Peak(s):  Mt. Princeton  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  09/22/2009
Modified:  09/23/2009
Date Climbed:   09/18/2009
Author:  BMB1974

 Mt. Princeton via Cascade Canyon / Agnes Vaille falls  

Mount Princeton via Cascade canyon from Agnes Vaille falls.

For years I have looked at the south face of Mt Princeton, eyeing a ridgeline that drops straight from the summit, to Agnes Vaille falls.
pic from
I have stared at topos and photos and scoured the internet looking for information. The prospect of more than 5000 feet of vertical gain in a single slope enticed me and I cannot think of any other mountain in Colorado that offers a gain of 5000+ feet in less than two and a half miles.

I got my typical alpine start, leaving my house and getting to the "trailhead" at 7:00 am. I put on my pack and started up the Agnes Vaille falls l trail. The Agnes Vaille falls trail is a nice ten minute walk to the base of the falls.

The first obstacle encountered was the waterfall. I intended to take pictures of the falls on the return trip, but I ended up descending a different route. There is a ramp about 10 feet left of the falls and that offered the easiest passage I could find. Originally I attempted to go further to the left side up a chimney of sorts, but after ending up covered in a water/algae mixture I changed my mind. The climbing here is pretty straightforward, somewhere between high 4th class to 5.4. After climbing 60 – 80 feet up I thought I would be past the major difficulties of the route, simply arriving at the creek bed and walking up the canyon. I was wrong.
looking back down the canyon
There are several more small falls and slides in the lower part of the canyon. The only option was to contour along the canyon about 100 feet above the creek. This ranged from nightmarishly loose scree to nightmarishly loose scree directly above cliffs to climbing 4th class terrain where every 10th hold, no matter how solid it appeared, would blow out. An hour or so later, my shoes full of dirt, I was finished with the scree traverse section and moved on to the stinging nettle section.
This section would actually have been rather nice hiking, if I was wearing pants.

The first fork in the stream caused me to pause for a minute. I was unsure if I should go left or continue right. The fresh, as in less than 20 minutes old, bear tracks going up the left side made the decision easy. Not wanting to surprise a bear I went to the right.

Another 30 minutes of hiking brought me to the upper falls.

Leaving the creek and going to left I climbed about 500 feet vertical feet of loose scree. At the top of this slope the (false) summit was visible and it was straight up from there to the top. Going through the trees was actually somewhat enjoyable, the footing was fairly good and the trees were not too thick.
At tree line the terrain resembles a sandbox tilted to a 35 degree angle for several 100 vertical feet until the ridge turns back to rock. From below this looked like an enjoyable arête with some class 3 scrambling sections. It wasn't.

1500 vertical feet of shattered rock went by fairly quickly. Several times I grabbed at refrigerator size blocks only to find that I could easily rock then back and forth with one hand. Other times I could feel all of the rocks within ten feet of me shifting as I climbed over them. There was a 20 foot section of perfect class 3 scrambling somewhere in there.
The other 1480 feet was as bad as anything I have encountered, far worse than the Bells or pyramid, as that rock is at least somewhat predictable. On a positive note the view of Antero and the Arkansas valley was rather nice. Image

Finally I arrived at the ridgeline of the standard route, about 200 vertical feet below the summit. A guy on the ridge commented that the standard route (trail from the radio towers) he had come up was really loose. I hadn't eaten anything the entire way up, so perhaps low blood sugar can be blamed for my reply. "That trail is a super highway" I told him.

10 minutes later I was on the summit. A quick check of the watch showed 11am, 4 hours since leaving my car. It had taken me longer to climb Mount Princeton by this route than it takes me to do Longs via the keyhole.

Normally when I reach the summit of a peak I can relax knowing that most of my work is done and it will be an easy cruise back to my car. There were three options I could take for my return, A) go back down the same way I had come up, B) go down the standard route all the way to frontier ranch and walk (or hopefully catch a ride) 4-5 miles back to my car, or option C) take the southwest ridge and end up at grouse canyon trailhead, 1-2 miles from my car.

Option A) was easy to cross off the list. Going back down what I had just come up was not the least bit appealing; it would be doable but unpleasant.
I had never been down the southwest ridge and have read that the trail can be hard to find, but route finding beats walking 5 miles of pavement. The traverse to point 13,971 was easier and shorter than it looked from the summit. On top of point 13,971 I made a 90 degree left turn and headed down the ridge. Several places on the ridge reminded me of Kelso ridge or even the knife edge.
knife edge
These exposed sections could easily be avoided on the right (West) side if one wanted to. After the knife edge section another 90 degree turn was taken and 1500 vertical feet later I hit tree line.

The next hour was a bush whack. The forest was open enough and there were occasional game trails I could follow. The actual trail, as I found out later was further to my left, on the Eastern edge of the valley. Eventually I came to the trail and followed it out to the dirt road. I had been past the turn off for this road many times but never actually on it. I hit the dirt road and tried to figure out which way to go to find the bridge over chalk creek and county road 162. I went right for about ½ mile before I turned around and walked back the way I had come. About ¾ of a mile past where I had made the decision I found the bridge. As I walked down the pavement, out of water and a blister forming on my left foot I secretly hoped for a ride. My pride would never let me put out a thumb and hitch hike, but if someone were to stop and offer me a ride, I would have taken it. Five minutes after turning on the pavement my friend drove by and saw me. He had been near St Elmo elk hunting and was heading home when he saw me.
He offered me a ride and I gladly accepted.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
Mel McKinney

Were you doing penance?
02/05/2011 00:22
Great report! It just sounds like it was one thing after another on this hike. Always interesting to read about non-standard routes. Thanks!

Jon Frohlich

Now I know...
09/22/2009 20:46
why this route is not listed in any book... I think I‘ll skip this one. Always good to have beta on what routes not to do...


Wow ...
09/22/2009 20:52
What an interesting ascent route ... the beginning (i.e., waterfalls, etc.) reminds me of some stuff in California. Photo #12 is really fantastic. My favorite line is ”There was a 20 foot section of perfect class 3 scrambling somewhere in there.” Classic! Sounds like you made a good decision on the descent route. Thanks for posting such a unique trip report. Happy trails!


You are a badass
09/22/2009 22:29
I was looking at this last month thinking how great/hellish it would be. Congrats!!!
A picture from my campsite:


I‘m looking for a different approach to Prin
09/23/2009 04:10
for when I get around to climbing the mountain. This won‘t be it. A few weeks ago, I bailed off Niwot Ridge onto a slope made of mini-fridge-sized rocks. They all moved with me. Frightening - thought for sure I would be crushed. But to do that by choice on the ascent - wow! Great report on a rare and interesting route.


very impressive
11/30/2010 17:28
Thanks mucho for a non-standard route TR. I've thought about this side of Princeton, too, but your report really makes me wonder...BTW, how do you get a circumflex into your text?


09/28/2009 02:46
Great job, bush-whacking is the best & you‘re obviously talented @ it. It helps to ponder the route for awhile b-4 attempting it & you did your homework.

Sugar Madison

Thanks for saving me a trip!
09/02/2014 18:52
I'm scouting for a Nolan's 14 attempt and looking at lines that could possibly shave off some time... thanks for saving me the trip up this one! I now think the Southwest Ridge is the better route, even if a tiny bit longer.

- Chris

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2017®, 14ers Inc.