| Continental Divide delight – Berthoud Pass to St. Mary’s Glacier TH
Bob (BobbyFinn) and I had not been in the mountains for about 3 weeks so we were looking for something that would keep us at high elevation for a good distance to get back into altitude readiness. We had been eyeing the Colorado Mines Peak, Mt. Flora, Mt. Eva, Parry Peak, Mt. Bancroft, and James Peak combination awaiting a good opportunity which came on Saturday with a good weather forecast. We also utilized a two-car scheme to have one parked at Berthoud Pass TH and the other at the St. Mary’s Glacier TH to make it a one-way, albeit long, hike.
From the Berthoud Pass parking lot, we started off on the Continental Divide Trail, which quickly merged with the access road. We veered off the road and headed east to hike straight up towards the top of the Colorado Mines Pk (12,493 feet) along a line of telephone poles. We left the road just after a sign for the trail that heads directly to Mt Flora. A pretty quick and uneventful hike up let my lungs know that I was above 12,000 feet… Most of the hike will stay above 12,000 feet, which was exactly what the doctor ordered. From the summit of Colorado Mines Pk, an easy and mostly grassy slope descent would catch us up with the standard, very defined trail to Mt. Flora which skirts the Colorado Mines Peak to its north. On top (13,132 feet), we took a short break to rehydrate as the rest of our route came to view.
Mt. Flora, with the remaining route in view(photo- Bob)
Time to get going. We found the descent from Mt. Flora steep but on a mostly grassy slope. There was a little bit of snow to the right of the hiker’s trail on which Bob wanted to try glissading (no sense bringing an ice axe if he wasn’t going to use it, right?). It was no go for long, however. He didn’t like the feel of the snow and had trouble controlling his speed. So he left the snow and walked the rest of the way. We continued on, glad that we do not have to come back that way.
Looking back at the descent from Mt. Flora.
Looking back at the descent from Mt. Flora
After gaining the saddle between Mt. Flora and Mt. Eva, at about 12,500 feet, we were rewarded with some fabulous views. We could even see Mt. of the Holy Cross in the distance with its distinctive snow-covered namesake.
Mt. of the Holy Cross
After regaining just over 600 ft of elevation, we reached the summit of Mt. Eva (13,130 feet). There is a fallen telecom tower, old building, and old cables all around the summit - so much for LNT. We did not spend much time on the summit as the next goal, Parry Pk, being the highest of all peaks on the agenda for today, loomed ahead. We needed to drop about 400 feet and regain over 600 feet, again mostly on a grassy slope, to gain the summit of Parry Pk (13,391 feet).
Looking back at the descent from Mt. Eva with the building on the right side, a little below the summit.
Mt. Bancroft ahead.
A quick stroll to unranked Mt. Bancroft (13,250 feet) was pretty uneventful. We sat on the summit for a little while enjoying the views, appreciating living in this wonderful state and being able to enjoy its natural beauty first hand. We passed a couple of hikers on our way down as they were coming up from the standard route. It was our first human encounter since leaving the Berthoud Pass this morning. After getting down a bit, we looked at our next, and probably the biggest, “obstacle” of today. The ridge between Mt. Bancroft and James Pk. looked rugged from a short distance. While Bob hiked this ridge in the opposite direction back in June, he had a lot more snow to deal with that made this snow-free ridge unrecognizable and looking more difficult.
To get to the ridge, we descended off Mt. Bancroft toward the point just to the east. We hiked south of the point and continued for 30 or so yards to find a route down. However, it would likely have been less steep maybe 50 or so yards further east.
The first scramble opportunities were pretty straightforward as we went middle-to-slightly left of the “towers.” The rock was pretty solid and the exposure was minimal. Occasionally, there was a cairn or two but they were easy to lose in the pile of rock rubble.
There is a point in the above photo where to go forward would be to scramble on downward sloping slabs or we could have scrambled to the right to easier terrain. We chose the option to the right.
The next section seemed a bit tricky at first as attempting staying on ridge proper required some “interesting” moves.
This ridge would likely go as difficult as you'd like it to. We chose one path, but you probably could have kept it to class 2+/easy class 3 like we did, gone full class 3, or made it class 4 if you wanted.
We decided to skirt a bit to the right, following the grassy-ledge section and then go straight up to reach the ridge proper.
Staying low on the ledge, but not dropping any lower, on the grass section would accomplish the same result.
Looking back at the ridge & Mt. Bancroft
Eventually we ended up staring at the rocky section leading to the west side of the ridge. Cairns appear here but the route is pretty obvious. Talus and boulder hoping, some loose, would get us to the plateau with today’s final summit in view.
The talus slope:
And the final summit pitch:
I took the snow-free route to the left on the ridge proper and Bob decided to break out his ice axe again and go up the middle part with the least amount of snow. He thought that would be faster. I checked out the rest of the trip to the top while I waited for him to finish his “faster” route…
Being pretty popular, James Pk was buzzing with people and more were coming up. After spending about 15 minutes on the summit, we started our descent via the standard route to St. Mary’s Glacier TH. While the trail seems over-cairned, it seemed to lead off in the wrong direction as we needed to leave the trail and cut through some low willows to get back on track. There is a left turn on the trail that might have kept us in the middle of the plateau and heading to the prominent rock outcropping. We saw others, presumably who came up the standard route, veering off the trail as well to go back towards the glacier once they realized they were heading the wrong way. At least we weren't the only ones...
We were able to glissade 2/3 down the glacier. Sweet! We even saw a skier getting some nice turns. We also saw a few sledders without anything to stop their sleds, other than the rocks at the bottom, but that’s a different story… As expected, the lake was crowded with many enjoying a fine Saturday afternoon. After about 11 miles and 4,300-4,500 feet of elevation gain, we welcomed the sight of our car that we dropped off that morning. Not too shabby for a “training” hike.
Another great day in the mountains with my great partner and companion. Can’t beat that!
Some people have a pie after their hikes. I just had a beer
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):