| Antero via Baldwin Gulch
I had been wrestling with how to hike these faraway southern peaks in the Sawatch range, now that I live in Easst Denver. It was just too far to get up the morning of the hike, drive there, hike, then drive back. The drive back wasn't the problem; it was the drive there. Luckily I saw a posting in 14ers.com about places to stay near Buena Vista, and Thunder Lodge was mentioned. So I decided to drive there the Friday before, sleep a good night's sleep, then get up early and head out. I need a standalone sleeping unit (like the cabins at Thunder Lodge) to be able to sleep well (no TV's blaring through a common wall, water pipes whistling, that kind of thing).
Also, it's been getting harder for me to hike these mountains, as I'm getting older now. So owning a recently-obtained Jeep YJ gave me the ability to drive toward Baldwin Gulch and park at the road junction, thereby saving 6 miles of hiking and 1,500 feet of elevation gain and loss.
I drove down to BV on Sept. 7 and stayed at Thunder Lodge. I got up around 5:15 Sept. 8, ate a light breakfast, and drove the Jeep to the Baldwin Gulch Road.
This road is the roughest I have ever driven on! It is full of boulders and rocks, and the Jeep's suspension is stiff, so it was throwing me all over the place in the seat, despite having the seat belt on! I had to drive in 4-LO so I could creep along at 2-3 mph without stalling the engine (standard transmission). It took almost 1/2 hour from the junction of Baldwin Gulch Road (FR 278 I believe) and CR 162 to get to the road junction. I parked at 10,840 feet or so, crossed Baldwin Creek (it was flowing at 6 inches or so, so I got my feet wet) and set out up the road. Of course, I found that there were parking spaces just up from the creek crossing, and had I known that, I could have driven across it and parked. Oh well....
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the lack of people out that day! It was such a wonderful weather day, just cool and comfortable, and sunny practically all day. Where was everyone? I expected the place to be crawling with ATV's, hikers, Jeeps, and you name it! I passed maybe three vehicles parked at various places along the road before reaching the switchbacks. One of these was a Ford F-150, so in spite of our Bill M's admonitions that a large truck wouldn't work too well, apparently someone didn't believe him!
When I reached the switchbacks, I was just amazed at how they went up that mountain! The photos in 14ers.com that Bill took are very accurate! Just before the road swooshes around a ridge near the top of the switchbacks, I saw a trail on the left where the whitish rock starts. Not having a GPS, I wondered if that was the trail to the top. Nope! I took it, and all it did was cut off the swoosh of the road as it went south, then east. It was steep and not very well defined. I realized it was near the area where both Roach and Middlebrook say to leave the road (at elevation 13,089) and hike up the southwest ridge. I started up the trail, but pretty soon it became undefined, lost in tundra vegetation. Upon inspecting the route ahead of me, it looked pretty steep and uncomfortable to me, so I stopped and took stock of the situation, trying to decide: go up this way, or stay on the road to 13,700 feet?
About now I ran into a British woman who had caught up to me and was really hauling it up that road! We discussed the situation, and we both decided to go back to the road. Once we did, she looked at her GPS and reported we were at 12,900 feet, and that according to the route descriptions she had read (didn't mention whose), we were supposed to go to 13,700 feet before leaving the road. So she took off in front of me, while I plodded along at an easy pace. In the end, I stayed on the road rather than hiking up the southwest ridge. Upon later review of Roach's and Middlebrook's route descriptions, I realized that this trail was a shortcut to get to the southwest ridge, rather than leaving the road where it turned sharply from south to east as it actually crossed the ridge. Photo #5 in Bill‘s route description here on 14ers.com clearly shows both the ridge route and the road route. And, by staying on the road, I avoided hiking over Point 13,800.
The road here is actually a whole lot smoother than down at the bottom of the gulch! There is a junction on the flat tundra when the road finishes the switchbacks of FR 278A (also obvious in Photo #5) that heads over to Browns Lake. That is my plan to hike Tabaguache someday: drive the Jeep to here and then to Browns Lake. Someone had driven a Jeep along there and had parked and had set up a camp (tent). Ah, the joys and feelings of unfettered joy one gets when above timberline!
Presently I came upon a road junction. One branch went east and southeast, down the slope (obvious in Photo #5). The other turned north and started to climb steeply. Knowing the summit was in that direction, I took the north branch and hoped for the best. The road then started up the steepest part yet. This part took awhile for me to hike, but when I topped out, Lo! the rock ridge and towers and the summit cone were right in front of me! I had reached 13,700 feet! There was a Jeep Rubicon parked in the flat area between the two white-rock points, and I thought, "Boy what cheaters!" But as I started out across the rock ridge, I ran into two men digging into the soil along the narrow trail. I asked if they were prospecting for gems, and they said they were. They probably drove the Rubicon. A bit later I heard one of them let out a whoop of delight; they must have found something! Some hikers I ran into later said they had found a smoky quartz crystal.
Now the fun began. I had to negotiate the narrow rock ridge, definitely Class II hiking (some hands, and some exposure). Then I got to the rock pile of the summit cone and started up that. There were traces of a trail and some cairns, but this part also took awhile to hike. I kept looking over toward Shavano and Tabaguache to measure my elevation, as I knew Antero was higher than both of them. At one point I turned left and looked to be near the top, but I had remembered some route descriptions saying there was a false summit. Besides, when I looked at Tab, it looked like I hadn't attained its height yet. But then, as I took that left bend in the trail, like magic there was no false summit, but the true summit of Antero!
I summited at almost noon. Elevation gain was about 3,430 feet in about five miles.
I was the only one there! I was almost overcome with emotion, as it had been two years since I had set foot on a Fourteener (Shavano was the last one before this). I whispered a prayer of thanks, then put down my daypack and started enjoying the views. And what marvelous views they were! Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and Harvard to the north, Shav and Tab to the south, Monarch Aerial Tram to the southwest, Buena Vista to the northeast, the Three Apostles and Huron and La Plata to the northwest, and on an on! The only disappointment came with all the blue haze, probably due to those fires out west.
Presently a friendly man walked up, saw my Canon A-1 camera, and struck up a conversation about that old workhorse of a camera. He had a Canon Digital with him, and he described some of its functions to me. Some minutes later a couple of other guys came up. All told, there were only FOUR people on that summit when I was there! My surprise, and delight, were complete!
Finally, 1:00 o'clock rolled around, so I started down. About that time some ATV's started showing up on the tundra flat where 278A splits off from 278 (so, effectively an ORV playground). Luckily they were all pretty quiet. As I was hiking down, a couple of them passed me with no problems.
I was almost back to the Jeep after 2 1/2 hours and was just getting ready to re-cross Baldwin Creek. I was thinking, "I haven't fallen today!" Of course you know what happened next: I was crossing the creek on some higher stepping-stones near the brow of the road on the downstream side, and one of those twisted and threw me into the drink! My left jeans leg was soaked! The camera got a bit of water on it, and its electronics started acting funny. But later, after it had dried, it worked okay again.
I headed home and got back to East Denver by 7:00 p.m.
Thus ended a wonderful Fourteener hike!
Next up: Tabaguache, hopefully on September 22 (if snow hasn't started yet!).