Thursday, June 24, 2010

Greenhorn Mtn. (12,347 ft.)
"North Peak" (12,220ft.)

23 June, 2010: I'd been waiting for summer conditions to hit Greenhorn, since I'd heard horror stories about how hard it can be with snow on the ground. It's "only" a twelver, but, since it was also the last one I needed to finish the ranked peaks of Pueblo County, I wanted to jump on it as soon as conditions permitted.
Researching routes, I discovered a short hike requiring a very long drive, and a long hike requiring a much shorter drive. To spare the car, I selected the latter. Further research, and communications with fellow runner Paul Vorndam (Magwitch on, revealed two different long hike possibilities, starting from opposite sides of the small town of Rye. The trail that's actually called the Greenhorn trail starts from the north side of town, but actually hits the long summit ridge of the mountain nearer the northern end, closer to North Peak than to Greenhorn's summit. Plus, Paul was more familiar with the other route--the Bartlett Trail--so that was my ultimate choice.
We met at the trailhead on the NF boundary, at the end of Bartlett Trail Road, and headed out at 5:46 am. (The road, BTW, is dirt and a bit rough right at the end, but perfectly driveable by low-clearance cars.) The trail starts with seemingly endless, and highly convoluted, switchbacks through dense forest and brush. The FS has apparently abandoned all maintenance, and vegetation impinges from both sides most of the way.
The switchbacks quickly become steep, climbing the wall of the drainage. You have to go over a mile before you get a decent look out over the area of the TH, and it's already lost in the trees. A couple of miles in, the trail crosses over a ridge into another drainage to the south, but the pattern of switchbacks and shelf trail on steep slopes goes on and on all the way to timberline. The trail is clear enough to see, at least to anyone familiar with trails, all the way. However, the lack of maintenance and lack of use has made it a bit sketchy in places: Vegetation is seriously threatening to reclaim, or at least obscure, the trail in a number of places. Small trees have sprouted up right in the middle of the trail in places. This trail needs more use, or perhaps some clandestine maintenance, to keep it open!
After nearly three hours, I finally emerged from the trees and bushes into a shallow basin south of the summit, where the trail was basically out in the open. I followed cairns north to where I had to probe my way through a small area of trees (real pine trees--not scrub oak!) before I came out into a meadow where I could finally see the summit of Greenhorn, less than a mile away.
I traversed to the right (east) up the slopes to gain the gentle ridge leading west up to the actual summit. It was relatively easy going on mixed tundra and small rocks, but fairly steep. I had to get to within a few dozen yards of the top before I saw the stone windbreak on the summit. It held not only a CMC register in the usual tube, but a makeshift register in a metal can which, surprisingly, contained a business card of the Brown Bear Mountaineering Club (of Denver). I had previously seen a register placed by this group on Mt. Pittsburg (yes, I spelled that right), but didn't know it they still existed. The written date of 2007 confirmed that they did!
After about 15 minutes sheltering from the wind and taking pictures, I moved on for the traverse--nearly 2 miles--over to North peak. On the way, I met a family going south, who had come up the Greenhorn Trail. They were the last people I would see all day!
The traverse to North Peak took nearly an hour, but was well worth it. Totally above timberline, the ridge offers dynamite views in all directions, and Cimmy had a blast roaming free. Wildflowers were everywhere. I found a couple of cairns near the top of North Peak, but neither seemed to be on the actual high point--although that point was indeed somewhat hard to determine.
After taking a few more pictures, we simply re-traced out route (more or less), hit the summit of Greenhorn a second time, and began the long descent. It was windy on top, and I had my windbreaker on for a while, but after starting the real descent, it was a matter of progressively shedding clothing all the way down. I tried to slather enough sunblock on the back of my legs (I wore shorts the whole day!) when we turned east, but still got some sunburn on my legs. No complaints.
Pictures are at:
Long life and many peaks!


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