| Sawatch 13er Mini Golf: Dodging the Monsoon
Mt Princeton and Mt Antero being engulfed by low lying clouds
Day 1 (Fri): Gladstone Ridge
Elevation Gain: 3,363'
Trailhead: Denny Creek
With the weather forecasting 50-60% chance of storms and the monsoon starting to hit hard, I was looking to do some short easy hikes, to get those peaks that didn't fit into nice elegant and efficient loops. So with the Emma Burr to Jones loop planned for later, Gladstone Ridge sat by itself, a short day.
So I drove up Thursday night, and camped at the Denny Creek Trailhead. Alarm went off at 4:30 and I was walking at 5:15, looking for a good access point that avoids the mining property across the street from the trailhead. From there it was a bit of a slog to get above treeline, and up onto the ridge that would gain access to the peak.
Ridge to Gladstone Ridge, peak to right
Soon as I had a view of the surrounding peaks, I could tell that the thunderstorm that sat over the northern Sawatch last night, had left some residual moisture, as there was plenty of low lying fog, whisping around the peaks to the north of me. The Crested Butte valley was also in the clouds. To the south of me, there wasn't anything, yet.
It was an easy stroll on the upper ridges to the summit, and from there I commanded a nice view of the surrounding peaks that I've done, or wish to do. Even with a summit at 8:30am, I knew there was only a few hours left before the rains started. Some areas looked like they might get rained on sooner than others. This is where I decided to change plans for the next day. I didn't want a committing ridge, as there was no guarantee of no storms before noon. Since rain on a high rocky ridge could be bad. So instead of going over Cottonwod Pass to one group of 13ers, I decided to go down to Tincup Pass, where at least I had better bail options.
Emma Burr Loop
The foggy northern Sawatch
Clouds whisping around the 3 Apostles
So after sinking in all the beta I could for the other 13ers in the area, I headed down the ridge and was back at my truck by 11:30, the clouds above me already looking quite ominous. Restocked in BV and headed up the long dusty road to Tincup Pass. It was time for dinner and an evening of catching up on my reading.
Mt Yale and Harvard with the clouds starting to build at 9am
Mt Yale with an old mining building
Day 2 (Sat): Tincup Peak & Pt 13,050
Elevation Gain: 2,624'
Tailhead: Tincup Pass (Sawmill Hill)
It rained all night long. So that when my alarm went off at 4:30, I had to wonder if I needed to dig out my emergency rain pants from the back of my truck. As I got ready the rain ceased, and I decided that I would forgo the rain pants. They were heavy and not really meant for hiking - I would live to regret this "weight" decision later on.
So at 5:30 I was heading up the road to the pass. I decided against driving up the remaining 300' as I was eying a loop that I didn't necessarily want to go back up to the pass from Fitzpatrick Peak. At this point, I also didn't know about all the hidden class 1 trails in the area, or that it would start raining on me very early in the day.
As soon as it started to get light out, I could tell that I would be contending with plenty of fog and low clouds for the morning and into the rest of the day. It certainly made the area look very enchanting.
Another foggy morning, after a night of non-stop rain
Once at the pass, I turned right to go up the slope to Tincup. Part of a trail lasts for a little while, but as I knew the ridge bump in front of me was not the peak, I angled and contoured over to miss the extra elevation gain. Tincup looks a lot like a blob with a cairn on top, so I didn't really take many photos of this part of the trip. In fact, only one photo.
I topped out on Tincup at 7:07am, with quite an amazing view of the Arkansas valley to the east. Low clouds/fog were rolling up the valley and engulfing both Princeton and Antero. Certainly the photo of the trip! It also told me, that today would be a shorter day than planned, and I may have to leave Fitzpatrick Peak for Sunday. So I quickly started down the ridge to Pt 13,050 as it looked like there may be some route finding to do, and I didn't want to do all of it in the fog! The rain and fog also made the lichens on all the rocks "slicker than snot on a doorknob". It was a tricky affair to cross any and all rocks!
Mt Princeton and Mt Antero being engulfed by low lying clouds
Ridge from Tincup to 13,050
A look back at the ridge, before it got engulfed in fog
Some Elk I heard wailing all night
On my way up Pt 13,050 I got engulfed by the advancing fog/cloud layer. So no photos from the summit, at 8:30am. I tried to send out a text to Darrin that I was changing plans, but the service was fake, and I wasted 20 precious minutes in that failed endeavor! This is one reason I have a SPOT messenger, at least I would be able to communicate that I was staying another night with "OK" messages. As driving out the long 6 miles of 4WD road, then the long dusty road to beyond Princeton Hot Springs to get cell service was not happening!
While passing the saddle to Tincup, I noticed something odd contouring over to another saddle that wasn't on any map I had looked at... a trail. At first I though it was just a well beaten game trail, but as it was now my ditching off the peak path, it became a class 1 trail! It still looked like animals used the trail more than humans, but a lovely trail it still was! If I had known about this earlier I would have planned for it! While arriving at Sawmill Hill along the Tincup Pass road the previous afternoon, I was noting the same saddle from the other side, wondering if that would be a good way to make an elegant loop with Pt 13,050, instead of the annoying "out and back" ridge walk I had planned.
View of Tincup and the Class 1 trail, not on any maps
So I followed along this lovely trail, snapping some photos of some flowers, as I hadn't drunken my fill on the surrounding landscapes because of the fog/clouds.
Some pretty tiny flowers
Flowers from a pika's viewpoint
A very sad butterfly, about to be rained on
I got to the saddle, at the other end of the trail, and I got a few second glimpse of the peak I had just done. A few seconds later, at 10:30am, It started to sprinkle on me. Then it started to graupel, hard for another 10 minutes or so as I raced down the trail. It turned back to rain, and shortly thereafter I got soaked to the bone. My new rainshell had failed. I got is for it's tiny lightweight features, but the lack of water impermeability is its failing.
A glimpse of Pt 13,050 before it was engulfed in clouds
The trail as it zig zags down from the ridge, my truck just beyond the talus slope beyond
Fog as I leave the trail to bushwhack back to my truck, getting soaked in the process by willows
So now it was 11:30am, and I was back of my truck bound for the rest of the day! I even had to take tailgate grilling to a new meaning, as there wasn't a long enough break in the rain to be outside much. It wasn't all bad, I got a lot of reading done. Since everyone around me is talking about A Game of Thrones, I can't be the only one to not have read it already! I missed the references in SurfNTurf's TR a while back, and I can't have that! So it was like a mini beach vacation spent reading in the back of my truck, till it was time for sleep once again.
Day 2 (Sun): Fitspatrick Peak
Elevation Gain: 1,786'
Tailhead: Tincup Pass (Sawmill Hill)
The rain stopped over night, so I knew today would be better than the day before for fog. I was also glad to have a spare set of boots, pants, pack and other essentials, as the majority of gear from the day before was still soaked. So once again I walked up the road to the pass at ~5:30am, but this time took the trail off chute that avoided the road switchback. Once again I noticed either a game trail or a yet unmapped trail avoiding unnecessary elevation gain. But I decided to take it on the way out, I wanted to see what the ridge from the pass would be like, and scope out the "trail" for the return. (As it turns out, the ridge holds an unnamed 12er, so it can be worth your while to go over the ridge) There is an established trail over to Napoleon Pass that is on maps, but the section to Tincup Pass is "new".
The ridge was quite rocky in places, and once again, the rocks were all extra slick with moisture. But the view of the Crested Butte valley in the fog and clouds was once again beautiful. It also gave me a nice view of the route up the ridge to the peak ahead.
Another foggy morning, looking north up the Crested Butte valley at the Elks and Sawatch
Ridge from false summit to Fitzpatrick Peak
Another trail, not on any maps, and cairns to boot!
A lovely grassy, humocky slope to the summit
As it seems with many of my solo ventures, I run into plenty of wildlife along the trail. Today I once again chased some Elk up and over the peak ahead of me.
Elks on the summit, wondering why I follow them!
The view from the top was quite a different one, as I hadn't been this far out from the Sawatch 14ers before. Plenty of scouting for future 13ers was done from the chilly summit, before I headed back down. Another early summit, 8:06am, in my effort to avoid the worst of the monsoon.
Wispy clouds/fog flowing over the continental divide, as I look to the south
A view of the route up from Tincup Pass
I took a little bit of time on the way down to photograph some flowers, as once again the dark dreary day didn't afford too many landscape photographs. Plus I got back to my truck at 9:30am, it was still early!
View from another map-less trail I found
If I had it to do all over again (with a better weather forecast), I would have done the trip in reverse. Starting with Fitzpatrick Peak and then going over the Pass to Tincup, and then to 13,050 with a return on the new trail. But it's also a good route to do if weather is an issue, as it is easily broken into two as I had to.
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