| 3:10 to Yuma, or 3:10 to Glen Haven?
I received a text from my buddy T-Dawg (Tyler) on Thursday Nov. 15 that went like this, "Wanna hike Signal Mtn. this weekend?" I gave the idea some thought, doing a little research & finding that it was roughly a 10-12 mile trek up both summits that topped out above tree line. Seemed pretty straightforward, but when we actually met up on Sunday morning, there were several other peaks in the area that he had in mind that didn't include Signal Mountain, but rather three 10ers (Pt. 10,582, Lookout Mountain, & Pt. 10720) that I didn't know possibly existed, or perhaps I saw them but didn't really ever think I'd be visiting them. Of the three summits, Pt. 10,720 is the highest while Lookout Mountain was the only one officially named. None of these peaks peaked above tree line, though Lookout Mountain (as the name implies) had a nice panoramic view & Pt. 10,720 had a narrow interesting summit formation.
A warmer southern exposure led us to a snow free Dunraven Trailhead near Glen Haven, which is a main access route to go up to the nearby Signal Peaks. I think we arrived there at about 9AM, or 9:30 on Nov. 18, forgot to keep track of time. We didn't analyze the maps carefully, but figured we could pull off the three peaks relatively easily with not much elevation gain. Turns out though upon further analysis, one climbs up to Bulwark Ridge before taking the trail & descending all the way back down to an elevation lower than when you started, following the Miller Fork up to your main trail that led up towards the distant Donner Pass. Doh, a Holy Cross kind of hike! In total, that was a 4100 foot gain. And the trail had several squiggles to it on the map, so it wasn't completely certain how far of a trek it would be.
Trail head sign denotes the fury that lies ahead.
Starting up Bulwark Ridge.
The trail starts up going fairly straight up until the ridge before hitting some aspen woods at the top. From there, a trail split off goes to either Signal Mountain or down to the next valley over where the Miller Fork is. Taking the route to the next valley, we faced a vantage of the broad and deceptively tall Pt. 10,720, it's summit rock formation looking insanely far away. I asked T-Dawg several times if he was sure he wanted to do this, mainly because I wasn't looking forward to descending 800 feet down before starting the trek up the peak. We were both contemplating the idea, but aw hell, we're here, so let's just torture ourselves. With the amount of daylight we had, we charged for it, reaching the icy Miller Fork that we crossed a few times before started a gradual ascent that led us high up towards Donner Pass. The wind sweeping through the trees here & there, we greatly felt it from one vantage point that looked to the south over large expanses of green forests. Signal Mountain lurked to the west & our view faced Longs & Meeker, if only they were visible from this lingering snowstorm that was blanketing the higher terrain. In fact, the storm was right on the edge of Signal Mountain, w/ views of the Mummy Range completely blocked. I was kind of hoping this storm would clear, but of course that was asking too much.
The clouds provide a limited vantage point on Bulwark Ridge.
Junction trail at the top. From here, it's the 800 foot descent to Miller Fork.
The trail passes a prominent rock outcropping giving a clear view to the south.
Signal Mountain pokes into view.
Crossing some old logging roads, fumbling through the woods and small parks, we kept a steady pace finding a trail that was anything but steep. By the time we got to Donner Pass, my GPS had calculated that we had already gone six miles, which only gave anticipation as to what lay ahead, as well as what lay behind. We decided to do the lesser Pt. 10,582 that a junction trail traversing to Signal Mountain passed by. The trail was covered in crusty snow practically to the top, & nearing the wind-blown summit ridge, we scooted off the trail inspecting various rock outcroppings to see if we had found the true summit or not. I think it was maybe 0.2 miles on the summit ridgeline before we finally stumbled upon a sizeable outcropping surrounded by small gnarled conifers that seemed like the true summit of Pt. 10,582'. If it wasn't, well, at least the hill isn't the highest of the three because there's no way I was returning.
Alongside the base of the behemoth Pt. 10,720. Climbing, reaching a switchback.
Donner Pass, NOT the one in California.
Summit of Pt. 10,582. Lookout Mountain is poking left of the trees & Pt. 10,720 at extreme right.
It was breezy up here, and there wasn't any decent view to the west due to unforgiving weather. The extent of falling snow seemed to be on the outskirts of both Signal & South Signal Mountains, but it was blue sky & pure sun where we were. Due to push on time, we made our way to Lookout Mountain, which was visible from amidst the trees as having a sun-bleached rocky topping above the trees, definitely a camera worthy location. Back at Donner Pass, we took the trail heading eastwards (can't remember name) to a side trail at the ridge connecting Lookout to Pt. 10,720'. There was another trail indicating Lookout Mountain to be half a mile away, but it felt more like another mile due to fallen trees and slick snow in some spots, especially near the top. Clearly this wasn't a popular peak, but as we summated, we faced a continuous wind and remarkable view clear down towards Pikes Peak. Both the 10ers East & West White Pine Mountains stood out across the valley to the north, sections of the peaks scalded by the High Park fire months earlier, as well as the lower hills adjacent to the Cache la Poudre.
Atop Lookout Mtn. T-Dawg stares at the tree-packed Pt.10,720 to the right - not only did it look ridiculously far away, it WAS ridiculously far away.
We scooted quickly, decided to make our own path down to the start of this side trail to avoid most of the falling logs, then begin our quick rush following the wooded ridge to Pt. 10,720. Our shortcut turned out to be more effective, cutting straight south rather than scooting to the east before reaching the top as the old Lookout Mountain trail did. And by the time we got to the ridge, we started our slow increasing gain following the trees and looking for clearings. It was a pleasant hike, occasionally crossing snowfields and making sure we stayed primarily on the western side of the ridge where the sun hit most. This section was far easier and navigable compared to the short tree-felled trail up Lookout Mountain.
Much of the ridge leading to Pt. 10,720 had this appearance. Patchy snow, forest meander, crossing talus & outcroppings.
The peak as I recalled was over a mile from the Lookout Mountain trail spur. There is no trail heading up to Pt. 10720, & one of T-Dawg's goals was to conquer this virtually unclimbed peak. Even from down below if you travel I-25 north from Denver, it is visible as a noticeable isolated bump north of Estes Park, w/ Signal Mountain poking out from just behind it. Fortunately, the peak was in the direction of our return, so from there, we could simply descend it without backtracking.
I kept reading my altimeter on the GPS as I knew we were getting close. And then BAM, there was this large protruding rock formation in front of our eyes as T-Dawg climbed it and confirmed it as the true top. And once I was up there, we were blessed with one of the prettiest views of the area. The contrast of the sun hitting the interior valleys and mountains made us want to stay for the sunset, even though we knew it would set behind the storm that was brewing over the Mummies & northern Front Range. Looking north, you could see parts of Wyoming, the Vedauwoo area & Cheyenne including the Happy Jack Wind Farm. If it was clearer to the west, the Snowies I'm sure would've been poking up as well.
Pt. 10,720 summit formation.
Wide 180 degree view from summit. East faces middle. Kind of dark, I know.
Pt. 10,720 was the only peak of the three to have a summit register. It had few signatures since 2008, most names of which T-Dawg recognized as those climbers who were absolute buffs & had been on literally every peak in Colorado above 10K in elevation. The notepad itself had all the listed peaks 12ers in Colorado printed on it, which I found myself gazing at for some time. I don't know too many of those peaks. Besides the register, the top had some old wooden posts and wires, perhaps the remains of a lookout tower long ago? It seemed like a narrow place to fit one, let alone there didn't seem to be any sign of an old road leading to the top of this peak.
Contrasts southward towards Pikes Peak.
If you ever see someone doing a summit handstand, there's a 99.9% chance you're meeting T-Dawg.
The western inconspicuous view. I hate it when Mother Nature hides her mountain porn.
Bulwark Ridge, where we came from way earlier in the day was far down below us, a sign of the unpleasant fun that lay ahead. There was still another hour of daylight left, so no matter what, we would get back to the trailhead by dark. And using my GPS, I knew that we could knock off a few of the switchbacks and take some shortcuts down. From the top, we would just cut straight down to about 9,600 feet elevation where the trail diagonally cut across to Donner Pass.
Descending the peak and out of the wind, we both grabbed sticks and started our bushwhack down a gradually steeper and steeper slope down a mixture of boulders and thick forest. Overall, it was a pleasant descent, and once we were down far enough, the air became absolutely still. Temperature was just perfect for mid-November, everything you could ask for when hiking.
Once we got down to the trail at 9600', I saw a further shortcut on the GPS, so we continued getting lost in the woods, intersecting the trail at several points before I examined our past squiggly marks and decided that we could cut nearly a mile off it we went straight down a gully as indicated on T-Dawg's map. I decided to cut straight down into the gully rather than skirt the rim of it, since we noted coming up that there were a lot of steep outcroppings and cliffs. Overall, I think it did save us time, yet it was quite a trek in the dark part of the gully itself, fumbling over a lot of brush and fallen branches and logs. To me, it was fine, but T-Dawg was in his shorts, so I was hoping that we wouldn't be stuck in this kind of terrain too much longer. Plenty of small caves and secluded areas, perfect location for human-craving mountain lions to exist, though we didn't see any scat or tracks. We even stumbled upon an old corroded elk antler, which blended rather well with the nearby logs and twigs, except it was a bit whiter in color.
T-Dawg sharpens his teeth.
Before long, we hit the trail right above the lowest part of the valley, then took one last final shortcut that led us to the bottom where the Miller Fork was. It saved us 0.4 of a mile, and before long, we were at the bottom of the valley, right at dusk. A little bit more descent before the drooling 800 foot climb back up to the top of Bulwark Ridge. But with it being dark, maybe I wouldn't feel the pain of it as much because I couldn't see anything.
Our dusky view starting the 800 foot schlog back up.
When we took the trail back up from the dark jungley valley, we fumbled around in pitch black, listening to nothing but absolute silence, then made several animal calls out, just for fun. I shined my flashlight through the woods to see if I would stumble upon two huge eyes glaring at us, perhaps a black bear or sasquatch. Or maybe even the abominable snowman. Fortunately I had bear spray, but crapola, I forgot to bring matches and gasoline in case we did have an angry abominable snowman encounter.
We stopped at the one vantage point that we were looking out earlier when we first laid eyes on Pt. 10,720. The moon gave us some light, and the stars lit up overhead as we spent about five minutes looking for satellites. And then before long, we were atop the ridge at the trail junction for Signal Mountain. That wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.
The moon had a unique effect on the trees and meadows, that dim black and gray effect that we often found ourselves walking without flashlights, then I flipped mine on after tripping & nearly face planting. Once we were facing on the south side of the ridge, we saw a glimpse of the city lights in the plains below, as well as sporadic homes on the hillsides below us. It was a calm cool night, almost one where you didn't want to go anywhere for awhile. Wish you could capture it all on camera somehow, and although I did take some shots, it wasn't the feeling of actually being there. You really can't do much on a consumer grade camera that has a max 15 second exposure.
A moonlit evening w/ lights of the Front Range 'over the hills and far away' (quoting a Nightwish song).
We made our way down, close to six in the evening, back to the trailhead where the car was. I checked around the vehicle to ensure myself that no rodents chewed off any of the wires, and most importantly to make sure that no other hiker stuck thumbtacks behind my tires or assembled car bombs underneath while we were gone. Once the checking passed, we were back down the road, stopping midway upon seeing about eight or nine large elk roaming the fields and crossing the road. They seemed pretty tame as I got within 20 feet of them, trying to get some night shots but again finding myself limited by the functions of my camera. We were so focused on the elks that we didn't see this other vehicle coming up, giving me the signal to turn my high beams off. Oooopss!!! Ah, well a quick glide down Big Thompson Canyon & back to the Loveland Centerra where reality sank in.
Two elk alongside the Dunraven Glade Road.
So these aren't anything close to 14ers, but I'd figured I'd post for two reasons. One, because T-Dawg wanted me to, & two, so that way you can enjoy reading about three completely random hills that you will probably never set foot on, unless you run out of everything 11K and above to climb like some of the climbers we saw on Pt. 10,720's register. I originally wasn't looking forward to this hike, having my eyes focused more on Signal Mountain, but overall, it was a fulfilling day as we met absolutely no one else. Definitely three peaks I never ever in the history of mountain climbing thought I'd be tackling, and most likely three 10ers I wouldn't be doing again. Of the three, Pt. 10,720 was the favorite pick; there is something about that area that I like as we've hiked around there before. I can't describe it, you'll have to take a visit if you haven't do so before. I believe there is a faster way to get to Donner Pass from the north, though I don't know where the access is. We chose this southern approach because of less snow, and I'd say the total hike factoring our shortcuts was around 12-14 miles. Funny, looking back, there's a Lookout Mountain & a Signal Mountain next to each other... wonder if the people who named them were from Chattanooga by chance.
The map showing our route of pain and suffering. Exhibit A shows the ascent (red) & return (blue). Exhibit B shows an overview marking Lookout Mtn.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):