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Andy, a friend of mine from Summit Post, and I were enjoying the hours drive from my apartment to the Colorado River Trail head, where our adventure would begin. We followed this trail for a half mile until we reached the Red Mountain Trail. We followed the Red Mountain Trail all the way to the Grand Ditch, a long canal that traps water heading west, redirecting it to the communities in the front range. Up until this point we were traveling in the morning's darkness so it was nice to be able to see our surroundings as the sun began to creep over the eastern horizon.
We followed the grand ditch for about two miles until we found the trail into Hitchens Gulch along Big Dutch Creek. We followed this beautiful trail deep into hitchens gulch where we could see our first objective of the day from a small clearing with a scenic pool, Lead Mountain at 12,537 feet. We noticed some cool rock formations at the pass that we would use to gain the saddle between Lead Mountain and Point 12,438. One of the spires looked like a football player with his winter sideline coat on. A little closer and it looked like a praying nun.
We made our way up the rocky slopes, passing a large herd of bighorn rams, toward the saddle. Once at the base of the slope we realized we were in for a trudge up some nasty scree. It was nothing more than a steep beach that teased you with signs of vegetation, thinking you could count on solid ground. We made our way over to some large boulders on the west side of the slope that made the going a lot easier. It at least provided for some solid footing.
We took a break at the saddle, which offered wonderful views into Skeleton Gulch and the northern peaks of the Never Summer's. At this point the wind started picking up and it was getting quite cold. We ate a little bit, got some fluids in and then gained the East Ridge of Lead Mountain. This ridge might have been the most fun of the day. It was all on solid rock and offered sustained 3rd class scrambling. I just wish it was longer! It took us about 45 minutes to traverse this ridge and we were on Lead Mountain's summit! We spent a few minutes up there talking about how much fun that was and how long Hart Ridge looked en route to our next objective, Mount Cirrus.
Mt. Cirrus, standing at 12,797feet, was staring at us from the other end of Hart Ridge, named from a pilot who died in a plane crash near the ridge. We made a quick decent down lead mountain and were soon climbing along this great ridge. The rock was not quite a solid on the lower sections of the ridge, but was easily manageable. We made quick work of the first half and it was the second half that slowed us down a but. This is where the rock became a little less reliable. There were pretty loose rocks thrown in randomly, so we were having to quickly test every step. At one spot, Andy hit a loose rock and it slid down and dead-legged his thigh. He toughed it out and did just fine on the rest of the hike, but was in a bit of pain there for a while. This was mostly 2nd class hiking with some decent stretched of 3rd class scrambling thrown in there, but it wasn't very exposed, so the loose rock was more of a nuisance than a danger. After a short slug up the final push and an hour and 40 minutes after leaving Lead, we were on top of Mt. Cirrus relaxing and enjoying the views.
We noticed that the hop over to Howard Mountain would be nothing more than a tundra walk and, I don't know about Andy, but I was kind of looking forward to walking on consistent ground for a bit. We shouldered our packs and made the short, 30 minute, walk over to our high point for the day, Howard Mountain at 12,810 feet. On top of both Mt. Cirrus and Howard Mountain, there were some strange, but pretty neat, summit registers...seen HERE. They looked tank bullets.
From the summit of Howard Mountain we could see our next and final destination for the day, Mount Cumulus, at the end of one long and nasty ridge. From the maps, this ridge didn't look so bad, but from above, it looked pretty intimidating. It looked to be a loose and broken mess, and that is exactly what it turned out to be. As we made our way along the ridge we realized that every step needed to be tested for stability as most of the rocks were loose. It didn't matter what size either. Rocks the size of golf balls to the size of tv's and even bigger were not to be trusted. This slowed us down considerably and it took us about three hours to get from Howard to Cumulus.
There were a few low points on the ridge that were sided by cliffs, so there was no way to easily traverse these points. We would have to drop down one side of the ridge until we could move along safely, then climb back up to the ridge top. On one particular section, we had to down climb this very narrow gully about 30 feet. It was full of pool ball sized rocks of all shapes and they were excessively loose. I let Andy go first while I waited above as to not send any loose rocks down on top of him. The I followed carefully. Each of us sent half a dump truck load of these rocks down that gully and kind of chuckled as the rock slides kept going and going and going and going down this long unstable gully. Like a wave of rocks. There were a couple of tricky but fun moves to get back to the crest of the ridge, but we were soon back in business, only to repeat this a couple more times.
This ridge was pretty tiring simply for the fact that every step had to be tested, so there was a little extra work involved. Hart ridge had some loose rock, but was not very exposed. This ridge, however, had quite a bit more exposure to it. So some of the rocks had to be tested a couple of times. Sometimes it was better to just knock a large loose rock off of the ridge top so the passage would be a bit safer.
We had the summit of Cumulus in sight and only had the last little push, around the false summit, until we reached the true summit of Cumulus. This is a nice large summit, with great views in all directions. We quickly nixed the idea of heading to Mt. Nimbus, as the next ridge looked to be a repeat of what we had just traversed. No thanks, not today. After some well needed rest and fuel, we packed up and headed down the endless slope of boulders into the Opposition Creek Drainage and home.
This turned into a rough descent. There was no easy way down. It was either hopping large loose boulders, or walking through thick, dense forests. We made the best of it, picking the "easiest" route through the crap and after a while came upon a faint trail that ended up dropping us out at the Grand Ditch.
It was a great day in the park in an area I had never explored before. We had the entire range to ourselves on a beautiful Fall day! This is a range that I will most definitely visit again. After all, I still have a few mountains in the north and south of this great range to climb.
|until next time...|
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