| Southwest Ridge via Grouse Canyon… Princeton's back door.
Mount Princeton: Southwest Ridge via Grouse Canyon
Elevation gain: 5,097ft.
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I spent the week of the 4th of July avoiding the crowds I knew would be in the mountains, by the 9th I was a little stir crazy. I needed some peace of mind. Mount Princeton has been on my list of things to do for a month now so I decided to go for it. Preferring to climb less traveled routes the Southwest Ridge via Grouse Canyon had to be my choice.
I arrived at the unmarked Grouse Canyon trailhead at about 5:15am and was on the trail by 5:45am. From the small parking area at the trailhead I hiked northwest up the 4WD road for almost 0.2 mile to where old fallen trees near overhead power lines made it impassable to motor vehicles. The roadbed faded out into a winding well cairned path that quickly moved more westerly and uphill to the top of a small rise. At the top of this rise the trail turned abruptly right (north) and I followed it down to where it met Grouse Creek.
Following the east side of the creek closely the slightly overgrown path made it's way up the ever-narrowing canyon. As rock outcroppings rose to form the canyon walls, first to the right and then to the left, the trail became steeper as I climbed deeper into the canyon. Abruptly the shear canyon wall to the left came to an end at a place Lou Dawson describes as a rocky gate. Here at 9,800ft. the trail takes a hard right and I climbed uphill into an aspen grove.
About 80 yds. up the hill the trail turns sharply to the left as it crosses over a large fallen tree. Beyond this point the trail continues to gently climb north through Grouse Canyon paralleling the creek below to the left. I followed this trail though the aspen forest, after just a little over 0.3-mile I came out into a small clearing. Looking to my left I could see that I had passed a fork in the Creek and had moved into a smaller side drainage to the east of the maim drainage of Grouse Creek. There was a noticeably smaller stream in this drainage and I was now moving in more north-northeasterly direction.
I continued up the trail through the clearing entering into another stand of aspen, after a short distance the trail dropped down 15 ft. to the left into the overgrown streambed. Here at my feet I could see the source of the stream, a fair size spring emerging from the under growth. The trail made a hard right hand tune uphill into a dry gulch. I had now come a little over 0.6miles form the end of the 4WD road, and 0.8 mile from my vehicle.
A short distance (about 25 yds.) up from the spring as the under growth clears there is an unnecessary switchback up to the right and out of the bottom of this steep sided gulch. I mistakenly took this side trail only to find that it rejoined the well-worn trail in the bottom of this drainage. I walked up this drainage observing several cairns along the way marking an already well-defined trail and wondered why someone had taken the time to build them. The forest on either side of the gulch thinned as I progressed and I sited a few elk on the hillside.
About 0.4 mile above the spring I came to a large boulder in the gully with a cairn on top of it, the elevation here is about 11,000ft. Beyond this point I could see a large talus field up to my right. I continued to move up the drainage skirting around the base of the talus field to its end where the path jogged to the left and then continued on up the drainage. About 0.5 mile up from lower end of the talus field I came to the last group of trees in the gulch at 11.900ft.
Upon reaching the last group of trees in the gulch I traversed to left and climbed up and out of the drainage towards the last group of trees on the top of the rib to the north of me, about 0.1mile. The views from this point (about 12,200ft.) were the best yet. To the north I could see the entire upper basin of Grouse Creek, to the southwest I could see across lower end of Grouse Creek down into Chalk Creek. My view to the east was dominated be Princeton's southwest ridge from point 13,971 at its north end to the heard of goats on its southern most flanks. I lingered here a while studying my route to the top of the ridge and enjoying the view.
I followed the crest of this rib as it climbed in a sweeping easterly ark towards the ridge. As I drew closer to the ridge it became clear to me that west face of the upper part of the ridge was covered with loose scree thus making it more difficult to take the ridge via a direct approach. I traversed to the right and took the ridge at about the 13,000ft. point at 8:45 am. I had covered another 0.3 mile. The views from here improved again dramatically. Form this vantage point I caught my first glimpse of Princeton to the northeast. To the east I could now see down into Cascade Canyon, to the south I could see Antero's northern flanks. Being just a little excited about the next part of the climb I moved on quickly.
The first 230 yds. of the ridge was an easy class 2 climb. Along the way I got a good view of the next section. I could see that to stay on the top of the ridge I would have to do a short exposed class three pitch, I also had the option of taking a class 2+ lower line around the right side of the ridge. I decided to do both. First I moved toward the lower line, it proved to be a fractured but relatively solid and well sloped rock face. This line ended 140 yds. ahead at a 10 ft. drop off into loose scree filled gully. This gully ran the length of the slope and ended at a small notch in the ridge. Not wanting to have to dog paddle up the loose scree in the gully I decided take a short class 3 pitch up to the top of the ridge where I crossed over to the other side and made my way on solid rock safely down into the notch. The elevation here was roughly 13,300ft. On my return trip through this section I took the ridge all the way to the lower class 3 pitch and down climbed it. In the end this section proved the most interesting climbing on the whole trip.
From the notch it was an easy 0.5-mile class 2 climb to the top of Point 13,971. From here I had a good view of the 0.5-mile connecting east-west ridge that ran between Point 13,971 and the summit of Mount Princeton. I climbed down to the connecting ridge and made my way to the top of Princeton, another easy class 2 section. I summated at 10:15 am.
I spent about an hour on the summit eating and visiting with other climbers. The views this particular morning were hazy from the wild fires to the west nonetheless I enjoyed them. All to soon the building clouds told me it was time to move on.
I spent great deal of time on my return trip taking photos and making notes for this report. Unfortunately the goats had moved on and the elk were being shy, I guess I should not have taken their presence or granted earlier. I arriver back at my vehicle at 3:50 pm.
In summation I will say that I got exactly what I was looking for. Peace of mind. Other than the occasional downed tree(s) the trail was easy going and other than the few I met on the summit I had the route all to myself. Another GOOD day in the Colorado high country!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):