Peak(s):  Weston Pk  -  13,572 feet
Ptarmigan Pk  -  13,739 feet
Horseshoe Mtn A  -  13,898 feet
Date Posted:  07/18/2015
Date Climbed:   07/17/2015
Author:  rajz06
 Three Mosquitoers  

Starting Point: Weston Pass (elevation: 11,921')
Peaks Climbed in order of ascent: Weston Peak (13,572'), Ptarmigan Peak (13,739'), Horseshoe Mountain (13,898'), Ptarmigan Peak
Route: Southwest slope ascent, ridge traverse to peaks and return via re-ascent of Ptarmigan
RT Distance: 9.5 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,460 feet (per Google Maps), 4,050 feet (per gpx file)
Group: Solo

Weston and Ptarmigan are both unranked 13ers in the Mosquito range - gentle high peaks that are relatively easy to climb under ideal conditions. The weather forecast today called for only 20% chance of precipitation and moderate winds - not quite ideal, but close enough or so I thought. Weston Pass is some 15.8 miles on CO-5 (CO-22) from the junction with US 285, and the hike starts up the steep southwest slopes.


Steep is correct, for the grassy slope climbs nearly 1,500 feet to gain the ridge in just over 0.7 miles. Yikes!

Grassy southwest slopes

Boulder fields come and go on this ascent as do rock gullies, but the best traction as always is on the tundra.

Boulder field in the tundra

Lulled by the excellent forecast, I got a late start and didn't hit this slope until 9:15 a.m. The sun was blazing and the skies were mostly blue so I figured I'd chosen wisely. Little did I know...

~1500 feet down to the pass

The steep but simple ascent on the grassy slope played into my strengths and in a tad over 40 minutes, I found myself atop the ridge.

Atop the ridge

The wind that was ever present until then became quite vociferous. This would be a factor for the remainder of the hike, as the winds were mostly in the 20 mph range with gusts into the 30s.

I stopped at this airy spot to fortify myself with a snack and tuned right to face Weston, the first peak of the day.

Aiming for Weston Peak

Weston enjoys less than 300 feet of prominence from this point, the elevation gain coming in just over 0.3 miles, making for a comfortable ascent compared to the calf burner that the lower slope was.

Save for a narrow spot on the traverse with steep drop-offs on either side, the ridge is very straightforward to navigate.

Steep drop-off to the west

The terrain broadens considerably as the final pitch changes from tundra to rocks, and just over an hour into the hike I was atop Weston Peak.

Short jaunt to Weston

Clouds had already built up since I started and were now casting sinister shadows over the Sawatch peaks to the west.

Clouds over the Sawatch


I then set my sights on the next goal - Ptarmigan Peak.

Ptarmigan, but hey look who's yonder!

Hovering in the distance was an old friend, Horseshoe Mountain. Now, I've climbed Horseshoe's broad summit on more than one occasion but not from this approach and somehow it was calling to me today. I immediately made the decision to visit the second highest 13er in the range.

I retraced my path to the saddle between the two paks. Ptramigan rises about 400 feet from the low point on the ridge and the approach is about as straightforward as it gets.

Ptarmigan peeks over the bump

Ptarmigan comes into view

The large snow field on the talus could be easily avoided and about two hours from setting foot on the lower slopes I was atop the second rocky summit of the day surveying my route to that point.

Atop Ptarmigan

As I took in the views, it started to graupel. Along with the steady winds, the graupel would become an intermittent show for the remainder of my stay on the ridge. The clouds were starting to build from the west as I eyed the ridge route to Horseshoe Mountain.

Horseshoe in the distance

I figured I could beat the weather by making the traverse to Horseshoe in an hour. I knew I would have no choice but to return and re-ascend Ptarmigan but my calculations indicated that I would be back in just around two hours to start my descent. I'm usually rather conservative in my estimates but not this time. I was judging the traverse mostly by how much elevation gain/loss there would be; I had not accounted for the 2.6 miles that separated the two peaks.

After descending from Ptarmigan, the next stop was the broad bump ahead, which I knew would be a good vantage point to survey the remaining terrain to the third summit of the day.

Approaching the broad bump

The next shot was taken en route to the bump, and provides a good view of my ridge route so far.

Looking back

Once atop the bump, at nearly 13,700' I got a good view of the route ahead.

Plotting the route to Horseshoe

I decided to stay well below the ridge crest to avoid additional elevation gain. The toughest part of the traverse was the boulder field on the west slopes (left of the ridge crest). There are faint trails father down on this slope but I decided to maintain my elevation which made the traverse a bit trickier that it needed to be.

Navigating the boulder field below the ridge

Boulder hopping gingerly through the tipsy talus, I was aware that I would overshoot the hour I'd given myself by a good bit. The shack that had obviously caught my eye from way down the ridge is not the true summit of Horseshoe.

Shack on Horseshoe's summit

The true acme is farther north on the broad rocky summit, adorned by a rock pile that was quite familiar to me.

Summit cairn

The traverse had taken me nearly ninety minutes and that would not have been an issue were it not for the fact that the weather was worsening. The graupel had stopped for a bit but there was significant activity not far from this ridge so I knew I couldn't bask on my third summit for too long.

Thunderstorm activity

Given an adequate weather window, one could continue north on this ridge to Peerless, Sheridan, Sherman, Gemini and Dyer making an 8-peak extravaganza. Of course, such an undertaking would require a car shuttle, as the best exit from Dyer to avoid re-ascending any of the aforementioned peaks would be to Iowa gulch...


...or a return via Sherman to exit into the lovely Fourmile creek basin...

Fourmile Creek

Someday, perhaps...

The familiar sting of graupel on my face snapped me out of my reverie. It was time to bail.

Surveying the return route

I mostly retraced my path but when I got to the boulder-filled slope, I dropped a bit lower to take one of the trails to make my progress a bit easier.

Staying well below the ridge

It didn't look like the weather was going to relent anytime soon, so I pressed on, traversing the slope and aiming for the final bump before I would have a shot at Ptarmigan.

20% chance is all it takes!

Approaching the bump again

Not looking good...

As miserable as the steady wind and graupel was, I was thankful that there had been no lightning activity.

Ptarmigan peeks again

A little over an hour after I'd left Horseshoe's summit, Ptarmigan Peak loomed before me for the second time today. The wind was now forcing the graupel into my right ear but climb I must.

Final ascent of the day

It seemed like an eternity as I hustled over the final boulder field, but ten minutes was all it took and boy, was I glad to see Ptarmigan's summit marker again, knowing that the uphill part was all done - well, mostly anyway.

Ptarmigan again!

I descended off Ptramigan and contoured around the hillside staying below the ridge to hiker's right.

Contouring around the hillside

The clouds were unleashing their fury not too far from me but I was headed for safety.

Thar she blows!

The mountains can often be an inhospitable place. So venture with caution, if you must, into their lair. And may Godspeed be with you...

Elevation profile

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35

 Comments or Questions

Wind and monsoons
07/18/2015 16:45
Nice job, Raj! Looks like it will be another summer like last year. I’ll be out there in about a week and was hoping for less wind and rain than I experienced last season, but that’s the way it goes I guess. But like I always say, a ’bad’ day in the mountains is still better than a ’good’ day at home!


07/19/2015 13:46
it sure is shaping up to be an interesting summer with the weather. I look forward to your accounts of adventures for the season!


Another nice one...
07/20/2015 08:32
Another nice one, Raj. You always do such a nice job of describing and documenting your route. Those are fun peaks, aren’t they?


Mosquitoes unranked
07/30/2015 17:04
I had thought to hike this route with my aircast, but then I saw how steep that slope was! Maybe it will be a training hike once I get the cast off, again.

Edit: I ended up hiking the steep tundra/flower slope with the boot, just went slowly. Thanks for the beta!

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