| Princeton -- main route from radio towers -- beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Flew into the Denver airport Saturday morning with fourteeners on my mind. At the rental car lot, instead of the midsize car I had booked, in my spot was... an SUV! Now when the rental car gods bless you with an SUV, you choose a fourteener with an SUV trailhead. And after a bit of research, the answer was obvious: Princeton.
Saturday was miserable driving up from Denver; it was pretty much winter west of the the Eisenhower Tunnel. Sunday morning was crisp, clear and COLD: there was a dusting of snow on route 91 over Fremont Pass, where my car's thermometer showed 16 degrees just after sunrise. But there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and when I got to Princeton it had much less snow on it than the peaks further north (Elbert, Massive etc.). Essentially the mountain was snow-free.
I made it up the Mt. Princeton road without a problem -- it definitely requires high clearance, but any ol' SUV can handle it -- and parked just past the radio towers with a handful of other vehicles. Parking here gives you a 3000'-plus ascent and nicely divides the hike into three segments of roughly equal length: walking along the remainder of the Mt. Princeton road, hiking along the trail and scrambling away from the trail to the summit.
I started hiking around 9 am. A few more vehicles were scattered along the road on the way up, and it seemed any vehicle that can make it to the radio towers can make it to where the trail breaks off. The trail away from the road was easy to find: it's right at treeline where the road starts to curve around to the south. It's marked with a cairn and ascends steeply at first. Away from the road, the trail is quite gentle and easy to follow, first through grass and then among boulders.
After about a mile along the trail one must angle up to the summit. In theory there are a couple of faint trails that leave the main trail, and some parties were observed going to great lengths to look for them. But this isn't really necessary, because any way you get up there will involve class 2.
My recommendation for leaving the main trail is to aim for the saddle between Princeton and Tigger Peak, the 13,300 peak southeast of Princeton and behind you to the left as you hike. Once you get to the saddle you can follow a trail along the ridge, and enjoy the views of Antero on the way up. I was able to follow segments of trail on the way up to the saddle, but I would lose them just as easily.
I got to the summit at noon, after exactly three hours. Not bad, considering I had only about 24 hours of acclimation. It was chilly for sure, about 20-25 degrees. But I was OK with three layers and shorts (yes, that was me wearing shorts). The summit was busy, with about 10-15 others up there throughout my stay. I spent about an hour on top.
Oh, the views. Aside from the cold, this may have been the best visibility I've had atop a fourteener. Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn and the middle/southern San Juans were clearly visible. So were the entire Sangres, and someone pointed out to me the Great Sand Dunes. I'd post pics, but I still shoot film and I have to get it developed first.
I made it back down to the car in an hour and a half. It never really got warm that day; Buena Vista couldn't crack 50 degrees.
In all, a pretty easy, yet still "official", hike on a day when everything came together perfectly.