back down but a quick poll revealed that a Casco was required by all. Most of Frasco's South Ridge down to Fiascol is Class 2/2+ scrambling. There are some towers that are easily circumnavigated (mostly on the West side), but staying on the ridge crest did not make things much harder.
Views of Casco from the ridge make the trip so worthwhile. We looked at the summit block from afar and it looked like a 3rd class climb along the ridge crest. It seemed a little harder descending off of Casco when I climbed it last year than it was to climb it this year. There was a tad bit more snow back then with some cool cornices on the ridge when doumall and I climbed it last September. Here's an interesting comparison compiled from one of doumall's pictures from last year and mine (on the left) taken from the same spot this year.
The towers in the above image are easily avoided by scrambling around the West side.
We soon got to Fiascol and began our ascent up the North Ridge of Casco. Most of the ridge is Class 2/2+ except for the pitch leading up to summit, which is Class 3.
Staying on the ridge is a possibility. Stephanie and Eric traversed this snow slope up to the ridge…
I took a slightly different route angling right up a steep snow slope. The snow was soft and powdery. Protruding rocks provided the occasional hand hold. The route I followed reached the ridge crest a little lower down. The ridge has some interesting Class 3 moves which could become much harder with a little more snow cover or ice on them. Our routes converge here... There are a few 3rd Class slabs that must be clambered over to get to here.
We summitted Casco at 2:30PM.
We stayed on summit for a bit enjoying the beautiful weather. The wind had settled down and it was not too cold. After a while we started walking down Casco's S. E. Ridge down towards the saddle. A little before the low point on the saddle we began bounding down the N. E. Slopes where there was plenty of sweet snow to be plunge-stepped. There was a very thin layer of crust covering inches of sugar interspersed with grass and rocks.
Here's our approximate route off the mountain.
Down to the basin we made a beeline for the road and made our way down sliding all over the ice. There was a cool log bridge to be crossed…
We were back down at the TH by 5PM and off to Leadville for Burgers. It was the perfect day to be up there. Three summits, an interesting scramble, great views, satisfying body aches and great climbing partners. Thanks for your pictures guys.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):