Monday, May 07, 2007

Tuckaway Mountain

6 May, 2007: The weather continues to be dominated by showers—rain down in town, snow far enough up in the mountains—and I broke with my usual practice by not running on Saturday at all. Part of the reason for this was to rest up, remembering how inexplicably tired running Kineo Mtn. had left me the weekend before.
I wanted to be well rested for an early-start long run on Sunday, as Sunday morning offered the best weather forecast (marginal as it was) for the entire weekend. My plan was to drive to the Gold Camp Road parking lot, and try to bag Cameron Cone (10,707 ft.) by going through Jones Park from North Cheyenne Cañon. I knew I might well be racing the weather, hence the necessity of an early start. Soooo…
I got up at 3:30 am and was out the door by 4:30, and on the trail by 4:45—before sunrise. So far, so good. There were already a couple of other cars at the parking lot, and one more pulled in before I got my gear arranged and took off.
The familiar trip up the Seven Bridges Trail and north into Jones Park went quickly and smoothly. I stopped once to photograph Undine Falls, as the recent heavy melt-off was causing it to “spoon” more vigorously than I had ever seen before.
Up past Jones Park, the confusing section begins. A crazy-quilt web of trails exists here, and they don’t correspond well to any of the maps I possess. So, naturally, I ended up taking a slightly different route than I had ever taken before, before finally coming out into the broad, relatively flat area west of Mt. Garfield and south of Tuckaway Mountain. At this point, the totally clear skies under which I had set out were beginning to sport some clouds, so the sunlight was coming and going. All the same, it was about here that I finally decided to fish out my sunglasses and put them on.
My original plan called for leaving the trail somewhere in this area, and angling northeast up into one of the saddles northwest of Garfield, to come down the Willow Creek drainage to the base of Cameron Cone (named for a businessman/politician transplanted from Illinois, who was one of the first trustees of the Colorado College). I knew there was no trail here, and I would just have to free-lance a route. But the grades are relatively mild, and, on the map, the land looks fairly open.
When I actually got there, however, what I found was that the land is just as densely timbered as anything around it, and real bushwhacking was going to be required to get over this last ridge for an assault on the Cone. Soooo…
After following the trail as it turned west past the southern slopes of Tuckaway, until I was quite certain that no trail or other easy route was going to open up for me, I decided that maybe a change of plan was in order. This thought was helped along by the fact that the weather did really seem to be closing in—I had pretty well lost all direct sun, and I could see light snow falling on most of the surrounding peaks.
Since Tuckaway (10,820 ft.) is a named and ranked peak, it was already on my to-do list anyway. Plus, it’s actually higher than Cameron Cone. So, I figured, if bushwhacking was going to have to be the order of the day to get a summit anyway, I might just as well bushwhack right up the south slopes of Tuckaway. This would give me a peak today for my efforts, one I’ve been curious about anyway, and I could use the day’s experience to make a more efficient try for Cameron some day when the weather was friendlier.
I put the shells over my mittens, picked what looked like a good place to leave the trail, and started up. The slope is steep, but, even with some snow on the ground, the traction was fairly good. Still, it was fairly slow going, through a mixture of downed timber, vegetation, and rock outcroppings. Unable to see the summit, I simply had to keep going up, choosing the best route for as far as I could see (which often wasn’t very far!). It wasn’t long before I was using my hands more than I had anticipated. I was, once again, feeling more tired than I had expected, so it took fully 45 minutes from the trail before I finally stumbled up into the piles of rocks which occupy the summit of this odd mountain.
There are actually three rock outcroppings at the top, all of which have very nearly the same elevation. Especially with trees blocking the views between them, It was hard to tell which was the true summit. I decided that the northernmost one was it, but I climbed all three, just to be sure. By now, I was being snowed on, and considering using one of my chemical hand warmer packs, so I just took one picture of my mitten shell on the highest point (after sitting on it myself) to document my climb. I didn’t find a register, which didn’t surprise me. It had taken me just under 3½ hours to reach the summit. That’s a net climb of about 3,300 feet, but I have no good figure for mileage, as my GPS has decided to go on the semi-permanent fritz.
I was seeing occasional breaks in the clouds light up the lower peaks and valleys to the east, but it was still cold on top, and I didn’t tarry long on the summit. I started down and, just as the trip up had been a total blind bushwhack, the trip down was too. I took an entirely different route, which turned out to be no harder or easier than the route up. And somehow or other, I actually crossed my ascent path, because I started down to my left, that is, to the east of where I had topped out, but ended up re-joining the trail to the west of where I had left it!
The cloudiness did not relent for a long time, but after I hit the trail, and was able to pick up the pace a bit, I warmed up nicely. Back near Jones Park, I finally started encountering some other people on the trail; it was, after all, the weekend.
Instead of retracing my steps, I headed down the Bear Creek Cañon trail, crossed the creek just east of Kineo, and followed the ridge crest trail back to the Buckhorn/Kineo saddle. From there, I took the gully descent directly to the parking lot, making it back from the summit in just under 2½ hours. Along the way, I was able to de-shell my mittens (although I left them on!) and take off my windbreaker. By the time I got back, I would have been perfectly comfortable without my outer running pants, too, but it was not worth the bother to stop and make the change. Mostly on account of the gray weather, I took only a few pictures, but they are at:



Long life and many peaks


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