Peak(s):  Huron Peak  -  14,003 feet
Mt. Massive  -  14,421 feet
Turner Pk  -  13,233 feet
Mt. of the Holy Cross  -  14,005 feet
Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Date Posted:  09/01/2020
Date Climbed:   08/30/2020
Author:  NatDog
 August (and late July) in the Sawatch Range   

Before this year I had only hiked 5 14ers but decided to get after it this spring once my longtime friend from back home in Missouri temporarily moved to Woodland Park from Chicago. COVID-19 had allowed him to work from home. He is staying with his now fiancee's parents and I'm out of Denver so it has been relatively easy to meet up for some hiking. I now had a hiking partner to tackle some of the more moderate 14er routes such as Castle/Conundrum, Sawtooth Ridge, Mt. Lindsey & Longs Peak. Well, between proposing to his girlfriend and breaking his collarbone in a mountain biking accident he wasn't available to hike every weekend last month like I was and I wanted to continue getting closer to my ultimate goal of 58. I spent most of August hiking a bit closer to home in the Sawatch Range. My girlfriend's mom lives in Buena Vista so it's been nice to have a bit of a home base with a bed and warm meals.


Huron Peak - July 26 - Northwest Slopes from Upper 4WD TH

My first hike in the Sawatch was Huron Peak with my girlfriend. She had done 4 14ers with me plus Shavano with her mom. She has been super busy this summer with school so she hasn't had as much time to hike with me as we would hope for, but this weekend her schedule was open and a hike had been looking promising. Unfortunately the weather was not so we had to postpone from Saturday to Sunday. So we drive down to her mom's in BV on Saturday to prepare for a Sunday morning hike. The forecast was calling for a 50/50 chance of precipitation by ~11:00 A.M. and much to my delight and her displeasure I was able to convince her that we needed to leave BV by 4:00 to beat the weather. We took the 4WD road to the upper TH at Winfield. The road wasn't too bad for my Tundra and my inexperience with 4WD roads, but the massive pothole definitely gave me a moment of pause. I wish I had taken a photo of this obstacle. But all good, we started the hike just after 5:00 A.M. The views of the Three Apostles did not disappoint.

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Three Apostles

The trail was easy to follow and overall a very pleasant hike. The temperature was good and winds were mild but the clouds were already starting to build as we approached the summit around 8:00 A.M.

The clouds seemed innocuous enough so we pushed on to the top, but sadly our views from the summit were almost totally obstructed. Darn.


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Cloudy on top


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On our descent we noticed the SAR teams directly overhead. Not good. We also encountered them at the TH. A few days later they found the body of the missing hiker who had been out in the Three Apostles area. RIP.

Very fun hike despite the obstructed summit views. Back to truck before 11:00 A.M. Roundtrip time from upper TH ~5.5 hours.


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Three Apostles again


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Mt. Massive - August 08 - Southwest Slopes from Upper 4WD TH

After summiting Mt. Lindsey the previous weekend, I set out to hike Mt. Massive. This one had been on my radar for a while. After driving through Leadville probably 50 times the past few years for work, the views of this summit had long awed me. This was my first ever solo 14er hike. I knew the SW slopes were steep so it seemed like a good candidate to try as a first solo hike; I knew I could good go at my own pace and really get a good feel for how quickly I can hike when not trying to keep up with others.


Once again, I set out from BV for the TH. This time I left on a Friday night and planned to camp at the upper N. Halfmoon Creek TH. Less than 0.5 miles from the top I encountered the "crux" of the road and actually scraped pretty bad.

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Crux of the road on the way down

If I could do it again I'd definitely park below this part and just add an extra few miles of hiking. I wound up getting a great camp site just a few yards from the TH so my irritation from scraping the truck quickly eased. This was also my first time camping solo. As someone who worries more than most about the large omnivores with pointy ears roaming these parts, I was a bit uneasy at first about the whole endeavor. But once I get settled in my tent I slept surprisingly well.


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Camp site

After a quick bite I left camp at 5:00 A.M. The first half hour through the forest was amazingly tranquil in the dark. I found myself turning off the headlamp on multiple occasions to pause and just take in the beauty of the stars and early morning air. Then I encountered about 6 other hikers as I exited treeline. Moment over, but the steepness of the slopes of Massive became ever apparent. I was able to find a steady pace and didn't stop much before the summit, mostly because the wind was pretty brutal above 12,000' or so and I got pretty cold anytime I stopped for too long.


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Mt. Elbert


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La Plata Peak

The actual summit was smaller than I expected based on the views from the valley, but luckily as I arrived there were only about 3-4 other hikers at the top. As I started the descent 30 minutes later, that number swelled to probably 20.

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Summit


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Mt. Elbert again


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Back to treeline


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Nothing much happened on the descent, other than encountering probably 100 hikers on the way down as opposed to the 20 or so on the way up. Glad I started when I did. There was a guy hiking up as I was getting back down to treeline. He was listening to music without headphones, but it was the song Dreams by The Cranberries which is a fantastic song. So I didn't mind the noise at all. I also remember descending a bit faster than normal, as I knew that there were burgers and several beverages waiting for me in Buena Vista. Roundtrip time from upper TH ~5.5 hours.

Turner Peak - August 09 - Southwest Ridge

I had planned on hiking Mt. Antero the next day. After some questionable nutritional decisions the previous afternoon and not excited about the thought of a drive up the rough Baldwin Gulch jeep road (still conscious of my poor decision to drive all the way to the upper TH for Massive), I decided to do an easier hike that was closer to the house and had paved access all the way to the trailhead. My girlfriend's mom wanted to join and said we could take her car, which was a great relief to me and my truck. I found a route on CalTopo to follow which was helpful because I couldn't find much info on Turner Peak. The trail was easy to follow through the forest but was pretty non-existent afterward. This was no big deal as the path to the summit was obvious, albeit steep. The terrain on the final 400' or so of elevation became more difficult, as we had to contend with boulders and talus. Some of the larger boulders were surprisingly loose. Near the summit, the terrain became a little more interesting & fun as I was able to find some easy class 3 moves, but it wouldn't have been difficult at all to keep it at class 2. Fun hike that is very accessible from BV.


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View of the summit as the trail ends


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Looking back down the ridge


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Summit views


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Summit views


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Last summit push

Mt. of the Holy Cross - August 23 - North Ridge

I had been working up in Steamboat Springs for a few weeks and knew that Holy Cross was the closest 14er for a quick trip. I had to work on Saturday afternoon so I left Steamboat around 7:00 P.M. on Saturday night and planned to camp at the trailhead. This was to be my second solo 14er. I found a spot to park very close to the trailhead at around 10:30 P.M. Not knowing much about this area, I was pretty relieved to find such a good spot so late in the day. Since it was already so late, I didn’t want to bother setting up camp so I decided to sleep in the back seat of my truck. Shockingly, I slept all through the night and got more rest than I typically do in a tent. I actually snoozed my alarm from 4:00 to 4:30; this would never have happened in the tent.

So for breakfast, I had bought a snack the night before in Steamboat and boy it was heavenly. If you're ever up in that area, check out Cruisers Sub Shop and try the Nutella & Banana Toastie. That was definitely a pleasant start to my morning. Once again, I started the hike just a few minutes after 5:00. I was happy with my pace in the early going until I got passed by a couple of trail runners. A few minutes later, I passed them as I noticed they had to take care of some business in the bushes. I never actually saw them again that day. Knowing that they were much quicker than me, I assume they had to turn around for whatever reason. Strange. Anyway, the sun started to rise as I was descending Half Moon Pass down to East Cross Creek and I caught my first glimpse of the summit. It was honestly more breathtaking than any other summit I have seen from a trail that I was hiking.


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First view of the summit

The trail had some pretty steep dropoffs and was very beautiful. All the while, I didn't encounter any hikers other than the disappearing trail runners until all the way up at treeline on the North Ridge. As I passed the campsites most were occupied but I didn't actually see or hear anyone.


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Creek crossing

From the creek, I knew it was going to be steep. But I took my time trying to keep a consistent pace. The summit looked rugged and picturesque from the ridge crest near 12,000' all the way to the top. Shout out to CFI for the awesome trail on the ridge. The terrain itself wasn't particularly easy but the trail was well-marked, easy to follow, and always seemed to have conveniently placed rock steps. The final 400' to the summit was a bit slow-going through the boulders. I was pretty exhausted at this point, but the thought of the snacks and rest at the top kept me going.


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Summit appearing once again


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Summit looking majestic


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Angelica Couloir

The smoke from the wildfires obscured the view from the summit just a bit, but there weren't any complaints. There were about 8-10 other hikers on the summit during my 30 minute break, and everyone seemed almost as tired as me. For the next few hours back down to the creek I had one thought on my mind: the dreaded re-ascent. Just before the creek crossing, I sat for a few minutes for one more snack break. Once I started ascending back to Half Moon Pass, I realized that I had overhyped this section just a bit. Yes, I was tired and needed several short breaks but I think the mental preparedness was a huge benefit. So was the view of Holy Cross behind me every time I stopped for a breath. I believe I took about 30 photos of the summit in a span of about 25 minutes. I will spare you and only post three. Other than a few rain drops on the final descent to the trailhead, the weather was perfect all day. Roundtrip time from TH ~7 hours.


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Hazy summit views


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I got a little carried away


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Back at the trailhead


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The campsites were beautiful and this was certainly a challenging hike, but I'm glad I did it as a day-hike instead of packing in. I could see the benefit of either way, but since I was solo and only had one day off, it was really my only option. Definitely doable in a day if you start early and have good weather.

Mt. Elbert - August 30 - East Ridge

Mt. Elbert had been a hike that I've been wanting to do with my girlfriend ever since we hiked Huron back in July. But between her work and school we kept having to postpone it. This past weekend she was free and the weather looked good, so we finally had the opportunity to summit this "mighty lump" as Roach calls it. We drove into Buena Vista the night before and after a 3:45 wake-up call we were on the road to the S. Mt. Elbert TH. The road was pretty mild by 4WD road standards. The creek crossing was easy and the crux of the road wasn't too bad on the ascent if you stay on the left side of the road.

As we had hoped, we parked right at the trailhead and started hiking at 5:10 A.M. The previous day's rain and snow had left the ground pretty saturated for the first 10 minutes or so of hiking. We were about a mile into the hike (still dark) when we noticed people yelling, although we couldn't tell exactly where it was coming from or what it was about. Eventually we noticed it was a group of about 8 hikers that were hiking in smaller groups of 2-3 that felt the need to be yelling at each other (all in good fun for them but no less annoying to us). As they got closer to us we could hear the men of the group hiding in the bushes, pretending to be bears and scaring the women of the group. This of course led to some pretty deafening screams. As the sun was rising we stopped to let them pass and I did my best to not say anything as they walked by. I know we should have but I honestly didn't think it would do any good for such a large group. About 3 seconds after passing us they decided to stop right on the trail to take pictures. Fun times. We soon had our first view of Elbert and its dusting of snow.


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First view of Elbert

The views of the valley and Twin Lakes were spectacular from the this point as we were exiting treeline. The views of the same group of 8 hiking off-trail to cut off a big switchback were not as great. But then the views of Massive made up for that.


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Cutting the trail


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Mt. Massive


At about 13,000' the winds started to pick up and I knew that the strong winds in the forecast would probably be accurate. While there were moderate crowds on our route, we could see the not-so-moderate crowds heading up the standard NE Ridge which justified our decision to go this way. As the final 400' or so feet to the summit came into view, our favorite group of 8 also came into earshot. I was shocked to hear that they were making just as much noise on the summit surrounded by people as they were in the morning in the forest. The wind on the summit was pretty unbearable so we had to take our summit break a little below the top to try to find some protection from the wind behind some rocks. Because of the great trail all the way to the summit we had no issues getting back down quickly. I had heard that Elbert was popular with mountain bikers and we saw a few rolling their bikes up to the summit as we started to descend. So we were aware that they would be flying down not long after. Make sure to be careful with that as they come down pretty quickly and usually without warning. I personally don't listen to music or anything while hiking so I had no issues hearing them a while back, but be careful either way. I wouldn't be shocked if I read about a collision between a biker and a hiker on this trail.


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Summit


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"Moderate" crowds


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Mt. Massive


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Mt. Massive (I like that mountain if you can't tell)


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Twin Lakes


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La Plata Peak


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Aspen trees


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Don't park this way


Beautiful trail overall. It was a bit crowded but honestly not as bad as I expected. Even though I've never done the standard route I would recommend this one. Also, please don't park like this people did on the crux of the road. One is blocking the easiest route down and the other is blocking the road for any vehicles wider than my Tundra.


Roundtrip time from TH ~7 hours.

I know this range doesn't get a ton of love compared to other ranges in the state. I know that most of that is probably due to crowd sizes and that most of these hikes are class 2 slogs. I really thought all of these hikes were beautiful in their own way. They all start below treeline and have really nice trails through the forest. I will definitely be repeating most of these peaks in the future.




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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