Monday, December 31, 2007

The Horns of Cheyenne Mountain (9,212 ft.)

30 December, 2007: Well, I just couldn’t resist squeezing in one more climb before the end of the year. Possible high winds were forecast for Sunday, but they had been forecast for the two days before, too, and virtually nothing had turned up, so I figured that the morning, at least, would be fairly safe from really severe weather. Sure enough, the day dawned clear and calm, with temperatures in the 20s. Since this was actually warmer than what I had dealt with two weeks earlier, I felt like the prospects were pretty good.

My target was selected because when I had climbed Cheyenne Mountain, back in October, I had actually failed to do all of my homework. I had had a route description for climbing “The Horns” on Cheyenne Mountain, in addition to the true summit, but I had failed to realize that this northern high point on the long summit ridge actually has enough vertical separation to qualify as a separate, ranked summit! It is, in fact, Colorado ranked summit number 2795, and the 21st highest ranked summit in El Paso County.
I decided to make a short day of it, however. Instead of re-climbing Cheyenne Mountain and then traversing the summit ridge to the north--a route which stays within Pike National Forest right up until the very last leg--I blatantly trespassed on the Broadmoor Hotel’s (or El Pomar Foundation's, I’m really not sure which) land and climbed the peak from the north. The starting point is basically the northernmost point on Old Stage Road, where it wraps around from the east side to the west side of Cheyenne Mountain.
There is no real trailhead, in the conventional sense. I simply parked (at about 7:30 am) at the nearest wide spot in the road to the ridge crest. From there, I jogged west a few dozen yards, and started my climb by scrambling up the very steep, loose cut on the uphill side of the road. I very quickly found the Sunrise Trail, which snakes its way up, along or near the ridge crest, to the south until it intersects the disused road which leads to the summit from the Will Rogers Shrine.
I wore long gaiters, because there was snow on the ground, and I fully expected it to be more than ankle deep in places. This expectation turned out to be quite correct, but, overall, there was only a modest amount of snow on the ground. It only slowed me down a very little.
A historical note here: On this trip, as well as the last one, I was wearing two items--gaiters and down mittens--which came from the Denver store of the no-longer-existent Holubar Mountaineering. It’s amazing that I still have them after all these years, but they continue to serve me well.
Covered as it was with snow, I’m sure that I lost, and then re-gained, the trail several times. Still, all in all, it wasn’t hard to see or follow. I saw many tracks, and at first I thought some of them might be human, but I eventually decided that they all belonged to wildlife. There were tracks of mice or voles, hares or rabbits, probably deer, and even some larger ones (with claws) which might very well have those of a bear. For good or ill, however, I didn’t encounter any of these animals, only the signs of their previous passings.
The trail wanders up on the west side of the ridge for a fraction of a mile before coming out on the crest, where I finally re-encountered direct sunlight and put on my sunglasses. Then the trail more or less follows the ridge crest for a ways, going up and down just a little over some rocky points. I had to peek through the trees of course, but the views to the west, north, and east were consistently improving through this stretch.
Finally, after bypassing one rather large rock outcropping (which required a bit of serious scrambling on snow-covered rocks), the trail falls over onto the east side of the ridge as it makes its final climb to the road.
The road hasn’t been used in years, and is seriously degraded. Not only have large rocks fallen onto it in places, in other places trees have started to grow up on it. Not even a jeep or Hummer could actually navigate this track all the way to the top now. It’s still a clear track, however. It runs basically south, with many large switchbacks to keep the grade down.
Once on the road, I quickly came to a place where I could look down on the Shrine, and then to a turn where I finally got a good view toward my objective. I resisted the temptation to take a more direct and steep route and just followed the road through its many switchbacks.
After only an hour and forty-one minutes, I finally rounded a turn and found myself in what had once been the parking lot of the Cheyenne Mountain Inn. Across the lot, a retaining wall and the stone staircase which once led to the Inn’s front door stared back at me. As I understand the story (and there seems to be some level of mystery or uncertainty about the details), the Inn burned down back in the 1950s and was given up as a lost cause. That’s when the road began to fall into ruin. Nowadays, the Broadmoor/El Pomar people keep people from venturing up past the Shrine to access this area. That’s why you have to trespass to get to this ranked summit: Both the Inn site and the true high point are just a few yards east of the National Forest boundary.
The actual Horns summit is 60 or 70 feet higher than the Inn, and just to the southwest of it. After climbing to the little rock point beside the Inn site--still sporting a railing to indicate that others in the past had stood here too--I scrambled up the snowy slope to this summit. In doing so, I discovered that there are two small abandoned buildings on the summit! One, the highest, seems to have been some kind of electrical junction station. Now, its door is broken and permanently open; you can see its shadow in one of my summit photos. The other’s purpose I don’t know, as all I really saw of it was the peaked roof.
After summitting, I re-crossed the Inn and dropped slightly to the next ridge point, where a platform was built for a flagpole. The pole is still there, as are the narrow stone steps leading to the platform. This lower point actually offers the best view of the lot, including a view from above of the “horn” which is most prominently visible from the city below. Here, too, there is a flagpole (or some sort of pole). I can’t imagine how it was put there, though, as inspection from this angle convinced me that this point was not climbable by me (see photos). So I took a few photographs and headed down.
I made (what I thought, at least, was) good time going down, doing some boot-skiing in places along the ridge. It was easy to follow my own tracks back down and, even with stopping a few times to take some more pictures, I made the descent in an hour and fourteen minutes. This makes 20 out of 37 ranked El Paso County peaks for me.
Photos are at:

Long life and many peaks!


Blogger macbikegeek said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:12 PM  
Blogger macbikegeek said...

Patrick, thanks as always for sharing your climbs. The pictures are wonderful and a great way for this armchair climber to see the beautiful views without all the climbing. Lee

4:13 PM  

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