Wednesday, April 16, 2008


“North Benchmark”

(9,638 ft.),


14 April, 2008: This is a more detailed exposition on this trip than the brief trip reports I posted on listsofjohn. After driving to, and beyond, Woodland Park to access the Schubarth Road to reach this cluster of peaks, I was determined to bag them all, so that I wouldn’t have to make that trip another time! 9,385B and 9,380C were the next two ranked peaks in order of altitude on my El Paso County list, and “North Benchmark” (also known as “Eagle Peak”), although unranked, is very close at hand.

The weather forecast was for beautiful, sunny weather, so, with over 12 hours of sunlight, I figured that getting to my starting point (I can’t really call it a “trailhead”) at 9:50 am would still give me a nice, long day to make the trip. I took Baldwin St. north out of Woodland Park until it curves northeast to the intersection at the bottom of Loy Gulch. Then it was up the gulch road to where it intersects Rampart Range Road. Continuing straight on across this intersection puts one on Schubarth Road (which was once the Schubarth Trail, and is still signed that way in a couple of places), which then heads south and east, across some private land, and eventually to the National Forest boundary.

I parked just about half a mile inside (east of) the forest boundary, where the road re-enters the actual trees, and begins to take on a definite 4WD character (i.e., deep ruts and pot holes), and also where patches of ice and snow continue to linger in the shade. In less than an hour, I had made it three miles in, where trail #721 splits off to the right (southeast) and begins to drop toward the Stanley Reservoir.

The reservoir sits at the top of steep Stanley Canyon, at about 8900 ft. From here, I could finally get a decent look at most of the “climb” portion of my intended route. It was really only at this point that I finally decided on the order in which I would tackle the peaks. 9380C sits on the south side of the drainage, and the other two are on the north. I decided to go south first.

A fairly decent dirt road actually leads away from the dam end of the reservoir, taking a long switchbacking route with a gentle grade to the saddle just north of 9380C’s minor summit at 9,335. With the snow melting away fast, I eschewed the road in favor of a direct climb up the north slopes; it isn’t really all that steep. With only a little stepping in snow, I reached the road at the saddle in just a few minutes. I then began drifting to my right (west), onto slopes which I hoped would hold less snow, spiraling counter-clockwise around the minor summit.

As I approached it, it became clear that there was no technical reason to avoid it, so I did a short section of scrambling up through the west side of the rock outcropping at the top. This gave me a good view, not only of 9380C proper (hard to get from anywhere else), but also of the lower sub-peak (9,120 ft.) back on the other side of the road, which hosts a prominently visible microwave tower. I would use this installation throughout the rest of the climb as a reliable fixer of my position.

After the small drop off the south side, another very short climbing section got me to the actual summit, just over two hours after I started. Again I spiraled around to the west side, but made my final climb onto the long, skinny summit rock from the north end. Here I took some pictures, including the novel view of Blodgett Peak, about a mile and a half to the southeast. Wonder of wonders, at one point my GPS actually showed the elevation as exactly 9,380 ft.

Then it was off down the north slopes to cross to the other side of Stanley Canyon. I skirted the minor summit on the east side, then followed the road east a short distance, to the spur which leads north to the microwave tower. Dropping down from there, I gave little heed to the amount of snow, as I had already discovered that plunge-stepping through the occasional drifts hardly slowed me down at all, going down. Plus, as expected, the day was so warm that I wasn’t being made uncomfortable by having my feet get wet.

Perhaps I should have paid a bit more attention to the details of my route down, though, because I finally crossed the stream, and found the trail just on the other side of it, considerably lower (farther east) than I had intended. I had to backtrack up the canyon a few hundred yards before I emerged from the trees and could see the dam again. Still, I had plenty of time, so I didn’t worry.

Just before reaching the dam, I struck out north up a gentle ridge. I had decided that I would go for the more northerly of my two remaining peaks, “North Benchmark,” first, since it is actually farther from the reservoir. I had to drop just a bit in a couple of places, but generally I stayed on ridge tops, working north and east. Here I was finally climbing on gentle, sun-dried slopes with few if any rocks, which made for easy travel.

I did climb to the top of one major rock outcropping, and had to drop a bit off the east side of it, before the final push to the summit. Theoretically, I could have skirted this on one side or the other, but I didn’t begrudge it; the scrambling was fun and the added elevation gain was minimal. It also gave me a good close-up look at the summit rocks.

North is definitely the rockiest of the three summits, with some sustained scrambling required, no matter from which direction the summit is approached. Indeed, from the west or southwest, a real cliff would have to be climbed, so I angled to my left (north), to make my final approach from the north, along the spine of the summit ridge.

I got to the top, and found the actual benchmark, just about two hours after leaving 9380C. The benchmark was placed in 1907. Survey methods must have improved in the intervening century, because it testifies that the elevation of that point is an even 9,400 feet, whereas the topo figure is 9,368. My GPS, which I am used to seeing read high, actually said 9,401. But the longitude and latitude confirmed that I was indeed on the intended summit.

Getting down through the rocks on the south side proved to be easier than I had feared it would be, and less than twenty minutes after setting out, I strolled onto the top of my final objective, 9385B. The topo map shows two closed contours but indicates the southern one as the true summit. I visited both, but visually satisfied myself that it is the northern peak which is a few feet higher. From here I could see both Stanley Reservoir and, farther to the southwest, the much larger Rampart Reservoir.

Although higher than my others, this summit offers only limited views, because it is well blanketed in trees, with no large rocks to get one above them. So, after a very brief stay, I began rather haphazardly picking my way down the west and southwest slopes, heading back toward the reservoir. This turned out to involve more serious scrambling than I had anticipated. Indeed, this was where I encountered the steepest rocks I climbed, in either direction, all day. Thus, I actually took quite a while before I finally encountered the trail at the foot of the mountain.

This was where things got a little weird. The trail I found myself on was not the Stanley Canyon trail, but seemed to be the one shown on the maps as #701, which runs north from the dam, and eventually intersects Schubarth Road at a point farther east than where I had left it in the morning. Hoping to make the going easier, I decided not to go back south to the reservoir, but to follow the 701 trail north to the road.

For whatever reason, I never found that intersection. The trail petered out on me, leaving me to wonder if I had misidentified it in the first place. I figured the road couldn’t be far off, however, so I set off cross-country, heading west and a bit north via the path of least topographical resistance.

It seemed to take forever, and I was starting to feel a bit tired. It didn’t help that my route was not steadily downhill, but involved repeated small climbs over the rolling landscape. When I did find a road, I got another surprise. Following it west and south—exactly the direction I expected—I soon came to a place where it turned back to the east, with no indication of returning to a westerly course! I concluded that, somehow, this wasn’t Schubarth Road after all, and, for the second time, felt I had no choice but to set off by dead reckoning, heading to the west. After rolling over seven or eight ridge shoulders, I finally did re-join my outward route, near to the 721 turn-off from the main road.

This still left nearly three miles of road to traverse, and the sun was already sinking in the west. Fortunately, the weather remained clear and calm, but I did finally pull out my windbreaker and put it on to conserve heat. I had seen a total of four other people since setting out, all hiking or running, but, if anyone had just happened to come driving along going my way, I would have had no qualms at that point about asking for a ride to shorten my day.

However, there were no cars. I did get a bit of a “second wind” in the last mile or so, but, when I got back to the car and checked my watch, it told me that the round trip had taken me just over eight hours—about two hours longer than I had really anticipated. I was tired! Still, I had tagged three new peaks, and wouldn’t need to do this drive again. This got me to 25 (of 37) ranked peaks in El Paso County. The GPS recorded a round trip distance of 14.5 miles, but I can only estimate the vertical on this trip. With all the up-and-down both on and off the road, it was probably somewhere around 1800 feet.

Pictures are at:

Long life and many peaks!