Peak(s):  Frasco BM  -  13,876 feet
French Mtn  -  13,940 feet
Casco Pk  -  13,908 feet
Champion, Mt  -  13,646 feet
PT 13,736  -  13,736 feet
Date Posted:  12/08/2020
Date Climbed:   06/28/2020
Author:  supranihilest
 Play Like a Champion Today  

I had originally intended to go to Aspen and climb the thirteeners ringing East Snowmass Creek, but got a late start out of Boulder and wanted to get more than three hours of sleep for those peaks. Most of them are easy, but they are still in the Elks, and thus require the utmost care and alertness. Instead I chose to stay a bit closer to home and climb a number of peaks in the roughly triangular area between Mount Massive, Mount Elbert, and Independence Pass. Bonus points for six out of the eight peaks being a Centennial or Bicentennial on this one! Today covers Centennials French Mountain, Casco Peak, and Frasco Benchmark, which is unranked, as well as Bicentennials Mount Champion and Point 13,736.

When my alarm went off at 5:30am I felt like total crap. I turned it off and immediately went back to sleep. Who needs alpine starts anyway? Eventually I woke up around 7:15 and was on the trail at 7:45 sharp. Now that's a better start time. The trail took me north, where I immediately went farther than all the route descriptions here and on SummitPost without realizing - about .4-.5 miles instead of a quarter mile. It didn't really matter, as long as I ended up on the north side of the creek coming out of Lackawanna Gulch, which required fording the North Fork of Lake Creek. I couldn't find a "good" crossing, since there are no bridges and trees aren't long enough, so I took my shoes, socks, and pants off and waded across. It's a good day when you're half naked ten minutes into a hike, aww yeah!

20280_01
Not particularly long, but about knee deep, ice cold, swift, and full of slippery, round rocks. I was glad to have a trekking pole for this.

It took me probably a minute or less to cross but my feet were numb by the time I reached the opposite bank. I hoped there wouldn't be more. I redressed and began heading east up Lackawanna Gulch, which is absolutely gorgeous. I really wasn't expecting this hike to be so pretty, but it was wonderful.

20280_02
It's not often that you see whitewater on a small creek.
20280_03
Old mining cabin lost to time.
20280_04
Soft ranked Point 13,660 B
20280_05
It's becoming clear why I wanted to be on this side of the creek.
20280_06
Lackawanna Gulch.

I stuck to the western side of the creek and slowly ascended into the gulch. Near treeline things briefly got steep before flattening out into the upper gulch. There's allegedly an old mining road through the lower part of Lackawanna Gulch but I never found it.

20280_07
Frasco Benchmark's rugged northwest ridge.
20280_08
Neat snow cave above the creek.

Lackawanna Gulch curved around to the east, then southeast, and I hiked across it first through willows, then on tundra, and finally on talus below the peaks.

20280_09
Frasco Benchmark. French Mountain is behind Frasco, and Casco is hidden to the right.

I made my way towards what Gerry Roach calls Fiascol, so called "in memory of misadventures on attempts to reach this saddle from below."

20280_10
Fiascol. Pick pretty much any line.

Fiascol isn't actually as disastrous as the name or history would suggest. It is steep, and it is loose, and it does suck, but I was expecting something dangerous, not something merely annoying. Though it was only a few hundred feet up Fiascol, it required some minor crawling and a couple of irritated expletives.

20280_11
Junky.
20280_12
Orangey garbage.
20280_13
Ankle deep dirt with loose talus on top.
20280_14
Looking down Fiascol.

From Fiascol I headed north along the rugged ridge towards unranked Frasco Benchmark.

20280_15
From Fiascol with Frasco Benchmark hidden behind the ridge and French Mountain on the right.

Much of Frasco's south ridge looked a lot harder than it was. Small gendarmes popped out at odd angles and the rock was generally rotten, but with only a couple of exceptions everything could be bypassed. Keeping the ridge at Class 2+ wasn't an issue.

20280_16
Gendarme bypassed on loose junk.
20280_17
More gendarmes. These look difficult and exposed but are ultimately much easier.
20280_18
Past the difficulties and almost to Frasco. There are trail segments along the ridge for guidance in dry conditions.

Overall Frasco's south ridge went out with a whimper. From Frasco the hike to French Mountain was easier and faster, all Class 2.

20280_20
French Mountain from Frasco Benchmark.
20280_21
Nearing French's summit.
20280_22
Mount Elbert's broad west slopes from French.
20280_23
Mount Massive.
20280_25
Deer Mountain A and Mount Oklahoma, "K 49" in the foreground.
20280_26
Casco Peak and Frasco Benchmark. The big peak in the background left of center is Colorado's highest 13er, Grizzly Peak A.
20280_27
Last two peaks of the day, Mount Champion and Point 13,736.

I spent about ten minutes on French gawking at the sea of Sawatch peaks around me, then headed back towards Frasco and Fiascol.

20280_28
Reascending Frasco.
20280_29
Casco Peak from Frasco.
20280_30
Looking in reverse at some of the terrain on Frasco's south ridge.

Upon reaching Fiascol I continued south towards Casco Peak. Casco's north ridge was tundra down low, and gave way to some minor scrambling at the summit block.

20280_31
Initial, easy slopes up.
20280_32
Neat and completely avoidable rock on Casco.
20280_33
Casco's summit block, which looks rough but is still only Class 2.

The ascent of Casco from Fiascol was a short steep grunt but provided new angles of the peaks of the area.

20280_34
Mount Elbert again.
20280_35
Frasco Benchmark and French Mountain.
20280_36
"Lackawanna" and Point 13,660.

I only spent enough time on Casco to take photos before heading back to Fiascol and half hiking, half falling down the loose rock back into Lackawanna Gulch's northern lobe. From the flats I hiked across snow to talus and then to tundra, reversing the order of things from the morning. I stayed high on a bench on the northern side of the valley as I made my way to the saddle between Frasco Benchmark and Mount Champion.

20280_37
Initial snow that was firm and easy to walk across in trail runners.
20280_38
Pleasant bench traverse.
20280_39
Champion and 13,736 from near the saddle.

At the saddle the old mining road snaked up Champion's south slopes, but I wanted to head straight up the ridge instead.

20280_40
The road only goes around the side of the mountain and doesn't approach the summit.

The ridge was slow going since I was tired by now, but I got to pass the ruins of an old aerial tramway which once fed the now-closed Champion Mill.

20280_41
Aerial tramway on Champion's east ridge.

Champion didn't pose any difficulties whatsoever as I plodded up to its summit.

20280_42
The only remotely rugged part of Champion, its northeast face.
20280_43
Talus near the summit.
20280_44
The ridge to Point 13,736 with Deer Mountain A in shadow on the right. The high point on the right edge connects to "K 49".

Between Champion and 13,736 it looked like there could possibly be some minor scrambling, depending on how the ridge sorted itself out, but this proved to not be the case; both peaks were simple Class 2.

20280_45
Near the saddle with 13,736. A little rough but nothing more than a walk.
20280_46
False summit on 13,736.
20280_47
13,736's true summit.

I took a few breaths on 13,736's summit and pondered the best way down. I didn't want to go back up and over Champion but wasn't sure if I could descend safely into the North Fork of Lake Creek. It looked like it might be possible, even though it would take me slightly farther north before turning sharply back to the south, and I knew there was a trail in the valley. The trail sealed it - down 13,736's northwest ridge it was.

20280_48
Plenty of initial talus.

The ridge started off somewhat narrow on the crest, talus covered, and with really only one clear way down. As I descended the ridge flattened on top and the south and west sides turned into cliffs. The north side remained tundra as it dropped away into a small bowl, where the route finding ended. All I had to do was go west until I hit the trail, then south back to the trailhead.

20280_49
Reaching the toe of 13,736's northwest ridge. The route descended to looker's right into the bowl before going into the valley floor.
20280_50
Ptarmigan blending in nicely to its thawing environment.

The trail was a little difficult to find and required some willow bashing and a creek crossing (though nothing like the morning's much wider creek crossing), and it branched and braided in the willows before eventually merging into a solid and easy to follow path down the valley.

20280_51
Looking back up 13,736 from the trail.

It was evening by the time I reached my car, but it had been a solid, happily tiring day. It's pretty hard to beat collecting this many high peaks in one sweep, and this hike was rather pretty in late spring conditions, Lackawanna Gulch especially. With the exception of the ascent and descent of Fiascol the terrain was pretty easy as well, and the peaks could easily be split into two groups (and the French group could be done from the north for a change of scenery) over two days if desired.


Statistics

Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Trailhead: North Fork Lake Creek
Total distance: 14.66 miles
Total elevation gain: 4,848 feet
Total time: 9:32:53
Peaks: Four ranked thirteeners, one unranked thirteener

  • Frasco Benchmark, 13,876' (unranked)
  • French Mountain, 13,940'
  • Casco Peak, 13,908'
  • Mount Champion, 13,646'
  • Point 13,736

Splits:

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
North Fork Lake Creek Trailhead Frasco Benchmark 3:04:04 3:0:04 0:00
Frasco Benchmark French Mountain 0:24:46 3:28:49 9:03
French Mountain Frasco Benchmark 0:21:21 3:59:13 5:44
Frasco Benchmark Casco Peak 0:53:00 4:57:58 0:00
Casco Peak Mount Champion 1:47:04 6:45:01 6:30
Mount Champion Point 13,736 0:32:05 7:23:37 4:03
Point 13,736 North Fork Lake Creek Trailhead 2:05:13 9:32:53 Trip End

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 20 21 22 23 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51


 Comments or Questions
Will_E

Stream crossing
12/09/2020 13:21
That stream crossing is the reason I did French/Frasco/Casco with Lackawanna!

Nice pics.


supranihilest

Stream crossing
12/09/2020 15:01
The half nudity is why I did the stream crossing. Just kidding, I didn't know it was going to be as deep and wide as it was, and at least I only had to do it once!


Tornadoman

2 days? Or 3 days?
12/11/2020 10:42
Haha... It's going to be at least 3 days for me to get this group! Did Champion and 13,736 in August, and Casco only from the south in November (no way was I doing the out and back to French and back that day). So, next time it will be French/Frasco.


supranihilest

Sandwich
12/12/2020 21:37
Take a French dip to the summit. Because uh... reasons.



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