"Phoenix Pk" - 13,895 feet
|Fall snow on Phoenix|
"Phoenix Peak" (13,895) South Slopes
East Willow Creek Trailhead
Date: Oct 26, 2013
Mileage: 11.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 4300'
Participants: The Gang of Three: Me, Myself and I
Another fall weekend with a good looking forecast. Trying to chip away at the Centennials, I decided to head down to Creede and give "Phoenix Pk" a go. Only 8.2 miles, 3675' vertical, sounded like an easy outing. Last minute weather forecast check before leaving Salida...70% chance of rain/snow. Where did that come from? Well, I guess it's going to be Winter soon enough, I shouldn't let a little white mess with my goals.
I drove down Friday afternoon planning on sleeping in the back of the Xterra. The weather was nice until I pulled into Creede, when the forecasters made good their promise, light drizzle. It wasn't yet 5pm and with 13hrs to kill, I drove up the road to check out the conditions on the 4wd road. The road to the 2wd TH is pretty smooth and wouldn't be an issue for any car (except for maybe one of those gang-banger low riders I see in the movies). I drove past the 4wd turnoff; I think the Roach mileage is a little bit off. After a few more switchbacks with no obvious turnoffs, realized my mistake and backed down the hill. The 4wd road started with a few rocks, then a steep decline before driving up a rocky stream flowing down the road. I was questioning my decision to drive the Xterra on the back side of that steep hill with the rain/snow picking up, so I turned around and drove back out.
I had dinner at the one restaurant in Creed that was open, Kips Grill. The outside didn't look too inviting, but the Pollo Asado special I had was very good. Probably the best roasted chicken I've ever had. Go figure. After diner, I drove back up to the 2wd TH and found a nice flat pulloff to park. Fell asleep to light rain.
I'm the world's worst insomniac. Or is that the world's best? Sometime around midnight I awoke to an odd sound. What's that ?!? Deer? Bear? The Phoenix Park Strangler? I quickly flipped on the lights and popped open the door to confront my unwanted guest. No deer, no bear, no strangler. The noise was several inches of snow sloughing off the Xterra. Great, now I was picturing waking up to the storm of the century, stuck 4 miles outside of Creede until Spring. Well, can't have that happen to me, so I jumped in the driver's seat and drove down to town to sleep the rest of the night. At least the roads would be plowed down there in civilization.
Up at 6am, nice to sleep in for a change. Driving back up the road, the snow depth slowly increased until I finally reached the 4wd turnoff where it was about 3". I didn't trust myself to drive down the steep 4wd road with the snow, so I parked at the top of the hill in a nice little campsite. Guess the mileage was going to be 11.2, not 8.2 and the gain 4300' instead of 3675'. Well, they say exercise is good for you, so I shouldn't complain about the opportunity.
The hike down and then up the 4wd road to Phoenix Park was really nice. The new snow made the extra mileage enjoyable (at least on the way in). All of the trees had a fresh coating of snow, and with no wind it was a beautiful hike in. The turnoff from the road to the trail was pretty obvious, with 2 trail posts on the road, 2 posts in the field and what looked like an old road heading up the hill on the other side of the creek.
The trail was pretty straightforward: follow the old road, pass the 20 beaver ponds (looks like the beavers have been using dynamite to fell the trees), cross the creek immediately after the last beaver pond (not before) and start to diagonal up the hill to join up with the Center Stock Driveway. There was 6-12" snow on the ground, so following a typical trail through the forest would be a problem. But the "driveway" was marked with about 1,723 blazes on the trees. If you only see one blaze, you are probably drifting off the trail. If you see six blazes, you are in the middle of the trail.
After the 1,723 blazes, you finally break out at treeline. Make an immediate left turn and follow the cairns across the creek. The route gains a short ridge which bypasses some cliffs.
Lot of side-hilling with variable snow depth; sometimes you are on tundra, sometimes you are shin-deep in powder. You can't really see the summit from the south slopes. Once you gain the saddle, you think you see the summit, but then further in the distance you see the 6' cairn and realize there is a false summit to tackle first. Fortunately there isn't much elevation gain between the two, so the final stretch goes by pretty easily.
The way down went much quicker, just follow the footsteps. The day warmed up enough to melt most of the snow of the 4wd road. Still, I was glad to have not risked getting stuck back there. The final climb back to the truck wasn't too bad. A little tired, but overall a pretty nice hike.
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