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

Rio Blanco County Highpoint

Saturday morning, Sprocket and I headed up the Mandall Lakes trail bound for Mandall Pass and the Rio Blanco County Highpoint. Initially, I had grand plans for a loop including Orno Peak and Point 12008 but I was just feeling tired and sluggish so I forced myself on to at least the county highpoint where I could reevaluate what else I wanted to do.

The Mandall Lakes trail climbs up in to a series of meadows with a whole lot of small ponds: Slide Mandall Lake, Black Mandall Lake, Mud Mandall Lake, and Twin Mandall Lakes. It was a lot of fun to alternate between these fairly large meadows and the shade of the trees. We had some great views back south towards Flat Top Mountain that we’d climbed the day before.

Flat Top Mountain from Mandall Lakes Trail

Mandall Lakes Trail

Looking towards Mandall Pass

For awhile, it seemed like the pass wasn’t getting any closer and then suddenly we were at the base of the final climb! I had lost the actual trail (located to the right, or east, of the small ridge-thing and shown on the map) so instead, Sprocket and I scrambled up to the left of that ridge-protrusion thing and found ourselves at the pass.

Approaching Mandall Pass

I was still feeling kinda “meh” so I headed straight for Rio Blanco CoHP (12,027′). Although it looked like fun and not difficult at all to head out to Orno Peak, I just really wasn’t feeling it. Sprocket and I took a break at the summit, soaking in the views.

Looking north-northeast:

Summit views

South-southwest:

Summit views

South-southeast towards Orno Peak:

Orno Peak

Summit selfie

Looking back at Rio Blanco County Highpoint:

Rio Blanco County Highpoint

Even those days when you’re out in the wilderness and you’re not feeling in top form, it’s pretty hard to complain:

Mandall Lakes Trail

Flat Top Mountain: Garfield County Highpoint

Another weekend, another camping trip for Sprocket and I! This time, we headed to the Flat Tops for a couple of county highpoints. I was excited to explore yet another new area of the state and Sprocket was just happy it was time to go. We stopped so I could get dinner in Glenwood Springs where I treated myself to another fantastic #selfdate at The Pullman.

#Selfdate

It was almost 11:30 by the time we pulled into the Stillwater Trailhead. I had entertained fantasies of getting up early and hiking to the summit for sunrise but when my alarm went off at 4:45 I just could not fathom getting up so I slept until about seven when I woke up to this:

Sprocket wakeup call

I looked up at Flat Top looming above us and then started up the trail.

Flat Top Mountain

Almost immediately, we came to Stillwater Reservoir and were treated with a pretty fantastic view of the upper Bear River valley. The famous Devil’s Causeway is further to the east above the valley.

Stillwater Reservoir

I was also able to get a look at the saddle between Flat Top Mountain and its unnamed neighbor from the causeway of the reservoir:

Flattops

Just past the reservoir, we passed into the Flat Tops Wilderness. I always try to get a photo of Sprocket and the wilderness sign and he always is way more interesting in continuing his hike than being photographed…

Flat Top Wilderness

We moved along at a pretty good clip since the trail was well graded and the elevation gain was pretty steady. It was a really pretty hike alternating between small meadows and the forest.

Approaching the saddle

Once I hit the saddle, I was able to look north towards the Rio Blanco County Highpoint (Saturday’s hiking goal). I am actually a little bit surprised that these photos don’t more distinctly show the haze in the air from distant wildfires (as in really distant: the biggest fires around are in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon right now).

Views north to Orno Peak and Rio Blanco County Highpoint

Leaving Saddle

The elevation gain continued steadily from the saddle. The trail appeared and disappeared but the walking along the ridgetop was pretty easy. We saw some cattle in the distance but they seemed to move on shortly after seeing us.

Flat Top Mountain with Flat Top West in the foreground

Looking down to Stillwater Reservoir

Finally, we reached the summit! It was a little deceiving as we approached: I could have sworn the highpoint was the more southerly “Edge” benchmark and I naturally wanted to drift that way instead of to the very north end of the almost truly flattopped mountain where the summit was.

Summit of Flat Top Mountain

Summit Selfie

It was a really pretty hike that I think both Sprocket and I really enjoyed. We covered nearly 9 miles with 2100′ of elevation gain in 3:40 having reached the summit in about 1:50. We had the whole mountain to ourselves and ran into a few groups as we were almost done with the trail.

Back at the car, I decided it was too late in the day to start the 12 mile round trip hike to Rio Blanco’s county high point so we headed the 13 miles back into Yampa to explore the town. Exploring town took us a whopping 10 minutes (it’s not very big) but they had a nice city park where we relaxed for awhile. When the adorable looking Antlers Bar & Cafe opened at 3, I headed down and had dinner. It is totally my favorite thing to visit a local bar and talk with interesting people and the Antlers didn’t disappoint! After dinner, Sprocket and I headed back down the Bear River valley to camp and get ready to tackle our next hike.

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

 

Black Mountain: Moffat County Highpoint

After we finished with our Mount Zirkel hike, we made a quick stop at the semi-famous Clark store for a cold drink and a snack before driving to Craig. I grabbed some more food in Craig (I guess a sixteen mile hike will do that to you…) and we pressed on to the Black Mountain trailhead.

I had initially planned to spend the evening lounging in the back of the Jeep finishing the book I’d brought but as I drove up, it occurred to me that we probably had enough daylight left to hike the 5 1/2 mile round trip and we definitely had enough daylight to make it to the summit and come out by headlamp if necessary. After a summer of nomadic jeep life, showering and sleeping in my bed after a long day of hiking was sounding pretty good.

Black Mountain Trail

I decided my tired legs were up to the challenge. I was a little bit worried about Sprocket pushing on over the twenty mile mark for the day but I also figured that if he started flagging, we’d turn around and I’d just climb the peak quickly in the morning.

Black Mountain

I really didn’t need to worry: Sprocket seemed a little bit tired at points but we made the 2.8 miles to the summit in a very respectable 1 hour.

View from Black Mountain

Black Mountain

It wasn’t the most exciting summit but it was my twentieth county highpoint in Colorado!

Black Mountain

We quickly headed down the mountain with it spitting rain but also with some pretty golden sunshine:

Black Mountain

We made it back to the car just before dark and then headed home for a shower. 🙂

Trailhead

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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Conejos Peak: Conejos County Highpoint

After our successful summit of Summit Peak earlier in the morning, I was in no hurry to get to the trailhead of Conejos Peak. From what I understood, it was a rough but not particularly difficult road to the trailhead so there was no reason to make it up there much before dark. I dallied in Platoro and had a hamburger for lunch at Skyline Lodge (sadly they make all their hamburgers well done…besides that the lodge atmosphere was great!).

Sprocket and I easily made our way up FS 105 followed by 3A to the trailhead. I went up the road in 2WD, 2nd gear. There was one spot on 3A where high clearance might be nice but totally not necessary. I was happy to have low range headed down hill but again, nice but not necessary.

When we reached the trailhead, I took a look at the sky and realized that although it was about 3pm, it looked relatively free of thunderstorms. The hike to Conejos doesn’t gain that much elevation so I figured that worst case scenario we’d get a preview of the next day’s hike and we set off down the trail

Conejos Peak trail

Sprocket on Tobacco Lake trail

The whole way up, I kept scanning the sky to the southwest to see if the storms were looking threatening. As you can see, there were puffy clouds to the northeast but nothing that said, “don’t summit!”

Tobacco Lake

Admittedly, after my experience on El Diente and my recent descent from Ice Lakes, I was cautious but felt confident about our quick bailout options down the basin so we continued upwards. I occasionally felt a little nervous but the clouds seemed to be getting dark over the ridgeline and then disappearing.

Conejos Peak

This was one of those hikes where my summit picture really was the start of my photo taking rather than the end since I was feeling so much better about not leading my unsuspecting pup into danger. It was all to no avail since Sprocket is anti-summit selfie:

Conejos PeakWe made great time back down the gentile summit ridge:

 

Conejos Peak Ridge

This hike really had one of the best grades to a 13er that I’ve experienced so far. The start was really gentile to get warmed up then it was fairly constant but awesome the whole rest of the way up:

Conejos Peak RidgeThere was a small part of me that worried about taking Sprocket on his second 6+ mile hike of the day but I had no reason to worry: with the cool temperatures, this pup was ready to hike allllllll dayyyy:

Sprocket below Conejos Peak

Back at the car, we slowly began descending to the Conejos River. There was a part of me that was sure that the rain was going to hit us any minute but it continued to hold off (for a few hours anyway… more on that tomorrow).

FS 105

Clearly, it was a good day:

Sprocket in Jeep

 

Last Dollar Road: Hastings Mesa

Saturday morning Sprocket and I headed out to get in a bit of an adventure before the snow blew in. (As it turns out, it held out until Sunday mid-day and then it hit but that’s a story for tomorrow.) We drove out to the end of winter maintenance on Last Dollar Road and headed out for a jaunt along the road. Last Dollar is fairly heavily used by snowmobiles so I didn’t even need to use my snowshoes as we ambled along the road, enjoying the view.

Sprocket on Last Dollar Road

Last Dollar Road is a fun place with views towards the Wilsons (and yes, I totally think, “I’ve climbed those!” when I look over there) and Lone Cone:

Wilson Group

And then you look on the western flanks of the Sneffles Range at North Pole Peak and it’s brethren:

Sneffels Range: North Pole Peak

Hastings Mesa panorama

Beth Summit Selfie

As we were heading back to the trailhead, it appeared clouds were gathering but it felt so good to be out wandering with Sprocket.
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Views Aspens, Last Dollar Road

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Local Exploration: Baldy Peak Summit

A couple of weeks ago, Sprocket and I went for a hike on the slopes of Baldy Peak. We didn’t reach the summit as a result of a late start and insufficient calorie consumption by the biped of the duo…

Baldy Peak from Ridgway:

Baldy Peak from Ridgway

As is usual for me, not reaching the summit only fueled my desire to get there especially since it is visible from town. Valentine’s Day morning, I asked a friend to drop me off at the end of County Road 14 and started the hike. Looking north, I could see dawn on Horsefly Peak and still twilight shrouded valley south of Ridgway.

Ridgway Valley in shadow

A lot of snow had melted between our attempt two weeks earlier and this one. There was no bare ground visible here last time:

Near Baldy Peak trailhead

Instead of sticking to the snowcovered trail, Sprocket and I forged a path upwards to the ridge through the scrub oak. I kept heading up and to the northeast and ended up with a route that was fairly direct.

Selfie on the slopes of Baldy Peak

Selfie with Sprocket

We paused for me to take off a layer and to watch the sunrise over the hill across the small drainage:

Sunrise over Corbett Creek

Once we attained the ridge we began working our way north towards Baldy. The ridge was snow covered in places and bare in others. I did a lot of taking my snowshoes off and putting them back on as we headed for the summit.

Sprocket looking at Baldy Peak

Sprocket on Baldy Peak

It was another beautiful bluebird day. I sat on the top and contemplated the mountains surrounding me and was pretty content.

Views from Baldy Peak

Sprocket and I headed off Baldy’s west ridge and began traversing north towards an abandoned road. There was a lot of bushwacking through deep snow—Sprocket was one tired puppy when we got done.

Snowshoes

Muddy equipment

The snow was really wet and as I walked down the escarpment towards Highway 550, I was soaked, muddy, and quite pleased with my hike.

Panorama from Baldy Peak

Gold Mountain: Kitsap County Highpoint

After two and a half straight days of eating, by the end of Christmas I was feeling fairly horrible and just wanted to get out and do something. Since I flew up here, I don’t have a car at my disposal. Never being one to give up on the idea of adventure, I decided to see if my cousin Daniel would be willing to go on a Boxing Day hike with me. He accepted and even agreed to be at my mom’s house at the early (for him) hour of 8:30am.

We had vaguely decided to hike Mount Si, near North Bend, but I did some quick perusing of the NOAA Snow Depth modeling maps and saw they were calling for 4-8″ for most of the hike. Since neither of us were particularly prepared for hiking I quickly started clicking through Peakbagger looking for a Plan B. County highpointing peakbagger that I am, I settled on Kitsap County’s Gold Mountain. At 1,761′, Gold Mountain was a lock for being snow free and away we went.

Winter Washington hiking

One of the issues with last minute plan changes is that it can be hard to navigate while talking to your driver and trying to preview the route all at the same time. We went 2.5 miles down the wrong trail. After already having done a 5 mile hike, I was so pleased that Daniel was willing to stay out in the damp weather to do the hike I’d actually intended for us to do.

Damp Washington hiking

The short steep section through the misty forest was probably my favorite thing of the hike. It was so quintessentially Washington.

Foggy Washington

A good chunk of the hike was actually on old logging roads, passing through clearcuts to a non-view from the summit. Despite the extra mileage and the anticlimactic view it was wonderful to get out and stretch my legs. Perhaps even more fun was hanging out with Daniel. We have a big enough age gap that this was the first time I’ve gotten to hang out one-on-one with adult Dan. It was a blast.

Summit Gold Mountain

After our 12-mile adventure, we were both starving and when we got back to Bremerton started looking for somewhere to grab a good non-fast food meal. We stumbled upon El Balcon, a tiny Mexican-Salvadorian restaurant. We both got their chipotle steak burritos—exactly what we needed!

El Balcon, Bremerton