| Class 3 North Ridge of Democrat...and almost a centennial
A Nice Little Adventure Along the Continental Divide
After ending my summer in Estes with another great day on that Lofty Loft on Longs with emohr, I decided it was finally time to head back to Golden for school. With two days left until the first day of class there was fortunately still plenty of time for another little 14er trip. I flipped through Gerry’s book for a while and stumbled across a class 3 route up Democrat. The route is a classic and allows you to gain over 3,000ft on Democrat (and the CaLiBron if you so desire). My trusty climbing partner Ginevra (who had been crushing the Elks all summer) was up for the trip. We decided that we would head up the North ridge early Sunday and decide what to do next once we were on the summit of Democrat.
Saturday night we set out for the relatively quick drive to the Montgomery Reservoir trailhead. Maybe it was just us but the reservoir was a little difficult to find. If you are coming up CO 9 from the South, be sure to take the 2nd exit for CR 4 on the left (it loops around so there are 2 turn offs). We got to the Reservoir and found signs saying no camping. We backtracked, parked along CR 4, and found a nice semi-flat spot to pitch a tent up in the trees. I was told later that once you drive a little ways past the old mine that crosses the road up to Wheeler, the land is all National Forest which is fine to camp on.
Anyways, with a 4am wakeup we were on the trail by 4:45. We walked along the 4wd road which stays to the right of the river for 2.5 miles into the basin. Like others have mentioned, the trail has quite a bit of water on it, all of which can be avoided. Gerry's guidebook says that you turn off the main road before it crosses the river but this is incorrect. The route follows the main road until just after it crosses the river. Take a left onto a 4wd road that splits off before the main road starts a steep ascent up to Wheeler Lake. This 4wd road is called ‘faint’ by some but we found it to be very similar to the original one. Once it looks like you should leave that road then do so (you can just feeeel it).
Where we broke off from the 4wd road
Cross a small creek and head for the obvious talus pile that appears to be along the North ridge (it’s not) to the right of Democrat. You can skirt it to the right or go over the top, it doesn’t really matter. I think skirting to the right avoids a little bit of elevation gain/loss. When you get past this talus pile, point 13,460’ will come into view. Scramble up to pt 13,460' to gain the North ridge.
Looking out the North and South Ridges
From here on out is a somewhat long stretch of intermittent class 3 along the North ridge. The first big obstacle is the first notch. We dropped down below this notch to the right, probably about 10 feet or so, and then went around the shark’s fin. I think there are a variety of ways to go about this, some dropping you lower than others. We stayed below the second notch by only a few feet and kept going along the ridge. Aside from this, I cannot really give specific route info along the North ridge. It’s a ridge traverse so just keep going along a path that makes you feel most comfortable.
Looking out on the North ridge
continuing the north ridge traverse
more north ridge..
Staying high on the north ridge for the fun of it
I found that over the course of the ridge, staying right was usually the best option. The rock along the ridge is pretty good (at first I didn’t think so, but then we did the south ridge). Staying high on the ridge seemed to work well as long as you are ok with a few brief moments of exposure. We got cliffed out in a few spots but a little backtracking always got us around these obstacles. Once you reach the old mining wood scraps there is a sort of scree trail to the summit. I believe that you can also stay on the ridge here to the summit.
With a leisurely pace we reached the summit of Democrat at 8:15am, 3.5 hrs after leaving the trailhead. There were a few people starting to gather on the summit and many more heading up the Demo-Cameron saddle. The weather still looked excellent and I had my eye on a centennial. We decided to head to Mt. Buckskin (13,865’) via the South ridge of Democrat.
Buckskin looked far away, the ridge looked craggy, and we didn’t have any beta except for knowing that its class 3 on lousy rock but it looked fun so we went for it. The first section of this ridge is a moderate descent on talus that brings you down to the start of the ridge. This ridge seemed similar to the North ridge except the rock is pretty horrible. I don’t recommend doing this traverse with a group much bigger than 2 due to the loose rock. Once again we stayed mostly to the right of the ridge and didn’t come across any stretches above class 3.
Looking down at lake emma
After a few pulled handholds and slipped footholds we came to the low point on the ridge where the telephone poles are. From here to Buckskin is easy talus hopping. We gained the summit of what I thought was Mt. Buckskin at 10:15am (2hrs from Demo) and took a look back at a small party gathering on the summit of Democrat. I had Gerry’s 14er book out and was looking at his map of the Decalibron area. His map makes it seem like Mt. Buckskin is right at the end of the South ridge of Democrat before the continental divide turns West. It looks like the Northwest summit of Buckskin is the true summit. When I got back and researched it, it turns out that the true summit is ¼ mile down the ridge to the southeast and is a few feet higher. A few choice words ran through my head when finding this out as I wrote this report. My heart sank. Out of all the mistakes that somebody can make on a mountain though, I suppose this one was pretty minor. I almost deleted this report all together out of anger/sadness but I suppose it is a 'trip' report and not a summit report after all.
looking back at Demo and the south ridge
Soooooo….we didn’t feel like ascending back up to Democrat via the South ridge and then descending back to the Montgomery TH via the north slopes of Demo. With a zillion cars at the Kite trailhead and some dark clouds gathering, a quick descent down to Kite Lake and some hitchhiking sounded like the best option. We descended Buckskin’s grassy slopes, bushwacked through the willows, and made it down to the Kite Lake TH.
a look back at the south ridge
With thumbs out, we started walking down the road. The first car to pass us picked us up and the guy, a local, said he would bring us all the way to Montgomery. What a guy, what a guy. With our adventure far from over, we hopped in his car, picked up four huge dogs at his house, and rode back to the res. I had never been in an SUV with four giant dogs and three people but the experience was unforgettable. I am so grateful for his generosity and willingness to help out some fellow climbers.
All in all the day was fantastic. This was an extremely memorable climb on a mountain I had previously written off as, well, not my favorite. I thought both ridges were fun and recommend at least the North ridge if you like class 3 climbing and nobody else on your route. And if you’re ever in doubt as to whether you’re on a summit just climb everything that looks tall.
Our approximate route
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):