Monday, September 08, 2008

Sentinel Point
(12,527 ft.)

Backdate: 21 August, 2008: With Trisha otherwise engaged for this week’s days off, fourteeners were out. But the forecast was for warm, sunny weather, so I looked around for some previously unclimbed, nearby peak which I could bag in a half day (had to work in the evening). I settled on Sentinel Point, the second-highest summit in Teller County, which sits just a few miles west-southwest of Pikes Peak.
In retrospect, it’s a little surprising that I had never before gotten around to climbing this peak. It certainly wasn’t for lack of knowing about it. Anyone who has come into Colorado Springs from the west, along US 24, has seen its conical profile sticking up prominently just to the right of Pikes Peak’s summit. Probably the major reason I’d never gone out to climb it before was that I was uncertain about just how to get there. National Forest access on the west side of Pikes Peak is spotty. However, in the age of the internet, abundant information is available. Thus, I was finally able to set off with certainty of finding a trailhead which I knew would lead me to this long-deferred goal.
Well, there was one snag. The trailhead is on State Highway 67, the road that leads from Divide to Cripple Creek. My old edition of the Pikes Peak Atlas said it was just south of a tunnel, and that the trail wrapped up from the west side of the road, over the tunnel, and thence east. The trouble is, there is no tunnel. And as I was starting before sunrise, I couldn’t see well what I verified later in broad daylight: There once had been a tunnel, but it had either collapsed, or been pre-emptively blasted away to create a deep road cut.
So after a little time wasted driving too far down the road and doubling back, I finally located the trailhead. It’s now on the east side of the road. I got started, carrying only a belt pack with gorp, water, Elmo, and a windbreaker for extra clothing, at 4:55 am MST. It was close enough to sunrise that I didn’t even need the headlamp I had brought.
The lower part of the trail may once have been a 4WD road; it’s quite broad if rough. It heads nearly due east into an area colorfully known as Horsethief Park. Three-quarters of a mile in, there’s a trail junction (thankfully, well signed), where the “main” trail (704) continues on east, and the trail I wanted (704A) takes off to the north. I believe either of these paths can be used to get to the summit of Sentinel Point, but I was looking for the fastest route. The various reports I had read clearly suggested the northern approach for this.
The trail continued to be clear and easy to follow as it paralleled a stream northward for most of another mile, before turning east again, entering the trees, and beginning to climb steeply. To my amazement, this turn did not involve any crossing or fording of the rather boggy stream: Where the center of the drainage is crossed, there was virtually no water, at least on the surface.
As I went up through the trees, I was surprised by the large number of small cairns marking the trail. I wasn’t finding the trail particularly difficult to see or follow, and I wondered why there were so many cairns, all of them quite small but unmistakable. I found out why on the way down: The trail is much harder to see coming down.
Once above timberline, however, I had no trouble spotting occasional cairns and picking my way up through the rocks to reach the ridge crest. The ridge connects Sentinel with the next ridge point to the north, which is actually higher, but unnamed.
At the saddle, I got my first direct sunshine, and an unusual view of Pikes Peak. I could also see the rest of my route: south on the ridge and onto the east face of Sentinel Point. I clambered up over increasingly large boulders and reached the summit just after 7 am.
The view is excellent. I could make out virtually all the fourteeners of the Sawatch range, as well as Evans and Bierstadt to the northwest. Without a cloud in the sky, the peaks of the Sangres to the south were also mostly easy to see and identify.
After a leisurely picture-taking session on the summit, I headed down fairly quickly, as I had to make this a half-day climb, and was back at the car by 10 am. I only saw one other person—a women hiking up with her dog—on the entire trip.
Photos are at:

Long life and many peaks!


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