Peak(s):  Mt. Princeton  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  09/16/2010
Modified:  10/11/2010
Date Climbed:   09/09/2010
Author:  Summit Assassin
 Princeton + Tigger  

Mt. Princeton - Tigger Peak
Thursday, September 9th, 2010
6:15am - Mt. Princeton Road meets the Trail
9:15am - Mt. Princeton Summit
10:15am - Leave Mt. Princeton Summit
11:45am - Tigger Peak Summit
12:45pm - Mt. Princeton Road Summit
Elevation Gain: 2,700'
Distance: 4.5 miles
Google Map Link

PM me for GPS files.

Mt. Princeton doesn't get a lot of love. Regularly it can be found atop lists of "Never Climb Again" peaks. With this in mind my expectations for this hike were rather low. I was very excited and anticipating the hike, but I figured it would be Boulder Fest 2010. I was pleasantly mistaken. The key to enjoying Mt. Princeton lies within this trip report. If you read it you will love Mt. Princeton and want to hike it over and over.

After moving the hike date around due to weather we woke up at 5:00am Thursday, September 9th and set out from Salida for the Mt. Princeton road. Behind the wheel was my father-in-law who planned on exploring the upper regions of the road including the young life cabin and bristlecone forest. His 80 Series Land Cruiser, aka The Tank, would be a much appreciated third party.

I thoroughly researched the Mt. Princeton road (PM's, TR's, Roach, etc). Initially I was going to go for a sunrise summit and drive up alone. Many folks said I would be fine in our Acura MDX but I believe the narrow roller-filled road would not have been kind. I know that Outbacks regularly travel up this road but the rollers were very sizable (maybe due to the high rains this summer). I'm thankful for the LC, especially at the top of the road where several washouts had been filled with boulders. No chance my MDX would of made it.

We left Salida at 5:15am and arrived at the Mt. Princeton road/trail junction at 6:15am. The lower parking lot was empty as was the lot at the radio towers. We passed a Jeep and camp shortly after the towers but it was all dark.

The first key to enjoying Mt. Princeton is to start as close as possible at where the trail leaves the Mt. Princeton road. The less road-hiking the better in my opinion. Obviously my situation is unique in that I had an escort drop me off directly at the start of the trail. After gearing up and a poignant prayer I set off.

Shortly after leaving the Mount Princeton road, looking southeast as the sun rises.
Alpenglow on Mt. Princeton, shortly before the route turns to talus.
About an hour into the hike, the sun began warming my back and hands. Looking northeast over Buena Vista.
Intersection of the new/old trail. From this point, you quickly switchback up to the ridge.
Throughout the morning I was blessed with small silver clouds forming, flowing, and breaking up all around me. It was incredible.
Many excellent points of rest are available as you switchback up to the ridge. The entire route up Princeton was extremely well cairned, more so than any hike I've been on.

A couple of switchbacks in I stopped to radio my father-in-law over the HAM then I stepped out on a humongous boulder. A thick rainbow had formed up high and silver clouds were flowing all around me. Cresting just above the summit the rainbow dove directly into the bowels of Mt. Princeton and silently eased into her base. With the rising sun breaking free from Tigger's hold the scene was brilliantly illuminated. Keenly aware of how difficult it would be to describe this upon my return I slowly started laughing. My laughter grew and grew until I burst into song. The Mt. Princeton bowl proved to be a perfect amphitheater as I belted out the chorus of The Banana Boat Song. Day-o, Day-ay-ay-o! Daylight come and me wan go home! It echoed over and over until I was singing in time to with myself. No I am not crazy. Yes this was amazing.

Upon reaching the ridge I stepped over it and got slammed with massive winds. I'm guessing but probably 30-40mph. Enough to knock me back a few steps and cause me to lean. After regaining my footing I took shelter back down the trail a bit and radioed my father-in-law. I set off for Princeton after five minutes.

From about halfway to the summit from the ridge, looking back at the trail.
I reached Catherine Pugin's plaque and stopped to read it. The ninth of September, which happened to be this very day, was the fifteenth anniversary of her death at that exact spot. Instead of photographing the plaque I chose to honor Catherine with a prayer. Catherine, I didn't know you or your family but from the words on your plaque I wish I would have.

At 9:15am, three hours after starting, I was alone on the summit. Throughout the morning I had talked to my father-in-law who was relaying incredible wind gusts from the other side of the mountain. Up until stepping on to the summit, or during an occasional foray to the very top of the ridge, I had been completely protected from the wind. Not anymore. I ditched my gear in one of the three excellent wind breaks and sat down. For the next forty-five minutes I took pictures, snacked, and called my friends and family via the cell phone and HAM radio. Excellent Sprint/CDMA cell coverage can be found along the entire Mt. Princeton route. Being the first up and the only one on top for almost an hour was quite the rush.

As I prepared to descend I heard the crunching of rocks and trekking poles and was soon joined by Vern. Vern had traveled directly from West Virginia and was very pleasant to talk to. Another fellow came right behind him. He was on his way back to Loveland and we quickly discussed going back over Tigger together. I told him I would wait on the ridge for him if he wanted to try it together.

Over-polarized view North of Yale.
View East of Buena Vista and CO24.
View Southeast of Salida and lower Arkansas River Valley.
Summit Shot looking west.
Summit Shot looking north, Yale can be seen on the right.
View of Tigger with summit cairn.
At 10:15am, an hour after topping out, I headed down. I'm average on the ascent but I can really move going down. I was at the bottom of the ridge and ready for Tigger in thirty minutes. I had planned on contacting my father-in-law at this point, and taking another rest to wait for the Loveland hiker. After five minutes I looked up and he was just starting down. He was with Vern at a good pace but I wasn't going to wait any longer.

The second key to enjoying Mt. Princeton is to return over Tigger. Who really enjoys retracing steps anyway? Its much more thrilling to be route finding on the way down and not just mindlessly following the path you were on three hours prior.

The Tigger route finding is easy and full of options from walking the entire way to some Class 3 and Class 4 moves. I thoroughly enjoyed going up and over Tigger and highly recommend it should you have the time and weather.

At the top of the Mt. Princeton trail on the ridge, looking back at Mt. Princeton.
At the top of the Mt. Princeton trail on the ridge, looking at the route to Tigger.
It seems humorous now but I was nervous about taking this on. A couple of the trip reports made it seem somewhat ragged and I was nervous after last year's frightening ridge descent off of Oxford. After fifteen minutes at the base of the ridge I set off alone towards Tigger.

As you can see from the image above your first obstacle is a small mound of rock and boulders. I went up and over the small mound and found a wide, flat ridge.
The first peak I summited was obviously the highest of the group. I was somewhat confused when I got on top as it appeared higher than the others but it had no trampled flat spots or cairns. I'm assuming the 300' rule comes into play here and that is why the second peak, even though it is lower, is Tigger. I followed easy ridge trail from the higher first mound and arrived on the summit of Tigger Peak at 11:45am (90 minutes after leaving Princeton).

From Tigger looking West at the higher peak and Princeton.
From Tigger looking down at the rest of the route. From this point you would move left and follow the ridge, keeping to the north or left side, all the way down. Notice the Land Cruiser parked at the top of the Mt. Princeton road in the upper right hand corner of the picture.
As I was reaching the summit of Tigger my father-in-law was checking out the top of the Mt. Princeton road. He found the youth cabin and was quite impressed with its design and interesting journal entries. He also really liked the bristlecone forest.

Shot of Tigger with the cabin in view.
Picture from inside the cabin.
He snapped this great picture with me on the summit of Tigger. Look for the little black dot!
I took a ten minute break on top of Tigger and refueled then I scouted out the rest of the route and started down. It's pretty simple. Stay to the left or north of the ridge and you will be fine. Don't drop down too far on the left, and if you drop down on the right it might take a while to find you. The rock turns crummy and chalky if you were to go south and over the ridge.

As I made my way down I was all business. Unfortunately I missed a great opportunity to photograph a pair of young mountain goats. They were bright white and quickly darted out of view and down the aforementioned crummy and chalky ridge like it was nobody's business. I inched closer to the ridge to catch another glimpse but they were gone. This really helped push the day's adventure over the edge. I've been up ten fourteeners and never seen a mountain goat; I was beginning to wonder if I ever would!

The section of nastiness that the goats bounded down is visible in the middle of this picture. I'm visible on the right a little over half way down, just above the yellowish-white rock outcropping.
Once I got off the ridge a gentle rolling trail greeted me. I did my best Cave Dog impression and ran the rest of the way back to the Land Cruiser. I felt great. If weather and time were not issues I would have walked back down the road and done the entire thing again.

Looking back at Tigger's ridge.
Looking southeast at the remaining route.
Small parking spot at the top of Mt. Princeton road (Land Cruiser advertisement). Don't be deceived by this picture, the road is very narrow and makes an abrupt turn at the end up a steep and loose hill to get to the top. This picture was taken after my father-in-law drove up the loose hill, turned around, and slid/braked back down the hill to back into this spot.
Back at ya.
After greeting my father-in-law and dropping some gear I walked back up the loose hill to take some pictures. What an amazing scene on top of that road.

Mt. Antero with Cross.
Tigger Peak with Cross.
I piled back into the LC and we headed back down the narrow Mt. Princeton road. I took a few quick pictures from the other side of where the trail begins in an effort to help someone find it.
Anticipation can be an extremely powerful emotion. Coming and going, thirty-miles west of Limon on a good day, I border on tears as the mountains fade in and out of view. Would I treasure these experiences as much if they weren't limited by circumstance? Would I take the mountains for granted should I live in their midst every day? I truly hope not, but I am definitely willing to find out.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

09/16/2010 16:17
Great TR & Pics. I can sympathize with your last paragraph for sure.


09/16/2010 19:54
I missed out on both your secrets when I did Princeton... walked all the way up the road and skipped Tigger. I don't mind road walks, but wish I would have hit that sub-peak while I was up there.

Very nice photos, by the way... you did a remarkable job of capturing the beauty of a mountain that's very aesthetic from afar but not so attractive up close. Great report.


Well Done!
09/17/2010 04:00
I know your original plan was to experience a sunrise summit, but nothing in your trip report suggests disappointment.

To the contrary, your text and photos capture joy and adventure in a very humble and captivating way.

Looking forward to sharing some peaks and summits with you in 2011.


Beautiful Adventure
09/17/2010 06:37
Your passion for the mountains and for life shines throughout this great TR. Gorgeous photos and a lively and entertaining narrative, filled with insights and perceptive observations. Thanks for sharing this magnificent day with us, and for reminding me why I keep coming back to the mountains over and over again. I agree with Greenhorn -- your last paragraph captures my sentiments exactly! Blessings to you always.

Summit Assassin

09/19/2010 16:50
I appreciate all of the kind words. The mountains are a very tangible and raw experience for me and I try to do it justice. The best thing about this thing of ours is that no pictures or words can fully encapsulate it.

Gene - Looking forward to next year as well. A very cool set of circumstances that brought us together.

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