| I Like The Chaffee County Girls Who Do
Are you gonna step into line like your Daddy done?
Punchin' the time, and climbing life's long ladder.
I was about three miles beyond Johnson Village last Friday night when the red and blue lights lit up my rearview mirror. The Man had clocked me at 74 in a 60. I gave him my license and registration and he flashlight-scanned the gear in my backseat.
The Man: Where are you headed?
Papillon: Mount Princeton trailhead.
The Man: Son, if Mount Princeton were a chick she'd be a 50-footer...
Papillon: I'm not climbing Princeton. I plan to head up Baldwin Gulch in the morning.
The Man: Baldwin Gulch? Son, if Mount Antero were a chick she'd be nothing better than a backup for your right hand...
Papillon (grinning): I'm not climbing Antero either. I want to hit Boulder and run the ridge to Mamma and then try to pick up the road near Baldwin Lake. Should be a great day in the hills if all goes well.
The Man: Shoot, I need both of those peaks to complete the Saint Elmo quad. Any chance you can drop me a conditions report when you get back?
No citation but he gives me his card. Nice guy.
Fifteen minutes later I pull into the Mount Princeton trailhead only to find it completely full. No BS. There are easily 150 cars and the place looks like a dealership. I don't know if there’s a wedding or a spaghetti dinner fundraiser taking place at Young Life or what. Maybe J.C. himself is in town?
So we continue up CR 162 and swing into the Agnes Vaille Falls TH. This will be night #33 in the back of my car since June 4. Yeah, I've got problems.
As fall has crept toward winter, the luster of car camping has faded. Howling winds and chilly backseat interiors. Frozen digits and shivery wee-hour pisses. Locked gates under frosted billion-star skies.
Wooderson and I have since resorted to "parking". This entails sitting in the front seat with the heater going every fifteen minutes or so and the windows cracked so we don't asphyxiate on the Oskar Blues. We spin digital iPod records and talk about things like the rise and fall of MTV, the art of gaperdom and what it would be like to live in the San Juans – all under the watchful eye of a dark boogeyman night.
At 8:20 A.M. the next morning, we are standing at the base of CR 277, aka Baldwin Gulch Road. I see ankle-deep snow and dedicated tire tracks. We don't even think about bringing flotation. After 30 minutes or so, we hit the spur for CR 279 and jump on it. The shelf road zigs and zags for five or six miles all the way up to a mine at 13,000 feet. We will see nothing but elk prints the rest of the way.
Around 11,600 feet, the road swings way to the left. I look to my right and see a window of opportunity – 1500 feet of snowy grass and cocktail ice talus. Continuing on the road looks long and serpentine so we begin a stiff and tiring ascent to the mining remnants on the skyline above.
We finally reach the ridge and the wind pounces. We turn left and lumber up the final 300 feet of Boulder Mountain. Numb class 2. There are jenga-shaped cairns on top but no summit register in sight. I take in the ridge to Mamma and let my guard down for a split-second. What transpires next is your textbook crash and burn. A trainwreck at 13,528 feet. Both trekking poles go javelin and one almost takes out my girl. I land hard on my side.
Wooderson: Dude, get your sh-- together!
Papillon: You think I want to actually bivy up here with my hip in three pieces?
We don't linger long. The ridge to Mamma runs 1.56 miles and undulates a few times en route. While I don't think it will take too much time, I’m not sure about the trail-less deproach to Baldwin Creek. The valley floor 2,000 feet below my left shoulder looks tame but I don’t relish the idea of navigating it in the dark.
There is nothing difficult about the ridge traverse, but snow deposits here and there make it somewhat taxing terrain. There is one spot where the wind has loaded a bit of snow and I wonder if this stretch may pose problems for travelers in the next few months.
I pulverize my shin between two rocks a few moments later and feel a kiwi-sized knot begin to form. I say many bad things but such is life on the shoulder season circuit.
We top out on Mount Mamma and devour string cheese and margherita pepperoni. I check the time and realize it is a long friggin' way to treeline. I take several quick photos, choose my line and begin the descent.
The rocks are wobbly and slick and the snow is no help at all. The wind really picks up and I've got the watery eyes and snotty cheek thing going on. It’ll be a miracle if I don't break my neck here.
Down. Down. Down. I encounter knee-deep snow in stretches as the wind goes 360 degrees. A f--- you panorama if there ever was one.
We get to within the vicinity of Baldwin Lake but I can't locate the road. It has to be somewhere. We press on until we’re faced with 100 yards of the thickest and nastiest willows I’ve ever encountered. Cue Jungle Boogie by Kool & The Gang. The bashing is futile and I wonder if we'll ever make it out. Tiny creeklets appear here and there, soaking our boots, amplifying the frustration. I stumble and almost get turned into a popsicle. Grope City baby. Somewhere along the way I lose my Outdoor Research mitts...
But everything worked out in the end. Locating the road. The creek crossing. The two-track cadence and the parking lot Modus. Not to mention the post-climb feast. A 12-inch steak hoagie and fries is just what the doctor ordered after nine hours, 13.5 miles, 4900 vert, and a Sawatch double.
CR 277 aka Baldwin Gulch Road
CR 279 entrance
The shelf road
Numb class 2
The summit of Boulder Mountain
The ridge run
A closer look
Looking back at Boulder Mountain
Mount Mamma finish
Down. Down. Down.
Exit... Stage Left
The creek crossing
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):