| Storming the Citadel
13,294 Feet (406th Highest in Colorado)
East Ridge from the Herman Gulch Trailhead
Class 3 (west summit), Class 3+ (east summit)
12,705 Feet (855th Highest in Colorado)
Trailhead Elevation 10,260 Feet
8.8 Miles Roundtrip
Approximately 4,700 Feet Elevation Gained
June 23rd, 2012
Greenhouseguy (Brian) and SenadR (Sen)
Storming the Citadel
“The Citadel” is a ranked but unofficially-named thirteener on the Continental Divide near the Eisenhower Tunnel. Its jagged twin summits are defended by rugged ridges to the north and south on a particularly rough stretch of the Divide. Since the overwhelming majority of this mountain’s neighbors are easy Class 2 walk-ups with rounded summits, its surly attitude makes it stand out in the crowd. “The Citadel” is commonly hiked from two different trailheads and in combination with three other mountains, so a hiker can tailor the experience to suit his interests and abilities.
”The Citadel" viewed from the basin below. Only the mountain’s east summit can be seen in this image
GPS track of “The Citadel”/Mt. Bethel combo
While many people choose to hike “The Citadel” from Dry Gulch, I opted to start our hike from the Herman Gulch Trailhead. It was primarily a matter of familiarity – I had previously hiked Pettingell Peak, “Hassell Peak,” Woods Mountain, and Parnassus Peak from this trailhead. Herman Gulch is known as a centennial wildflower hike, meaning that more than 100 types of wildflowers can be found blooming along the trail during peak season. The wildflower bonanza started at the parking lot and continued throughout the hike. The foothills, alpine, and wetlands wildflowers were in near-peak form.
Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea)
The Herman Gulch Trail sees extremely heavy use, which may be a factor in choosing between this trailhead and the Dry Gulch trailhead. The payoff for the Herman Gulch Trail is Herman Lake; this beautiful alpine lake sits in the shadow of Pettingell Peak at 11,995 feet. However, for the purposes of climbing “The Citadel,” it is best to avoid hiking all the way to Herman Lake. Hiking down into the basin between Herman Lake and the saddle between Mt. Bethel and “The Citadel” adds several hundred feet of elevation gain to the hike. It’s best to take one of several spur trails that lead to the creek that drains the basin. There are no real trails in the drainage, but the creek leads directly to the saddle on “The Citadel’s” east ridge.
Sen on the lower part of the Herman Gulch Trail
At about 2.4 miles (just before the Jones Pass Trail junction), we reached a spur trail that led down to the creek. The trail ended at a nice camp site beside the creek, so we crossed the creek and started our bushwhack to the Mt. Bethel/”The Citadel” saddle.
Sen starting down the spur trail towards the creek
The lush green drainage may be a little too moist in the early spring, but we were able to keep our feet dry on the bushwhack. The creek was scenic, and the wetlands wildflowers were beautiful.
Tumbling waters with “The Citadel” in the background
Bushwhacking up the drainage
When we reached the basin, it was easy to see a trail that led to the saddle between “The Citadel” and an unranked 12,000+-foot bump on the ridge that leads to Mt. Bethel. The trail was steep near the top, but the footing was firm and relatively free from scree.
The saddle on “The Citadel’s” east ridge
Once we reached the ridge, the easy introduction to the hike was over. It was time to hydrate, slap on some sunscreen, and get down to business. Sen chose to stick to the ridge, while I chose to bear to the left and sidehill towards the summit cone, which was not yet in view.
”The Citadel’s” rocky, bumpy east ridge
My journey on the side of the ridge led me across some steep, sketchy gullies filled with loose rock and scree. Sen encountered relatively few problems by sticking to the ridge.
Sidehilling on “The Citadel’s” east ridge
Some sort of fritillary on an Old Man of the Mountain (Hymenoxys grandiflora) growing on the side of the east ridge
Sen arrived at the base of the east summit moments before I got there; I believe that his ridge route might have saved a few minutes, though he probably had to gain a little more altitude than I did. The sheer cliffs at the base of the east summit were intimidating, but they displayed a few weaknesses that would allow them to be climbed if one were so inclined. The standard route leads up a steep Class 3 gully between the east summit and the slightly-higher west summit.
”The Citadel’s” east and west summits
We stowed our trekking poles, put on our helmets, and prepared for the more difficult part of the hike. It turned out to be much easier than it looked.
Working our way toward the mouth of the gully
The gully was filled with junky rocks, but it provided some fun scrambling.
Sen scrambling higher up in the gully
Sen followed the gully all the way to the top, but I took a well-worn exit to the left about halfway up the gully. According to Sen, my route was the easier of the two. We chose this route for our descent.
Greenhouseguy (me) taking the exit out of the gully (image by SenadR)
The scramble to the west summit was relatively easy with little exposure. This was undoubtedly the most entertaining part of the hike.
Sen near the west summit
There’s only room for one on “The Citadel’s” cozy west summit. There is a small ledge in front of the summit boulder with a drop of perhaps a hundred feet down to the gully below. There is a sheer drop of several hundred feet on the west side of the summit boulder. It was a comfortable place to sit, but it was no place for acrobatics.
Greenhouseguy on the west summit (image by SenadR
The two summits are close enough that people on opposite summits can easily carry on a conversation. The east summit is steep, gnarly, and has interesting striations in its rock. It requires at least one Class 3+ (some say Class 4) move to get to the top.
”The Citadel’s east summit, with Mt. Bethel and the connecting ridge directly behind it
We descended back to the gully to start our ascent of the east summit. The first move out of the gully is the crux move; it’s a simple scramble to the top once you’re out of the gully.
Sen making a Class 4 move to get out of the gully. I found an easier Class 3+ notch behind the rock about 10 feet to climber’s left
The east summit was steep, but at least there was enough room on the top to take a decent break. The view of the picturesque west summit was captivating.
”The Citadel’s” west summit, viewed from the east summit
Our descent of the gully was nearly as exhausting as the ascent. I found it easier to stick to the left side so I could use the wall for balance. Once we were out of the gully, we used Sen’s ridge route to descend to the saddle. Along the way, we saw three mountain goats far below us that appeared to have been sleeping.
Looking down the gully on our descent
Descending the ridge to the saddle, with Mt. Bethel in the background
The ridge run over to Mt. Bethel was a fun tundra hike, all over 12,000 feet. The distance from the saddle to the summit is 1.4 miles in a straight line, but we hiked a bit farther on the curved, undulating ridge. We were fortunate to have had good weather, but it would have been easy to bail off of either side if there had been any lightning danger.
Undulating terrain on Mt. Bethel’s west ridge
Losing altitude on the ridge
The final approach to Mt. Bethel’s steep northwest slope
When we finally reached the saddle on Mt. Bethel’s northwest side, I noticed that there were trails leading down the northeast side towards Herman Gulch and on the southwest side leading towards Dry Gulch. Mt. Bethel could be a relatively easy bonus summit regardless of which trailhead one chooses. Fortunately, there is also a trail that winds through the steep talus towards the summit. Very little boulder-hopping is required.
The saddle on Mt. Bethel’s northwest side
Sen following the trail towards Mt. Bethel’s summit
Mt. Bethel has a short summit ridge topped by a pile of rocks with protruding metal poles. The south slope descends precipitously towards I-70; this is the conspicuous slope that has two snow fences on it to prevent avalanches from dumping on the interstate below. All of Dry Gulch and most of Herman Gulch are visible from the summit. We could also look back on the ridge towards “The Citadel.”
Sen approaching Mt. Bethel’s summit
Looking over the ridge towards “The Citadel’s” rocky summit (zoomed and cropped), with Hagar Mountain visible to the left
After a long day, we had struggled to gain the last 400 feet on Mt. Bethel. In contrast, it seemed like we practically ran back to the saddle. We took the trail from the saddle towards Herman Gulch, but it faded out after a few hundred yards. The trail wasn’t really necessary, though; it was simple enough to navigate the terrain back to the main trail.
Heading back down the gully towards the Herman Gulch Trail
“The Citadel” offers hikers a varied palette of hiking opportunities. One can start from either of two popular trailheads, follow the trail or bushwhack, and combine the summit with Class 2 (Mt. Bethel), 3+ (Hagar Mountain), or 5.4 (Pettingell Peak) hikes to adjacent peaks. Regardless of your choice, this is one of the best scrambles within a short drive of Denver.
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