Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cameron Cone (10,707 ft.)

22 July, 2007: Cameron Cone is a prominent peak, readily visible from most of the Colorado Springs area. Few people climb it, though, because getting to it is rather difficult. The topographically obvious route is blocked by a huge private subdivision (Crystal Park) which denies public access. Most who do climb it do so from the north. This involves venturing off the Barr Trail and crossing the cog railway tracks (trespassing??) to access the north ridge, a short but steep route with only a sketchy trail. The summit is located at 38.8314° N, 104.9539° W.
With a beautiful July day at my disposal, I decided to take the longer and less explored route from the south, starting practically in my back yard, in North Cheyenne Cañon. I knew it would involve some off-trail bushwhacking, and greater distance than the northern route, but was otherwise perfectly doable.
I hit the Gold Camp Road closure parking lot shortly before sunrise, and found not a single other car there ahead of me. I wore just summer running clothes with a long-sleeved shirt to ward off the early morning chill. (The temperature would fall to around 50° F before the day’s warming began.)
I had covered the first parts of the route many times before: up the Seven Bridges Trail, which follows North Cheyenne Creek, and then north into Jones Park. This was the route I had taken nearly three months earlier, ultimately reaching Tuckaway Mountain. But this time, instead of following the trail as it turned west to access Tuckaway’s south slopes, I headed uphill, through light timber, approximately northeast to reach a saddle on the ridge between Tuckaway (on the west) and Mt. Garfield (which I had climbed in the spring of 2006, on the east).
I had hoped that, when I got to the top of the ridge, I would be able to see the remainder of my route fairly clearly. That route was intended to be fairly close to a beeline: down a bit into the Willow Creek drainage, across the creek at some point, left around the lower portion of the long, skinny ridge which runs north-northwest down from Mt. Garfield, and up the gentle south slopes of Cameron Cone.
When I got there and started down, however, I found that the timber was too dense to allow anything like an obstructed view across the land ahead. I would have to go basically on dead reckoning. What’s more, I also found that the terrain was rocky in many places, necessitating scrambling or bouldering going both up and down, and, where it wasn’t rocky, it was usually choked with a great deal of timber, both living and downed. Thus, the going was slow.
It was also confusing. So much so that I drifted off much too far to my right (east). I crossed the creek, but when I started climbing on the other side, thinking I was heading more or less directly for my goal, I eventually discovered that I was actually climbing that long, skinny ridge I had intended to avoid entirely! Mind you, this realization came only after I had actually climbed all the way to the ridge crest and clambered over, or around, two or three rocky ridge points.
The ridge points seemed to be gradually getting higher, leading me to think that I might actually be approaching my summit. In fact, as I discovered after at least the third one, there was little difference in elevation between them, and I had done some unnecessary climbing. Coming up over that last ridge point, I finally got a recognizable view of the south slopes of Cameron Cone, and, worse, I saw the saddle below those slopes a couple of hundred feet below me.
The descent to that saddle, although not very long, was slow, just like the rest of my route in that vicinity, due to the combination of dense wood and sizeable rocks. Thankfully, at least, the rock is good and solid, not loose and treacherous.
Once I got down to the saddle, the final climb to the summit was much easier. The south-facing slope, which bakes in the sunshine, supports less plant growth, so the land is more open. This allows a better view of where one is and where one is going, and puts fewer bushes and trees in the way. Only the last hundred vertical feet or so was rocky, and even this was easy, since the slope is quite gentle--much easier to negotiate than my descent on the other side.
I found the summit marked with a pole secured in a pile of rocks, and my GPS showed an altitude of 10,715--just eight feet different from the topo map figure for this peak, so I knew I was there. Finally! It had taken me almost five hours, although it was only about seven miles. My camera had been acting strangely all morning, so I took only a few pictures. The photo at the top of this post is actually from a different trip, taken earlier this spring. Unfortunately, the one I took of Pikes Peak, just five miles to the west from this vantage point, fell under the “acting strangely” rubric and didn’t come out.
The weather was beautiful, though. I had long since shed my long-sleeved shirt, and started drinking deeply from the large bottle of ice water I had started out with. I called home on Suzi’s cell phone (which she had gently insisted that I take to keep her worry level down), but, as luck would have it, this was when she was out walking for her own health, so I had to leave a message.
The views from this peak are really quite good, and also unusual. A wide swath of the city can be seen to the east. (Of course: The mountain can be seen quite prominently from a large part of the city!) But also, there’s the unusual view of Rocky Mountain and Mount Manitou across the Ruxton Creek drainage to the north, the rather close-up view of Pikes Peak (the summit buildings are clearly visible without optical aid), Horsetooth Reservoir and Lake Moraine below and to the west, and the seldom-seen north sides of Mt. Garfield, Mt. Arthur, and Tenney Crags to the south.
What, unfortunately can not be seen is Jones Park and the route back, which is hidden by that ridge I’d crossed earlier. I took in what I could see as best I could, determined not to make the same route finding mistake(s) I had made on the way up.
I angled to my right as I descended, and did indeed miss the Garfield ridge. I dropped gently to Willow Creek and then began to climb up, trending to my right (west) as I went up and south. The bad new is that, while I didn’t repeat my earlier mistake, I made a new one of the same variety! I didn’t climb steeply enough, and traversed much too far to my right. Thus, I went well past the saddle I was aiming for, and ended up climbing a significant portion of the north side of Tuckaway Mountain. I finally topped out, after some more of that slow rocks-followed-by-timber stuff, in the first saddle east of Tuckaway. This was at least a quarter mile west of where I had intended to come out, but at least at that point, I could see where I was going again.
I basically just dropped directly down to the trail, re-joining it well to the west of where I had left it in the morning. There, I paused to remove the small collection of pebbles I had managed to get in one of my shoes, and headed off downhill for the relatively quick and uneventful return to the trailhead. My return trip took about three hours and forty minutes. Had I managed to follow my intended route, it would probably have been closer to three hours flat.
Still, it was a great day to spend in the mountains, and I finally checked off a significant El Paso County summit that I’d been contemplating for some time. The few pictures I took are at:


Long life and many peaks

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Snowmass Mountain (14,096 ft.)

7 July, 2007: Trisha and I made another foray into Colorado’s spectacular Elk Range with a climb of Snowmass Mountain (14,096 ft.) It was fourteener #27 for Trisha and #30 for me.

Even though we left home at 2:15 am MDT, we badly underestimated how long it would take to reach the trailhead in Lead King Basin. As a result, we didn’t start hiking until almost 8:30! We had chosen the west slopes route, rather than the “standard” peakbaggers’ route from Snowmass Creek (on the other side of the mountain) because that standard route is 21 miles round trip! Our route, OTOH, is only 9 mile RT, if one can get to the 4WD trailhead at 9,700 ft. I was confident that the Forester could, and it did.

However, we did not take the shortest road route to the trailhead, and that was just the first of several miscues which lengthened our day.

Setting off with the sun already well up, we ventured into the western reaches of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area. With all the snow the area got this year, it is wet and lush, and plant life (including but not limited to wildflowers) is going great guns. The beautiful trail which leads up past Geneva Lake and to the west side of Snowmass, although well-trodden, and clear at close quarters, can hardly be seen from any significant distance. We also marveled at the abundance of waterfalls and cascades on every slope ringing the basin.

Despite the late start, the day started off well enough. Less than three hours brought us up to about 12,000 ft just west of our target mountain. We had done two-thirds of the distance, and half the altitude gain, to the summit. We surveyed the handful of rocky gullies which punctuate Snowmass’ west face, and finally decided that the northernmost one offered the easiest path to the summit ridge. The others all sported running water, or sections where tilted slabs of rock, offering little in the way of handholds or ledges to support feet, would have to be crossed. So, after giving up a little altitude to cross the valley of Lost Trail Creek (which drains out of Siberia Lake just to the north), we got out our ice axes, donned our helmets, and began the 2,000-foot rock climb to the top.

It was slow going right from the start.

There were still patches of snow, mostly in lanes down the middle of the gullies, but most of the mountain has completely melted out. For this reason, we decided to leave our crampons in our packs, and avoid the snow, sticking to the bare rocks instead. The trick was to find the easiest—and safest—path through the rocks, which vary greatly in size, and not all of which are really stable. Thus, we zig-zagged our way up the gully, sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right, sometimes on fields of small rocks which offered small steps at the expense of looseness, sometimes in real boulder fields which tended to be more stable, but required occasional gigantic steps.

As we climbed, we also increasingly found that the boulder fields required exposed moves. Trying to hold the difficulty level to the reputed Class 3 of this route proved, ultimately to be impossible.
Finally, well into the afternoon, with the top of the summit ridge apparently just a short distance above us, we made what may have been the biggest mistake of the day. Trying to avoid the loose scree which filled the center of our gully, we began moving out of it to the north, on large but stable boulders, trying to attain the ridge crest farther north than had originally been our intention. Almost without realizing it, we wound our way around clockwise to a position below the north end of the ridge. Our further pursuit of the line of least resistance then led us even further around, onto the east face of the upper part of the mountain, from which point we finally made our bid for the ridge.

We made it, but were dismayed to fine multiple ridge points—all spiky and built of very large boulders—still separating us from the true summit. There was nothing for it but to undertake a long traverse at or near to the crest. This was no small task, for all that the net distance was only a couple of hundred yards. The ridge is appalling narrow. Thus, each ridge point presented only two options: a very steep climb up one side and down the other, inevitably involving serious exposure and large steps, or a circuitous traverse on one side or the other, which also involved exposure, just in a sideways direction.

Naturally, we did finally make it—finally! It was, almost incredibly, nearly 4:30 pm when we finally found the summit register. We quickly added some clothing layers as the wind had come up and the temperature was going down. The summit matches the rest of the ridge. It’s remarkably tiny, and exposed on all sides. I wish I could have taken a set of pictures to document this adequately.

We took only minimal pictures, despite the incredible views to be had. I did get one good shot of the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak to the east (see photo albums), but we knew we had to hurry down. Since the last set of moves to reach the summit from the north had been difficult and exposed, we elected not to retrace our steps, and descend a different gully than the one we had used for most of our ascent. We knew we would have to do some improvising near the bottom to avoid water or cliffs, but we had seen others going up those gullies earlier, so we figured they had to be doable, one way or another.

This did make getting off the summit block proper a good deal easier than reaching it had been. But we still faced hundreds and hundreds of feet of steep rock, of varying quality. Still using our ice axes for added stability, we went down as fast as we reasonably could, since rain was clearly threatening.

In fact, rain mixed with grapple did fall on us in several little spurts before we could clear the rock slopes. Fortunately, it never set in in earnest, but it did make the rocks a bit slippery—slowing us down even more—for a while.

Only four other people signed the Snowmass Mtn. summit register that day, and they were all people we had met on the trail on the west side of the mountain. I thought this odd, since the standard peakbagger’s route is over on the east side (the side with the semi-permanent snowfield that gives the peak its name), it was a weekend, and the morning, at least, was glorious and warm.

Even though we didn’t get back to the trailhead until after dark, it was still a satisfying day. All I can say is, this is a harder mountain than it’s usually cracked up to be, and we are both glad to be able to say we’ve done it!

Pictures are at:




Long life and many peaks!