Peak(s):  Casco Peak  -  13,908 feet
Frasco Benchmark  -  13,876 feet
French Mountain  -  13,940 feet
Date Posted:  12/04/2012
Modified:  12/05/2012
Date Climbed:   12/01/2012
Author:  bergsteigen
Additional Members:   Steep, JaredASkaga, bstine, Brian Thomas, fepic1
 Cirque du Casco   

Casco Peak, Frasco Benchmark, French Mountain

Trailhead: North Halfmoon creek
Route: Fiascol (ascent), Friscol (descent)
Mileage: 12
Elevation gain: 4,683'

When Brian posted up this trio for Saturday, I thought, why not? I no longer need to save Centennials for anyone, so why turn down another opportunity to go with a group to climb them? Thankfully the wind forecast in the Northern Sawatch wasn't all that bad, so off I drove stupid early on Saturday morning to meet the group at the Elbert trailhead to carpool up to the 4WD trailhead.

The 6 of us piled into 2 vehicles and had no problems driving all the way to the trailhead. I had wondered which route Brian was planning, so when we started up the 4WD road to the southwest of the trailhead (between French and K 49), I didn't think too much of it. Though after a mile we had a quick discussion, and it turns out we meant to take the 4WD mining road 0.5 miles east of the trailhead. So we did some quick map research and found the Roach variation route that ascends a gully on the west side of the Casco - Frasco saddle. We'd add a bit of mileage to the day, but we would get to do a loop, which is always nice.

I think I even prefer the valley we went up, as the views were great, as the sun hit the peaks to the northwest. There was some ice in the meadows, that we had to detour around, but otherwise the road was a pretty easy ascent.

Hiking up the other road, Champion being hit by morning light

Ice road

Frozen beaver pond

South ridge of Massive

Champion and mine building

Champion to K 49 pano

First view of Casco

It took a while to do the end around and get our first view of Casco. From there we saw a nice ramp that would take us up to our ascent gully. We reconvened at the base of the gully later to be known as "The Ordeal", to discuss our options. Going up the center was a bit less steep, but it would be near impossible to not have every step slough rocks down on anyone below. We discussed fanning out laterally, but ended up deciding to take the more solid rock to the right side. It was a very loose class 3 ridge feature, that also proved difficult to not let rocks slip and fall down the slope. I managed to stop a few rock falls from above with my feet, but was not able to prevent more rocks coming down as I moved my feet. It's not a preferred route with a group. We spread out into two groups to allow the rockfall to go down different gullies as we went up. Steep and I scouted the best route on the traverse to the saddle, once the worst of the rockfall zones was exited. Steep went high, I went low, the rest of the group chose somewhere inbetween. We were all happy to finally reach the saddle and have the worst part of the route over for the day!

The approach on a nice ramp

John in front of "The Ordeal"

Ascending The Ordeal

Steep scouting the higher traverse

Pano from Casco - Frasco saddle

From the saddle, we followed the ridge, mostly to the east (left) on the way up. Sometimes the ridge proper was best, other times we stayed to the east. Steep wisely chose the ridge proper just below the summit for some class 4 slabby crack climbing, while I managed to find a class 5 mantle move to get up the east face section. I had hoped to find an easier way up for the group, but the snow must have hid the best route.

Ascending Casco, with Frasco and French in background

Steep wisely choosing ridge proper

We topped out on Casco Peak much later than planned, but we knew the worst was behind us, and we only had a ridge run to go to complete the day.

Adam coming around the last rocks to the summit


Elbert and Bull Hill

I need longer arms!

The ridge crack we found, snow must have hidden class 2+ route

We made pretty quick work of the ridge traverse over to Frasco Benchmark. Plenty of rocky bumps along the way allowed for some nice photos of the route.

Ridge to Frasco BM

Looking back at the ridge to Casco

We didn't stop for too long on the summit of Frasco Benchmark, as the day was getting long already, and we didn't want to spend much time on an unranked peak. So I snapped a couple photos of the long shadows and John handed out Sour Patch Kids.

Oh Deer!

John snaps a photo of me on Frasco BM - Photo Credit: fepic1

From Frasco the ridge run was quick and simple, and we topped out on French Mtn around 3-ish

Ridge to French

John enroute to French

Oklahoma - Massive

Summit shot on French - Photo Credit: fepic1

From here, we dropped down the French Frasco saddle, and decided to cut off a little mileage by not going directly to the end of the 4WD road that wound around the drainage, and instead just heading down the first gully and "bee-lining it" through the willows to find the road on the other side.

Sun is setting...


Descending the French Frasco saddle

Ruban blanc de la mort

Then we encountered ice, and more ice on the road. Parts were fine, but the lower section of the road as it switched back to the valley below was downright treacherous! The road would drop off to one side, and the ice flowed over it, so falling there would have been bad. So we ended up bushwhacking next to the road to find easier passage. We even found "secret ice". Ice that was hidden by a dusting of snow. Both Brian and I went down hard on this secret ice. My wrist is ok, but it stung at the time! Plenty of slips were had by all at some point. More fun came when we had to cross the creek at the end of the trip to get back to the main road. Since the creek wasn't frozen all the way through, and there were many gaping holes leading to watery danger. Upstream we went, until we found a reasonably solid crossing. Microspikes went on, and we slowly carefully crossed the creek.

Brian walking the ice in the valley - Photo Credit: Steep

A great day out, even if we were all tired and exhausted by the end of it! Everyone earned their mountaineering stripes today! Especially as one participant only had Quandary, Grays and Torreys.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Comments or Questions
Very nice circuit!
12/04/2012 21:14
Circuitous route but great views! Is that the ”Fiascol” that you guys climbed? That's what Roach calls it at least. ”Ordeal” is a good name for it too.

Dynamite day
12/04/2012 21:33
Looks like a fun early winter route - might have to get up there soon. Hard to believe the (lack of) snow conditions again this year.

Brian Thomas
12/05/2012 01:31
Great turnout despite the forecast. Yes the ”ordeal” and the ice road sucked but otherwise an excellent day. Thanks for writing this one up Otina!

Great day to be out!
12/05/2012 01:56
Thank you Otina for the trip report and leading us up the ordeal
I won't leave my camera at home again ! That ridge line from Casco to
Frasco was rugged .You took some great photos The views of the snow coverd Elks makes me more Excited for Winter.
Awesome group I hope to get out with everyone again

12/05/2012 04:35
look at your avatar... where you at? Great report Otina! Looks like a solid outing on a fine December day.

Very nice!
12/05/2012 15:31
Longer arms, huh? Looks like you're trying to simulate USAKeller's standard shot. But love your photo eye, Otina! Thanks for sharing!

12/05/2012 19:54
geojed - Yep, we climbed the Fiascol and descended the Friscol. I'll have to edit the TR now.

dmccool - Just don't forget your microspikes!

fepic1 - Thanks for keeping an eye on the rest of the group, while I tried to find a solid way through that crap!

MtnHub - With the wind and cold, I didn't think my camera would stay upright or on (batteries were mostly dead), so I had to do the arm extension shot. Need to keep practicing!

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