| Tour de Tigger (Princeton‘s neighbor)
*Point 13,300 is known as "Tigger," after Princeton University's mascot, which is a tiger.
Trailhead: Radio Towers (Mt. Princeton's standard trailhead)
Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet (we did about 2,700 with our backtracking)
Distance: about 6 miles (backtracking included)
Route: up Tigger's northeast ridge, down Princeton's standard route
Our plan was to climb Mt. Princeton, but mountains have a way of changing your plans. Fortunately, I have learned to not challenge them when they make these changes, because they always win the fight.
On Saturday, after spending more time than we anticipated at the climbing gym, we set off for Buena Vista late in the afternoon. It was probably a good thing that we left later than planned because we found out later, tragically, that a head-on collision killed a couple people near Como, south of Kenosha Pass. We arrived at the pass just as the road was being reopened – after being closed for almost 5 hours!
In Buena Vista, or "B-YOU-nuh Vista," as many locals call it, we had to make our usual stop at K's for burgers. On this visit I was Chevy Chase.
Here's Mt. Princeton viewed from K's:
After eating we decided to drive up the Mt. Princeton road to see how far we could go before being blocked by snow. The road was completely dry all the way to the switchback at the radio towers. From there, I continued a bit farther and made it to the 3.2-mile mark (from the lower parking area), which is where some icy snowdrifts blocked forward progress.
With no way of turning around, I had to back up all the way back to the towers, where there's parking for a handful of trucks.
Sidenote ... My opinion on the Mt. Princeton Road: Technically speaking, the road is not a very difficult 4x4 road. However, it is very narrow and there are not many places to turn around or pull over for an oncoming vehicle, so you need to be OK with backing up. And in some sections it is a true shelf road, with very steep drop-offs. Loose dirt/sand also comes into play in a couple spots, especially where the road slopes a bit toward an abyss. Having a high-clearance vehicle is the most important element here, as there are many large bumps (to control water erosion) that you'll have to drive over, which could easily high center a low-to-the-ground vehicle (some skilled drivers might be able to make it up in a car by taking each bump at an angle, but this method can get a little dangerous on the shelf road sections). As of 5/3/09, it looked like some maintenance has been done recently (many fallen trees have been cleared and possibly a bit of road grading has taken place). Some of the bumps seemed higher than when I drove this road a couple years back.
The forecast called for some snow that night. So rather than sleeping at the radio towers and then getting trapped up there because of a few inches of fresh snow on that treacherous shelf road, we decided to drive back down to the lower parking lot and sleep there. Besides, I sleep better at 9,000 as opposed to 11,000.
After scoping out the lot, we thought we found a good spot nestled against a tree. But when I reached for a rock to chock my tire, I saw a deer leg on the ground. So we moved to a deer-leg-free spot at the other end of the lot, which had a much better vibe.
I think this poor little guy was looking for his three-legged friend:
After sharing a bottle of Pliny the Elder, we hit the hay -- er, I should say, memory foam. The custom-cut bed in the back of the X was suh-weet!
Dark and early on Sunday, at 5:30 a.m., we started up the 4x4 road for the second time. My new Off Road lights came in handy:
With the sun rising behind us, we started hiking at 6 a.m. It was only 20 degrees outside but our moderate pace was enough to warm us up in no time.
Snow drifts covered most of the upper road, but in many places a dry lip of road poked out on the edge.
At one switchback a steep snow slope completely obscured the road. The snow was solid, though, making it easy to cross.
Getting close to the standard route's turn-off:
At about 7 a.m. we made it to the turn-off for the standard (Princeton) route. It was decision time. Take the standard route or go up Tigger? If Tigger, then should we take the southeast ridge or the northeast ridge? We decided to check Princeton's standard route.
Heading up the snow, just above the standard route's turn-off from the road:
The wind was fierce. Strong enough to knock us off balance a couple times. But we pushed on.
Aside from the wind, the route was great. There were some dry, wind-blown sections, plus some easy snow sections here and there. But when we came to the first large snow crossing, which was completely untracked, I wasn't so sure. Even though conditions seemed fine (including previous days' weather, overnight temps, shallowness of snow, wind, etc.), my limited avy experience kind of met my comfort level and I decided to play it extra safe and turn around. Right after doing so we ran into a nice guy with a couple of sails (aka, skis) on his back. His positive opinion of the snow condition was assuring, but we decided to stick to our new plan, which was to climb up Tigger's northeast ridge.
Earlier in the week I couldn't find any beta on Tigger's northeast ridge, which made me wonder why nobody goes that way, but it seemed straightforward enough so we went for it (plus, the snow-covered route (i.e., road) to Tigger's southeast ridge looked nasty). So up the steep talus slope we went.
Here's Jen, heading up Tigger's talus-strewn northeast ridge:
Halfway up Tigger's northeast ridge I realized why no one goes up that way. While it wasn't so bad for us, in winter-like conditions, as the snow and ice kind of "locked" the talus in place, I imagine it would be a loose mess in the summer. Not to mention, it's rather steep.
Over the years I've climbed my share of false summits, but Tigger threw at least four or five really good ones at us. Every time I crested a hump (that I thought was the summit) I could see another, higher peak farther up. It really started to get old after the third or fourth hump.
At 9:10 a.m. we finally gained the higher of the two points on Tigger's summit.
Me, near the top of Tigger:
It was another decision time. After weighing our options, we decided to take the northwest ridge to the low point on the saddle between Tigger and Princeton, and then reevaluate things at that point.
The hulking mammoth that is Antero:
Tigger's highest point, left, and Princeton, right:
Once at the saddle, we were faced with the biggest decision: Shoot for Princeton or head back down? I have to admit, Princeton was very alluring, even though we were getting tired and we've climbed it before. But after talking it out, the decision to head back down was obviously the right thing to do. For one, some dark clouds were starting to snuggle up against the summit (the forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms), and that remaining 1,200 feet of vertical would have taken us at least a couple hours, up and down, which might have put us in a bad spot, weather-wise. We were also worried about the snow softening up too much, as the day wore on, making the snow crossings less than ideal.
Happy with our decision, we took the summer trail off the saddle. It was covered in snow, but not deep enough that the switchbacks couldn't be found.
On our way back down we passed another skier who was on his way up. After a short chat, we bid him good luck. He didn't seem too sure of the weather, especially after having experienced rain at A-Basin the day before, but he was going to see how far he could go. That's when I realized a major difference between those skiers and us, which is: If bad weather rolls in, they can quickly zip off the mountain, whereas we would have the long task of climbing all the way back down.
Crossing one of the snowfields:
With dark clouds building behind the ridge, we marched back toward the shelter of the trees. Amazingly, the boot tracks from the guy we just passed had already been erased off the mountain by the wind. No trace of them anywhere.
The snow crossings ended up being fine, but they still gave me a surge of adrenaline, and I gripped the ax so tight I still have an impression of a Petzl logo on my palm.
Once we made it back to the road, it was pretty much smooth sailing all the way down. Happily, the snow slope at that one switchback was still firm.
At about 11:30 a.m. we made it back to the truck at the radio towers.
Here's the route we ended up taking:
Even though we didn't get Princeton, we felt more than satisfied with Tigger. And after that climb, I came to realize the fundamental difference between "winter" or "winter-like" climbs and "summer" climbs, beyond the obvious ones. "Winter" climbs, I've concluded, require you to make many more decisions throughout your climb, and you have to constantly evaluate not only the sky, but the ground (i.e., snow).
Post-climb, we headed back to BV to refuel. We decided to try the new place called World Garage, which is right across the street from K's. Pretty good food. Then we explored the 4x4 roads in the Fourmile area of the San Isabel National Forest, which were awesome. Why I have never been there before is beyond me. That area is so diverse, with everything from sagebrush to pine trees to aspens, and it offers rock climbing, mountain biking and countless miles of 4x4ing fun. I highly recommend the area. We ended up taking various roads from the edge of BV all the way to where 24 meets with 285. Good times.
Some neat old railroad tunnels:
And some rock climbers (at a spot just minutes away from downtown BV):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):