"Golden Bear Pk" - 13,010 feet
Hagar Mtn - 13,220 feet
"Golden Bear Pk" - 13,010 feet
Hagar Mtn - 13,220 feet
|Hagar the Horribly Windy|
A few weeks prior I climbed "The Citadel", Pettingell Peak, and "Hassell Peak" but orphaned "Golden Bear Peak" and Hagar Mountain. I wondered when I'd get a chance to come back to them, and when my friend Michelle told me she'd been invited to climb Denali with a small independent team and wanted to learn some of the finer points of mountaineering I figured "Golden Bear" and Hagar would be a good start - close by and relatively easy. We'd done Boreas Mountain together years ago in December so we've got some history of peak bagging in less than ideal conditions.
I was trying to determine which route I wanted to take. There were several options: start at Herman Gulch Trailhead and ascend or descend through Dry Gulch; start at Loveland Pass and stay high on the Continental Divide the entire day; or, as suggested by Trotter in his excellent report, start at Coon Hill Trailhead directly on the western side of the Eisenhower/Johnson Tunnel. It had been a while since we'd climbed together and we had gone to a friend's Halloween housewarming party the night before so we chose the latter option, starting from Coon Hill Trailhead. It was the shortest and easiest way to get the peaks and would be a great early season welcomer. A minor secondary reason for me was to just start at a trailhead I'd never been to, since I didn't even know there was one there until reading Trotter's report and had already hiked from Herman Gulch and Loveland Pass before.
We met at about 8:45am in Boulder and drove to the Coon Hill Trailhead where we got started about 10:40am. A late start for sure but the route was short. We surveyed the route. We knew there was a road that led up Straight Creek and then switchbacked up and over the Divide and that would probably be the easiest option, though it wasn't direct.
We opted not to bring snowshoes which meant more of a slog, but the snow was pretty awful this low - wet and punchy on top and sugary below - and snowshoes probably wouldn't have helped much anyway. Our progress was slow and we had to break trail the entire way up.
We went about halfway up the first switchback and then turned directly east and went up the slope thinking it'd be faster. We followed a series of still running streams trickling down the hillside and tried to weave through the willows as best we could. For the most part the snow wasn't that deep but it still slowed us considerably. It was mostly just a lot of tedious ankle deep stuff with the occasional knee deep posthole. Combined with the willows and the angle of the slope it didn't seem like we were making much progress.
When we hit one of the switchbacks much farther up the hillside we decided to stay on the road as much as it made sense - actually made sense this time, instead of whatever was super direct. The upper slopes were more windblown but still contained some deep drifts. We found if we stuck to the downhill margins of the road there was less drifted snow and our progress was faster.
We followed the road for several switchbacks until both the angle of the slope lessened and the open slopes became more scoured of snow. At this point it became easier to avoid what little deep snow there was.
As we made our way to the ridge crest, which was on the Continental Divide, the wind slowly began to pick up. The higher we went so too did the wind speeds. Of course the winds were highest at the very top and they became a near-permanent fixture for the remainder of our time on the Divide.
Michelle had come up with a trekking pole in one hand and my ice axe in another so she could learn some of the basics as she'd never used an axe before. I made her take over trail breaking duties to the summit of "Golden Bear" and tag the summit first. After all, she was doubling her 13ers from one to two, a momentous occasion! She even opted for a very brief Class 2+ scrambling warmup instead of taking the more basic snow slope to the top.
We found a relatively sheltered area away from the wind (like 3 feet below the ridge top on the eastern side: 40mph winds to zero) and hung out for about 10 minutes discussing the route behind and the route ahead.
The ridge from "Golden Bear" to Hagar is easy but contains a whole bunch of small and annoying bumps, like five or six that add up along the way.
The winds as we traversed the ridge were absolutely relentless. We were getting blown around and stinging snow was blown into our faces every time we had to face into it. The ambient temperatures weren't all that cold but the wind really brought it down. There was a lot of slush-turned-ice on the ridge that was clearly from the calmer morning, as some of it was still wet. By the time we returned off Hagar it was entirely frozen.
Hagar has one false summit from the south that has a big gain of several hundred feet to reach. It's not particularly steep but covered in snow it took us a while, longer than we would have liked. According to topo maps (as well as the peak page here on 14ers.com) this false summit is Hagar, but it's obvious from everywhere that this is not the case. The big cube in the center of Hagar's summit ridge is clearly the summit.
Hagar's summit block was the one unknown I had on this route. I read it went anywhere from Class 2+ to Class 4. That's a pretty big variation. When we got to the false summit the true summit reared its head and bared its fangs. This was going to be awesome!
There appeared to be several options to reach the summit. I stopped to put on my microspikes at this point for just a little extra traction; Michelle had had hers on most of the day. The snow was quite firm at this point and actually made for good climbing, so I figured the scramble up wouldn't be made all that much more difficult due to the snow. I picked a line and led up the steep, solid granite. Every step upward increased the exposure, especially to the west. The snow did indeed prove to be in good shape, even when near vertical. I think the early morning warmth softened it up and the afternoon chill froze it into almost perfect step kicking glory. My chosen line went at a pretty solid Class 3.
This was by far the highlight of the day. The scrambling was awesome and an absolute ton of fun. It brought me back to earlier in the year doing Kelso Ridge over and over in winter conditions. What an incredible start to the winter season!
The winds were howling like a freight train on top of Hagar, despite the bluebird skies. We didn't take a break here and there was no summit register to sign, since someone had broken the one up there.
We quickly scrambled back down and up and over the false summit. The northern shadows were growing long this late in the afternoon and it was getting exceptionally cold in the shade, so we waited to take a break until the bottom of the big slope below the false summit.
The ridge went quickly back to the triple point between Coon Hill, "Golden Bear", and Hagar despite the annoying bumps somehow not getting word that they should get out of our way.
The slopes directly off the triple point were steep enough to slide but the snow was extremely stable so I went straight down instead of zigzagging through more mild terrain slightly west and down the ridge towards Coon Hill. The avalanche terrain was short lived and we soon found ourselves at the bottom of the basin. From here it was just a matter of breaking trail back to our tracks near the tunnel.
The route finding was obvious in the basin and we even found someone else's boot tracks. I'm not sure where they went since we didn't see anyone all day and there were actually two sets of tracks even farther down, so it's a curiosity what others were doing booting around up there like we were. We got back to the trailhead and went for dinner at Smokin' Yards BBQ in Idaho Springs. A brisket sandwich and fried pickles to die for topped off the perfect start to the season. I hope it continues to be this amazing.
Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself), Michelle D.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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