Peak(s):  Taylor Mtn A  -  13,651 feet
Aetna, Mt  -  13,745 feet
Date Posted:  06/30/2014
Date Climbed:   06/15/2014
Author:  Greenhouseguy
Additional Members:   SenadR
 Taylor/Aetna Loop From the Boss Lake Trailhead  

Taylor Mountain A
13,651 Feet (172nd Highest in Colorado)
West Ridge from the Boss Lake Trailhead
Mount Aetna
13,745 Feet (127th Highest in Colorado)
East Ridge from Taylor Mountain A
Trailhead Elevation 10,447 Feet
Approximately 7 Miles Roundtrip
Approximately 4,270 Feet Elevation Gained
Class 2 with some light scrambling
June 15th, 2014
Partner: SenadR


Taylor/Aetna Loop From the Boss Lake Trailhead



Mount Aetna and Taylor Mountain A are bicentennial thirteeners in a historic mining area between Salida and Monarch Pass. Mt. Aetna was named after the famous Sicilian stratovolcano Mt. Etna, and Taylor Mountain A appears to have been named after a prospector. The area was extensively mined for silver, gold, and copper in the 1880s, but most of the mines were abandoned when the silver market collapsed in 1893. Mining activity resumed in the region in the early 20th century, and there are currently active claims on Taylor Mountain's southeast slopes. The basin between Taylor Mountain and Mount Aetna, however, is slowly reverting to a more pristine state. The remains of numerous miners' cabins in the forest below the Hoffman Park area show that it was once a well-populated community.

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Mt. Aetna viewed from Taylor Mountain A's west ridge

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GPS track of the Taylor Mountain A/Mt. Aetna combo

We started the tedious journey from Denver well before dawn. Traveling long stretches on Highway 285 can be dreadfully boring at times, but it seems that we can't drive far without passing some landmark associated with a pleasant hiking memory. Platte Peak, the Twin Cones, "Peak X," Mt. Guyot, Boreas Mountain, Hoosier Ridge, Horseshoe Mountain, Mt. Silverheels, and finally, the majestic Mt. Princeton are all visible from the highway and help break up the monotony. As we continued south out of Buena Vista, we passed by Mt. Antero, Mt. Shavano, and Mt. Ouray, all of which were fine adventures. Highway 50 is somewhat less-familiar territory to me, but most people who have driven over Monarch Pass have almost certainly noticed our main objective of the day, Mt. Aetna. The mountain looks impossibly steep from a distance, and a giant gash on its south face - the Grand Couloir - probably holds snow for at least nine months out of the year. One might imagine that such a striking mountain would attract throngs of hikers, but its relatively remote trailhead and status as a lowly thirteener mostly relegate this one to the die-hards and peak baggers. About four miles east of the summit of Monarch Pass, we passed through the thriving metropolis of Garfield and turned right on FS 230 at a small snowmobile rental shop. After about 1.5 miles of purely terrible road, we reached the Boss Lake Trailhead. One would have to be either brave or foolish to attempt this road without four wheel drive.

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Sen walking up FS 230 just past the Boss Lake Trailhead

There was plenty of room to park at the trailhead. I understand that the hike down to Boss Lake is well worth the effort, but we had far too much on our agenda to be adding extra mileage. We started up the road on foot, and reached the intersection with FS 230C after about a tenth of a mile. This is the road that leads to Hoffman Park, the beautiful alpine meadow near the mouth of the basin between Mt. Aetna and Taylor Mountain A.

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Sen at the junction of FS 230 and FS 230C

The trail was reasonably steep, and long stretches were muddy because of the runoff from melting snow.

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Sen trying to avoid the muck in the middle of the trail

There were a number of slowly-disintegrating cabins along the trail, which must have been a mining road in an earlier era. Rusting tin cans marked the miners' dump sites, and a few shattered wood stoves remained near the abandoned homes.

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Remains of an old miner's cabin beside the trail

Deep snow remained in the shady forest, and it spilled over onto the trail in places. It was frozen and consolidated, so we walked over the snow without fear of punching through.

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A stretch of snow-covered trail

The basin at the head of the gulch was among the loveliest that I have seen. The area was heavily mined in the past, but nature has begun the healing process.

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Looking up towards the basin from below Hoffman Park

Hoffman Park is an unusually flat grassy meadow that, judging by the scat, is a favorite grazing spot for elk and bighorn sheep. Once we reached Hoffman Park, we began to look for the easiest way to gain Taylor Mountain's west ridge. It wasn't obvious at first.

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A portion of the grassy meadow that makes up Hoffman Park

We hiked a bit farther into the basin, and noticed a trail that headed almost due south along the ridge. The trail was in reasonably good shape, and got us to the crest of the ridge at about 12,200 feet.

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Sen preparing to traverse the west face of Taylor Mountain A's west ridge on a narrow trail

The trail took us above treeline and into the tundra. The tundra plant life was not spectacular, but I began to see some familiar alpine plants. The first one that I notice was the alpine avens (Geum rossii var. turbinatum). British Arctic explorer Capt. James Ross was the first European to describe this plant to science.

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Alpine avens (Geum rossii var. turbinatum) growing out of a crack in a rock

The trail was solid all the way up to the crest of the ridge, but it grew faint afterwards. We picked it up again in places, but could not follow it consistently.

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Sen approaching the crest of the ridge on the goat path

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Alpine forget-me-not (Eritrichium nanum). Formerly known as Eritrichium aretioides, this plant is also found in Europe where it is known as King of the Alps

The ridge was extremely broad and flat. There was no obvious trail, but navigation was pretty self-explanantory.

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Sen hiking the broad expanse of Taylor Mountain A's west ridge

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Fairy primrose Primula angustifolia growing on the crest of the ridge

At about 12,800 feet, we passed the bare frame of an old truck beside the imploded remains of a mineshaft. Had the truck engine been used to power a mine hoist? The shattered remnants of the shaft house also littered the area.

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Old mining site at 12,800 feet on Taylor Mountain A's west ridge

As we passed by the mining site, I felt a stabbing pain in my right foot. I had stepped on a nail that was sticking out of a board. It poked a sizeable hole in my foot, but I was able to walk it off and keep going. Point taken (literally!): mining sites aren't safe places to investigate.

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Trail hazard

The tundra was much rockier near the summit. We had to pick our way through some talus, but it was not at all difficult.

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Sen choosing his route through the talus

From the summit, we could see that our mile-long ridge hike over to Mt. Aetna was essentially free of snow.

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Greenhouseguy on Taylor Mountain A's summit with Mt. Aetna in the background

To the northeast, we had an excellent view of Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak.

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Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak viewed from the summit of Taylor Mountain A

The traverse over to Mt. Aetna got off to a slow start. We sidehilled around some large rocky bumps on the ridge, and found ourselves in some scrambling situations on the mostly-stable talus. It took more than the usual amount of effort to get past this portion of the ridge. The temperature was in the mid-20s, and we had to layer up to deal with the low temperatures and stiff breeze.

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Sidehilling around some rocky points on the ridge

From the saddle, the remainder of the hike over to Mt. Aetna looked deceptively easy. Just a simple walk up the ridge, right? The entire ridge was covered with talus from saddle to summit, so we had to choose each step carefully. It was much more exhausting than I had anticipated.

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Descending to the Aetna/Taylor saddle

I thought that we would be able to avoid snow on the ridge, but it turned out that one of the steepest parts was covered and unavoidable. Fortunately, it was the perfect consistency for kicking steps.

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Sen kicking steps in the snowy slope

Above the snowy slope, we had to deal with a huge jumble of talus. About 800 vertical feet of this was more than enough to wear me out.

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A better view of the talus on the ridge

The ridge turned slightly to the north near the summit. The true summit is on a long, narrow ridge.

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Sen standing on Mt. Aetna's summit

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Summit selfie

We could see Shav & Tab, Mt. Antero, and several of the Collegiate Peaks from the summit. Several active logging and mining operations were also visible. Looking back at the ridge between Taylor Mountain A and Mt. Aetna made me glad that we did not plan to return by that route.

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View of Taylor Mountain A from Mt. Aetna's summit

The remaining portion of our route, however, would prove to be the most difficult part of the hike. We planned to descend the southwest ridge, which marked the western boundary of the Grand Couloir. The ridge is relentlessly steep and loose, and it appeared to be an insane proposition. What looked like a lake at the bottom of the ridge was actually a pile of rocks that had either rolled down the couloir or had been carried there on top of the snow.

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Looking down the Grand Couloir and Mt. Aetna's southwest ridge

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Sen negotiating the steep talus

About every tenth chunk of talus rolled under my feet; it seemed like be a likely place to snap an ankle. Instead, I snapped a trekking pole. It didn't take long for this poor grade of talus to get on my nerves. I saw the strip of snow on the eastern edge of the ridge, and decided to try my luck at plunge-stepping. Slipping on the snow was not an option, since the runout looked pretty hazardous.

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The strip of snow on the eastern edge of the southwest ridge

The snow was perfect for plunge-stepping, and I started to make good time descending the ridge. As fate would have it, I slipped, and the snow took me for a little ride. I quickly jammed my remaining trekking pole under my arm and self-arrested. This gave me another idea; I eased up on the trekking pole and continued to glissade for a couple of hundred feet down the ridge. I was able to catch a couple more glissades and almost entirely avoided the miserable talus until I reached the rock pile at the bottom.

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Sen boot skiing down a slope

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One of my glissade tracks on the slope

The rocks at the bottom of the ridge were no more stable than the rocks at the top. We carefully picked our way through the boulder field and found a service road that led back to FS 230. We passed what appeared to be a small active mining site, and the remains of what was probably an early 20th-century shaft house. We hiked the road back to my Jeep to complete the loop hike.

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Our day's journey took us through some challenging terrain, and I found the remains of the historical buildings to be interesting. The summit views were not bad at all. I'd have to say that Mt. Aetna, like its namesake, was a blast.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
Jay521

Another nice one!
06/30/2014 11:23
Great pics and narrative as usual, Brian.


rajz06

Great...
06/30/2014 18:06
...report as always and good job on navigating the dicey terrain. Will be adding this duo to the list.


Bigperm
Nice report.
10/07/2019 17:47
I did this loop today. Iâd just like to add that on descending from Taylor to the Aetna/Taylor saddle I stayed on the ridge proper even though at times it meant climbing up a little. It was worth it. The ridge was relatively easygoing and the descent was only class 2.

I also descended from the summit of Aetna back to the saddle and descended down into the bowl from there. It was pretty casual. Iâd recommend it as a descent route.



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