Report Type Full Peak(s) Engelmann Peak  -  13,370 feet Robeson Peak  -  13,129 feet Bard Peak  -  13,641 feet Mt. Parnassus  -  13,580 feet Date Posted 09/07/2021 Modified 08/05/2023 Date Climbed 08/28/2021 Author MaryinColorado Additional Members RyGuy
EngelRoBardAssus

AND SO IT BEGINS...

This is my first trip report ever. Let's hope I didn't use up all of my creative juices on my username!

I'll start by sharing the name I gave this loop in my brain to help me remember the peak order: EngelRoBardAssus. (Other fun alternatives: "The Engelmann Humperdink" or "Parnassus Palooza".)

Before I get to the details, I want to tip my proverbial hat to daway8 for his August 2021 TR about this loop. (He had me at "w/o gullies".) RyGuy had been talking for a little while about doing these peaks as a loop, and I was resisting multi-peak days, but daway8's TR was well-timed and intrigued us both!

STATS

Total length of route: 9.3 miles
Total elevation gain: 4,537'

Elevation gain/mile splits may be helpful in understanding what you're getting yourself into. Here are my splits from start of route to Parnassus's summit:

Mile 1 = 646'
Mile 2 = 2,031'
Mile 3 = 358'
Mile 4 = 305'
Mile 5 = 794'
Mile 6 = 387'

Time to complete*: 9:09:22 car-to-car.

*Disclaimer: we all know time-related stats are to be taken with a grain of salt. Know your hiking pace, and give a lot of credence to what your pace is on very steep terrain since Engelmann's ascent is such a significant portion of the route. Then just do the math.

We had a perfect weather day, so there was no reason to push our speed. Significant snack breaks were taken, and I got really pause-every-20-steps chatty on the ascent of Bard mainly as an excuse to distract myself from my life choices. (Have I mentioned this was my first day ever doing more than 2 peaks??)

Ruby Gulch Trailhead is very easy to get to and to find. It does give pause to feel like you're entering a private area and to encounter a sign that basically says, "You're entering a private area, do not park here." Fear not; at least at this point in time, Ruby Gulch Trailhead is established, and the small lot hard to miss. We were surprised to see a handful of other vehicles at 6 a.m. on a Saturday in August, but maybe it shouldn't be surprising. Ruby is a good alternate approach to Woods and/or Parnassus if one doesn't want to fight the Watrous crowds.

By the way. You will be parked across from one of the mine's processing facilities. When we arrived, the creepiest-sounding siren was blaring, and nary a soul was in sight at the facility. (Eventually, someone in an unmarked truck showed up.) Had it still been dark out, I'm not sure I would have left the car.

THE HIKE - PART 1 - ENGELMANN

The starting point is the gated road with the massive avalanche warning sign.

There is nothing noteworthy about the road other than it's a nice, casual start. You gain about 600' before you ditch it for real terrain.

"But where DO I ditch the road, Mary?"

If you were to overlay my GPX with daway8's from his TR, you'd find that our biggest deviation from his route is in our approach through the woods. RyGuy took a turn much closer to the drainage.

Unsurprisingly, this is good for staying oriented and for avoiding some bushwhacking (not all). If you look at it on satellite, you see the areas directly along the drainage are more open. If I were to do this route again, I'd probably go even a little further, closer to the drainage, before making a hard left.

So, the forest part happens. You just work your way uphill, not too big of a deal finding your way. And gradually you will start to see Parnassus through the trees until, finally, it reveals itself in its entirety.

"How steep is the terrain, Mary?"

It's "could-be-worse steep", i.e., you aren't steep on kitty litter scree begging for mercy or doing super intense bushwhacking. But ... it's still darn steep, yes.

Eventually, Parnassus AND Woods AND the flanks of Robeson come into view, instilling great hope that the forest will soon end. And, just like that, it does. At this point, start angling a bit north-easterly to gain the ridge. The way to Engelmann is quite obvious above treeline.

Engelmann is mostly tundra above treeline, but if you like some rocky stuff, never fear; there is the occasional rocky patch to shake things up for a minute.

In the pic below, the first hump in the distance behind RyGuy is where an established trail mysteriously appears. (Maybe I'm the only one who thinks it's mysterious.) Also, this tundra section up to the "hump run" - and the hump run itself - is a wonderful reprieve from the steepness, so enjoy it! Just beyond it is the last push to Engelmann's summit which you can actually see in this picture, as well.

The "hump run" is such a nice reprieve from the uphill; you get to catch your breath, remind yourself why you're doing this, and the final push to Engelmann's summit won't seem bad. Once on summit, you'll get great views!

Now you can see the rest of the peaks, too, and Shakespeare, himself - err, Bard - makes a more prominent appearance.

THE HIKE - PART 2 - ROBESON

Robeson looks super benign from Engelmann's summit, but then on descent from Engelmann, it starts looking a lot less benign. I had a fleeting thought about skipping it altogether since it's unranked, but it's right there. It was a little bit more of a push than I thought it would be, but not too bad. It's just a tundra trot.

THE HIKE - PART 3 - BARD

Robeson to the saddle with Bard marked the 2nd loss of elevation thus far, and Bard looming up in front of me gave me mental grumbles. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks!" wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet. How poetic since I was, indeed, protesting muchly within the confines of my mind.

The mental game was real. I had a similar struggle when I did Hoosier Ridge; repetitive gain/loss/gain/loss is soul-crushing to me. But why?! I don't flinch when I research a route that demands 4500' gain in a single push, but apparently when the gain is split among multiple summits, I'm convinced I have chosen poorly. I trust I will grow out of this the more multi-peak days I subject myself to. I digress.

That said, it is noteworthy that Bard is the biggest push in elevation gain of the whole route after Engelmann. You drop from Robeson to 12,933' and are looking at a little over 700' steep gain in front of you to Bard's summit at 13,641'. And now the terrain gets a little more varied with some loose stuff and some rocky-ness.

Persist and summit! This is where you discover that Bard is selfishly hoarding not one but two geological survey markers. Fascinating! I didn't see a marker on any of the other summits. Hmm.

Let's take a look back at Robeson and Engelmann, shall we?

By the way, we encountered a summit register on Bard. Didn't find one on the other summits, so Bard for the win, once again! Two geological markers and a summit register. Bard be hoardin'.

Before you know it, it's time to lose elevation again. [insert mental grumbles here]

THE HIKE - PART 3 - PARNASSUS

Parnassus was a repeat for me; I'd done it as a snowflake in 2020 from Watrous Gulch. Nice to explore coming at it from a different direction, though. The route between Bard and Parnassus proved to be a gentle roller coaster, and it was the least straightforward of the saddles, but don't mistake that for "not straightforward". It's easy to figure out where to go even in the couple of scramble sections, and there is a social trail to follow that's accurate.

As for the scrambles, as short as those sections are, they're a really nice distraction especially if you like that kind of terrain, which I do. They are difficult class 2/class 3 depending on what lines you choose. Also, beware the large marmot family dominating the first scramble. (I kid. They were super cute and checked us out up until we arrived, then they tucked themselves away to let us through.)

Are we there yet? The last stretch to Parnassus's summit threatened to break me.

But then we made it. Huzzah! My mental grumbles were instantaneously replaced with a great sense of joy and accomplishment.

You get some of these views along the way, not just on Parnassus. Sniktau, Cupid, the Grizz, Grays, Torreys, Kelso, Edwards... so many great peaks!

Looking back on the three prior summits of the day and with a nice view of that steep slope up Engelmann!

THE HIKE - THE FINALE - OUR ESCAPE PLAN

Time to lose elevation for the last time! The descent to the Parnassus/Woods saddle is easy and non-problematic.

And now we see our escape route. Huzzah! I highly recommend taking the social trail coming down from the saddle. Take it until you are at the point where you need to deviate sharp left to the Willows Avoidance Area.

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, you certainly have. Even thrice. But not today, willows! Not today.

To be totally honest, I was pretty tuckered out by this point, so I didn't take route photos. But, time for another hat tip to daway8: his route to avoid the willows was spot on! You pick up trail fragments easily and need to maintain a deviation to the left in order to fully avoid willowing. And then, indeed, you eventually discover a clear trail.

Noteworthy: we ran into two hikers who followed the social trail off the Parnassus/Woods saddle and went straight into the heart of the willows. We said a small prayer for them, but they emerged before we did! ("What kind of sorcery is this?!" I exclaimed.) They said there's a faint path going straight through that caused them no issues, so if you're feeling adventurous, and it's "dry time" for the willows, that could be a viable, more direct option.

Admittedly, we were "in the zone" and missed a turn-off from our trail to the trail that would actually take us back to the road. (That is the ultimate goal: meet back up with the gated road.) The dead giveaway was that we started going a bit uphill again. We had only gone maybe 100 feet past the fork, so it was a non-problematic backtracking.

You'll have a number of small creek crossings that are no big deal. A couple of drain pipes over them, however, are questionable. I chose to rock-hop one of the crossings because, by that point, a couple prior pipes had caused trust issues.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

1. I would not want to be in the middle of this loop when weather hits. Pick a great weather window!
2. If you want to ease your way into the elevation gain (i.e., not so soon in the hike), my humble opinion is that this route is totally reversible. The main downsides to that, however, are that you'd have some loose scree on the way up to the Parnassus/Woods saddle and then a lot of loose scree from the bottom of the Parnassus/Bard saddle up to Bard's summit. Lastly, the descent off Engelmann is such a long stretch of steep. If you don't do well on direct, steep descents or have concerns about stress on your knees, then I would not recommend reversing the loop.

BONUS CONTENT

Shakespeare was right when he wrote, "All that glitters is not gold." It's mica! You'll see beautiful chunks of mica here and there, though most that I noticed were on the way up Engelmann. As always, Leave No Trace. Take only pictures; leave the pretty mica chunks on the mountain.

That's a wrap on my first TR! I definitely welcome feedback, and I also hope someone actually gets some measure of usefulness out of this. Happy 13ering!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):