| The Witching Hour
Peak: Grizzly Peak
Tale of the Tape: 15.2 miles and 4090 vertical
Partner in high-altitude crime: wooderson
Another dead of night drive from the city. Subtle reek in the air. Lone wolf truckers with their short-wave cackles and carbon monoxide drawls are broadcasting the witching hour to an undocumented audience.
Red and yellow lights. Peepshow traffic cams. Shadowy roadkill. The soothing turns of Clear Creek Canyon.
Towns and exits and tunnels in my rear-view. Idaho Springs. Georgetown. Sinister Bakerville.
Somewhere outside of Leadville, I see a black Ferrari sitting in a makeshift junkyard window. It is just up the road from an old forgotten school on an unappetizing stretch of US-24 all garnished with dilapidated structures, broken glass yards, trash, muck, cigarette flicks, and a wayward pair of undergarments. This is what they call great living at 10,200.
Days or minutes or hours later, I pull into the La Plata Trailhead. I haven't day-tripped from Denver in three months and I'm feeling the effects despite numerous Diet Cokes. I doze for ten, then Wooderson says it's now or never. We hoist packs and are on our way. FS 391. McNasser Gulch. Grizzly Peak.
We reach a gate at 11,300 and pass a corrugated dive at 11,700. The shack is up on a hill with front door wide open. There appears to be a washing machine nearby and I'm instantly getting that Ed Gein vibe – body parts in the freezer, candlelight shrine for mother, sex mags and swastikas, rodents in cages, large menacing knives. We clear out quickly.
Papillon: I want to take a closer look on the way back.
Wooderson: Good luck with that...
At 12,000, we reach a mine and take five, devouring several orange gumdrops. We debate taking the grassy ramps leading up to the ridge on our right but decide to play the percentages and press on further into the basin. Garfield comes into view and I'm looking for an escape route if we choose to make a bid for the bicentennial. There is a faint scree trail but it looks steep.
After some side-hilling on obnoxious dinner plate talus, we ascend a shattered weakness and reach the ridge at 13,300. Drop-offs on the other side are endless. I hear rockfall and see goats making their way down an anonymous gully. Grizzly Lake comes into view below – crystal blue persuasion.
We ride the ridge up, occasionally dropping down 20-30 feet to skirt some geologic vagaries. Around 13,600, we opt for a feast and a snooze. When all you've got left are the class 2 blues, relaxation is in order. I doze in the talus as best I can, adopting a serpentine posture in order to avoid the sharp rocks. It is by no means 5-star but I feel more content with each breath.
The next thing I know we're on the summit. Views are spectacular – hanging tarns, craggy drop-offs, gullies of ill repute. But there are clouds in the distance and that descent off Garfield looks pretty wicked.
So we orphan the bicentennial (third this season) and make our way down to the grassy security of McNasser Gulch. Nothing left now but the long walk out.
Casa de Ed Gein
The mine at 12,000
Navigating the ridge
A feast of friends...
The final stretch
Surfer Girl is in the mountains...
If you're not drinking this after a day in the hills, you shouldn't be drinking at all.
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