With high valleys (Leadville is just over 10,000′), even higher passes, and lots of crappy rock, the Mosquito/Tenmile range is a great place to go in May. Unfortunately, the easy access has made it one of the most thoroughly land-raped areas of Colorado, with both active and abandoned mining junk lying all over the peaks, even up above 14,000′ in places. Mount Clinton and nearby Fremont Pass are the worst of it, bad enough that I have skipped climbing it more than once over the past few years. This time, however, circumstances conspired to motivate me, and it turned out to be my first type I fun day of the season.
After wasting a few hours in Aspen (at $1.50/hr to park…), I drove up toward the Maroon Bells trailhead, planning to do at least Thunder Pyramid, and possibly the Pyramid traverse. To my dismay, I found the perfectly dry road still gated almost 6 miles from the trailhead. I thought about jogging it by headlamp, but ain’t nobody got time for that. Next on my peak list was Holy Cross ridge; I quickly learned that its 8-mile approach road doesn’t open until June 21. On to the next, then… Clinton.
After a long drive and a fitful night in the familiar Mayflower Gulch trailhead, I continued past the tailings pond and open pit, just over Fremont Pass to my chosen trailhead. Unlike the climbs so far, this one was west-facing with a relatively short approach, so even with a 6:30 start, the snow remained shaded to the top of the first peak, making for much better conditions.
After an uneventful hike south up the head of the Arkansas River, I turned east into a couloir I had picked out on Traver’s east face. The face is a complicated mixture of steep snow, rock, and talus, making for interesting route-finding. I had left my crampons at home for this one, and while they would have made a couple sections easier, I was fine using snowshoes lower down, and kicking steps along a carefully-chosen line higher up. The line I chose eventually deposited me on the ridge a couple hundred yards north of the summit, which I belatedly realized is very close to fourteener Mount Democrat.
The long descent to the saddle with McNamee started off easy past a surprising, lone mining ruin. I didn’t see the expected trail or cable car remnants, or a nearby hole, so I’m not sure of its purpose. The ridge then turned into some fun class 3-4 scrambling through several pinnacles, with a chockstone bridge between a couple of them. Beyond, the ridge was broad and easy, with bare rock on south-facing sections and breakable snow requiring snowshoes on others. Between McNamee and Clinton, you are constantly treated to the sights and sounds of the open pit (the Glory Hole, according to the USGS topo) and its polychromatic tailings ponds. While snow conceals some of the ugliness, it is still a disheartening sight.
After my out-and-back to Clinton — one of Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and my main goal for the day — I returned to (I think) McNamee, then found some nice glissades to speed my return. It was t-shirt weather in the 11,000′ valley, and I baked as I made my leisurely way back to the car. Though it was snowing the last time I was in Leadville, it was a balmy 60 degrees this time. I can’t complain.