| Ghosts of the Sawatch
"Spirits floating in the night, will they ever find a way..." sing Atlas Sound. I‘m glued to the side of Cronin Peak by gravity, my arms and legs stretched out in an X, my bare face pressed against cold scree. "Spirits..." echo through my head like a struck church bell. At this moment I‘m scared of my own mortality. Very bothered - and possibly mental - I pull the headphones from my ear and anxiously stuff them into a pocket. Deep breath. The silence is vast.
I hear mountain goats laugh. Are they laughing at me? I must look ridiculous.
Cronin Peak (once known as North Carbonate Mountain) is named for Mary Cronin. She was the first woman to climb all of Colorado‘s 14ers in 1921. Cronin deserves a 14er but she received 13,870 feet. Mother nature has made the most of every inch. In summertime, apricot hues pour down the sides of Cronin Peak like paint spilled from an artist‘s hands. In winter, snow masks the natural beauty with white lace. Cronin Peak is shown here in the summer of 2008:
Today, all friendly appearances are put aside. Cronin Peak is not being very nice to me.
The scree rolls beneath me like greased ball bearings. I reach out - my arms claw for traction. Again and again I slide down. I lose elevation foot by foot. I repeat the futile movement, hoping (praying) that I find solid rock. The scree might as well be quicksand. I look past my feet and down the gulley beneath me. Baldwin Lake is nearly two thousand feet below. I consider the consequences of failure. If I am lucky, I slide gracefully down to Baldwin Lake on the seat of my pants. The road at the lake would take me back to my vehicle. If I am scorned, my controlled slide becomes a painful tumble into the basin. And then - to add insult to injury - tons of rock and dirt would bury me at the base of Cronin Peak.
I turn and look towards the summit.
I have only one option: up.
I tear at the scree with my hands. I push my gloved fingers into the bare and moist dirt. I dig deep to find solid rock beneath the loose surface. I start gaining traction inch by inch. I move carefully, ensuring my weight is centered and my movements are fluid. I feel the momentum break in my favor as the slope angle relents. I push my weight foward and with no grace, I scramble to my feet like a drunken man. I have reached Cronin‘s summit.
Cronin Peak (aka North Carbonate)
Date: Saturday, October 17, 2009
Summit Elevation: 13,870 ft. (ranked 75th in Colorado)
Trailhead: Baldwin Creek 4WD
Trailhead Elevation: 11,161 ft.
Hike Distance: 7.69 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,850 ft.
Start Time / End Time: 1:05 PM / 7:11 PM
I wake in Boulder on Saturday morning. It is 6 AM and still dark out. By summer standards this is a late start. That doesn‘t concern me at this time of year. The sun rises above the horizon as I drive south. The hills above Golden are truly golden on this beautiful autumn morning. I pass under blue skies through Fairplay and Buena Vista. By noon, my tent is pitched at the Iron City Forest Service Campground near the famous St. Elmo ghost town. The historic Iron City Cemetery overlooks the last few campsites in the campground. It‘s mid-October - the spooky season - so I keep with the theme and occupy the final site in the campground. Sun-bleached gravestones are visible from my tent. I am the only living soul in the entire campground. The host packed up and went home weeks ago. I think to myself, "how strange that so many people stop camping in September" but my ponderous thoughts are soon replaced by images of The Shining. Specifically, the axe through the door. I‘m happy there are no doors around. I split firewood, and then put my little hatchet under my pillow.
I climb Cronin on Saturday afternoon and return to camp after dark. My tent is surrounded by tall and slender pine trees that dance in the flickering light of the campfire. It‘s the only light for a mile - there is no moon tonight. I use my headlamp to read maps and guide books but my mind is restless. What is that sound? I shine my flashlight through the trees. The fire turns to embers. I put the fire out and the forest turns black. In my tent I hide from the darkness. I fall asleep. Its after 2 AM. Unseen hands grab my ankles, pulling me through the tent. I can‘t scream. I am stricken with sleep paralysis. I wake, and quickly come to my senses. My tent is warm but I push a little deeper into my sleeping bag. I wake up once more at 4 AM and then sleep quietly until the sun comes up.
I explore the old cemetery the next morning. My curiosity satisfied, I then drive a mile to the town of St. Elmo and walk the old streets. I like this picturesque old ghost town.
I return to camp and pack away my gear. It‘s almost noon on Sunday. My next objective: Mount Antero.
Mount Antero is the 10th highest mountain in Colorado. The massive peak is named for Ute Chief Antero, a leader of the Uintah band of Indians based in northeastern Utah. Chief Antero was known to be friendly and cooperative with Indian agents and white explorers from the East. John Wesley Powell used Chief Antero for ethnological studies. The Chief was the subject in a series of photos made in 1873 and 1874. Chief Antero was a proponent of Peace. He signed the Washinton Treaty of 1880, which after years of uprising, led to the Utes losing most of their land. The mountain named in the Chief‘s honor stands sentinel to the other Indian peaks of the southern Sawatch. Immediately north of Mount Antero, separated by the narrow Chalk Creek Valley, sits Mount Princeton. Mount Princeton is the southern-most Collegiate Peak, a fitting symbol of western expansionism.
I drive up the Baldwin Gulch road and park near the second creek crossing. It's the same spot I used for Cronin Peak. I walk the road, crossing short sections of ice. At treeline, I break from the road and ascend the moderate west slope gulley. Not long and I'm back on the road near 13,000 feet. From there, I follow the road to Antero's upper saddle. The upper saddle marks the end of the road and the start of the unusual ridge that connects with the summit cone. The mild snow coverage creates some fun scrambling. Halfway across the ridge I greet the only person I see all day. The wind on the summit is just a breeze, the temperature warm, the skies a deeper shade of blue. It is a beautiful autumn day.
Date: Sunday, October 18, 2009
Summit Elevation: 14,269 ft. (ranked tenth in Colorado)
Trailhead: Baldwin Creek 4WD
Trailhead Elevation: 11,161 ft.
Hike Distance: 8.06 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,140 ft.
Start Time / End Time: 12:08 PM / 5:15 PM
Captions on top of photos.
Frida Kahlo says go!
Saturday morning as the sun rises behind Denver.
I drive into the Iron City Campground. Where is everyone?
Mount Antero, my goal for Sunday.
Saturday - Cronin Peak
I drive up the Baldwin Gulch Road. Destination: Cronin Peak.
I arrive at the first creek crossing and the 4WD trailhead. Cronin Peak stands in the distance.
I park – the road turns to ice.
Cronin's summit appears through the trees.
To my left is the East Slope of Mount Antero.
I bushwack through tree. Cronin's North Ridge appears. I gain the ridge near the far right of the photo.
Mountain goats graze on the saddle.
I reach the saddle. The goats are slightly concerned. Mount Princeton in back.
I start hiking the ridge to the summit. It's easy – at first.
The ridge becomes more rugged. The rock is loose – junk – and I find it difficult to stay on top of the ridge. I contour to the right of the ridge.
The vast view to my right across the Baldwin Lake Basin.
The view behind me as I climb Cronin's North Ridge.
A view of the summit.
The slope steepens. Hmm – it's getting loose.
I got too far off the ridge. I'm now confronted with climbing this steep and loose gulley.
Baldwin Lake is a long way down.
The route is precarious.
The slope angle relents and the view expands. I'm almost there.
The summit of Cronin Peak on a beautiful October afternoon. There is little wind.
The view of Mount Shavano and Tabeguache Peak.
I take a quick glance at the GPS.
And start down the saddle with Mount Antero.
The sun falls and Cronin Peak retreats into shadow.
Mount Antero bathed in warm evening light.
The day light fades. I pull my headlamp from my pack.
Sunday - Mount Antero
I drive up the Baldwin Gulch Road on a beautiful Sunday morning.
I park and walk the road. Mount Antero greets me.
I climb the west gulley.
Cronin Peak rises to my right.
I near the top of the gulley.
The road switchbacks far below.
I gain the road near 13,000 feet.
Snow packs the road. I follow the trail that rises from the road on the left.
The Arkansas River Valley comes into view.
I reach the upper saddle. Mount Antero's summit is on the right.
Easy class 2 scrambling across the ridge.
Unusual rock formation on the ridge.
The final section crosses solid talus.
The trail switchbacks towards the summit.
The summit of Mount Antero.
The view to the north.
The view to the northeast. Nathrop and the hot springs are below.
I take a quick glance at the GPS.
I start my descent. The Mount Antero Road twists down the mountain. Cronin Peak stands on the right of the photo.
Rock formations on the ridge.
Descending the road.
More small details…
I reach treeline as the sun drops behind Cronin Peak.
All too soon I arrive back at my vehicle.
And with the turn of the key, another fantastic adventure comes to an End.