Vermilion Peak: San Juan County Highpoint

Back in July, I started off my county high pointing adventure inauspiciously by being driven off of Vermilion Peak (13,894′) at 9:30 in the morning by thunder and lightning. I shouldn’t have taken it for granted that I only had 1,000′ vertical feet to go and should have started earlier but I was disappointed all the same.

It’s been bugging me ever since so when I had to go down to Ouray last weekend for some teacher training, I decided to give Vermilion another try, this time from the Hope Lake trailhead.

Vermilion Peak

I’d spent the night at a friend’s place in Telluride. I set my alarm for 5am and made it to the trailhead right at 6. Sprocket was anxious to start hiking and he let me know! He happily hit the trail and we moved right along the Hope Lake Trail. I was really pleased to find that this trail had a really great grade; it’s definitely someplace I’ll keep in mind when I have friends come to visit!

As we reached treeline, the world was getting light around us. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Wilson group—I’ve climbed its three 14ers and really am looking forward to come back and climb centennial Gladstone Peak.

Wilson Group at sunrise

When we reached treeline, Vermilion Peak also came into view. I always love when you get to see your final destination along the way.

Vermilion Peak

As always, Sprocket just wanted to charge up the mountain. He’s not appreciative of breaks. While I took a breather on the first talus slope, he whined and did his best to motivate me to keep moving up the hill. He’s such a pal, that Sprocket.

Sprocket on the way to Vermilion Peak

Vermilion Peak

As we climbed upwards, Hope Lake came into view. I was on the western side of the mountain so it took awhile for the sun to come to meet me.

Views on the way to Vermilion PEak

I really enjoyed this hike. The two talus benches gave me the opportunity to gain elevation and then to get a little bit of a breather as I walked along the top of the benches. It was so nice to reach the sunshine at the top of the Fuller-Beattie saddle.

Sprocket and Beth, Beattie-Fuller Saddle

There is a fairly decent boot track up to the Fuller-Vermilion saddle but I got off track fairly early on and made it really difficult on myself. It was a little bit scary at times because Sprocket isn’t very aware of rockfall either that he causes or that I cause so we have to carefully figure out how to stick together. I was really worried about descending this slope and was very relieved to discover that the boot track had just taken a much more gradual pace than my very vertical then horizontal path.

There are only 400′ to climb from the Fuller-Vermilion saddle to the summit and it went really quickly. There is an excellent climbers trail and Sprocket and I breezed right up.

Beattie-Fuller Saddle from Fuller slopes

Looking SW from upper Vermillion slopes

Vermilion Upper Slopes

Summit of Vermilion Peak

I was pretty excited to finally make it to the summit:

Vermilion Summit Selfie, Beth and Sprocket

The Wilson group from the summit:

Wilson Group from Vermilion

I love the San Juans so much. This view looking north towards the Sneffels range in the distance:

Sneffels Group from Vermilion

Sprocket spent most of our summit time hanging out right next to the summit cairn. His summit excitement was a lot more stoic than mine. 😉

Sprocket on the summit of Vermilion

We looked down into Ice Lakes basin during our traverse over to Fuller Peak (13,761′):

Ice lakes basin from Vermilion Saddle

On the top of Fuller we continued to take in the views before heading down the mountain.

Descent to Fuller Peak

Sprocket on Fuller Peak

Vermilion from Fuller:

Vermilion Peak and Golden Knob from Fuller Peak

Looking SE from Fuller Peak

Looking east from Fuller Peak

I thought about heading up Beattie Peak but I was a little worried about Sprocket’s paws on the talus. We needed to make it out over a lot of talus terrain and I didn’t want to risk having to limp/carry/coax him with sore paws. In retrospect, he could have totally handled the 300′ of gain but although I’m good at reading Sprocket, ultimately, I’m dealing with an animal that can’t speak and certainly can’t predict how he’ll feel an hour and 1,500′ later.

Vermilion Peak

Vermilion-Fuller-Beattie Basin with Wilson Group in the distance

Sprocket in the meadow

Since Sprocket and I both had gas left in the tank so we ran up to Hope Lake for the puppers to take a swim before we made the drive over Ophir Pass and back to Ridgway. My 24th Colorado County Highpoint was probably one of my most favorite. The weather was great, the views around the San Juans were gorgeous, and the hike was a really fun one.

Hope Lake

Hope Lake Trail

Colorado 14ers: Democrat, Lincoln, Bross

A few weeks ago, I was planning on going to the Flat Tops to get a couple of county highpoints. My friend Heather was thinking about joining me but nothing was set in stone so when Heidi mentioned she was getting some friends together to tackle “Decalibron” I started pushing Heather to commit to joining us! Once I convinced her that yes she could do four 14ers in a day, she agreed.

As it turned out, she was dog sitting for a friend so Meadow joined us for the trip as well. We were quite the crew setting out for the trailhead! The pups were pretty darn adorable:

Sprocket and Meadow

Road trip

We were the first ones to reach the trailhead so we snagged a pretty good sized spot, took a little mini-hike to stretch our legs after the drive, and made some dinner. Heidi and company pulled in just after dark and we were totally to discover that Heidi’s friend Kami and Heather’s friend Kami were the same person! Sometimes this is a small small world.

Once everyone arrived, we had a little pow-wow to decide who was leaving camp at what time. When it was all settled, we’d decided to leave camp at 4am which meant people were setting alarms for 3:30am. Lovely. Being in love with sleep, my sleeping bag, and cuddling with my puppy, I asked Heather to make sure I was awake at 3:50.

As is normal with a group, we didn’t get moving until almost 4:20(ha) and then started making our way up the Democrat-Cameron saddle. Just as the sky began to lighten, we arrived at the saddle and started up Democrat. A couple hikers who had already summited Mt. Democrat earlier in the summer declined going to the peak but the summit crew arrived the peak (14,148′) in time to see the sun crest over Cameron and Lincoln, peaks we’d climb later in the morning.

Summit of Mount Democrat

Summit of Mount Democrat at sunrise

Sunrise on Mount Democrat

We all scarfed down some food, we took some photos, and then we headed down the mountain.

Group photo, Mt. Democrat
Photo H. Platte
Descent off Mount Democrat
Photo B. Langton

The ascent up unranked Mount Cameron (14,238′) seemed to go quickly. Heidi and Kami had planned snacks for all the summits (except for Democrat) so we enjoyed “cab” on Cameron (yes, at about 8am).

Mount Cameron

Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte

From Cameron over to Mount Lincoln (14,286′) was a really quick jaunt. This was the peak I was most excited about summiting for the day because Lincoln is the highpoint of Park County. Reunited as a whole group, we enjoyed “lagers on Lincoln” before moving on to Mount Bross.

Summit of Mount Lincoln

Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte

Traverse to Mount Bross

At our next stop we had “brownies on Bross” (14,172′) before somehow I kinda convinced everyone to hike out to unranked South Bross (14,000′) with me. Heather had already promised to come with me but I was totally pumped that we had a whole crew!

Heidi and Beth

South Bross

The descent was really lose in places and not all that much fun. I can totally see why everyone does the loop the way we did! Logan (plus her pup Indy), Barret, Sprocket, and I alternated jogging and hiking down the slope. Sometimes for me that’s the most comfortable way to get down and I was happy to follow Logan’s lead!

Descent from Bross

 

Finally, we got back to the tents, packed up, waited for the rest of the group and headed out. It had been a fantastic day in the mountains with great people, perfect weather, and tons of fun. I had a blast hiking with everyone.

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Photo B. Langton

Heather and I stopped for lunch at Backcountry Brewing in Frisco before driving back to De Beque (there may have also been a stop at Sonic in Rifle for HUGE ice cream treats for us both). We had a couple of pretty tired pups in our car and we were both excited to get back to showers. 🙂

Sprocket and Meadow

 

Colorado 14ers: Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak

Last Saturday night, Sprocket and I headed up Castle Creek and then up into Montezuma Basin. I got tired at about 12,000′ and I decided the best thing to do was to stop and go to sleep. Navigating steep 4WD roads by your vehicles headlights isn’t the most fun thing in the world. I woke up at about 5:45, fifteen minutes before my alarm, to a couple of hiker mocking the cars “dropping like flies.” I won’t lie, I was happy to fire up the Jeep and cruise past them to the very end of the road at 12,800′.

FSJ at the top of Montezuma Rd

From the end of the road, we headed up the mountain. sprocket was so excited. He started by swimming in the creek and rolling in the snow. Who wouldn’t want to start the day like that?!

Hiking Castle and Conundrum

We made our way up the slope, happy for the toeholds already kicked in the snow next to the glisade track.

Sprocket on Castle and Conundrum

The slope on the ridge was fairly gentle and we made pretty decent time on the way up. I was eyeing the saddle between Castle and Conundrum trying to decide if I was willing to chance the descent into the basin (ultimately, because I hadn’t brought an ice axe I declined that option…).

Castle-Conundrum Traverse

Sprocket made friends with a guy who, along with his friend, was taking his sister up her 2nd 14er. They made for great trail company and totally tolerated my fuzzy adopting them for the hike to the summit.

Sprocket on ridge to Castle

We took a quick selfie on the summit of Castle Peak (14,265′) before continuing on to Conundrum. The weather wasn’t looking exactly sketchy yet (it was only 8:15) but there was clearly moisture in the air so we got to getting on over to the next peak…

Selfie on Castle Peak

It was a surprisingly quick traverse to Conundrum (14,040′) where I got a good look back at Castle Peak that I was going to reascend because I’d decided not to glisade from the saddle.

Castle Peak from Conundrum Peak

Sprocket was, once again, the best hiking partner I could ever ask for. He attacked the trail with gusto, politely made friends, and proved himself once again to be an awesome mountain dog.

Conundrum Peak

We briefly enjoyed the views and then headed back downhill.

View from Conundrum Peak

Elks from Conundrum Peak

At the Jeep, we paused for some water and snacks before driving back down Montezuma Basin road. I headed up Pearl Pass about a mile or so and chickened out where a stream ran down through some cut up rock that also happened to be the road. I’m pretty sure I could have made it up that way but there was a log placed to divert water that was slippery and the ass-end of the Jeep wanted to slide towards the edge of the road and I just decided to throw in the towel.

Jeep at the top of Montezuma Road

My pup snuggled in on the pillows and looked pretty darn contented on the way down the hill. His face might look slightly worried here but that’s mostly because he doesn’t like his photo being taken…

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Colorado 14ers: Grays Peak & Torreys Peak

I decided last fall to start chasing the Colorado county highpoints and since I found myself headed to the Front Range to meet up with some friends, I decided to knock at least one more off the list. Grays Peak, high point of Summit and Clear Creek counties, had the benefit of being a dual county high point as well as being a 14er. I left Ridgway at about 6pm and drove straight to the trailhead.

I set an alarm for 5:30am but it was rendered unnecessary by the influx of cars into the parking lot about that time. This was my first experience with a 14er in the Front Range and I was absolutely astounded at the traffic on the mountain. Fortunately, Sprocket was very not concerned; the only thing that seemed to change was that he didn’t visit much with anyone because he was mostly focused on keeping track of me and passing slower people (which was pretty much everyone, I guess).

Summit of Grays Peak

I made really great time up until the climb actually started and then started grinding along. Sprocket was loving the cool temperatures and was rather impatient for his mommy to get going. (It was pretty chilly with a dusting of fresh snow just at the summits!) I hadn’t totally decided whether to summit Torreys as well because it was clear by the speed at which clouds were passing over the summits that it was windy.

Sprocket battling the wind

We only spent a couple of minutes at the Grays summit admiring the view and then I decided that it was cold but not TOO cold plus it was barely 8am so over to Torreys it was!

Views from Grays Peak

Views from Grays Peak

Grays Peak Views

I’d gotten a glimpse of a mountain goat on the shoulder of the mountain on our way up so we took a few pictures and headed back down. I’m almost a 100% certain Sprocket would consider a mountain goat to fall under the deer/elk/moose/cow rules but I didn’t much feel like finding out and we headed down the mountain.

Sprocket on Torreys Peak

Torreys Peak

Torreys Peak

Sprocket descending Torreys

I took more photos on the way down the mountain than on the way up for a change since the mass of humanity seemed to have spread out a bit and made the hiking a little more pleasant. (I also got a kick out of watching Sprocket strategically walk up to people figuring out how to duck through their group.)

Torreys Peak

Grays Peak

Grays and Torreys Peaks

All in all, it was a good hike: a little busy for my taste but ultimately I got some awesome views of an area of Colorado that’s pretty new to me! I have a lot of hiking to do on some more remote 13ers in the area to work on my mental map that I like building of places.

Colorado 14ers: Uncompahgre Peak

After the wild weather the night before, I wasn’t sure what Sprocket and I were going to wake up to. I shouldn’t have worried. We had the most gorgeous fall day for hiking! I had left home unsure if I’d take Sprocket on the hike but he quickly decided for me: this dog knows what sleeping at a trailhead is all about and he was not about to stay behind.

Below Uncompahgre Peak
Nellie Creek Basin
Uncompahgre PeakSprocket and I made decent time heading up the trail, enjoying the views. Considering that we were on a 14er, we hardly ran into anyone at all!

Trail selfieSprocket seemed to be soaking up every minute of the hike. He’s been quite the summit dog this fall—he definitely always seems to feel that the correct direction is up! (He also totally impressed me on this hike when he was able to pretty much ignore another off leash dog that wanted to play. Sprocket instead was focused on the hike.)

Sprocket on Uncompahgre Peak Trail
Sprocket on Uncompahgre Peak
Sprocket on the Uncompahgre Peak Trail
Just in case there were any worries about Sprocket handling the short scramble section on Uncompahgre, let me lay that to rest by saying he definitely lead me through this section:

Uncompahgre Peak Scramble
Celebrating Sprocket’s first 14er!

Summit of Uncompahgre Peak
Sprocket on Uncompahgre Peak
Summit Selfie
I feel so lucky to call this place home:

San Juan Mountains
Uncompahgre Wilderness

14er: Wilson Peak

For my birthday weekend peak I decided to take on Wilson Peak (14,017′) the third of the 14ers in the San Miguel range. In addition to being a 14er, Wilson Peak is the San Miguel county high point.

I got a bit of a late start on Saturday but fall promised a high likelihood of a thunderstorm free day so I hit the trail from the Rock of the Ages TH at 9am enjoying the last of the morning chill.

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Wilson Peak from Rock of Ages Trail:

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Lower Silver Pick Basin:

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Selfie time!

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Upper Silver Pick Basin:

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Approaching Rock of Ages Saddle:

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From left to right, Gladstone Peak, Mt. Wilson, and El Diente.

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Wilson Peak summit:

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This short snowy section turned several parties in front of me around. I found that when I took it slow and careful it was pretty much a piece of cake. The snow wasn’t slicked out by the big guided group in front of me; instead, they’d made really nice flat foot spots to pair with pretty sold hand holds the whole way across.

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Final scramble towards the top:

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Summit of Wilson Peak!

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Looking down on Silver Pick Basin and the trail:

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Hello Lizard Head, some day I will climb well enough to summit you…

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It felt so good to be out on such a beautiful fall day! The day seemed so leisurely since I wasn’t getting chased out of the high country by lightning—fall hiking in the San Juans might just be the best!

Mileage: About 10mi RT
Elevation Gain: About 4000′
Time: 5.5 hours

14ers: El Diente & Mount Wilson

Thursday at 2am, we got up and headed out for another try at El Diente (and Mt. Wilson). This time we headed up via the Kilpacker trail and started our hike at about 3:45am. We arrived in Kilpacker basin just as the sun was coming up and were treated to this view of “The Tooth” catching the first rays of light:

El Diente at sunrise

Kilpacker Basin

Our timing was great. We did the easy trail hiking in the dark and started our scramble up the south slopes of El Diente while watching the sun creep along the ridges and valley floors.

F

Kilpacker Basin3UpAdventures.com. El Diente-Mt. Wilson Traverse.

Reaching the summit of El Diente was awesome. There was just the right amount of difficult third class scrambling to make it fun without being intimidating. Since we still wanted to do the traverse to Mt. Wilson, we didn’t spend too long on the summit, taking just enough time to share a Good2Go bar and drink some water.

F on the summit of El Diente

From El Diente, we finally got a glimpse of Mt. Wilson:

Mt. Wilson from El Diente

From the left: Wilson Peak, Mt. Gladstone, and Mt. Wilson:

Wilson Peak, Gladstone from El Diente

We started across the traverse. While parts of it were lots of fun, there was lots of crumbly, tippy, loose rocks with plenty of exposure. It demanded a lot of attention as we moved slowly towards Mt. Wilson.

El Diente from Wilson Peak Traverse

The last pitch up the summit block of Mt. Wilson was quite the climax to the day. The last few moves are definitely class 4 with plenty of exposure. Finally, though, we were on top. It was almost noon so we didn’t linger very long on the summit and started our decent down into Navajo Basin via the northeastern slopes.

Marmot Navajo Basin

Decent route

When we finally reached the basin floor, it was time to get walking. The clouds were gathering and we knew that it wouldn’t be long before we got wet. Fortunately, we got to see Navajo Lake from above before packing the camera away from the rain that was almost upon us. The six mile hike out was really wet but we’d made it!

Navajo Lake

Mushrooms near Navajo Lake

Trail Stats:

Miles hiked: 16
Feet of elevation gain: ~5,200′
Time: 12 hours 45 minutes
14ers summited: TWO (Mt. Wilson and El Diente plus West Wilson)

Mt. Sneffels Climb

Wednesday, F, Ezra and I decided it was time to climb Mt. Sneffels. The climb marked the first 14er for both Ezra and I as well as the first 14er F has climbed (he’s driven up Mt. Evans).

We started our climb in beautiful Yankee Boy Basin. From the last parking area, it’s only about 1 1/2 miles to the summit so we took our time on the way up. We stopped for awhile to photograph this really friendly marmot:

Marmott

As is normal in the San Juans, the views just get better and better (and my list of mountains to climb gets longer and longer).

F on Mt. Sneffels

F and Ezra on Mt. Sneffels

Views of the San Juans from Mt Sneffels

Views of the San Juans from Sneffels

Mt. Sneffels final chute

North from the summit of sneffels

Blue Lakes

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Beth & F on Sneffels

We even found a bunch of fulgurites (is it still a fulgurite if it’s not a tube?):

Fulgurite