SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2012
Trailhead: Cuba Gulch Trailhead (directions here)
Route: South ridge of American Peak, traverse to Jones, descended Jones south ridge to 1st gully. Back to the road for the remainder.
Autumn is here. And it is good.
The drive up the Cinnamon Pass Road was punctuated with peak fall colors and I found myself stopping every few minutes along the way for photos.
I arrived at the Cataract Gulch Trailhead Friday evening to see the following signage:
Great. Just great. Apparently, a man was attacked in his tent at Lake San Cristobal late August and the bear was still at-large. Nevertheless, I slept ridiculously well in my Blazer Suite. Being mildly sick for much of the week and needing to catch up on some missed sleep worked better than any sleeping pill.
The original plan for Saturday was to pack in with Kevin and Keegan and do a little “lawn mowing” on some nearby 13ers. My sleep-deprived brain, however, managed to forget the stuff sack for my sleeping bag. I assumed it was in my car since my sleeping bag hasn’t left the car for many months. No way was it going to fit in my pack without some compression. Fortunately, I had remembered to bring Roach’s 13er book and formulated a hasty Plan B.
I made plans to meet up with the guys for Kevin’s centennial finisher on Sunday and sent the K’s on their way up Cataract Gulch. Betty Blazer (usually I call her another name that starts with a “b”, but she was nice to me this weekend) and I saddled up and galloped up the road to the Cuba Gulch Trailhead. The road to the trailhead definitely requires 4wd. There are a few steep spots that require some careful maneuvering. The ascent wasn’t all that difficult, but the descent required extra caution. There were 2 times that I had to stop on the way down to peer over a steep, rocky section in order to choose the best line. Screw diamonds, 4wd low is a girl’s best friend.
Upon arrival at the TH, I was immediately glad I’d had the foresight to throw my orange vest in the car. There was a hunting party set up at the trailhead and another had atv’ed up the road that morning. Roach’s book is a bit outdated in that its directions indicate that the road up the Snare Stairs is drivable. It’s not. The road beyond the Cuba Gulch TH was closed years ago. As I wasn’t planning on driving it anyways, this was no disappointment.
The road climbs gently upwards with its notable 12 switchbacks, referred to as the “Snare Stairs”. The surrounding aspens were putting on such a nice show, I didn’t bother to be annoyed.
Eventually, the road passes by a cabin, a remnant of times long past.
There are several old roads in the area venturing off the main road that eventually curves around Pt 13,342' to venture into a basin that accesses Niagara and Crown. I took a quick snack break at treeline and noted the presence of another orange vest further up the road. Our paths would cross later in the day.
Looking towards Jones and Pt 13,342
I left the main road for remnants of another road that lead up to an opening between American's south ridge and Pt 13,466'. I studied American’s scruffy-looking south ridge for a bit and identified a reasonable-looking route that would avoid any difficulties.
South ridge of American
Gaining the ridge requires a straightforward, short class 2 scamper up typically loose San Juan rock.
Jones with Niagara peaking over its shoulder
Once on the ridge, it’s a fairly short walk to the summit. The summit register for American was soaked so if you plan on heading up there soon, you might want to replace the register.
Following the ridge
Summit of American
The surrounding views reminded me why I like the San Juans despite the lack of quality rock.
Handies and Sloan Lake
The San Juans may not have the best rock, but the views make up for it
From the summit, the route to Jones Mountain is clear. While there are a couple of minor bumps on the ridge, there is a trail that traverses to the Jones-American saddle which eliminates any need to cross over the bumps. The traverse went quickly and I was soon staring up at the bit of work needed to gain the Jones summit.
Looking back at the ridge thus far
From the saddle, the eager peakbagger has an additional bit of elevation gain remaining. The saddle also offers a good escape route into the basin below. Though I expected to just go straight up the ridge, I found bits of a trail that traverse around Jones’ southeast face to reach the ridge just before the final short push to the summit.
On the way to Jones
From the summit of Jones, the next peak in line, Niagara, will also require a significant elevation drop/gain. I considered going on to Niagara, Crown, and North Crown, but didn’t have enough water to continue (I had my tiny Camelback with me instead of my regular daypack). I can’t say that I was bummed as it gives me a great excuse to go back and explore a different basin that I probably wouldn’t see otherwise.
The route to Niagara from Jones
I headed down the ridge towards the Jones-Niagara saddle, and found a scree slope that made for a quick descent to a lake below.
Scree gully descent
Not bad at all
Looking at Half Peak - tomorrow's centennial finisher quest with Kevin & Keegan
Could I just pretend that this is a sandy beach?
From the lake, it’s no difficult task to meet up with the road. It was in this area that I met the hunter I’d seen earlier that day, who was on the lookout for bighorn sheep. I hadn’t seen any sheep in the area so I wished him luck and went on my way.
Looking back towards Crown on the road descent
The ridgewalk from American to Jones
Half and the torturous traverse to Quarter
The road walk back to the car was uneventful and went quickly enough.
Hasta la vista!
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):