| Mt. Princeton Trail Review - East Slopes
There exist two trailheads for this peak. To reach the lower trailhead from Buena Vista, head west on County Road 306/Main Street for 0.7 miles. Turn left on County Road 321/Rodeo Road, where you'll head south for 7.2 miles. On this road, you'll have a stunning view of Mt. Princeton! Turn right onto County Road 322 at a large sign for a ranch. After 0.8 miles, you'll hit the dirt parking lot of the lower trailhead at 8,900 feet in elevation.
Once you reach this lot, you can continue on to the radio towers if you have a 4WD high-clearance vehicle; otherwise, you won't have a chance on the narrow Mt. Princeton Road. From the lower trailhead, drive about 3 miles up the narrow Mt. Princeton Road to the radio towers, situated at 10,800 feet. This road is quite rocky and bumpy due to wash out, so be cautious. The temperature gauge on our 2011 Jeep Liberty flashed on during this ascent, so we decided to park here rather than continue on to the upper trailhead.
Once at the radio towers, we stretched our legs and started our hike! The smoke in the air from the New Mexico fires created beautiful colors during the sunrise, which had just started when we began our hike at 6:05 am. We hiked approximately 1.5 miles on the 4WD road to the upper trailhead, traversing a few switchbacks. This will take you to approximately 11,200 feet and above treeline. Tire tracks made the road smooth and easy to hike. On this road, you'll see some very beautiful views of Mt. Princeton to the northwest, and the expansive valley to the east.
This road continues to the Lucky Mine. However, the Mt. Princeton Trail veers off this road to the west. A large cairn and a staircase mark this point, which lies at about 11,700 feet. More excellent views to the east exist at this point. This is a great time to take in the views and drink some water, for the remaining trail is much longer than it at first appears.
After climbing the stairs, traverse the dirt trail through low-lying plants. This will take you to 11,900 feet, and Mt. Princeton remains in full view for the remainder of the hike. During our climb (I went with Monika, my oldest and closest 14er buddy), the skies remained crystal blue. We faced only mild winds and pleasant temperatures.
At this point, the summit is only 1.5 miles away. However, crossing the north face of Unnamed Peak 13,273' is hard work, as the trail is mostly talus from this point onward. The trail crosses five gullies across this peak. One minor patch of snow was present, but we easily climbed around it. The trail disappears often throughout this segment of the trail due to rock slides, but the path forward is obvious. There is not much elevation gain during this portion of the trail.
After crossing these gullies, turn left and continue climbing the southern portion of Mt. Princeton's east slopes. This section of trail becomes much steeper and climbs to the saddle between Unnamed Peak and Mt. Princeton, ending at 13,100 feet. The views from the saddle are spectacular! This is definitely a good time to snap a few photos, as you'll have a magnificent view of Mt. Antero to the south.
At this point, turn right and hike the ridge to the summit. This entire section of trail is mostly talus interspersed with a few segments of dirt trail, and proves to be challenging. Monika and I both started feeling the elevation here. However, more stunning views capture attention as you traverse the ridge. While hiking the ridge, the clouds began to thicken and turn gray, a sure sign that storms were rapidly approaching. I continued on to the summit, as I only had about 150 feet to gain at this point. This is mostly a scramble to the top.
The summit views were quite remarkable from this peak! To the south, Mt. Antero looms amidst several surrounding 13ers. Mt. Yale stands proudly to the north, and Pikes Peak is a shadow to the east. Many 14ers can be identified from this summit. Unnamed Peak is also clear, which enables you to track much of the route back down. The gray clouds dispersed overhead to the south and north of this peak, which was quite a strange phenomenon to see! The summit was a bit breezy and quite chilly!
I somehow managed to follow the old Mt. Princeton Trail on the descent, which made for some difficulties. After descending about 1800 feet, the talus was starting to cause blisters. I had only one nasty slide on the descent, which resulted in a gash in my hand and torn pants.
Monika and I were quite thankful to traverse Unnamed Peak and reach dirt trail once more! The Chalk Cliffs were clearly visible from this vantage point. On the steps, we ate some food and prepared for our journey back to the radio towers. However, a lovely couple in a marroon Jeep offered us a ride back down to the radio towers, which we were happy to accept!
As with all other 14ers, the UV Index is quite high, especially above treeline, so bringing sunscreen and SPF lip balm is a good idea. Also be sure to bring at least 32 ounces of water and some snacks to munch throughout the trail. Wear longer pants and bring some warmer clothes for the summit, as it gets pretty chilly up high!
I do not recommend this as a first 14er due to the sheer amount of talus; indeed, most of this trail from the upper trailhead to the summit is talus, which could be difficult for a beginner to hike. This is a Class 2 climb with mild exposure close to the route, which is easily avoidable. This is the 20th highest peak in Colorado.
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