Peak(s):  Cronin Peak  -  13,870 feet
Date Posted:  04/01/2019
Date Climbed:   03/30/2019
Author:  yaktoleft13
Additional Members:   koeffling, osprey, BKS
 This is the Ridge that Never Ends....   

.....And it goes on and on my friends.

What happens when you add equal parts wonder, misery, and the world's longest ridge? You get this, of course! This report is to not only recount an amazing day in the mountains, but provide some beta on a good winter variation of a great route.

This plan had been brewing since January. Back before the epic snows hit Colorado, myself, Brian (bks), and my wife set out to climb Cronin. We wanted to hit the ridge earlier than the standard Cronin North Ridge route does to avoid potentially suspect slopes, so we left the road at 11,400, hoping to hit the ridge at about 11,600. Unfortunately, planning a route on topo maps is not quite the same as executing it in real life. We quickly found ourselves slip-sliding down a steep slope, splashing across a creek, and trying to ascend another loose, steep, snow-covered slope to get to the ridge. The waterproofing on my wife's shoes was, ahem, questionable, and one step in the creek ended her attempt. Brian and I decided shortly thereafter that this was not the day, so we bailed and decided to try again.

And then the weather happened. Record breaking snow cycles caused dangerous avalanche conditions. Seemingly for 2 straight months, Colorado was stuck on a pattern of it being 60 degrees and sunny on weekdays, then 22 and snowing every weekend. Really put a damper on mountain plans.

But we never kicked Cronin from the back of our minds. I kept an eye on weather/avalanche conditions, and this weekend there seemed to be a window. I was going to text Brian to see if he was game, and before I could, he hit me up. "Cronin this weekend?" "YUUUUUUUP!"

We were fortuitously joined by Tom (osprey) and Kirsten (koeffling), both of whom turned out to be wonderful people and hiking partners, and essential to the success of the hike. We all agreed to meet at the bottom of Baldwin Gulch at 6 AM Saturday, so promptly at 6:20 we left the trailhead. We were accompanied by Brian's wife Melody and dog Charlie, who kept us company until the ridge.

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The crew!


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First good look at the ridge! From the creek crossing

Here's where our proposed route varied from our prior attempts and any prior beta we could find on the ridge. We knew we wanted to hit the ridge as low as possible. After one failed attempt and a good staring contest with a topo map, we figured out we could hit the ridge as low as 11k, where it first begins to rise. We knew we'd have a bushwhack until we could get up to the ridge, but the forest wasn't very dense and the route was obvious: stay as high as possible. There was one wide open slope at about 11,400 that we chose to avoid, but it was easy enough to go around it through the trees. Before we knew it, we found ourselves on the ridge, stashing our snowshoes (little did we know we wouldn't see them again for 8 hours).

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Turnoff at the veeeeeery bottom of the North Ridge. Just follow the rabbit tracks, easy enough


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North Ridge poking out from behind the trees


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Melody and Brian avoiding the open slope just below treeline


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A look down on our tracks leading up to the real start of the ridge


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Me, Tom, and Brian pausing to take of snowshoes. Oh you poor, happy, naive souls...

We all spiked up at this point (except Tom, who somehow completed the bushwhack in just microspikes; in fact, Tom managed the entire day without putting his snowshoes on once) and started up the ridge. We heard reports that there was some spiciness on the lower ridge, but I think we were all surprised at how scrambly the ridge was. From 11,600, where we stashed our snowshoes, until about 12,100, the ridge was a mix of scree, mild snow slopes, and class 3 scrambling. On the way up, none of the rock gave us too much pause, but it was pretty sporty, especially with so much snow and while wearing mittens.

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Tom and Kirsten heading up the ridge


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Brian and Kirsten heading up the ridge; Princeton hiding in the clouds


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Kirsten scrambling


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Undulations


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Brian on one of the more exposed scrambling sections


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Moving on up


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Tom coming up


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Brian making moves


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Kirsten, Brian, and I, wondering what we got ourselves into


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Me, contemplating the next move


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The views were stunning. Also, Brian


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Taking the snow route to avoid crossing gullies

There were so many ups and downs on this ridge that I lost count. Once past the scrambling, the lower ridge consisted of minor ups and downs, with gullies leading off to the basin to the right. The hardest move I remember was crossing an 8 foot wide gully that had a rock in the middle for a foothold. The rock was solid. but you had to commit to putting a foot on it, then trusting that foot to bounce to the other side (or you could just go 5 feet higher up through the small trees, like everyone else who was smarter than me did).


We then got to two points that from a distance looked like trouble. They seemed to be steep snow with no clear way up to them. But as we got closer, we saw the tracks of a particularly adventurous mountain goat (or similar hooved creature) who'd trekked their way to about 13,000. When in doubt, follow the goat. Lo and behold, the goat found a perfect route past the points, which looked a lot harder than they were. I've got to give it up to Tom; from about 12,000 until the summit, Tom took over routefinding and trail breaking duties. He led us and set the pace for about 1,800 vertical feet. I bonked around 13,000; Tom stayed strong through the top. The route past the two points is straightforward; stay on the ridge proper, avoid cornices, and climb either snow or rock, whichever looks easier. I doubt we strayed more than 50 feet from the ridge crest at any time.


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Brian and Tom, with the points in the background


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Tom and I going past point #1, with the goat tracks on the right showing the way


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Brian on his way up


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Past the points, summit finally in sight!


The ups and downs of the ridge, the constantly changing footing, and the altitude took their tolls on us as a group. Our pace slowed to a crawl. For me, it was 20 or 30 steps, then a break. I'd stupidly forgot my prehike water bottle at home, so I was going in to the hike less hydrated than ideal. That caught up to me badly on the upper portion of the ridge. Kirsten and I resorted to scooping snow with our water bottle caps into our bottles to supplement our dwindling supply.

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The rest of the ridge


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The rest of the pictures are just "Tom leading the way" or "Eric struggling"


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"Tom leading the way"


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Tom leading the way


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Tom leading the way, finally past the last of the false summits and tackling the summit pitch


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Eric struggling

The weather was very Jekyll and Hyde; we had beautiful, sunny weather until about an hour below the summit. At that point a very light snow moved in and stayed until we were at about 12k on the descent. But amazingly, there was no wind to speak of, from start to finish!


We made it! Over seven hours after starting, all four of us reached the summit. As there was no wind, this was one of the most pleasant summits I've had in winter-like conditions.

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Summit! I cut out the picture of me sitting down because I was too beat to stand up...


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Kirsten gets her own epic summit photo


Problem is, the summit is only the halfway point. We had to grind out the long ridge to get back to the snowshoes, the road, and our cars. It was Brian's turn to lead the way. He got a burst of energy and led us all the way back to the snowshoes. The descent was still slow-going. There were a few times where we had to kick steps into the snow to get enough traction to move on. The rest of the time, we were plunge-stepping (with the occasional thigh-deep posthole) or or trying to find the firmest surface around, whether snow or rock. It was exhausting; we never knew how solid what we were stepping on would be.

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Starting down the looooooooooong ridge


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Heading down the ridge. This picture could be out of order; the ridge all blended together at that point for me


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One of the trickier parts of the descent. Kirsten kicking steps to traverse the snowfield


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Moving on down


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A good look at what much of the terrain above 12k looked like; snow/cornice to climber's left, rock to the right


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so many ups and downs


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Finally reaching the lower portions of the ridge


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The sun breaking through across the drainage to the west!

Probably the trickiest part of the descent was a short rock section we breezed through on the way up. There was a small knife's edge type ridge, followed by a scramble up and over some blocks. It was cake on the way up. But on the way down, you couldn't see the footholds, and the snowy bypass was steep and slick. Kirsten eventually showed us the way, executing the move officially know as "The Kirsten Step."

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Kirsten contemplating the move


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the snow below her left foot was the no go snow


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Kirsten solving the puzzle of her move


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Me, after watching the master, executing the Kirsten Step. Not pictured: the "Tom Sneak"

After pushing through exhaustion for almost 3 hours on the ridge, we made it back to our snowshoes. We retraced our steps through the forest (which went on way longer than it felt on the ascent; I guess we blacked out during that part) and finally made the road. From there, we had a straightforward and surprisingly pleasant hike out to reach the cars. Kirsten set a blistering pace back to the cars. Somehow, she got faster and faster as the day went on.

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Tom, Brian, and I, as the sun peaked out to shine its light on Cronin.

All in all, this was a wonderful day in the mountains. It ended up an epic, nearly 12 hour ordeal, but we pushed through and succeeded. All three of them are fantastic partners. If anyone gets a chance to hike with any of them, I highly recommend it.


As for the route, this is a great option in winter. By hitting the ridge so low, you essentially mitigate all avalanche risk. This was definitely the easiest way to gain the ridge. Of note: most of us agreed this is one of, if not the most exhausting day in the mountains we've ever had. This is not for the faint of heart. And come expecting a long day. But the route is beautiful and rewarding, and one of my favorites that I've ever done.


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




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
osprey
Cronin
04/01/2019 08:25
Great report of a difficult climb of a beautiful peak done with strong partners.
Eric did the yeoman''s work of putting in the trench through the deep snow from the bottom of the ridge up to where we removed our snow shoes.


koeffling
User
Great day!
04/01/2019 08:33
Thanks for the great write up! Great to hike with you guys on such a fun route. Thanks for letting me tag along!


BKS
User
Yes
04/01/2019 10:03
It was a great day, great group and write up.


Jay521
User
Yikes!
04/01/2019 13:25
Looks like one hell of a day. Did you consider going down a more pedestrian route or did you rule that out because you had stashed your snowshoes?

Really nice photos and write-up!


yaktoleft13
User
RE:
04/01/2019 15:04
It's funny you ask Jay. We talked about it for 5 seconds before remembering we'd stashed our snowshoes...


Jay521
User
LOL!
04/01/2019 15:33
Actually, that's the reason I almost never stash my snowshoes - come to think of it, I'm not sure I ever have. I do enjoy doing loops and having the option to go down a different way so I just carry them the whole time. Or maybe it's because I'm old and might forget where I stashed them????

I really did enjoy reading this report, tho. I love the Baldwin Gulch area - but I sure do hate driving the road. Winter access looks a lot more appealing...


TomPierce
Enjoyed this
04/02/2019 11:40
Nice report, thanks for posting. That ridge looks far more interesting than I assumed. Maybe I'll try it next winter?

-Tom


Jvinro
Fun Read!
04/12/2019 20:42
Thank you for posting!


nyker
User
Nice!
04/18/2019 13:12
Yea, that's a long ridge... hence my name of Dragon's Back Ridge!


Dan the Trip Leader
User
Excellent
05/19/2019 15:39
Thanks!



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