Hagar Mtn - 13,220 feet
Hagar Mtn - 13,220 feet
|Hagar Mountain From Dry Gulch|
13,220 Feet (466th Highest in Colorado)
South Ridge From the Dry Gulch Trailhead
Trailhead Elevation 10,551 Feet
7.15 Miles Roundtrip
Approximately 2,800 Feet Elevation Gained
September 1st, 2013
Hagar Mountain From Dry Gulch
Hagar Mountain sits on the Continental Divide north of I-70 in Grand County, Colorado. It is usually hiked from the north in combination with "The Citadel" (Class 4), or from the south in combination with "Golden Bear Peak" (Class 3). Because of its proximity to neighboring mountains on the Divide, it is not a common single-summit destination. With a scenic approach, fun Class 3 scramble, and incredible summit views, this mountain has much to offer. I was looking for a relatively short and easy summit to rehab a surgically-repaired knee, and had already climbed most of the summits on this stretch of the Divide. Hagar Mountain looked like a worthy adversary for my stage of recovery.
The hike begins at a locked gate on a dirt road that diverges from the Loveland Pass exit ramp off of I-70 West.
The Dry Gulch Trailhead
GPS track of the route to Hagar Mountain's West Ridge from the Dry Gulch Trailhead
The start of the route was underwhelming. Hiking on a wide dirt road in full view and earshot of I-70 was not indicative of how the rest of the day would go, though. The road narrowed to a single-track after about three-fourths a mile, and the trail was easy to follow for about 1.25 miles. Off-trail navigation skills became important after that point
The trail leading up Dry Gulch, with "The Citadel" in the background
The trail led through meadows with wildflowers and small groves of trees. The plant life seemed very similar to that of nearby Herman Gulch, which has more than 100 species of wildflowers. The forest became more dense as I moved farther up the gulch.
Hagar Mountain at the head of Dry Gulch
Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata) is just one of the many varieties of wildflowers in Dry Gulch
Lush meadow interspersed with spruce trees
As many people have noted, Dry Gulch is anything but dry. The ground was wet. The foliage was wet. Within a few minutes of bushwhacking through the undergrowth, my pants and boots were soaked. Gore-Tex boots and gaiters are a good idea. Wetlands plants grew in every gully, and mushrooms dotted the landscape.
Flesh-colored mushroom that I won't even attempt to identify
The terrain was fairly steep, and there was a lot of deadfall in the forest. I was enjoying the solitude and the scenery, but I wasn't really breaking any speed records. As I stepped out of a grove of trees, I startled a small herd of elk. Seeing these 500-pound behemoths crash effortlessly through the dense growth made me realize that there must be game trails to follow. You don't have to be an Eagle Scout to find trampled foliage, scat, and hoof prints in the moist soil. Judging by the scat on the game trails, they were probably used by elk, bear, and mountain goats. Taking a little extra effort to find the best route through the trees was definitely worthwhile.
Terrain farther up the gulch
Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) growing beside the trail
About 2.3 miles into the hike, Hagar's summit came back into view. I was close to treeline, and willows were my new nemesis. Instead of taking the time to pick my way through the willows, I chose to head uphill and around them.
Hagar's summit beyond the willows
Felwort (Swertia perennis) growing among the willows near treeline. It can be found around the world in the northern hemisphere, and was first discovered in Bavaria.
My effort to avoid the willows led me into a navigational blunder. I came to a ridge that led to the south side of "The Citadel." Instead of passing to the south of the ridge, I chose to go up and over it. This added a little grunt work and a couple hundred feet of elevation gain to my day.
South Ridge of "The Citadel" with Hagar Mountain's summit in the background
From the top of the ridge, I could see most of the rest of my route. I planned to approach the summit from the south via a saddle between Hagar and an unranked 12,800-foot bump on the Divide. Some may have chosen a more direct route, but I was looking for easier terrain. After all, this was a rehab hike!
Left to right: the saddle, above a snowfield; the false summit; another saddle, and a small notch just before the true summit (which is shaped like a rooster's comb)
There was a shallow tarn on the other side of the ridge. The area at the bottom of the slope was wet, fed by melting snow on the ridge above. "Wet" seemed to be the theme for the day. The plants in the area were typical for a moist alpine meadow.
Looking down the valley past the tarn
Alpine Paintbrush (Castilleja rhexifolia) on the slope below the saddle
The route to the saddle was not steep, but it involved a little bit of scree and talus-hopping. The alternative would have been to take a direct route to the summit, which would have involved a lengthy slog up a very steep scree slope. The choice was easy for me.
The gentle slope up to the saddle
The more direct route to the summit
The views from the saddle were incredible. The view of Dry Gulch was framed by twelvers Mt. Bethel and Mt. Trelease. To the west, I could see straight down the beautiful valley of the South Fork of the Williams Fork River. The trail through the Williams Fork Valley looks like a must-see destination.
Looking down Dry Gulch from the saddle
The false summit on Hagar's south side was not very physically demanding, but finding the best route through the boulders was tedious. I followed stretches of broken trail, but there was no obvious best way to get past this obstacle.
False summit viewed from the saddle
Arctic Gentian (Gentiana algida) growing on the slopes of the false summit. Arctic Gentian is native to the Rockies and through Alaska into Siberia
Once I reached the top of the false summit, I could see the most technically difficult part of the hike. I honestly couldn't see an easy route to the summit, but I knew that it was on the lower end of the Class 3 rating. I had faith that the route would be more obvious when I got closer, and it was. I bypassed the first notch on the east side, and angled up to the summit. The moves were easy and the exposure was minimal.
Hagar Mountain's summit block
Jumble of rocks near the summit
Marmot poo. Check your handholds carefully. I grabbed a handful of this slippery stuff, and we all know that this is an ideal way to get exposed to the bubonic plague
The true summit
Hagar Mountain's summit with the twin peaks of "The Citadel" in the background
There are dangers inherent to any outdoor activity. A man was struck by lightning on Quandary's standard route. A man slipped on a wet rock and suffered a serious brain injury on the innocuous Mesa Trail in Boulder. You can get heart disease eating doughnuts on the summit of Pikes Peak. Hagar Mountain is relatively safe, but whatever you do, please stay alert on the summit. Take one step backwards to get a better photograph, and it might be your last step. The drop-off to the west is alarmingly steep.
Drop-off to the west from the summit
I felt good enough to head over to "Golden Bear" for another summit, but rain was imminent and I could hear thunder in the distance. I chose the quick route down from the saddle between the true summit and the false summit. I stayed to the left of the slope, where the rocks were larger and more stable. It was no picnic, but I got off of the mountain quickly.
My descent route down from the saddle
It probably took about half an hour to get back down to the shallow tarn. I noticed bear tracks in and around one of the small creeks that surrounded the tarn. I have no idea what a bear might find to eat in an alpine meadow.
Hiking past the tarn
I had good luck finding a route through a nearly-impenetrable stand of willows, and my good fortune continued as I worked my way through the spruce forest. About two miles from the trailhead, I slipped on a wet rock in the "dry" gulch, and my surgically-repaired knee crumpled beneath me. At least the blinding pain let me know that I was still alive. The pain subsided and the knee was still functional, so got back on my way. I iced my knee down as soon as I got home, but it was still pretty swollen when I woke up the next morning. Life goes on.
Dense stand of willows near treeline
On the way back, I noticed lots of Mountain Gentian that I hadn't seen in the morning. Their flowers close at night and remain closed until mid-morning, so they are not as noticeable until later in the day. Their brilliant blue color is only rivaled by other members of their own genus.
Mountain Gentian (Gentiana parryi).
Hagar Mountain gave me a lot of bang for my buck. It's one of the closest thirteeners to the Metro area, so the fuel cost was relatively low. The solitude was welcome; it was Labor Day weekend, and I still didn't see a single hiker from the time I left my car until the time I got back. The valley was lush and green, and the plant life was diverse. I saw a herd of elk, and the opportunity to see other big game like mule deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and bear seems pretty good. Most of the area seemed virtually untouched by man. The hike was more challenging than some, and it finishes with a nice scramble. Hagar, it seems, is not so horrible.
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