Est. Mileage: 8.5
Est. Gain: 5600'
Approx Time: 10.5 Hours.
This is only my second trip report and I am still learning the trade...I would like to thank a good friend of mine for reminding me how much beta I get from other TR's and how I might "give back" by putting a TR up every now and again
Matt and I had been trying to get out on some Centennials for some time and we finally had a day that worked for both of us. The plan was to attempt French Mountain from the N Halfmoon trail head at which point Matt would return to the car and I would traverse the ridge to Hwy 82 where he would pick me up. This plan worked great as I did not have to return over the ridge (this would have been insanely long) and since Matt had the other ranked peaks on the ridge, he was more than fine with my plan.
We were able to drive pretty far and parked just before the turnoff (I believe it is FR 702, but I am not certain so don't take my word for it!!!!) and began hiking at 5:58am. The dry road quickly turned into pain in the butt snow as we made our way up. As we ascended, French mountain was on our right. After maybe a mile or so, I spotted a relatively snow free way to cross the lowest part of the basin and begin our ascent up the ridge.
The creek crossing early in the morning
Matt early in the morning on the road
There was some low angle snow (not in great shape, but climbable) that went right up the middle, but for whatever reason, neither of us were feeling much like snow (perhaps the combination of trail runners and no gaiters had something to do with it for me )
The snow on French can be seen and this was likely the easiest option to gain the ridge proper
We both chose to climb up on some fun rock faces to gain the next part of the route. This climbing was not necessary for the route, but I would say it was easy class 3 (if not 2+). Once on top, you are greeted to a great view of the remaining route.
Part way up the "3rd Class" low on French's ridge
The upper ridge of French Mtn comes into view
The route is very straight forward from here, though there is a lot of snow...surely a lot more than winter and you should be prepared for some post holing on the ridge and some minor scramble moves to avoid loose rock/wet snow combos.
Matt heading up the final portion of French
We topped out on French Mountain just before 10am. Ascent time: 4 hours.
Summit of French Mountain
At this point Matt turned around and took an easier descent route back to the car. I believe he arrived at the car around 1230pm…6.5 hours after we had started up.
The weather was beautiful despite some wind and I was looking forward to a solo high traverse. I knew from discussions with Matt (and Roach’s 13er book) that the crux of the next part would be the descent off of Frasco BM (loose rock) and also a minor “narrow section” would be found between Casco and “Lackawanna.” I decided to set time goals for myself. Casco Pk – 12pm and “Luckawanna” – 2pm. This would allow me 2 hours for each traverse.
A look back at French from just below the summit of Frasco
I made quick work of the descent off of French and found myself on the saddle in less than 10 minutes…a bit of 2+ snowy scrambling put me on top of Frasco BM with 1.5 hours left to go to meet my Casco Peak time goal. Looking down at the ridge, it was clear that I would have the easiest time if I simply stayed on the ridge crest. There was loose rock abound mixed in with slushy snow and the slopes were steep. While skirting the difficulties might be “easier,” I felt much more comfortable staying high on solid rock. There was never any real exposure and the moves were easy class 3 at their hardest. It took about an hour, but I made it to the Casco-Frasco saddle feeling pretty pleased with my progress.
On one of the tougher parts of the ridge crest, descending Frasco
The trip up Casco was about 600’ gain and the rock was more solid. Some parts were really steep and again due to the way the snow and the slopes were, I often found myself trying to scramble on whatever solid rock I could find. As you approach the summit of Casco there is some dramatic exposure on climber’s right (but you can stay well away from it if you so choose).
I am not sure if I just went the wrong way, but the final approach to Casco was solid Class 3, reminiscent of the Homestretch on Longs. I found this to be very enjoyable, but I wonder if there was an easier way.
Some of the toughest sustained climbing of the day - just below the awesome summit of Casco
Another look at the Casco Crux
I topped out on Casco Peak shortly after noon. Half the day done, but still at least 2 miles and over 1k gain to go before I gained my final summit of the day.
"Lackawanna" seen in the distance. Much of the 2 mile traverse can be seen.
The traverse looks long. You can see lots of different terrain. I won’t lie, it was a bit intimidating. “How will I ever be there by 2pm” I thought. I also noticed some dramatic cliffs on the side of the traverse that I could see and wondered what the other side looked like (knowing that the route should only ever be 2+ at worst). Once again I stayed on the ridge crest and made my way towards the saddle. The going was slow, but steady and the climbing was enjoyable. There was enough “exposure” to remind you that you were high on a ridge, but not enough to really cause any concern. There were a few times where staying high on the ridge meant a tricky downclimb and I may have made some Class 4/Low 5th downlcimbs, the toughest of which being about 10 ft.
A tough 10ft downlcimb descending Casco's ridge
A close up view of some of the cliffs on the way to "Luckawanna"
As I made my way up from the saddle the cliffs were in the back of my mind. They were dramatic and the snow caused me to stay high, but as is usually the case, the exposure was not as bad as I had expected and this part was some of the best hiking/scrambling/whatever-you-call-it-with-snow that I did all day. When I did get to the “narrow section” I was a bit surprised as there were slabs running down on climbers right for 100+ ft and I had not seen many features like this in the Sawatch (no pictures unfortunately) but as expected, it was not really “narrow” and there was no reason to even look over the edge (unless you wanted to).
Looking back at my footsteps on the lowest part of the Casco - "Luckawanna" traverse
"That's going to be fun!!"
I continued to move upwards, executed a 20-30ft 2+ climb to gain the saddle between “Lackawanna” and some unnamed, unranked 13er and headed up the remaining 400+ft to the summit. I reached it shortly before 230pm and was pleased to have almost hit my time goal.
Frasco (right) and Casco (left)
The final approach to "Lackawanna." Finally!! Some easy terrain
The descent was a pain and some miscommunication with my partner meant I did a lot more work than was needed to get down…I stumbled onto Hwy 82 at 430pm and after walking another 1.5 miles I met up with Matt and we headed home (A HUGE thank you to the biker that helped us meet up).
Casco, Frasco and French show their beauty
All in all this was an incredible day. I highly recommend this route. 8)