| Fall Healing in the Puma Hills
October 25th, 2009
"Little Puma" - 11,449'
Farnum Peak - 11,377'
"Burntop" - 11,085'
Eagle Rock - 9,710'
Packer Gulch TH and West Eagle Rock TH
Attending: Derek and Greenhouseguy
Total Combined Distance : Around 9.25 miles
Total Combined Elevation : Around 3,450'
It had been over two weeks since I had been to the mountains, although it felt longer. I had planned on joining the 14ers Fall Gathering on the 10th and taking on Mt. Hope, however a couple days prior to the festivities my appendix decided to take an early departure. Needless to say, I was not in any sort of shape to be trudging up the hills. The weekend after, my mind was ready for some mountain activity but my body still wasn't. Grudgingly, I took one more weekend off.
A third weekend off was NOT going to happen. Original plans for my "Rehab Hike" were going to include a couple easy hikes in the Retirement Range with Observatory Rock and Eagle Rock. As the week prior rolled on, I began to feel like I could handle a bit more of a challenge. In February of this year, Greenhouseguy and I had a nice winter summit of "Puma Peak" in the Puma Hills. Due to my cold toes, we had been unable to add on any additional summits that day. It seemed that heading back up to the Puma Hills to finish the surrounding peaks would make for a good "Rehab Hike".
Greenhouseguy and I headed out from Denver early Sunday. Weather reports were calling for precipitation and the sprinkling rain as we headed out seemed to be proving these reports. By the time we reached Tarryall Reservoir, the skies were clearing and it started to look like it would be a decent day.
We made our way into Packer Gulch on FS144. This road actually leads all the way to the "Puma Peak"-"Little Puma" saddle, however since we were there to hike and not drive, we parked at the second switchback after entering the trees. There is enough room for a couple vehicles at this switchback. This is the same spot that we had parked last February when we hiked "Puma Peak", although this time we didn't have the adventure of plowing through a bunch of fresh snow with the certain feeling of getting stuck. So we had that going for us.
Upper portion of Forest Service Road 144.
We threw on our packs and started up the road. Almost immediately, I felt the affects of my time off but we were still able to keep a decent pace. From Roach's book, we knew that by not summiting "Puma Peak" we could branch off the road prior to the saddle to save some distance. As we made our way up, I kept a count the switchbacks and after reaching number nine (using the parking switchback as number one) we broke off and headed straight for the ridge leading up to "Little Puma". This would be the last that we would see of any sort of trail for the rest of the day.
First portion of the "Little Puma" ridge.
View of the southern Puma Hills.
Once on the ridge, the bush-whack began. We followed the path of least resistance through the fallen trees, and scrambled up a few sections of rock to remain on the ridge. Thankfully we did not encounter very much snow after leaving the road, so we were able to put our attention into the difficult task of not falling over a log. We reached the summit quickly, probably in an hour or less. (We were not keeping track of the time.) I found it quite humorous (though painful) that on arriving to the summit I bent over to pick up the register jar and nailed my head on a tree while standing back up. Ah, the hazards of tree covered lower peaks.
The summit of "Little Puma" with Derek browsing through the summit register. (Photo by Greenhouseguy)
Thankfully, I was beginning to feel a bit more energetic after arriving on "Little Puma". After a short stay, we began descending east towards the saddle of "Little Puma" and Farnum Peak. Farnum Peak is unranked as it only rises 277' from the saddle, but I was still looking forward to seeing what was said to be a nice summit view. The saddle between the peaks had a very pleasant open spot which would make a great place to camp. This got us to talking about how untraveled this area was, and guessing how long one would have to wait before seeing another person walk through. My guess would be a long while.
Flat and somewhat open area on the saddle of "Little Puma" and Farnum Peak.
Example of the terrain on the ridge towards Farnum Peak.
Obviously, one must put a lot of focus into their navigation when traveling in this area. A majority of the time, we were unable to see any sorts of landmarks to aid in navigation due to the trees. Every once in a while when I was able to get a view of the horizon, I took note with my compass to keep bearings. Greenhouseguy also carried his GPS, which allowed for even greater accuracy. Even so, we kept a close check on our navigation throughout the day.
Soon after ascending towards Farnum from the saddle, we came across some mountain lion paw prints in the snow. How appropriate for our trip in the Puma Hills. There appeared to be two sets, one of an adult and another of a young one. We would see more prints later in the day along the ridge to Burntop. These and all the other wildlife signs found through the day really reminded you of the true wilderness of the area.
Cat tracks on the ridge to Farnum Peak.
More tracks from later in the day on the way to "Burntop".
The ridge up to the summit of Farnum was again a tangle of trees and rock outcroppings. We continued to take the easiest route we saw and did our best not to nail our shins or heads on any logs or branches. This was much easier said than done. Nevertheless, we made the summit and were treated with a great view of "Puma Peak" and "Little Puma" to the west. We spent some time looking through the summit register for familiar names, and noticed the register went back over three decades. The most recent signature in any of the registers we saw that day was over 5 months old.
Greenhouseguy choosing the best route up Farnum Peak's ridge.
Summit cairn on Farnum Peak. (Photo by Greenhouseguy)
Some "slabby" rocks on Farnum Peak's summit.
Looking west at "Puma Peak" (left) and "Little Puma". (right)
After taking a short break at the summit, we headed back down to the saddle between Farnum and "Little Puma". Once arriving back at the open saddle area, we stopped to plot our course over to the "Little Puma"-"Burntop" ridge. We knew that we would probably not have an open look to coordinate ourselves until we were on the ridge itself, so we decided to follow a mapping contour with just a slight elevation decline all the way around the NW side of "Little Puma". In theory, this would land us directly in line with our route over to Burntop. This plan ended up working fine, and we ended up very close to our intended aim of the south side of Point 10,880'. (Point 10,880' is one of the bumps on the ridge to Burntop.)
Derek navigating the NW side of "Little Puma" en route to "Burntop". (Photo by Greenhouseguy)
Greenhouseguy on the ridge up to "Burntop". "Puma Peak" visible in the background.
The ridge to Burntop was the most difficult section of the day for me. The entire length of the ridge is 1.9 miles, and it felt longer with the constant bushwhack. And even though it felt like we were gaining elevation, constant checks on Greenhouseguy's GPS indicated that we were actually getting lower. It was quite strange. The struggle was worth it, because when we got about a half mile from the summit, the surroundings suddenly opened up. We had reached the fire line from the 1970's fire that gave Burntop its unofficial name. The scenery here with the scarred and burnt trees still standing was terrific, although honestly kind of creepy. It would be a wonderful place for someone with camera skills (not me) to get some outstanding shots. Or set up a haunted house. Whichever.
Crossing over into the burn area.
Derek entering the burn area. (Photo by Greenhouseguy)
Greenhouseguy heading towards the "Burntop" summit. True summit is on the left.
The views from the summit of Burntop were wide open to all sides. To the west we were able to see a large chuck of the Sawatch looking snowy. To the north and east, the familiar peaks of the Lost Creek Wilderness were visible including Bison and McCurdy, Peak X, North and South Twin Cones and a multitude of others.
Views to the west from near the "Burntop" summit.
From L to R, Farnum Peak, "Little Puma", and "Puma Peak" from the summit of "Burntop".
We knew that the descent from Burntop would be its own navigational challenge. It would be compounded due to the fact that we had parked in the trees at the second switchback instead of the standard trailhead out in the open. We began by backtracking along the ridge for a short distance back towards "Little Puma". As soon as we found an appropriate looking spot to drop off, we descended diagonally towards where we parked. We maintained enough elevation to keep us out of Packer Gulch and prevent the need for elevation gain in the end, but stayed low enough to keep off the ridge in a straight line for our destination. On the way across the slope, we passed by some large aspen groves that would probably have been stunning about 4 weeks ago.
Aspen groves during our descent from "Burntop".
Final GPS track of our route. (Courtesy of Greenhouseguy)
Amazingly, we came up on the vehicle at precisely the correct spot without too much directional aid of the GPS. Even though this completed our loop, the weather was still perfect and it was still early in the afternoon and we didn't feel like calling it a day quite yet. During our hike, we had discussed the possibility of wandering over to Eagle Rock if we had time. So, we jumped in the Jeep and weaved our way Northwest on various forest service roads until Eagle Rock came into view.
Eagle Rock is noted as a great viewing area for many of the peaks in the Lost Creek Wilderness. The rocky summit seems to pop right out of the flat grassy pastures surrounding it. With over 500' of prominence, the little peak has caught my eye many times from other summits.
Unfortunately, neither of us had brought along Roach's book which showed not only the best route, but also where to park. We ended up following the FS road around the south end of Eagle Rock. On the southwest side, we found a pull off with a closed road heading north along the west side of Eagle Rock. We made this our starting point. (After reviewing Roach's book later, I verified that this was the correct parking spot for the west ridge route, although we did not end up following the same route.)
View of Eagle Rock from near the parking area.
We followed the road until it ended, almost directly west of the summit. From here, we just huffed and puffed straight up aiming for the notch between the north and true south summit. Just prior to reaching the saddle, we faced a few scrambling obstacles in the lower class three level. We reached the saddle between the two summits quickly, and ran over to the north summit first.
Greenhouseguy coming up the steep west slope.
Obstacles facing our ascent to the saddle.
Derek just below the saddle. (Photo by Greenhouseguy)
NOTE: We actually ascended a "hybrid" of Roach's two routes that he lists. From where we parked, he has his route going directly up the south ridge to the true summit. His other route comes from the east and ascends to the same saddle that we had reached. Therefore, upon reaching the saddle we officially met up with the east route.
Viewing the true summit from the North summit.
Greenhouseguy on the ramp leading to the summit.
From the north summit, we worked our way towards the true summit and discovered the ramp system that leads to the top. A couple minutes of scrambling and some fun exposure put us on the summit with some terrific views of the surrounding peaks, including the Puma Hills from which we had just come.
Last look at Eagle Rock from the drive out.
We back-tracked our ascent route on the way down, and made it back to the vehicle very quickly. The weather had held up wonderfully for us all day, even though distant mountains seemed to have been covered in clouds all day. It was nice to finally get back into the hills. Getting out on this "Rehab Hike" may not have been what the doctor ordered, but it sure made me feel a whole lot better.
Final GPS track of our route up Eagle Rock. (Courtesy of Greenhouseguy)