Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Point 9,413

23 March, 2007. I had rescheduled my usual Thursday run with the dogs, Buddy and Molly, to a Friday. One result was that I got out fairly early, and I had the option to go for a significantly longer run than usual. So I did.
After considering a couple of other options in the same general area, I decided to bag another of the minor peaks overlooking North Cheyenne
Cañon. From the collapsed Tunnel #3, itâ's pretty much a straight shot up the ridge, west and southwest, to unnanamed point 9,413. I had looked at it and considered attacking it several times before, but always put it by for another day. I decided that another day had come.
It took us only 15 minutes to reach the tunnel from the trailhead. I guess it's about a mile (I've never had the presence of mind to measure it accurately), and one gains a couple of hundred feet. From there, instead of following the trail south, we turned west and up the ridge.
From the very beginning, I found wisps of trail running more or less along the ridge crest. It was impossible to tell whether they were climber's trails or merely game trails, as they were all faint, but it was easy to steer a path near the crest and up through the sparse forest.
At the bottom, the forest floor was mostly carpeted with pine needles, and free of snow. After climbing a few hundred feet, however, I began to encounter small patches of unmelted snow. As I approached the first major rock outcropping, areas of open scree also showed up. Coming out into the first large open area of scree, I could clearly see previous boot prints angling up toward the rocks visible from below.
Past the rocks--which afforded a good view of the
Cañon below and a chance to assess my progress--I re-entered forested slopes. I also began to encounter patches of snow extensive enough that they could not be entirely avoided. I tried to keep working my way to the left, on the south side of the ridge crest, in hopes of keeping this to a minimum. However, I usually found that the slope made moving to the right, and onto shadier north-facing areas, more appealing.
Eventually, I found myself approaching a saddle, which looked to be basically free of snow. Upon reaching it, I turned right (north), hoping that the high point visible there was the true summit. It wasn't. I could clearly see from there that the slope continued a good distance up to the southwest. This had to be the bump of a false summit clearly visible from below, and I decided to top out on it on the way down, but to press on for the time being to reach the actual top as soon as possible. When I left the trail, I had hoped it would only take me 30 to 45 minutes to make the climb.
The final stretch to the summit, however, was necessarily on north-facing slopes, and involved some postholing in deep and softened snow. There were also patches of snow which I could walk over, but the amount of snow did slow me down.
Finally, however, I reached the rocks of the true summit. The ridge is quite narrow here, and levels out, so some horizontal distance still has to be negotiated after climbing up onto the rock outcropping. Here, I finally encountered some scrambling moves which the dogs couldn't do. They waited patiently for me (but not without a little whining) while I picked my way over to the highest point and took a couple of pictures. Except to the east, the view from this point isn't really very spectacular, so I only took a few. And since the dogs were waiting for me, I didn't take the time to set up the camera for a shutter-delay picture of myself, settling instead for a boot-and-GPS shot to record the altitude. Although the topo map says 9,413, my unit recorded 9,447.
I headed back down, and took pictures of the dogs at the first open space I could find. I also took some much better pictures when we reached the false summit (which only took a few minutes going down). From there, the
Cañon below can be seen very well, including our starting point. It also afforded a position from which to get, finally, a decent picture of Mt. Buckhorn and an unusual view of Muscoco Mountain.
We made it back to the car with a total time of two hours and ten minutes, with yet another obscure peak bagged. One of these days, I might try this again, and continue on southwest from the summit, to rejoin the trail to Mt. Rosa above St. Marys Falls. The pictures are at:

Long life and many peaks,

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Front Range Ridge Run

The day after the climb of
Mt. Buckhorn was sunny and warm. What’s more, against my expectations, I was not needed for much in the way of domestic chores, so I decided to take a good long run and explore some new territory. The very first ridge of the Front Range above Gold Camp Road, north of the mouth of North Cheyenne Cañon, had interested me for some time. I wondered how easy (or hard) it would be to run more or less along the ridge crest between the Cañon and the point where Gold Camp Road curves west to intersect the Bear Creek Cañon road and the north end of High Drive. There are several major ridge points in that distance, and I wanted to find out how accessible they were.
I got onto the road near tunnel #1, and ran back (east) to the entrance to the cañon. There took a rough trail, which I knew from limited previous explorations existed, up the slope and onto the ridge crest. After positioning myself on the southernmost ridge point above Inspiration Point, I set off to the north.
I found, as I had hoped, that there was indeed a clear trail running close to the crest. It had clearly been carved more by wheels than by feet, so I could only hope that either 1) the wheels were mostly bicycle wheels (I had my doubts), or 2) I just wouldn’t encounter too many noisy dirt bikes.
Initially, the trail stays mostly just on the west side of the ridge, bypassing numerous small high points, most of which are rocky. They can by easily climbed on foot, but are obviously not the first choice for siting a trail. As it turned out, I didn’t see any dirt bikes that day. I did, however, encounter a small group of hikers, with dogs, who had stopped near one of the high points, within only a few minutes. Later I would encounter a lone cyclist.
As I went along, I stopped momentarily to record the locations and elevations of what appeared to be the major ridge points with my GPS unit. Some of that data is included in the table.

Pt. no.



My elevation

Topo elevation*


38º 47’ 43.2”

104º 52’ 35.3”




38º 47’ 53.7”

104º 52’ 48.0”



38º 48’ 02.2”

104º 52’ 50.9”



38º 48’ 02.6”

104º 52’ 47.3”




38º 48’ 08.0”

104º 52’ 56.4”



38º 48’ 25.2”

104º 53’ 00.2”



38º 48’ 25.3”

104º 53’ 08.1”



38º 48’ 25.3”

104º 53’ 11.3”




38º 48’ 34.4”

104º 53’ 19.3”




38º 48’ 48.6”

104º 53’ 29.1”



*as near as I can read on the USGS topo quad map.

As this was a new vantage point, I also took a few pictures, many of which show previously seen and photographed landmarks (such as
Mays Peak) from a new perspective. The photo album is located at:

Shortly after passing what seemed to be the highest point, I found that the main trail--the bike trail--turned distinctly to the west and began to descend away from the ridge. Apparently it connects to
High Drive, somewhere near the Buckhorn/Mays saddle. I was prepared to do true bushwhacking at that point, but I quickly discovered a less prominent, but still clear, hiking trail continuing north along the ridge crest, so I happily followed it. This section entailed the greatest single drop in elevation that I had encountered to that point. After passing by and through some large rock outcroppings, the trail rose again, but it was clear that the height of the ridge points was now going down; I had to be nearing Bear Creek Cañon.
Indeed, I soon found myself past the last
high point, and looking rather steeply down on the intersection at the end of High Drive. The parking lot at the Section 16 trailhead on Gold Camp Road was also clearly visible just beyond. This is where I decided to turn around. It had taken me just under two hours to get there.
Going back, I decided to hit all the little ridge points which the trail, and I, had avoided on the outbound leg. Near one of the first ones, I found two more hikers enjoying their lunch. I stopped to chat with them briefly (They had a topo map!) about the route they had taken up onto the ridge, and other trails in the area. They seemed to be quite familiar with it.
Continuing on, I discovered a small ridge point which, the GPS unit told me, was actually a little higher than the one I had taken for the highest on my way out. I marked it and took a picture of myself standing on the highest rock. Somewhere near here, I got a good view of what I believed (and still believe!) was
Mt. Buckhorn, so I photographed that, too. It’s a hard summit to see and identify from any distance, hidden on nearly all sides by similar, or higher, peaks.
I also took a side trip of a few minutes out onto the spur east of the crest which holds Point 7,514, where I had been a couple of times before, coming up from the road. Now I have a better idea of the overall shape of that spur.
In what seemed like to time at all, I was back at the southern end of the ridge, overlooking Inspiration Point. In fact, it had taken me longer to get back than to go out, owing to all my little detours to explore.
Even though this is hardly wilderness, I was still pleased to find a new, basically quiet and scenic place to run and hike, just a stone’s throw from the city and the more crowded park.
Since Sunday was beautiful, too, I decided to put in a little mileage that day, too. I didn’t explore any new territory. I just ran the full length of the Columbine Trail (just over eight miles), but on the way back, I stopped my chronometer and took a side trip to climb the Cutler promontory. I wanted to do some real rock climbing to test out my recovering left shoulder. Some moves still cause little stabs of pain if I move too fast, but it’s not debilitating. The stiffness and weakness are gone, and I made the climb just fine.

For the first time, I encountered no less than three other parties of people on this little climb. One duo had hauled all the necessary stuff for a modest picnic—including a charcoal grill!—up to the ridge. Then, as I approached the base of the actual promontory, I met a couple just coming off it with their ropes. They had done the technical climb up the other side (north or east) from the creek bed, and were going down the easy way. So I couldn’t resist taking a couple of pictures on this part of the trip; they’re included in the photo album.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Strange Story of Mt. Buckhorn

This may be one of the strangest climbs I’ve ever reported on. Mt. Buckhorn (8,540 ft.) is, in the grand scheme of things, a very unimpressive little ridge point to the north of North Cheyenne Cañon, just a few miles from home (38°48’00’’N, 104°54’11’’W). Indeed, it’s hard even to see it (or at least to pick it out with certainty) from very far away in most directions. But it is a named summit, and it is easily accessible because there is a trail all the way to the top. For those reasons, various parts of my family, including me solo, have been there many times in the past few years. It’s a great little hike for small children, and adding the final leg from the Gold Camp Road parking lot makes a nice addition to a good run from the bottom of the cañon, or from home.
However—there’s a “however” on Buckhorn—I had never actually stood on the true summit of Mt. Buckhorn, and neither had any of the rest of the family. The reason? Well, you can get right up to the summit on foot, but once you arrive there, you are presented with the unexpected sight of a single huge boulder, some 30 feet high and undercut on all sides, which constitutes the actual high point. Repeated inspections and attempts had yielded no conceivable way to climb it without technical aid. Indeed, I wondered if anyone had ever stood on its summit.
The picture above is one I took last winter of the summit boulder.
Sooo…fast-forward a bit to late 2006. Through, I ended up communicating with Kevin Baker, a Colorado Springs resident who had taken on the personal project of climbing every named summit in El Paso County. (There are about 70 of them, according to him.) Since that includes Mt. Buckhorn, he reported that he had made the easy hike to the summit block, and had been stymied just as I had. He said I would be welcome to come along in December, when he and a few friends were planning on assaulting Buckhorn’s summit with technical gear. For my part, I had to be impressed with his/their generosity, as I freely admitted that I had no rope climbing experience, and no equipment of my own.
Well, the December date fell through, due to scheduling problems. But I asked Kevin to keep me in mind if a new plan was concocted. I really didn’t know what to expect, or when.
But, as luck would have it, he didn’t forget about me. Sure enough, on the 12th of March, I got an email stating that a late afternoon attempt on Buckhorn was on for the 16th, and inviting me to come along! I replied that I would certainly be at the Gold Camp Road parking lot to join them on the appointed day. I figured this was just too good an opportunity to pass up.
Also as luck would have it, Suzanne got off work early that day, so I was able to have a car all to myself for the trip. Shortly before 5 pm (MDT), I pulled up just as the group of four other people was assembling out of two other vehicles. I introduced myself and found out that the others were Kevin (of course), his friend and well-known climber Patrick Thornilly, Doug (whose last name I didn’t get), who proved to be the “life-of-the-party” participant, and Sue Personett, the author of a long string of impressive trip reports I had read over the past couple of years.
Just as Kevin had stated, Patrick had brought a very long aluminum ladder on top of his car, which was duly hauled down, as well as ropes and numerous pieces of rope hardware. Eager to contribute, I picked up one end of the ladder, while Patrick T. grabbed the other end, and the group set off on the relatively short hike to the summit. Based on their past experience, the route chosen was different from what I would have done: up High Drive on the east side of the ridge, as far as the saddle between Buckhorn and Mays Peak, then switchbacking on the trail to the ridge crest. This was a section of trail on which I had never been before, but we made decent time and reached the summit area with plenty of late afternoon sunshine left.
(I also learned on the way up that the summit had indeed been climbed at least once. Gerry Roach, the author of the famous fourteeners guide, had “jugged” himself up it many years ago by using two ascenders on ropes thrown over the top.)
Then began the slow part: surveying all sides of that boulder to determine what would work best. Could we do it without resorting to the ladder, with just ropes, etc.? It sure didn’t look like it. Patrick opined that the boulder seemed bigger than his memory had indicated. Sue admitted that the idea of using a ladder was truly weird, something she had never done before. (I don’t think any of the rest of us had, either...) But, in the end, we concluded that there was really no other way, without relying solely on upper body strength to pull ourselves up with ropes. That’s because the rock is significantly undercut up to eight or ten feet off the ground on every side except the southwest side--where it is virtually vertical. Plus, it’s big enough that just tossing the rope all the way over it from the ground looked like a daunting task in and of itself.
So the ladder was duly extended to nearly its maximum length--close to twenty feet--and placed up against the east side of the rock, where it looked like it could at least reach a place where the slope relented enough to allow some sort of friction walking up the remaining distance to the top. Sue took the rope up while Patrick steadied the base of the ladder. After reporting back down that the handholds offered just beyond the ladder’s reach were few, small, and dangerously flaky, she managed, on the second try, to throw the end of the rope over the top to the west side. There, Patrick attached a rappel sling and secured it artfully to the bases of two sturdy trees.
This arrangement made the climb possible, but by no means a piece of cake. The chosen method of ascent was to don climbing harnesses (no thanks to me!) and secure them to the rope with a one-way ascender clip. Once at the top of the ladder, it would be necessary for one to commit one’s weight to the rope, and use the ascender to work up the rope a bit at a time, with one’s feet planted on the sloping rock. The trick would be to exit gracefully from the ladder--and to accomplish the reverse move on the way down.
Sue went up first and made it look easy. After sliding some of her equipment back down the rope for others to use, she was soon joined on the top by Kevin, and then Patrick. Meanwhile, I tried to get as many good pictures as possible of people going up, and standing on the top. This wasn’t easy, as vantage points on the ground, from which those standing on top could be seen well, were very few. You can’t even back off a ways and zoom in, since the land just falls away in all directions if you leave the immediate vicinity of the summit block. This can clearly be seen in the pictures I brought back. They can be seen at:

Finally, Doug (the only one of us without a helmet) climbed up. After getting a shot of the four of them waving from the summit, it was finally my turn, after Sue descended to stabilize the ladder for me. She kindly showed me how to get into the harness and attach the ascender, and up the ladder I went. As anticipated, the crux move was getting off the ladder and onto the rock proper. Despite the ladder’s impressive reach, the rock was still seriously sloped at its top. After several tries, I abandoned my attempts to find adequate handholds, which would allow me to get off the ladder without depending on the rope. I simply had to use the holding power of the ascender to pull myself up and forward the next few feet, with only my feet planted on the rock. But, I did it, and, finally, I was on top! On top of this summit which had tantalized me (“so close and yet so far away”) a dozen or more times in the past!

I had handed off my camera to Sue, and she took a few pictures of Patrick, Doug, and me on the summit; they’re included in the photo album. Thanks, Sue!
We had all made it just in time to catch the last direct rays of the sun. I had already put on my windbreaker against the coming chill, and everybody else, as, one by one, they hit the ground, also pulled out their extra clothing. I was the next-to-last one down, doing my first ever rappel under Patrick’s hastily concocted guidance. I think he was a little worried about me when he found out that I had never rappelled before, but he said I managed it just fine. Indeed, I was a tad slow, but I thought it went fairly well; I lowered myself a little farther than I really had to with the rope, before reclaiming the security of the ladder for the return to ground level.
With the light fading, we re-packed, and headed down, with Kevin and Doug carrying the ladder this time. I convinced the group that it would be faster and perfectly feasible to take the gully on the west side of the ridge, which leads directly back to the parking lot. This might not have been a good idea had the ladder been very heavy, but it wasn’t. We made good time down, but it was still dark when we finished, and I had to take the group picture at the trailhead with a flash. It was a strange, unconventional climb, but I was glad to be part of it, not least for the chance to meet and talk with some interesting fellow climbers. What’s more, since this was four days before the equinox, this was still technically a winter ascent!