Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cheyenne Mountain (9,565 ft.)

23 October, 2007: With early snow already blanketing the high country, it’s that time of year again: Time to pull back and content myself with lower and nearer peaks for a while. Fortunately for me, there are still plenty of such peaks that I have yet to climb. Following the example of my friend Kevin Baker, I figure I might as well go after as many of the named and ranked peaks here in El Paso County as I can. Many, if not all, of these are doable in fall or winter.
All it takes is a good opportunity. Such an opportunity dropped into my lap on this Tuesday morning, when the phone rang. It was my brother, with the news that, since both he and Suzi were out of town (different towns), they had boarded the dogs in a kennel for a few days. Since the dogs are my usual running and hiking companions on weekdays, this suddenly meant that I could contemplate the sort of adventure that might not be suitable for taking them with me. I quickly sifted through some possibilities, including several nearby peaks which I had been putting off climbing for one reason or another.
Cheyenne Mountain had been on the “one of these days” list for quite a while. I was a little apprehensive about it because I wasn’t sure exactly where the route started (I knew there was no real trailhead in the usual sense), I didn’t know how hard avoiding the private property sprinkled over the mountain would be, and I didn’t really know how long the climb would take. But after carefully reading over the limited information that was available, I decided that, on a day with gorgeous weather, I could deal with all these difficulties.
Here’s the route finding scoop: The route starts at the top of a hill on Old Stage Road, 5.4 miles after the pavement ends, just before you get to the intersection with FS 369, which is the turn-off for the Stables at the Broadmoor. I parked in a wide spot on the road just across from this turn-off; it’s the closest thing to a “parking lot” to be had. There’s a hill on the road because this is where it crosses the bottom of a major ridge of Cheyenne Mountain coming down from the east. So, after crossing to the east side of the road (westbound traffic on the road is, at this point, going basically south), I found a mound of gravel alongside the road right at the hill’s crest. On the other side, a clear path leads right up the ridge between the trees. It’s loose and gravelly, but not hard to climb. I climbed east for a hundred vertical feet or so.
From there, the ridge takes a jog to the left (north) and levels out (mostly) for a few hundred yards. After that, there’s a small drop, a climb up a small hill, and a second drop to a very small saddle. Then the uninterrupted climbing begins, basically just east up the broad crest of the ridge. As advertised, there really is no trail, but any route near the ridge crest will work.
The climbing is through only moderately dense timber, over a mixture of rocky textures of ground, with occasional outcrops of real rocks. These can all be either skirted or climbed over.
Once upon a time, the fact that I couldn’t really see much might have bothered me, and made me slow down in apprehension of getting “lost.” But experience helps. My quick overview from below had made it obvious that roughly following the crest of the ridge would lead to, or nearly to, the north-south summit ridge. So I simply picked the easiest path I could see through the mix of timber and rocks, staying somewhere near the crest. In various places, I strayed both right (south) and left (north), picking my way through some rock outcroppings, avoiding others, based mostly on the amount of downed timber or growing bushes to be encountered. I only ended up using my hands a few times, so I would concur with earlier estimates that the route can be listed as Class 2 all the way.
As I reached the summit ridge, trees still blocked most of the long distance view, but I could see the sky open up to the east. The terrain was the same, but the slope eased considerably. I had come out just south of a rocky ridge point, which I negotiated, expecting a few more of them before the actual summit.
In fact, there was only one significant one before I came to the rise of fifty feet or so which turned out to be the actual summit. I’ve learned not to get my hopes up too much in situations like this, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to tell for sure until I actually topped out. But as I wound my way up through the last rocks, I could finally see that no higher ridge point presented itself farther to the north. At almost the same moment, a glance to my left showed a small pole anchored in the rocks, which usually signifies a summit.
A little poking in the snow quickly revealed a jar containing a summit register, placed by Mike Garratt (co-author of Colorado’s High Thirteeners) just two years earlier. It contained just six entries, which surprised me, considering how easy the climb had actually been. People must just not know, despite how prominent and famous this mountain is.
I spent about 15 minutes on the summit, drinking in the views in the crystal-clear air. The Spanish Peaks were especially prominent. Unfortunately, I continue to have problems with my camera (It’s going in to the shop before this drives me crazy on some major climb!), so there are no summit pictures. Some day in the future, I will return, and strike off to the north to visit the highly visible “horns” of the mountain, but that was not on the agenda for this day.
I headed back and followed my own tracks down. I realized that I could have taken the dogs on this trip after all. If serious snow holds off, perhaps someday soon I will; I know they’d like the variety.
With fourteener climbs being so impractical for the winter, it’s certainly great to live in a place where I still have interesting and unclimbed lower peaks so readily available. Solitude and great views are never far away. If I decide any of the few pictures I was able to get are worthwhile, I'll post them in a Picasaweb album.
Long life and many peaks!


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