| Antero-Southeast Slope via Little Browns Creek Trail
I tried to ignore my alarm at 4 a.m., but the smell of coffee emanating from my automatic coffee maker finally got me moving. I quickly reviewed my checklist, stashed my gear in my trunk, and hit U.S. 285 to head to the mountains. Although I-70 likely would have been a quicker route to the Buena Vista area, I can never seem to resist driving on 285. I waved northward to Quandary and the Decalibron as I drove through Fairplay on my way toward the junction of 285 and 24. Just as the sun was rising, I took a sharp curve and, BANG, there was Mount Princeton in all its majesty before me. That certainly got my blood pumping for a 14er hike!
I pulled into the scenic overlook just east of Johnson Village and took some photos of Yale, Princeton, and Antero. I then had a decision to make. I had anticipated that the Sawatch Range would have ample snow by this late in the autumn, and I had planned to do a snow-hike up Yale's east ridge. On inspection with my binoculars, however, it appeared that both Yale and Antero were largely free of snow. I really wanted to save Yale for more wintry conditions, so I chose to hike up Antero instead.
I parked at the Browns Creek trailhead, changed into my boots, and hit the trail at 8 a.m. Right off the bat I went off-trail to take a closer look at Browns Creek, which eventually placed me right in the midst of a large beaver dam. I ran into the Colorado Trail after maneuvering around the dam, and I took this north until turning westward onto the Little Browns Creek Trail. At 9:30 I had a cup of tea from my thermos, a couple of hard-boiled eggs, and an apple for breakfast. It was already starting to get unseasonably warm, so I stowed my fleece and continued onward in just my long-sleeved t-shirt.
Antero from the scenic overlook east of Johnson Village.
A closer view of Antero from the east.
The Little Browns Creek Trail was distinct and well-maintained. It was also quite wide in several sections, resembling the Barr Trail on Pikes Peak. Unlike the Barr Trail's continual upward slope, however, the Little Browns Creek Trail had an annoying tendency to undulate upward and downward. It seemed like I was constantly gaining 100 ft. just to give it back up a few hundred yards later.
I was already in need of another short break at 11, so I had two small cups of tea from my thermos and a Cliff Bar. I then continued onward and was soon rewarded with my first clear view of Mount White and, soon thereafter, Antero. I made a poor decision at this point and decided to turn off the Little Browns Creek Trail and head northwest toward Antero. This move turned out to be about a mile premature; I would have had a much easier climb had I continued on the trail farther west before heading up. I ended up ascending a slope that was nearly as steep as Antero's west side and was littered with loose talus—not dangerously loose, but loose enough to frequently require a hand be placed down for balance. As you can imagine, pseudo-scrambling up this entire slope took an interminable amount of time and wore me down substantially. I had to stop repeatedly for breaks, sometimes only taking fifty or fewer steps between them. I could see Point 13,888 on the east ridge of Antero, but it didn't seem like I was getting any closer to it! By the time I reached 13,500 ft., the back of my long-sleeved t-shirt was soaking wet with sweat. No wonder—when I looked at my thermometer it was 75 degrees! I took my shirt off and tied it to the back of my pack to dry it out, and ended up climbing to the summit bare-chested. I couldn't believe that I was climbing shirtless at this high of an elevation on November 6th! It was perfect!
I finally gained Point 13,888, and then it was a fairly straightforward trek across the east ridge to Antero's summit. It was nearly 4 p.m. by the time I reached the top; I had lost considerable time coming up the far southeastern slope. I spent a good 20 minutes at the top soaking up the sun and enjoying the views.
Mount White from the Little Browns Creek trail.
I hiked up via the slope to the right of the chute in the center of this photo.
Looking back toward Mount White and the Little Browns Creek valley.
The east ridge of Antero.
Approaching the summit.
Mt. Princeton from Antero's summit.
Hill 13,870 ("North Carbonate") from the summit.
From the summit, looking back at Antero's east ridge.
Looking south toward Shavano and Tabeguache.
I descended south from Antero's summit and then followed a narrow snow gulley that led down to Little Browns Creek. The snow was just soft enough that I sank in a good 2-3 inches with every step and didn't have to worry about slipping down, but it was also firm enough that I didn't posthole. That being said, anyone planning on ascending or descending this way should carry an ice ax; it's steep and rocky enough that a slip and slide could lead to a serious injury or even a fatality. Not sure what the avalanche risk is during winter and spring above this gulley, but it looks like it would be a fun ascent with crampons and ice ax. Anyone done it?
Descending via the amphitheatre south of Antero's summit.
Looking back up through the snow gulley I descended.
Another nice look back up at the gulley--pack your ice ax.
The exit of the gulley onto the Little Browns Creek valley is on the far left of this photo.
I was at the bottom of the Little Browns Creek valley by 5:45 p.m., but still had a long way to go to get back to my car. The sun had slipped behind Antero's south ridge, and it was starting to get colder and darker. I slipped my fleece, gloves, and hat back on and readied my headlamp for some night ops. I actually always enjoy hiking in the dark—reminds me of my boyhood days in Michigan when I would fall asleep deer hunting and have to navigate back to camp in the dark! The only downside to the night hike was that I somehow missed my turn south onto the Colorado Trail and ended up heading north instead, so I had to get my compass and map out and bushwhack back to County Road 272 once I realized my mistake (if Ebnhil is reading this, it was much easier than bushwhacking on the east side of Mount Massive back in September!). I got back to my car at 8:30 p.m. After a 12.5-mile hike, I was thankful that I had reserved a room at the Super 8 in Leadville and didn't have to drive directly back to Denver.
I had initially planned to wake up early on Sunday morning and hike up Mt. Elbert with B-Thom and some other 14ers.com folks. However, I was dreadfully tired and sore after my Antero adventure, and was afraid that I'd slow the group down and annoy everyone if I went. So instead I slept in a little with the plan of soloing Elbert with a late start. I had some breakfast and took some photos of Massive and Elbert from Leadville, then drove to the South Mt. Elbert trailhead. The skies looked a little dark when I started on the trail at around 9:30 a.m., and after hiking for less than a mile I started to hear rumblings of thunder. The skies were turning darker now, so I decided to save Elbert for another day and head back to my car. By the time I got back to my car, dime-sized pellets of snow were falling. B-Thom and the others apparently had quite a harrowing experience on Elbert during an electrical storm (see Dying2Live's report and comments: http://14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=9393) , so I was lucky I slept in!
I headed back to Denver via 285 and stopped again at the scenic overlook just east of Johnson Village to take a few last photos of Antero. Didn't get two 14ers in like I had hoped, but the Antero experience alone made for a great weekend. Given the length of the hike, the beautiful weather, the descent through the snow gulley, and the night hiking, map and compass reading, and bushwhacking on the return, this was a truly rewarding solo.
A view of Mt. Massive from Leadville the next morning.
Elbert from Leadville.
Parry Peak and Mt. Cosgriff from the South Mt. Elbert trailhead before . . .
. . . and after.
A final look back at Antero before driving home.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):