| Citadel, Independance Pass and La Plata northwest ridge
As always it was a long drive from Kansas to the beautiful mountains of Colorado. My first objective was the Citadel. I drove straight to the trailhead and arrived around 1:30 a.m. I tried to sleep but the noise from I-70 kept waking me up. I finally got a couple of hours of sleep when some weird noise woke me up and then I saw some odd looking animal scampering around the huge parking lot. I thought it's shape looked like a weasel but it was a lot bigger. Maybe a wolverine? That was around 5am and I started to think about doing some other peak when finally a truck drove into the parking area and two people started up the trail. I made some hot tea and finally got myself ready to hike around 6am. The trail was excellent and well marked. It was a beautiful morning and I totally forgot about lack of sleep and varmints.
It took me about 2 hours to get to Herman Lake. I thought I would get there quicker but the altitude said different. I finally met the two guys that got out of the truck and I was hoping they would continue on up but they were content with the lake.
I kept looking at the saddle and I could see the faint trail up to it.
I crossed the creek coming out of the lake and I had read to stay high in the gulch over to the saddle. I went to high and it cost me a lot of time. The group of trees I circled would be a better target.
I finally found a safe place to cross another creek and then I walked between willow groves while angling towards the faint trail to the saddle.
I came upon these two rocks and contemplated about going up to the saddle. I took a right turn at the rocks, went over a mound and the beginning of the trail was right before me.
It was a little steep but it didn't take me long to reach the saddle.
The view was great. Grays and Torreys dominated the landscape to the south.
I was content to stop here because my legs were starting to feel very tired. I relaxed for quite some time until I started to hear some voices below. I looked down and saw two young men coming up the trail. They talked the whole way up the saddle. It reminded me of a distant time when I could run up stuff like this without much effort.
We did our introductions and I decided I would at least go on up the ridge and take a look. The two young men, Paul and Benji, were way ahead of me in a blink of an eye.
I finally got up to the bottom of the east summit of the citadel and Benji was sitting half way up it while waiting for Paul to climb up through a chimney. They told me it was class 4 with maybe a 5.0 move.
I decided to try to get to the gully between the east and west summits of the citadel but there was still a patch of snow I had to cross. I got my ice axe out and begin kicking steps but the snow was very slushy and it had a fairly steep decline. I went back to the scree and slid down to the bottom of the snow patch. My legs started doing the sewing machine. That was it for me. I crawled back up the scree to solid ground. I took several pics including Paul and Benji on top of the west citadel.
I asked them later why they never stood on the exact top of the west summit of the citadel and they said it was possible but the exposure was incredible. While they played on "the citadel" I started my trek back. Soon I was back to Herman lake and the solitude I once had was far removed. This is a popular area and it seemed everyone had a dog. I made my way through people and canines and soon I was back down to the timber where Paul and Benji caught up to me. Conversation was the perfect medicine for my aching left knee and quads. The wildflowers were stunning, the conversation was non stop and the great but painful trail seemed endless. We made it back to the trailhead around 1:30 pm and said our farewells. I limped to the car realizing what a special area this is.
My plan was to do La Plata the 2nd day and Yale the 3rd but the pain in my legs told me to relax so I could make a stronger attempt at La Plata the 3rd day. Yale was out. Since I was camping close to the twin lakes area, I decided to drive up to Independence Pass. Once there I did the normal stroll around the paved sidewalk, took some pictures and kept looking at this old jeep road.
It looked like the perfect stroll for the day. I went back to the car, grabbed some gear and limped up the trail. When I got close to point 12,800, Grizzly Peak was king of the land still holding some winter fun.
I bowed to the king and returned to my chariot. When I drove by La Plata's trailhead, I saw the faces of men and women who had done battle on its slopes that day and their faces told of a bittersweet victory. My battle would begin tomorrow.
I left the parking lot at 5:45 am. It was almost full. I walked down the road trying to stretch out my 46 year old muscles. It seemed like a long quarter of a mile to reach the trailhead. I signed the register dating 6/25 instead of 7/25. My mind was on making it to the top, not the date. I quickly walked across the wooden bridge into the darkened forest. I was soon wondering if I was on the right trail as it kept going downhill. Finally it turned uphill and I saw the stairsteps to heaven. I was relieved that I was on the right trail but uphill it went. One hour after the parking lot I was up to the flat part of La Plata Gulch.
The flatness didn't last long enough. Veering uphill towards a gully I saw two women leisurely walking. About halfway up the swithbacks in the gulley I caught up with them. I walked with them for awhile but their interest in wildflowers let me past them. I began to wonder if this gulley had a ridge? About two-thirds up into the gulley an athlete, at least in my mind, was returning from the top. I had to ask, "how long did it take you to get to the top" ? He replied "2 hours". My first thought was I'm not worthy. Switchback after switchback I trudged on trying to listen to the women behind me, but my gasping for air was droning them out. Finally there was a ridge. I sat down and let a ground squirrel entertain me.
I knew the women weren't far behind when their dog appeared.
The ridge became a meeting place for people coming down and people going up. I wasn't in the mood for a meeting. I wanted to get to the top of this mountain with a vengance. I even told myself this would be my last chance at La Plata. I looked up, it was a long way up. At this point a 65 year old man named Dan catches up with me. We would walk about 30 to 40 steps then I would catch my breath while he just relaxed. We would say one or two sentences to each other and then walk 30 to 40 steps and repeat. Before I knew it the top looked within reach. The two women and their dog strolled past us. I knew they would catch me but I didn't care the top was right there. Dan and I made it at 10:15 a.m. Now I was in the mood for a meeting which was good because it was crowded. At one time I counted 24 people on top and there were more coming by the minute. Not exactly a wilderness experience, but I still felt like I achieved something special.
Cell phone reception was pretty good unless you have Sprint like I do. I think the guy in the red shirt was really enjoying the moment.
Is that dude wearing rolled up jeans?
Rolled up jean dude on Ellingwood ridge.
One young man was having fun on this patch of snow using a walking pole for a brake. He misjudged the steepness and got a pretty good gash in his leg when he hit the rocks. I'm glad that was all.
I stayed on top for 30 minutes enjoying the views and the camaraderie.
Then it was time for the dreaded downhill part. This was the first time I used a knee stabilizer for the hike down and I was hoping it would ease the pain. I actually enjoyed the hike back to the low point on the ridge but I couldn't believe how many people were still going up.
The clouds were building quick but that didn't seem to deter anyone. I dropped off the ridge into the gully and it seemed longer downhill than up. Several times I had to catch myself slipping around the corners of the switchbacks. It started to sprinkle and I was wondering what it was doing on top. I felt relieved to get back to treeline and then to the gulch. The sun came back out and my feet were burning. The trail got closer to the stream and eventually I saw a very good spot to soak my feet. The water was perfectly cold. Two girls walked by envious of my soaking. I could have sat there for quite some time but I knew I still had the stairsteps down through the forest. I made my way down the stairsteps gingerly as my legs were barking at me. The trail got close to the creek again and those two girls gave me a big grin because they had found a toe dipping paradise of their own. I finally reached the trailhead, signed out and corrected my sign in date, and walked down the road with a sense of accomplishment and 46 year old legs. Dan was right behind me with 65 year old legs. I hope my legs are as strong as his when I'm 65. We reached the parking lot around 2pm.
Through the 3 days in Colorado I learned some invaluable lessons. First lesson is that I don't acclimate as fast as I use to. Second lesson is to take Calcium/Magnesium tablets so I don't get cramps. The last lesson, which is not a lesson but something I've known forever, is that I hate leaving the Mountains. Have a great season and I hope to meet some of you throughout the years.
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