TH: South Halfmoon Creek TH Climbers: Jed, Ryan, Jack-dog Distance/Elev: 10mi, 4600' elev gain Time: 8hrs
I'd been itching to get out since my nickel of Cents in the Wilson's area over Labor Day weekend. With the recent snowstorms I knew that some of the more technical centennials I have left would have to wait until next summer. So I PM'd some ideas of some less technical centennials (French Group, Phoenix-La Garita, Jones Group, Half Peak) to a few people I had climbed with before and Ryan quickly replied back that he would be interested in doing the French Group as he was going to be in that area anyways for a planned Tour de Massive on Sunday.
We met up in Leadville and drove up to the South Halfmoon TH arriving around 7:30am. Amazingly, there was no snow at all on the road up to the TH and we were both able to drive across Halfmoon Creek thus eliminating the crux of the day. We parked in a clearing about 50' past the creek crossing. With the scant snow fall we easily decided that snowshoes would not be needed. We geared up and set off up the 110J 4WD road around 8am. (Sidenote: It was great to see that Ryan had brought Jack-dog. The last time I had seen him was on our Huron Peak climb almost 2yrs ago when Ryan had to stop early because Jack's toes had gotten rubbed raw by ice balls between his toes. Ryan brought booties this time just in case.)
Once we got up into the trees there was an inch or two of snow on the road. The 2nd creek crossing was a bit "hairy" with some ice on the rocks but we were able to manage it with little problem and with no dunkings to mar the start of the day.
Soon we reached a clearing and got our first views up into the basin. The Bull Hill-Casco connecting ridge was quite picturesque with the recent snow.
Bull Hill - Casco Peak Connecting Ridge looking sweet
We continued to follow the road as it brought us around close to the base of Casco Peak.
Ryan and Jack-dog hiking up the road towards Casco
Spectacular views of Elbert and Bull Hill surrounded us.
The King: Mt Elbert dominates the valley
Bull Hill and connecting ridge to Casco looking purty!
Originally, our plan was to climb French and Frasco first and then head over to Casco, but since the road brought us so close to Casco it made sense to climb Casco first and then the other two. This would save us a good 1.5mi of backtracking as we could just descend off of French Mtn. down to the road. We spied a nice line on Casco that had grass poking through the snow for much of it. It'd be a steep 1600' grunt but would get us to Casco Peak's lofty summit quickly and with little danger.
Our route up Casco Peak
A little over an hour after we left the road we reached Casco's summit. The views from here were nothing short of amazing.
Frasco BM and French Mtn from Casco
Looking West at the Elks
Looking SW towards Grizzly Peak
Looking South at La Plata and an assortment of Sawatch beauties
We soaked in the views and snacked for 20min or so and then began the descent off of Casco and towards Frasco.
Ridge to Frasco BM
Jack-dog handled the Class 3 portions of the descent with aplomb.
Ryan and Jack-dog on way down Casco
Throughout the day we kept looking over at Elbert to see if we could spot anyone over there but never did notice anyone on the summit. Maybe the snow scared everyone off.
Still no one on Elbert
The snow added a little spice to the Class 3 scrambling up Frasco making it extra fun. Jack-dog even rocked it like a pro and only needed help in a couple spots. The whole way up Frasco I couldn't stop turning around and admiring how picturesque Casco Peak was from this angle.
Soon we arrived at Frasco BM's summit and rested for 10min or so.
Ryan and Jack-dog on Frasco BM
The traverse across to French was fairly quick and easy.
The wind was nice and light when we arrived at French's summit, so we lingered there for as long as possible (~45min), not wanting to leave the incredible views that surrounded us.
Ryan and Jack-dog on French Mtn
La Plata and the rest of the Sawatch
Casco and Grizzly
Finally we were able to tear ourselves away and begin our descent. We took about as direct a route as we could down the east ridge of French. Definitely not recommended as an ascent route but it got us down to the 4WD road without too much trouble.
South Halfmoon Creek Basin
Once at the road we cruised back down to the TH arriving around 4PM (Total Time: ~8hrs). Ryan then came through big time with a 1/2 gallon of chocolate milk and was kind enough to share a quart of it with me.
Post-hike drink of Champions! Chocolate milk
After we split I stopped back at the Subway in Leadville for one of my favorite post-climb meals: Foot-long Meatball Marinara. YUM!
As I drove home I caught some phenomenal views of the evening light on Arkansas Mtn and Mt Democrat from Fremont Pass.
Democrat and Arkansas from Fremont Pass
And the toothy Atlantic-Fletcher-Drift Peak ridge from Mayflower Gulch.
All-in-all another great day in the Mountains, and I was even able to get home in time to tuck my boys in bed! Thanks for coming along Ryan and Jack-dog.
Until next time...
What he said...
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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