| Long Tour de Half
September 23, 2011
~15.7 Miles, 6,900 Gain
Trailhead start: Base of Square Gulch off of Sherman Gulch Road (Hinsdale County 35?) Trailhead end: End of Sherman Gulch Road at Cuba Gulch Trailhead.
My wife and I made the familiar drive to Lake City on Thursday afternoon and set up camp in a fine camping spot at the base of Square Gulch. Since the forecast was calling for good weather I slept in and starting hiking from our camping spot around 7:15 AM. Cottonwood Creek was somewhat challenging to cross, not due to high water, but due to icy rocks. Once across Cottonwood Creek, I made my way up the steep slopes of Square Gulch staying on the northeast (left) side of the stream.
Sunset at Camp.
Sunrise on my way out of camp.
Looking up Square Gulch.
Uncharacteristic of 13ers, I found a decent trail that was cairned going up the left side of Square Gulch. The trail took me higher but eventually disappeared after bypassing a cliff that had a pretty waterfall. Around ~12,100, I headed further left to gain the grassy northwest slopes of “Quarter.” The slope was steep which gained elevation quickly. Climbing higher, I was serenaded by Elk bugling from a herd lower in Square Gulch.
Fall colors from higher in Square Gulch looking across towards Boulder Gulch.
First good view of “Quarter” from Square Gulch.
First good view of Half Peak from Square Gulch.
Eventually, the grassy slopes ended around ~13,100 and it was a stable talus climb to the north ridge. Once on the north ridge, just 100 below the summit, was a short loose class 2 section to the small summit of “Quarter” where I arrived 9:00 AM. Outstanding views of Handies and my next objective, Half Peak.
Looking down the southwest slopes of “Quarter” into Square Gulch.
Short North ridge on “Quarter”
Handies from “Quarter.”
Views to the northeast from “Quarter”
Reading several trip reports I knew that the ridge proper to Half wasn't a good option. I found an excellent alternative without too much talus hopping and elevation loss. I descend back down the north ridge to ~12,550 and then descended southeast to ~13,000 towards Cataract Gulch. The worst part was talus on this descent into Cataract Gulch. Once I reached ~13,000, there was some mild talus hopping, short lived, that bypassed the nasty ridge proper and an east facing cliff band from the southern false summit of “Quarter.”
East facing cliffs of the south false summit of “Quarter”
Looking back on “Quarter” on the east side traverse.
When viable, I headed up a talus slope directly south to ~13,200 which took me to the grassy south slopes of the southern false summit. From the south slopes, the hiking was easy to the “Quarter”-Half saddle. A small cliff band just prior to the saddle had to be bypassed to the east and at the top of this cliff band, I was startled to see a large herd of Elk up close and personal. The western traverse appeared to be longer with more talus hopping and more elevation loss.
Half Peak from the gentle south slopes of the south false summit of “Quarter”
Elk! Cliff band near the Half-”Quarter” saddle.
Continuing from the “Quarter”-Half saddle, I started up the grassy east slopes of Half. As the slopes became steeper, the grass disappeared and it became a somewhat blocky scramble. Staying on the north side of the east ridge appeared to be harder, so I traversed south into a gully system which had some very short sections of class 3 which took me to the broad summit plateau of Half. The climbing up this section was pretty fun.
Blocky climbing on the east ridge on Half.
Short Class 3 gully scrambling on Half.
After climbing the gully system, it was a short hike to the summit of Half where I arrived at 10:45 AM. I enjoyed a long break and started south towards 13,164. The bottle neck section was pretty fun but awfully short. I mostly stayed on the ridge proper occasionally following a trail on the west side of the ridge. Not too much exposure. Once past the bottle neck, it was a grassy descent down the south slopes to the Half-13,164 saddle.
“Quarter” from the summit of Half.
Vestal Basin and 13,164.
The bottle neck on Half's south ridge.
Looking back on Half.
Half from near the Half-13,164 saddle.
I climbed up the grassy east slopes of 13,164 staying a little south to bypass a cliff band just shy of the summit. Once intercepting the south slopes of 13,164 it was a short hike to the summit where I arrived at 11:40 AM. Great views of Half Peak.
Moving onward, I descended southwest from the 13,164 and then down towards the 13,164-12,990 saddle. At the saddle, I found a trail which took me around the south side of 12,990. I left this trail around 12,600 and headed directly for the summit where I arrived at 12:20 PM. I was anticipating these four peaks to take longer and wasn't originally planning on adding 13,069 but with good weather and a trail towards 13,069, it was hard to orphan this peak.
Half from 12,990.
13,164 from 12,990
Heading south from the summit of 12,990, I followed grassy slopes until I intercepted a trail on the southern end of Cuba Gulch. This trail was in excellent condition and I followed the trail as it bypassed point 13,041 on the west and headed into the eastern end of Minnie Gulch. I left the trail at ~12,640 and headed south across Minnie Gulch to a saddle just east of the summit of 13,069.
13,069 from the trail on the northeast end of Minnie Gulch.
Just prior to gaining the southeast ridge of 13,069, was a short loose talus section and once on the ridge, it was a class 2 hike to the summit where I arrived at 1:30 PM. Climbing 13,069 would have been a whole lot less effort from Maggie Gulch as I looked down on some parked vehicles below. I returned via a different gulch back into Minnie Gulch and headed back to the trail that took me back to Cuba Gulch.
This is where the fun began. Once back on the Southern end of Cuba Gulch, I found my marked turnoff and trail for Cuba Gulch. The trail didn't appear to be traveled very much. A few hundred yards later, the trail disappeared into a sea of willows. I didn't mind willows and I continued downward. At first they were only knee deep. As the willows grew taller, I headed to the western edge of Cuba Gulch and stayed high to avoid being sucked into the depths of the willows. I was ~200 feet above the base of Cuba Gulch and figured I needed to descend eventually into the valley. After all, there is a good trail marked on the topo.
I continued directly towards the stream since the topo clearly marks a trail next to the stream. To my disappointment there was no trail. The willows were taller 4-5 feet now. I was starting to mind the willows. The next mile sucked. Really sucked. I tried to cross the stream in an effort to find a trail but only found the wrath of 7 foot willows. It was a full on war. I f&*ing hate willows.
Getting worn out crawling, climbing and thrashing through the willows I found a small stream bed which was only 2-3 feet wide. A lucky but brief relief. I followed that small stream bed downward until it intercepted the main stream in Cuba Gulch. 7-8 foot willows or rock hopping in the stream? I took the rock hopping in the stream until I found a weakness in the willows on the west side of the stream. They were a little better as I continued downward.
2 miles later, scratched up and thoroughly reminded why I hate willows, I found the trail that descends the valley on the north side of 12,990. That trail was very welcomed as I followed it to the Cuba Gulch trailhead where I arrived at 4:30 PM. That trip takes the cake for the “Worst Willows of the Year.”
Old Truck near the base of Square Gulch and our camping spot.
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