| Mary Cronin- First Woman to Climb the 14ers
** When I first climbed this mountain in 1988 it was UN 13,870', locally called North Carbonate. After many years of effort from some dedicated lovers of mountaineering history, in May 2005 it was named "Cronin Peak" by the USGS. In 1934, Mary Cronin became the first woman, and only the fourth person, to climb all of Colorado 14ers (at a time when very few women were climbing at all). You've come a long way baby!
Cronin Peak 13,870'
10 miles / 4630'
"I know Ken Nolan. Ken Nolan is a friend of mine. Believe me, you're no Ken Nolan".
We needed SOMEONE to give us that warning! (Those of you under age 35 may need to ask your more aged co-workers to explain the reference). Wanting to spend the day with my friends the Jaggers, I looked for a peak on Linda's centennials list that wouldn't be too tough as an early spring climb. Al Valletta, of 14er.com, answered a post for interested parties. Unfortunately for us, that darn Ken Nolan posted a recent report of his exploits conquering Mt Antero, White, and Cronin in one day. How hard could it be for us to take on Cronin alone?
In our defense, he didn't mention particularly difficult weather. We, on the other hand, had some real problems. We assembled and struck out at 7:30AM. As we left the 9240' 2WD trailhead (at the base of the Baldwin Gulch 4WD summer route to Antero) the sky was gray, snow falling, and the wind was whistling through the trees. Winds were predicted to be 30-35 mph. I wish! We quickly tromped up the well packed three mile stretch of road to the intersection of Baldwin and Boulder gulches. At this exact point, the trail ceased to be broken, the winds hit us, and the completely obscured summit became evident. Not easily dissuaded, we veered left up Baldwin Gulch and quickly lost the route in a nearby meadow. Fifteen minutes of floundering for direction got us back on track up the gulch. About a mile later, where the correct bushwhack route to Cronin's north ridge veers right, we continued left up the summer route 4WD road to Antero. At 12.000' timberline, we were aware of the error.
No problem, we still were on route for the longer, but more gradual, ascent of Cronin's east ridge. Unfortunately, the wind hit with the ferocity of Richard Simmons off his Ritalin. We left the 4WD road to climb an apparently grassy ridge to the east end of the 13, 000' plateau separating Antero form Cronin. As we started up, we realized that a great portion of the grass was growing in unfrozen pea gravel. With the high winds and irregular footing, we were blown all over for the 1000' climb to the ridge.
Linda fighting against 50-60 mph winds on what is normally an easy slope
Upon a 12:30PM arrival at the plateau, the breeze started to blow! 30 mph winds with gusts to 50 became 50 mph winds with gusts to 65. The effort to advance was enormous. ¾ of a mile of easy ridge and then 1000' of steep hardpack separated us from the summit. Linda, the lightest, was particularly vulnerable to the wind and decided it was prudent to pack it in. Tom weighed the glory of the summit versus the wrath of a wife. He returned with her.
Al and I pushed on for the summit. The winds had blown out the clouds and the views improved considerably for the rest of the day. The gusts were unpredictable; they were as likely to produce the "I coulda had a V-8" smack as to give a good goosing. The ridge narrowed to a 6" wide (but unexposed and non-overhanging) cornice. The snow was too hard to kick steps. Ken Nolan's report had recommended crampons here, but heh, what does he know? He's only got a couple thousand peaks under his belt. I had left my crampons at home. Aggressive Vibram soles got the trick done, but barely.
Al climbing Cronin's hardpacked east ridge. 13,000' plateau and Mount White's summit in the background.
Overdog (lesser known cousin of Underdog) getting use of his evolution-installed crampons.
Al arrives on the summit at 2:30PM. Shavano / Tabeguache ridge behind.
Views to the southwest
We had packed our snowshoes to the summit in hopes of a north-ridge descent. At 2:45PM, we stuck out to the north. As we descended, I eyed the NE bowls for a glissade descent. For a confident glissader or skier, they are in fine shape right now. However, we opted for a more gentle aspect. At the first saddle, 300' off the summit, we changed tack and considered the descent west into Boulder Gulch. We liked what we saw. A less steep (but a little more hardpacked) 1500' glissade brought us to the valley bottom in about 15 minutes. This ¼ mile descent finally delivered us from the hurricane winds. On the valley floor 15mph was the norm. Surrounded by mounts Cronin, Grizzly (C?), Momma, and Boulder, the valley is considerably more aesthetic than Baldwin Gulch. I liked it!
View of Cronin's west side and our descent snowfield (center)
Now the descent looks steeper!
Cronin's west side
Nothing being perfect, the softened snow in this valley provided some frustrating springtime perineum-deep postholing. Luckily, it was intermittent. We reached the hardpacked route at the Boulder Gulch/ Baldwin Gulch intersection about 5:15PM
View of Cronin from the intersection
About an hour later, we were back to the cars. Of course by this time of day even the packed road had armed enough to hide crotch-grapping snow trolls who pulled us down three feet with absolutely no warning. A beautiful hike, Cronin would be a reasonable and pleasant day in fair conditions. I suspect the deteriorating snow quality may make the peak difficult for the next 6 weeks.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):