Last week I wrote a trip report that mentioned the Comanche/Venable Loop. Part of the loop is hiking across Phantom Terrace Cliff. Saturday we decided to hike the loop starting on the Venable side. We started around 6:20 a.m. The weather was supposed to be sunny with winds up to 15 miles an hour. This was good! Venable trailhead starts .5 miles from the parking lot. You have to hike the .5 miles on the Rainbow Trail. The Rainbow Trail was pretty rocky. Once on the Venable Trail the path was pretty smooth with just a few rocks here and there sticking up out of the ground. In the beginning you climb very little vertical. The majority of vertical is climbed near the terrace. About two or so miles up the trail is a sign for Venable Falls. I tried to catch a good picture of the falls but was not successful. It was just too dark. The sun needs to be over top. I could see that ice was started to build on the rocks.
On we went until we reached a sunny area where an old house stands. The area around the house is so nice. The ground was dry and warm, mountains all around some covered with snow.
It is here that we decide to take a break. Paul put up a makeshift tent using his trekking poles. Not bad! We rested a bit and then headed for the terrace.
Trail right before the lakes.
The switchbacks up the mountain had patches of snow on them. You could tell that the snow had melted and thawed a few times. There were a lot of icy patches. It was here that we met the young man who had turned around while trying to cross the terrace. He stated that he attempted to cross the terrace but did not feel comfortable about it. We asked him if he had any crampons. He said no. We hoped that the reason he did not cross was because he did have trekking poles or crampons.
Pano of the area around the lakes.
We finally reached the lakes one lake had stated to freeze over. Once we passed the lakes the trail was defined for only a short distance. We lost the trail once we started to climb up to the same level as the terrace.
Here is where we lost the trail. The swichbacks should have started here.
It appeared that you hike a short distance north toward the mountain that stands behind the lakes and then south. However, after hiking for a while, we still could not find the trail. The trail must lie under the snow. On the way down we decided that the trail must go up near the south edge of the mountain. You will find that the trail to the terrace is about half way up the mountain. This is where it gets tough.
Frozen water fall a little bit below the cliff trail.
Trail leading to the cliff.
The Phantom Terrace was packed with snow. We could see that a few hikers had attempted to cross the terrace. However, from where we were we could not see if they had made it across. The snow on the north side of the cliff had melted a bit making it easy to stomp a foot hold in. The snow was a foot or two deep, moist and sticky. Your foot only slid a bit. The further south you walked the snow turned to a light powder probably because the mountain shields it from the sun. It was very slick. If you placed your foot incorrectly, it would slide.
Tarrace cliff in the summer.
North side of the terrace cliff.
The cliff has a couple of dangerous areas where the trail is only about two feet wide and at a slant. With the snow covering the trail, you could not tell if you were stepping off the cliff, into thin air, or on the trail. I jabbed my trekking pole into the snow and could not find earth. Talk about fear! It took everything I had to muster up the nerve to take another step. Finally, I said to my partner, I do not want to go any further. One wrong step and I could free fall down the cliff. Not thinking, I had not thought about how I was going to change directions. I grabbed the rock and hung on tight. I looked like a cat that had lunged off the couch and grabbed the middle of the curtains clinging on for life. I snapped one picture.
South side of the tarrace cliff in the summer.
South side of the tarrace cliff.
Then the thought hit! I have to go down! I forgot that going down would be harder than going up. Talk about scary! Don’t look down! One step at a time! Don’t look down! Remember moist and sticky. Not! More like steep and slick. I was really surprised to find that the snow on the cliff was different from one side to the other. While crossing the cliff, I looked down and saw the hand prints from the young man who had attempted to cross the cliff earlier. He left little holes in the snow where his fingers were. He did not go very far. Based on the foot prints it was apparent that no one had crossed the terrace in a long time. Is this how it happens? Death! One step and it’s over! I thought about that all the way down. I had pushed myself further than I had ever done before. I still get butterflies thinking about it. We made our way down to the house. Again we stopped and rested. The snow and ice patches on the trail became slippery. We even post holed a few times. The trip turned out to be around 12 miles round trip. What a day! If you decide to hike the loop, please be careful….