Monday, January 26, 2009

Pt. 8487

Pt. 8418B

Pt. 7820B

17 January, 2009:

OK; I haven't really been doing nothing since last September. Snow blankets most of the high country, but the Pikes Peak region has gotten off pretty easy in that regard. So it was time to continue whittling down the El Paso County list of ranked peaks. I’ve been generally working down in elevation, with all the ranked peaks over 9,000 ft. already bagged. So the next one targeted was Unnamed 8,487, a remote and obscure peak located above Turkey Creek Canyon near the southern end of the county.

For this one, I got together with fellow local climbers Doug Hatfield and Susan Paul. A quick look at the map shows two other ranked peaks in the same vicinity, so it only made sense to try to nail all three of them on a single trip. We figured a 12-hour day would suffice. This might seem surprising, since the loop route was only about 7.5 miles long, with about 3,700 ft. of vertical. The catch is that it’s all bushwhacking; other than some dirt road walking at the beginning and the end, there is no trail to follow. Some navigation skills definitely required, YMMV.

Doug picked me up in the dark just after 6 am, and, after refueling with coffee, we headed off south. A cautionary note: These peaks are on private property, and we were blatantly trespassing. Personally (obviously!) I have no real qualms about this, as such peaks typically represent the “back end” of some ranch or vacation home, and (as we later verified) the landowners usually make no use of the mountains and have no idea on what sort of gems they are sitting. So we were willing to take our chances, trying to become the second, third, and fourth persons in recorded history to climb all of the ranked peaks in El Paso County. Topography makes no accommodation to legal niceties (or vice-versa…).

So…we drove up the Turkey Creek Canyon Road, then turned right (north) onto the road which runs northwest up Little Turkey Creek Canyon, as far as Doug’s Prism could get traction. After encountering a slope of packed snow and ice which, after three tries, he still couldn’t surmount, we gave up and parked at a wide spot in the road just below. This would turn out to be a mistake, but more on that later.

At 6:38 am, we were off on foot, heading up the road. The road leads up to the saddle between our first two objective peaks: 7820B on the east, and 8418B on the west. From that saddle, we left the road and pushed up through the trees and a tiny bit of snow to our first summit, 7820B, at about 7:30 am. It only required a climb of about 300 feet (thus, it’s ranked!), and it would have been a romp but for the timber. Even with the timber, it was pretty easy. We headed back down to the road, and started the westerly climb toward 8418B.

This one took a little longer, but it was very pleasant because, once we got a bit above the saddle, we were hiking in early morning sunshine. We followed the twisted ridge roughly west, over or around several major ridge points. At about 9:30 am, we came to the westernmost ridge point, which we agreed was slightly higher than the one before it and constituted the actual summit of 8418B. We paused for 20 minutes or so, taking pictures and snacking, before heading off for the real prize of the day, 8487.

We backtracked a bit, to head down the crest of a south-leading ridge into Turkey Creek Canyon. The descent involved a mix of scrub oak bushwhacking and negotiation of rock outcrops, and took us about an hour.

After descending to the road, we simply stepped across the small creek, and began the final climb of the day. Our objective was now hidden from us, being located half a mile or so south of a more prominent ridge point at about 8,300 ft. Naturally, on this north-facing slope, we had to slog through a little snow, but gaiters were all the equipment that was necessary.

Finally, about 1 o’clock, we topped out on a point where we could finally get a good view of 8487. The ridge in between required only a bit of net elevation gain, but involved passing either over or around half a dozen minor ridge points.

When we came to the final saddle, we decided that the most efficient route to the top would be to traverse off to our left (southeast), and make the final approach to the summit from the east. It was shady, and therefore snowy, but considerably more gently sloped than the west side of the top.

The traverse involved some serious side-hilling to get around a sharp corner, and the going was slower than anything we had encountered earlier. After we turned the corner, it didn’t really get any easier, as we were presented with the steepest climbing of the day. It was only about 50 vertical feet to the summit, but it was steep, loose, and still choked with vegetation.

But we made it, and got to the summit about 2:15 pm, in glorious sunshine. This got me to 28 out of 37 ranked peaks in El Paso County, three-quarters of the way! But note that that’s nearly eight hours to get our three peaks, and we still had to hike down and out.

Rather than re-climb the ridge between Turkey Creek and Little Turkey Creek Canyons, we dropped down somewhat to the east of our upward route, and found the road leading down to the east. We knew if we followed this road down, we would come around the east end of the ridge, and come to the gate at which we had turned aside on the way in. From there it would be just a short hike back up to the north to the car.

There was, however, one thing upon which we had not counted. On the way in, we had gone perhaps a hundred yards up-canyon from an open gate. When we came back up that road, just as darkness fell (about 6 pm), we found that that gate had been closed below us! Some landowner had decided to lock us in.

At that point, we had no choice but to collect what we needed from the car (which in my case was everything), and start hiking by starlight back out toward Highway 115. Things were really getting interesting.

We got perhaps halfway when headlights came up the road from the east. After they stopped and asked us if we needed help, and we rather humbly explained our situation, the most amazing series of events happened. First, they said that they would open the gate for us. (There was some initial confusion as to which gate it was, but that got cleared up in due course.) Then, against all odds and our expectations, they invited us to ride back with them to there house, which was located at the road junction where we had turned right in the morning. While the husband, Mike, drove Doug back up the road to retrieve his car, the wife, Beege, invited Susan and me in to warm up.

After Mike and Doug returned, we spent about an hour chatting and learning some of the history of the area. Instead of being mad at us, Mike and Beege showed a great deal of understanding of our situation (even though we had to explain to them what a “ranked peak” was!), and even served us hot chocolate while we warmed up in their dining room.

Finally, we said our goodbyes, with hugs all around, and piled back into Doug’s liberated car for the ride home. It was after 8 pm when we got to Normandy Circle—later than we had anticipated—but we all felt pretty good.

I took a few photos on the trip, and my photo gallery, which includes a few taken by Doug and Susan, is at: