Friday, June 13, 2008

Esther Mount (9,540 ft.)
Mt. Heizer (9,076 ft.)

12 June, 2008: With a strained neck leaving Trisha in no condition for a 14er this week (plus snow, snow, snow nearly everywhere in the high country), we settled on teaming up to knock off a couple more of my El Paso County peaks. These two unranked peaks sit on the edge of Pike National Forest, above the town of Chipita Park.

The trailhead is right on Mountain Road, which is, in fact, the westernmost and uppermost town street in Chipita Park. We only had to drive about 100 yards off the pavement to get there. Knowing this would only be a half-day climb, we got a good and lazy start, and hit the trail at 7:18 am.

The first leg of the hike is a set of steep switchbacks which head west up the mountain face from the town. The trail climbs about 900 feet in half a mile before popping over a lip and basically leveling out. The view from here, at least out to the east, is eye-catching. Immediately after leveling out, we came to the junction with the Crowe Gulch trail. We headed right, north and west, gently uphill alongside the tiny stream which flows down the gulch. The trail starts out in an open meadow area, but soon heads back into the trees before climbing a small ridge, and merging with an old logging road.

We eventually found two places where the faint trail diverges (to the climber’s left) from the road, and at first we wondered which one to take. We took the trail, mostly to avoid giving up any elevation, and soon found that both these trail segments re-connect with the road after a few hundred yards. They also follow the poles of a power or utility line which is much straighter than the road.

After that, we finally trudged up a steep section of the road/trail to a ridge top. GPS measurements confirmed that we were only a short distance from the summit of Esther, and that we were both north and east of it. As the road led down from there (to the Crystal Creek Reservoir), we simply decided to bushwhack our way up the north slopes to the summit. The Pikes Peak Atlas shows a trail almost to the top on the north side, but we didn’t see one coming off the road.

We did eventually find a faint trail winding counter-clockwise up the mountain, but it petered out as we approached an outcropping of pillowy rocks which we thought to be the summit. After finding a crack in the cliffy north side of these rocks, we climbed to the high point via the much gentler south side, and there we discovered that the true summit was still a few dozen yards to the southeast, if only a little higher. Five minutes of traversing and a short climb got us to the true summit—which is much more choked with trees, and doesn’t offer nearly as good a set of views as the false summit! All the same, we had made it, so we phoned Suzanne to let her know that all was well.

We didn’t stay long, though, as a stiff and chilly wind (this is June, right?) had greeted us just as we made it to the top. I had been down to my t-shirt on the way up, but on the summit I put back on not only my long sleeves (Thanks to Michael and Susi for the cool new Under Armour!), but my windbreaker as well.

We did a slightly different bushwhack down the north side, and again encountered the faint trail. We followed it down, hoping to find the connection to the road which we had been unable to see on the way up. We discovered instead that we had missed it because it isn’t there! The trail disappears at both ends. Still, the timber was sparse and the slope easy, so we made it back to the road—at a point east of where we had left it—in less than ten minutes.

A few minutes later, we heard voices. They turned out to belong to a troop of Girl Scouts out on a guided hike from the reservoir. We chatted briefly with their leader before heading off again.

The wind had moderated, but clouds were beginning to roll in, so we both left all our clothes on as we made the easy descent back to the trail junction. Once there, we set off down the lower part of Crowe Gulch on a good trail, looking for the trail up the south slopes of Mt. Heizer.

We found it only a few yards from the Pikes Peak Highway, having dropped to about 8,560 ft. elevation. It’s not a maintained trail, hard to see in places, and it’s loose and rough, so we were soon working again. It also doesn’t go all the way to the summit. Thus, we were soon following our instincts again, looking for the easiest way to top out on the long summit ridge of Heizer.

The ridge sports two closed contours, and I had thought we would top out in between them. We actually gained the ridge crest north of both major points, and had to backtrack a short distance to the summit. We satisfied ourselves visually that the topo map was correct, and that the north point on which we were standing was slightly higher than the south point, which we could see clearly.

We decided to save distance by following the ridge north back to the trail, instead of retracing our steps. This worked out well, as the terrain is not really difficult. If I had realized in advance how poor the quality of the “trail” up was, I would probably have elected to go up this way too, but that’s hindsight. We were back at the trail junction in about 25 minutes.

By that time, the day warming, despite the partial cloudiness, and we finally got rid of some clothing and started looking more like summer hikers. Another 25 minutes sufficed to get us back to the trailhead. We got two little-visited summits in just a half-day hike! The pictures I took are at:

Long life and many peaks!


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