Category Archives: Colorado

Flatirons: 2nd, 1st, 3rd, Sorta Satan’s Slab

Good morning, Flatirons!

While there is much to dislike about the Front Range in general and Boulder in particular, there is also the Flatirons. This is the perfect time of year to visit them, and as I have been staying with a friend nearby, I made the drive up to Boulder early on a weekday, finding shady street parking near Chautauqua. I put on my pack containing rock shoes, water, and a few snacks, and started hiking the now-paved trail toward the rocks in an overshirt and gloves. It had been punishingly hot, but a cold front promised perfect scrambling temperatures later in the day, cool enough to wear long pants to defend against the poison ivy should I choose to get adventurous.

Starting up the First

I started as I usually do, scrambling up Freeway on the Second, an easy route that links well with the First, and gives me time to warm up, get my head in the right place, and accustom myself to the featured but somewhat slick Flatiron rock. As usual I stayed in my trail runners, as the route is mostly class 3-4, with only a few fifth class bits and plenty of generous hand- and foot-holds. I passed another group of three scramblers near the top, the only other climbers I would meet all day. I was sweating by the time I got to the top, and stopped at the top to take off my overshirt and put on sunscreen.

Upper First

I met a few people on the trail between the First and Second, then stopped at the base of the First to switch to rock shoes. Plenty of locals scramble the First in trail runners, and I had on good ones (Kaptivas), but I have always worn rock shoes, and usually find the slabby first third somewhat delicate. Being somewhat out of practice, I was more nervous than usual, but took my time cautiously picking my way up the route, and eventually reached the big ledge with a tree that signals the end of the hard stuff. From there on the rock becomes more featured, though the climbing is harder than that on the Second or Third.

Fresh Front Range snow

Reaching the summit, I saw that the high peaks were receiving a dose of snow, signaling the end of summer mountaineering season in northern Colorado. My memory of the downclimb off the First was more or less correct: descend a steep section on huge rails, then follow some ramps to the left, dropping from ramp to ramp where possible, before finally cutting back right on bad holds to reach the ground. The only sketchy part is the final couple of moves, and my friend Ted had fallen on this section in the Spring, causing himself some damage. I put my trail runners back on then, bad person that I am, took the climbers’ trail directly to the base of the Third.

Angel’s Way is over there

I opted to use rock shoes for the Third, though I probably could have done it in trail runners — I had them with me, and they made the whole experience much more relaxed, so why not? I took a different line than usual, staying near the right side until it merges with the main face, then cutting left to the normal line. It was fun as always, but I was slow, my heart and lungs not keeping up with my hands and feet. It was surprisingly cool and breezy on the summit, where I hid for a bit to eat half of a Mr. Beast Bar (freebie). I found the start of the downclimb much easier than I had a couple days previously, and was soon back on the ground.

First roof on Satan’s Slab

Tired and slow though I was, it was still early in the day, I had more food, and this would be my last Flatirons day of the year. I had both heard and read good things about a 5.2 route called Angel’s Way on a formation farther south. I had never visited that part of the Flatirons, and it seemed lame to just repeat my usual circuit, so I willed myself to head down to the Mesa Trail and follow it to Skunk Creek. As promised, on the other side of a rock wall I found a nice climbers’ trail along the north side of the creek. I had photographed Ted’s guidebook, which gives a highly detailed description of how to reach the base of the formation. I followed it for awhile, but my eyes began to glaze over as I wondered whether I had passed the “large boulders” and “unpleasant slot.” The picture of the start of the route was similarly unhelpful: a pine tree below a slab.

Looking down Satan’s Slab

I eventually settled on a formation that had a faint climbers’ trail to its base and seemed vaguely correct. The route description basically said to traverse up and left through a weakness to reach the arete, then stay on or near it to the top. I (fortunately) put on rock shoes, then climbed up and left from some point above the base of the formation to reach its crest. The climbing was slabby and delicate, and felt a bit sandbagged for 5.2, but as promised, there were more holds on the ridge.

Hand traverse

My next landmark was an “oddly shaped pine hanging over the eastern side of the ridge 380 feet up.” I kept scrambling for awhile, dodging some difficulties to the right and thinking “wow, this feels hard for class 4-5,” but attributing that feeling to my being out of practice. I eventually found a tiny pine perhaps a foot high in a nook, and desperately concluded that it was the tree in the route description. The mentions of 5.0 and 5.1 cruxes were odd, as I felt that most of what I was climbing was harder than that, but I was tired and out of practice, so maybe I just sucked. In any case, the climbing was engaging and varied, with everything from jug-hauling along the crest, to some balance-beam flat sections, to delicate slab climbing on the right to pass vertical steps.

Second and third bits from first

Unlike on the First, though, I was in the zone: thoughts of falling disappeared, and I methodically made upward progress with total focus. One particularly memorable section was a 100-foot ascending hand traverse with mostly smears for feet. Angel’s Way is supposed to be one of the longest routes in the Flatirons, and this was certainly taking me a long time. But I no longer felt the day’s earlier fatigue, focused as I was on the task at hand, reading the rock rather than the book. The formation had a final summit blob separated by a wide chimney, but I saw two higher formations separated by short forest sections ahead, and skipped this blob, descending the chimney to take a short rock-shoes walk to the second formation.

First through Third from top of… something

This one was generally easier than the first, and much shorter, so I made quick work of it, dropped easily down the back, and had another short forest walk along the ridge before descending to the final section. This started out with some moderate slab, eventually reaching a ledge with a vertical step between it and the summit. I searched back and forth, eventually settling on a burly pull-up with two hands on a knob and smears for my feet to surmount the short wall. Beyond, I found more moderate climbing, then a bit of shenanigans to reach the actual summit, where there was a helpful (to other people) rappel anchor.

Now to get down… I dropped down the uppermost summit blob, dismissed a steep crack climber’s right, then circled around left and found a steep sloping chimney that looked even worse. I eventually descended farther on the north edge of the formation, doing a slightly sketchy reverse pull-up, passing an old piton in a crack on the north face, and finally finding a place where I felt comfortable cutting back west to the ground. As I put my trail runners back on I was shaking with adrenaline, still wired from the climb. That was some hard 5.2!

I was initially pleased to find a good climbers’ trail, but soon lost it in the brush, bashing my way down bits of what could have been game trails, or just erosion. There were some brief stemming shenanigans, but I mostly worried that some of the brush I was bashing might be poison ivy, endemic to the Flatirons. I emerged on a trail sooner than expected and, taking out my phone, learned that it was the Royal Arch trail. Whatever I had done, it had landed me in a convenient place to return to Chautauqua. I started fast-walking down the trail, passing groups of hikers, then started jogging, still full of the energy of the climb. Part of me wanted to head-bang to the music in my earbuds as I ran the road back to the park. My pace was a pathetic jog by local standards, but it felt like running to me.

I uploaded my Strava track, texted a bit, then booked it for Ted’s place, eager to get away from the possible urushiol coating my skin and clothes. By the time I had showered, a friend on Strava had figured out that I had in fact climbed something on Satan’s Slab. The actual Satan’s Slab, which starts at the base of the ridge and goes left of the first big roof, is 5.8, while neighboring Purgatory, staying well right of the roof on the slabby face before joining the ridge, is 5.6. I started somewhere between the two, joining them for the remainder of the formation. As far as I can tell, I skipped the 5.8 bit, which is left of the big roof, but had probably climbed a bunch of 5.5 and 5.6. No wonder it felt hard for a 5.2! I still don’t know what the upper two blobs I climbed are, as they don’t seem to be part of Satan’s Slab. In any case, it was a huge, fun, varied, challenging route that I probably wouldn’t have done except by accident. Sometimes you should just accept the win.

Diorite, Graham, and season’s end


Diorite summit

In the interest of completing more of the ridgeline around the upper La Plata River, I rode up to the junction of Basin Creek, then locked my bike to itself to hike the rough jeep road to the Little Kate Mine. From there, a decent road and older, steeper pack trail lead nearly to the saddle just southwest of Diorite Peak’s summit. For some reason neither the road and trail, nor the two prospects they access, appear on any maps of the area. Beyond the saddle, some easy ridge with traces of what might have been an old trail lead to the summit. Just below the highpoint to the east, I found a pair of cairns with a piece of red webbing mysteriously strung between them.

I took in the views of higher and more rugged peaks to the west, from Babcock and Spiller north to Sharkstooth (supposedly a terrible choss-heap). I also looked north and east to my intended route toward Indian Trail Ridge and upper Cumberland Basin, then sat down for a snack. Finding I had no energy, the snack turned into the familiar late-season ritual of eating all my food, taking a nap in the sun, and plodding back home. I only had a couple more days before the season’s first real storm hit the San Juans, but was having trouble making good use of that time.


Weminuche from Graham

I had hoped to get a pre-dawn start for a final trip into the Weminuche, but realized that was not happening. Instead I slept at the Durango Walmart, then drove over to Pagosa Springs for a lesser peak I had been meaning to visit for some time. Graham Peak, on the east side of the deep Los Pinos valley, would hopefully have a good view of the central Weminuche I had hoped to visit. It would also involve a decently-long 70-mile bike ride instead of a headlamp-to-headlamp death march, something I thought I could handle.

I parked at the Turkey Springs trailhead a few miles northwest of downtown Pagosa, then got a leisurely start riding along the dirt CR 600. This road sees an unpleasant amount of traffic in the first few miles, and is therefore somewhat washboarded, but soon grows quiet, and remains remarkably well-graded for many miles. It seems to exist for the sake of a seasonal cabin-rental place and a handful of ranches along the Pagosa River’s tributaries. Oddly, it apparently peters out some miles south of Graham, with none of my maps showing any road connecting back south to Highway 160.

The road was mostly fast riding to the Weminuche Ranch, where it becomes slightly rougher as it climbs out of the valley. However, it is still well-built enough to have signs warning of sharp curves, and to be passable for a passenger car with a bit of care. I rode to where I thought I should start hiking, at a rough side-road southeast of the peak, then looked at my map and realized that the track I had downloaded started up the Pine-Piedra Stock Driveway a few miles on. This seemed longer, and in retrospect the first road would probably have been faster, but I was not sure how dense with brush and blow-downs the woods would be.

I locked my bike to itself and found that at least the lower part of the trail was being maintained by hunters. There were fairly fresh horse-prints, and logs that had been sawn within the last few years. This maintenance ended partway to the ridge, but the ground was mostly open from there. In keeping with the area, the geology was interesting and varied: the various volcanic stuff around Pagosa Springs gave way to uplift limestone, which was in turn replaced by the Needles’ pink kitty-litter granite along the ridge. I found some old sawn logs and bits of trail along the ridge, but the trail on the USFS map has been re-wilded. Fortunately the ridge is only occasionally brushy, so it was an easy walk to the summit. Graham is unfortunately too far north and east to see the impressive crags at the Los Pinos valley’s mouth, but I did have a good view of the San Juans, from the Endlich Mesa peaks, to the Needles 14ers, to Rio Grande Pyramid. I sat for awhile taking in the view and reflecting on the end of my summer season, then reversed my steps and pedal strokes back to the car.

Alberta, Treasure

Treasure from Alberta

With cold and wind in the forecast, I looked for some easy nearby peaks to jog, and happened upon Alberta and Treasure near Wolf Creek Pass. Alberta is the highpoint of the ski area, while Treasure is a nearby summit with 1000 feet of prominence. From the pass, it is easy to follow the PCT along the ridge almost to Wolf, where a short spur leads to the summit. The cloud deck just above the summit did not obscure the views, but the eyeball-freezing wind prompted me to keep moving.

The signed Treasure Mountain Trail is in decent shape down to a jeep road at the saddle between the PCT and Treasure, but is built for mountain bikers, so it tries to be as long as possible in a limited area, with pointless meanders and wrong-way switchbacks. I cut it where I could, then continued up the ridge toward the peak. Any semblance of a trail quickly fades here, and while I found a few boot-prints, I also found endless brush and blow-downs. The summit had a decent view down into the San Juan Valley toward Pagosa, but it was too cold to linger. I tried to cut more directly northeast to the jeep road, and was suitably punished by even worse deadfall. Not wanting to climb back to Treasure Pass, I followed the network of jeep roads back to the highway, cutting some corners with what turned out to be slightly more and worse bushwhacking than I had hoped. Still, it was better than climbing back to the PCT, and made for some pleasant running on the low-angle roads.


Canjilon cabin

As a final bit of end-of-season business, I added a bike-n-hike of Canjilon Mountain, a prominence point and former lookout in the wilds of northern New Mexico. It is hard-core hunting season, and I passed several trailer encampments, some with ATVs parked outside. I did not see any people actually hunting, however, and the few I met seemed happy to see a runner/biker out in the woods. The Forest road from Cebolla to Canjilon Lakes is mostly fairly smooth, so it was an easy ride to where a small road turns off to climb Canjilon’s west side.

This lesser road would have been partly bikeable on a more capable machine, but I stashed mine near the base and jogged the road. I met an old-school Jeep coming down, and saw an FJ parked partway, but of course had the upper mountain to myself. The road is officially closed a half-mile below the summit, but people still take their ATVs around the closure sign. The summit lookout is long gone, but the old cabin remains, minus windows and with the usual graffiti, including an amusing feud between pro- and anti-Trump forces. It was bitterly cold and windy on top, and I could see snow squalls to the northwest and south, so I wasted little time before running back down to my bike and coasting to the car. Winter has not quite arrived in northern New Mexico, but it is approaching the time to head south.

Deadwood, Silver, Baker, Lewis

Silver to Lewis from Deadwood

The La Platas are a group of mild and quiet peaks west of Durango, a good place to spend a few days when the higher, more rugged and remote peaks of the Weminuche are too snowy or too much work. Though they contain many high-altitude jeep roads, few see much use, so motorized vehicles are not the constant nuisance they are around Silverton or Ouray. There are also plenty of nice, free places to camp in the forested La Plata Valley, though the mornings are cold and dark late in the season. I have done a number of the peaks surrounding the upper La Plata over the years, and this time I chose a section of the ridge on the east side from Deadwood to Lewis, which can be looped via the main valley road and jeep roads leading up Neptune and Lewis Creeks.

Nothing to the south

I parked at the pullout near Neptune Creek and started hiking in all my layers, trying not to disturb the handful of campers. The jeep road crosses the La Plata near the downstream end of the camping area, and there is also a mix of logs and rocks for pedestrians to stay dry. Unfortunately they were all far too icy to cross at this time of day, and I was unable to find suitable sticks for balance. I almost decided to do the loop in the opposite direction, but instead went upstream to a log I remembered from last time, which I easily crossed a cheval. From its far end, a mildly annoying bushwhack brought me back to the jeep road.

Never hurts to be polite

The road switchbacked steeply up the north-facing slope, which was chilly but snow-free. I found a “no trespassing” on a spur road where it finally emerges onto Bragdon Ridge, which apparently leads to some abandoned mining claim. I normally find such signs aggravating, but this one was polite for a change. Just where the road is finally signed as closed to motor vehicles, a well-defined use trail continues up the ridge to Deadwood. I followed this to the summit, encountering a bit of harmless snow and a curious hawk or golden eagle along the way.

Silver from Baker

Deadwood is at the southern end of the San Juans, so looking south one can see some lower isolated peaks and perhaps Shiprock. I continued to follow the faint trail east and north to a saddle and around a couple of bumps, then up a short, direct climb to Silver. Up to this point the route had been pleasant tundra, but things looked less pleasant toward Baker, a gray talus-mound. Partway down the ridge I met a man and his dog going in the opposite direction, also getting in a final outing before the season’s first real snow. He told me about some hunters below Eagle Pass, then continued his speedy climb.

Puzzle and Eagle Passes, Lewis

Baker was mildly annoying, but not as snowy, slick, or loose as the peaks on my recent Weminuche outings. Its north ridge soon turned back to tundra, then sparse forest on the descent to Puzzle Pass, which leads from nowhere to nowhere and has trails on neither side. I guess the puzzle is why it is called a pass. The helpful use trail disappears in this section, and the woods west of the ridge have enough brush and deadfall to be slow, but the east side is fortunately mostly bare and grassy. I picked up the road near Eagle Pass, and jogged northwest to a gate, where I found a parked ATV from the hunters and a sign warning about “active” mining operations on the east side.

Collapsing building

I left the road near the ATV and made my way up the ridge, finding reasonably stable talus and bits of use trail. I crossed through an interesting notch where the ridge turned north and east near the summit, then continued up some loose talus to the top. Lewis Mountain’s north face held a thin coating of snow, accentuating the view of a small turquoise lake at the head of Columbus Basin. I soaked up the view for awhile, then retraced my steps a bit before taking a more direct line down a south-southwest ridge to join the Lewis Creek road near the hunters’ camp. Once on the road, it was mostly pleasant jogging back to the main road, through aspens just past their peak. Along the way I passed a picturesque, collapsing three-story mine building with not one but two angry “no trespassing” signs, possibly intended to keep people from salvaging lumber or suing the absentee owner when his building collapsed. The jog down the main road was easy enough to get dull, so I tried to make some approximation of speed on the final stretch to the car.

Valois, Florida, Bullion, Kennedy

Valois from Trimble Pass

Several of my remaining Weminuche 13ers are unfortunately “orphans” I skipped on various long dayhikes, meaning they are both deep in the wilderness and cannot be easily combined with other peaks. Of these, Peaks Eleven and Twelve are probably the most interesting, and could be combined on a loop of Chicago and Ruby Basins out of Purgatory, but the short days and recent snow put that long grind out of reach for this season. Two others, Valois and Peak Twenty-Two, are only a couple miles apart in the less-visited southern Weminuche, so I thought I might be able to combine them. I have previously reached the area from the Endlich Mesa trailhead, but I do not have the vehicle to drive that road, or the energy to hike it again.

Sunrise on La Platas

I decided instead to come in from the Lime Mesa trailhead to their southwest. This is a ridiculously long drive on dirt roads, and not worth repeating, but it is easy driving for any car up to Henderson Lake. I started the drive in the evening, finished it in the morning, then hung out until around 8:00, when it was finally warm enough to ride with mitts and a down coat. It is peak redneck season in Colorado, the time to harvest meat and wood between when the hikers leave and real winter sets in, so there were several large, aggressively-styled trucks with horse- or ATV-trailers parked at various pullouts.

Maybe they won’t chew your face off

The road remains decent for a few miles beyond the lake, then deteriorates into a mix of slabs, jumbled rocks, and ruts. I had to push my bike in a few sections. I was impressed to see a bad-ass old Mitsubishi van parked at the top of the final climb, which looked like Jeep terrain. I sort of wanted to meet its owner, but he seemed to be just waking up, and you don’t disturb someone in their home like that. The road remained terrible as it rolled across the mesa to the trailhead, and I debated stashing my bike, but pushed and carefully rode all the way to the trailhead, where I found two stock-looking Tacomas. Clearly my judgment of what a vehicle can handle has become poor.

Chilly junction

I stashed my bike in the trees, then started out north along the Lime Mesa trail. There were a couple sets of footprints in the fresh snow, but they seemed to be going out and back, so I did not expect to meet anyone. I soon turned east on the City Reservoir trail, which joined the Burnt Timber trail to meander east toward said reservoir through gentle ridges and valleys. I saw a large tepee-shaped tent in the woods off the trail, and was surprised not to see a horse to carry it nearby. Soon after, I spotted a hunter couple talking to each other on the trail ahead. I half-waved as I approached, but they did not notice until the woman turned around and startled. I found it funny that they hoped to track and surprise an elk, but had not noticed a middle-aged guy traipsing along the trail listening to a podcast.

Slabs up Valois

The human tracks soon gave out, and soon after I saw fresh tracks of elk using the trail, though I neither saw nor heard the animals themselves, despite passing through several meadows that seemed like ideal places for bull elk to scream their aggression and lust. I eventually reached the reservoir, noting that the hike from Lime Mesa was only about a mile longer than from Endlich Mesa. I continued up the trail toward Lake Marie, then left it near Logtown (a very Mad Max-sounding name) to make my way up Valois’ south ridge. I found an old trail at the start, then followed a mix of game trails and common sense through the grass and granite outcrops to the upper talus. I felt pathetically slow on the climb, weakening my will to add Twenty-Two to the day.

Valois catwalk

Valois’ summit plateau is connected to a false summit by a narrow catwalk, which I enjoyed despite the lingering snow. Once past this bit of fun, it was an easy plod to the summit cairn. The peak is utterly unimpressive from this side, but its steep north face is more dramatic, and it has an excellent view of Johnson Creek to its north, bounded by the Grizzly-McCauley-Echo ridge, descending to the deep Vallecito. I looked across Castilleja Lake toward Peak Twenty-Two, but it was hard to even pick it out among the Emerson Peaks and other unnamed bumps. I lacked the will to put in the work to tag it, especially since my late start would put me at risk of a headlamp bike descent.

This sucked

I decided instead to make a loop, traversing over Florida and Bullion to Mount Kennedy before returning to the trail via what looked like easy terrain on West Silver Mesa. The ridge to Florida started out miserable, with slick talus lubricated by fresh and softening snow. In my worn shoes, it made for tedious and cautious climbing, moving crab-style along the ridge. At the saddle, the ridge turned so that the snow melted, and the minor climb to Florida was much easier. From its summit I could clearly see the Trimble Pass trail, covered in snow, traversing toward Columbine Pass. I also saw a well-trodden elk- or sheep-path near Lillie Lake to the south.

Valois from Trimble Pass

I followed what might have been a faint trail to the pass, then climbed more easy talus along the ridge to Bullion, another unranked 13er. I had already somehow done Aztec on a previous outing up Johnson Creek, so I skipped the tricky ridge, dropping to the grassy plain to its south. The descent off Bullion was the day’s misery crux, a steep slope of large, shifting talus covered in slick snow. Too many things moved that should not have, and even crab-walking, one boulder bit me on the back of the calf. It shredded my pant leg, but fortunately I was wearing tall socks, so I got off with no more than a small bruise on my Achilles.

Big NM skies and storms

Relieved to finally be on low-angle grass, I was heard rushing water, and was surprised to find an old pipe sticking out of the ground, with water still burbling out. I saw a tailings pile below the Bullion-Aztec ridge, but no ruins of a building or other detritus nearby to justify the effort of improving this spring. I stopped to fill my water, then hurried on with an eye on the increasingly serious-looking clouds to the south and east. The forecast had called for a slight chance of showers, and it seemed increasingly likely I was going to feel some precipitation.

Pigeon through Eolus

Kennedy has an exceptional view of the central Needles, from Pigeon to Windom, and I took some time to admire and photograph them in the dramatic partly-cloudy light. It also has cell service, from which I learned that a couple of prolific Colorado peak-baggers had been just behind me on my White Dome excursion a couple days earlier. The weather was deteriorating as I descended West Silver Mesa, but fortunately the travel was as easy as I had hoped, with mostly open country and very few willows. I was surprised to find quite a few more boot-prints on the trail, but met no one on my return to the trailhead.

Needle Creek to Animas

It started graupel-ing a couple of miles out, and gradually grew more intense. I was not looking forward to the ride back to Henderson Lake, especially since the clay-rich soil had turned to slick mud. The two trucks were still at the trailhead, and the Mitsubishi van’s resident waved as I passed, riding cautiously over the mix of mud and limestone. I was impressed at how well my bike’s tires handled the surface, despite their lack of aggressive tread. I initially tried to avoid the puddles and the worst of the mud, but gradually gave in to the fact that both me and the bike would be filthy no matter what. My hands ached with the cold, and I needed to get back to the car before dark.

Aftermath of bike descent

I managed to ride most of the upper rocky section, picking my way cautiously and riding the brakes. I put on a bit more speed on the lower, smoother part, as the graupel turned to rain and my brake pads wore down from the grit. Finally reaching the car, I leaned my bike against the side to deal with later, and was happy to find I had just enough manual dexterity to unclip my keys from my pack and unlock the doors. I crawled inside, frantically stripped off my wet clothes, put on a dry t-shirt and sweatshirt, started water for cocoa, and curled up in my sleeping bag. I had a painful ten minutes as my hands came back to life, but suffered no permanent harm. I made dinner, read a bit about Harvey Butchart, then went to bed early, leaving the problem of dealing with my wet, muddy bike and clothes to the next day.

“N 2”, 13,109

Grenadiers and Needles from 13,109

After a fair amount of driving and chores, I did not have time to prepare for anything ambitious. Looking around at my remaining Weminuche 13ers, I saw that a subpeak of Snowdon called “N 2” would be an easy hike. I drove up to Andrews Lake near Molas Pass and slept in the overnight lot, then got a semi-lazy start. I followed the trail away from the lake for awhile, then left it at the trail register to follow a use trail past a small pond and into a meadow that is probably a bog most of the time. Here the trail faded, and I picked my way through the remaining sogginess to the woods.

Molas Lake

I was not sure what route to take, wandering more or less toward Snowdon and debating whether to follow a northwest spur ridge or aim for the saddle between Snowdon and N2. The woods were mostly open and easy, but as I neared the peak they got steeper and brushier, leading me to choose the ridge. I found a chute leading to a cleft that got me to the crest with nothing harder than third class, then made my way through fields and easy krummholtz on the other side. The ridge connecting Snowdon to N2 looked rugged and rotten, making these two neighbors slightly annoying to combine. I hopped up boulders leading south of the notch, then picked my way across a bit of annoying snow to the summit.

Rock glacier and lake

The best views are across the Animas to the east, but the morning sun washed them out. On my side of the river, I saw a silty lake at the tip of a rock glacier, and Snowdon looked impressive to the north. To the west were the impressively colorful Engineer and the peaks of the Telluride-Ouray crest, from Golden Horn and Pilot Knob to Sneffels. I retraced my route to the base of the final boulder-slope, then took the bowl north of the northwest ridge back toward home. This was mostly easier than my way up, with only a bit of obnoxiousness in the woods, and a surprising little slot canyon just before the open meadow.

Animas (l) and Molas/Coal Bank (r)

I was back at the car with too much daylight left, so I drove into Silverton to bag Peak 13,109, an undistinguished 13er south of Kendall Mountain. I parked at the base of the dirt road and took off on my bike, happy to gain fitness rather than damage my car on the rough road. The road was far too much for my car anyways, and even too steep for my gravel bike and mediocre bike-handling skills in places, but it was faster and far more enjoyable than hiking or jogging. I stashed my bike in the woods on the final climb up to Deer Park, then hiked the Whitehead Trail past a couple of trucks and a blocked mine. I had eyed this trail as an alternative approach to the northern Weminuche, but now that I am aware of the Cunningham Gulch approach, I see no reason to use it.

I left the trail where it crosses the steep open slope west of the peak, picking my way up tussocks and hardpack to the ridge. From there, I could follow a well-made game trail around Point 12,829 and on to the summit. Though separated from the Vestal Basin peaks by two ridges, I had a clear view of their north faces, which were largely coated in snow. With the low mid-October sun and short days, this would not melt before next Spring, making their standard routes somewhat adventurous. My work done, I returned to my bike via a slightly less steep route that followed the ridge a bit farther. The ride down was somewhat sketchy in places, but mostly much faster and less impactful than it would have been on foot. I returned to the car with enough time to make dinner and prepare for a more ambitious outing the next day.

Hunchback through Peak Two

West Trinity, Vestal, Arrow

[This writeup skips several quality outings over the past two weeks, which I hope to return to, but the blog is getting badly behind. — ed.]

Cunningham Gulch

Climbing all the Weminuche 13ers has been a late-season, low-urgency project of mine for some years. Most of them are fairly remote, which makes them appealing but also hard to day-hike, especially late in the season when I normally visit. One of my last mother-lodes of peaks was the group north of Vestal Basin and south of Elk Creek, from Hunchback to Peak Three. I had expected this to be a truly grim outing from Molas Pass but, while doing some last-minute research, I realized that it would be significantly easier to reach the peaks from Cunningham Gulch. I had somehow never visited this trailhead, which is a viable 2WD alternative to the slow and punishing drive to Beartown for accessing the northwest Weminuche.

Dawn on Guardian, Silex, and Storm King

I was not sure how long the outing would take, but I had to be back by dinner, so I set my alarm for a painful hour and started by headlamp around 4:30, planning to do the trail approach by headlamp. It is no longer summer, so I began hiking in mitts and a down jacket. While I eventually stowed the jacket, I remained borderline cold on the long, rolling commute south along the Continental Divide above 12,000 feet, and had to put it back on above Kite Lake when my hands got too cold. I finally turned off my headlamp near the top of Elk Creek, continuing south on an old but clear trail to the saddle between Hunchback and White Dome.

White Dome

Hunchback Peak is made of some kind of crumbly shale, so it is not particularly steep, and its west ridge is mostly easy. The snow on the north side was sometimes supportive, but more often the expected breakable crust over ankle-deep sugar. I dodged a couple of small pinnacles near the top, and reached the summit in time for sunrise. I watched the light hit familiar peaks to the south and west in the Needles and Grenadiers, then retraced my steps as Hunchback’s shadow descended the east face of White Dome, my next goal.

Vestal Basin peaks from White Dome

Near the saddle between the two peaks, I transitioned from dark choss to the Grenadiers’ lighter quartzite, which is particularly light-colored in this part, giving White Dome its name. This rock can be solid and pleasant to climb, but because it is hard and breaks along smooth planes, it forms terribly unstable talus. I therefore stayed along the right-hand ridge where possible, opting for solid rock with a few class 3-4 steps instead of shifting boulders. By the time I reached the summit, it was warm enough to ditch the mitts and jacket for the rest of the day, though I would keep my hoodie and thin work gloves for several hours. The Vestal Basin peaks began to come into view here, with their strikingly bent uplift layers.

Descent from Peak One

From White Dome I followed an easy ridge to its junction with a minor spur, then turned south toward Peak One. This was the first north-facing terrain I had to deal with, and it was as unpleasant as I had feared, with unpredictable ankle- to calf-deep powder between protruding rocks. I tried to hop from rock to rock where I could, which was slow but far less aggravating than postholing. A combination of fatigue and altitude also had me plodding and gasping more than I should have been. Peak One was not particularly interesting in itself, but it offered a clearer view of the main Grenadiers. Notably, the east side of neighboring Peak Three shows the same layers as Arrow and Vestal, though the eroded valleys are in the wrong direction to make for good climbing. I also had an excellent view across Stormy Gulch to Trinity Lake, the long Trinity-Storm King ridge, Silex, and the Guardian. Looking north, I could see most of my descent route to Elk Creek and the Colorado Trail, which looked easy if a bit tedious from this angle.

The Trinities

I dropped down the ridge to the head of Stormy Gulch, then followed a rib on Peak Three’s east side to its summit. I had suspected for years that this peak would be an ideal spot to view the main Grenadiers, and it did not disappoint. I sat for awhile admiring Arrow and Vestal, whose Wham Ridge looked tricky with a dusting of snow on the steeper upper half. Through the gaps in the quartzite ridge I could see Jagged, Eolus, and Pigeon poking through. Peak Two looked like a slog, so it took me a minute to steel myself to get going. It was every bit as tedious as expected, unstable quartzite talus mixed with a bit of choss, with the usual sugary snow on north slopes. I slogged it out, admiring the high plateau to the left and my scree descent to the right. From its summit, I had a clear view up and down the deep trench of Elk Creek. I had only been as far up this drainage as the Vestal Basin cutoff, and was both looking forward to traveling its upper reaches, and dreading the long climb out.

OMG this sucked

After a couple minutes on the summit, I retraced my tedious steps a bit, then happily plunge-stepped east, crossing some sheep-trails in the pliant scree. The bottom of this drainage was blessedly willow-free, so I was expecting an easy hike down to the Colorado Trail. Unfortunately it also contains a couple of bands of slabby cliffs which are hidden from above. I did not have to do anything sketchy to get through them, but they did cause some frustration and delay. Below, I followed game trails to the right, aiming to hit the trail high. These eventually disappeared, and I found myself hopping and thrashing through a mess of deadfall above the creek junction. Looking back, I did not see a better path.

Bench lakes above Elk Creek

Once back on the trail, I was surprised and impressed by how steeply it climbed toward the Divide. I slowly ground out the 1800-foot climb, mostly appreciating the trail, but cutting straight up through some turf where it turned to maddeningly-flat switchbacks. I was ahead of schedule, but still tried to jog the flats and downhills on my way back north. Though it was late in the year, it was also a weekend, and I saw a group of three hunters who had probably driven to Beartown, a couple of day-hikers, and a pair making camp near one of the high lakes. Given the forecast for snow the next day, these last seemed either masochistic or oblivious, but they were too far from the trail for me to say anything. I jogged down to Cunningham Gulch, quickly rinsed off at the car, then drove into Silverton to grab water at the fire station and cook some real food.

Longs (Kiener’s to Cables)

Complete view of the day

Longs Peak is one of Colorado’s better fourteeners, with a dramatic east face and no route to the summit easier than class 3. Unfortunately it is near Greater Denver, making it a circus most of the time, so I have not climbed it since doing so with a friend’s sister in the pre-blog days. That time, we went up the Loft and down the standard Keyhole, and I remember being amazed at the summit crowds, and amused by the people clinging for dear life to the entirely walkable final slabs. This time I returned for two slightly more interesting routes: Kiener’s and the old Cables. The former is likely the only way I will ever climb the peak’s east side, while the latter fits in with Lady Mountain as a relic of an age when the Park Service had a sense of fun.

Field trip

Camped all the way over on the non-Denver side of the range, I woke punishingly early and had a breakfast of coffee and a sandwich as I drove over Trail Ridge Road. This put me at the trailhead just after headlamp time, where I joined a dozen or so people heading out on the week’s best weather day. I passed a number of them, grateful that the gloom hid my ice axe and spared me any curious glances or questions. Longs is often done for speed, so I felt like I should be jogging the pack trail’s tedious switchbacks, but I was either feeling the altitude or just not in the mood. Emerging into the often-windy alpine, I was surprised to see two long lines of what seemed to be High School students heading down, dressed as if for a field trip. A few were chatty amongst themselves, but most of the girls wore the typical teenage affect of straight hair, blank eyes, and downcast faces.

Chasm Lake and the Diamond

Eventually reaching the Chasm Lake junction, I semi-arbitrarily decided to go clockwise, up Kiener’s and down the Cables. Both routes have similar ratings, but in retrospect this is clearly the correct direction, as Kiener’s is more sustained and the Cables Route is not hard to find. I continued hiking along the trail to the old cabin and privy, then followed a fainter path to Chasm Lake. The Diamond glowed intermittently as the sun poked in and out of thin clouds to the east. I picked my way through the boulders around the lake’s north side, then plodded up the snow to what may still be the Mills Glacier. I sat to put on my crampons as I watched someone start up the lower half of the Diamond.

Lambs Slide

The snow in Lamb’s Slide had not solidified, so it was mostly slush with a punchy crust. I meandered some as I plodded up the couloir, looking for firmer spots or trying to follow bits of old boot-pack, but never found a satisfying line. Perhaps because of the unaccustomed altitude, I was feeling sluggish, and frequently stopped to gasp and rest my burning legs. The entrance to Broadway is a chossy ramp just above a black rock band. Here I took off my crampons for the day, put on my pack, and stowed my axe in my usual “samurai carry” in case it proved useful again.

Broadway Ledge

Some hiking on the ledge led to the left side of Broadway, the remarkable ledge splitting the Diamond. Though sometimes no more than a foot and a half wide, it is nearly flat and mostly covered in turf. Apparently it can be treacherous earlier in the season, when it collects steep snow, but now only a couple of easily-avoided snowbanks remained. I continued on the ledge to the Notch Couloir, then headed up and right as the route description suggested.

Start of upper Kiener’s

I think the correct route climbs the couloir a short distance, but I immediately attacked the rocks to its right, finding steep climbing in a chimney with wonderfully positive holds and grippy rock. After some more like this, I found myself in a sort of dark, wet alcove, with exits left and right. I chose the right at random, and found it deposited me on ledge-y terrain where I managed to make things harder than necessary for myself in a few places. Above this, I found easier going on a class 2 mix of grass and small blocks.

Upper Kiener’s

I was enjoying my progress, and the views behind and below, so I did not pay much attention to the route description. Where I probably should have traversed around a corner, I decided to directly attack one of a pair of dihedrals. I tried the left (right-facing) one first but, not liking it, backed off. The right one was positive and more to my liking, but steep enough to make it feel like the day’s crux. I took my time, then panted my way up the easier boulder-hopping to the summit plateau, arriving practically right at the highpoint.

Summit plateau

Thanks to my early start and direct route, there were only about a dozen people on top, and with plenty of room to spread out, I antisocially distanced myself to eat a sandwich and decide how to proceed. I could easily descend the standard Keyhole route, following the painted bull’s eyes, but decided to stick to my plan and descend the cables. I wandered off across the plateau, found a cairn on the right, and meandered my way down class 2-3 ledges and talus, finding bits of trail here and there. I saw a pair of climbers lower down, and aimed for them, descending near the east face, then traversing back left on a helpful bootpack through a couple of minor snowfields.

Playing with ropes

I caught the climbers at the second old eye-bolt, a relic of tougher tourists in a more carefree age. They turned out to be a couple with roles unusually reversed: she was the more experienced climber, showing him how to clip in for a rappel. A brief bout of awkward conversation established that (1) Kiener’s was “in,” and (2) they had oddly gone up the Keyhole trail and chosen to descend the Cables. As usual, a rope was slower than no rope, and by the time I carefully downclimbed the wet crux and passed the end of their rope, the guy was still futzing at the top. I plunge-stepped down a snowfield, then traversed right toward Mount Lady Washington before the muddle/tragedy behind me resolved itself.

Mount Lady Washington does not have quite enough prominence to make it a real peak, but it was the most convenient red dot in the area for me to turn green, and right on the way back. I passed a haul bag and water bladder at an odd spot in the rocks, which I might have bootied had there not been a couple of guys scrambling by on this odd line. Neither had an axe or crampons, so I chopped steps across a small snowfield for one, then continued on the boulder-hop to my minor summit. The talus was almost all wonderfully stable, but large enough that I had to pay attention in choosing my path. The descent to the Chasm junction was long, but possibly more pleasant than the beaten-in trail. I finally put away my hoodie and gloves, stowed my axe properly, rolled up my pant legs, and took off at some semblance of a jog to make the three miles pass more quickly. I passed a steady stream of hikers along the way, headed perhaps for Chasm Lake, and reached the ranger station before lunch. The weather continued to hold, making me wish I had gone for my more ambitious plan, but this loop was enough, and enjoyable besides.

Zirkel, Flattop

Zirkel summit

Mount Zirkel is a prominent but not particularly high mountain deep in the redneck lands of north-central Colorado. It has been a low priority on my to-do list for some time, and seemed like a good way to break up the drive from the Tetons back down to Colorado. My various mapping programs really wanted me to drive around through Craig to get there, but it seemed shorter to head east from Baggs, Wyoming on county roads. This was probably slower, with a long stretch of good dirt, but definitely scenic. It also made me aware of this repugnant resort, with rooms starting at about $2000/night and a perfectly-paved driveway leading from the dirt road to what looked like an overgrown Dick Cheney “cabin.” I continued on pavement toward Steamboat for awhile, then turned off toward the Slavonia trailhead, passing through a herd of dirty sheep guarded by dogs that, surprisingly, did not attack my car.

Glacier lilies on trail

I woke before 5:00 at the very no-camping-y trailhead, ate a leisurely breakfast, and was off well before sunrise, hiking up the trail to Gold Creek Lake, one of two approaches. The first two creek crossings were easy, on a bridge and a deliberately-placed log, but the third required a bit of searching upstream to cross the stream’s two forks on spontaneous deadfall. The snow on the trail was sometimes soft, but it had been cool enough overnight for the stuff in the shade to be supportive. I lost the trail around the Slavonia mine, and continued by picking my way through boggy slopes and snow-patches, aiming for Red Dirt Pass on the northeast side of the valley. The snow turned out to offer the most friendly path here, firm but with a crunchy, grippy surface.

Big Agnes from Zirkel

I continued to find bits of trail above the aptly-named pass, but mostly enjoyed easy cross-country travel across tundra and occasional snow to the final summit knobs, where a final bit of boulder-hopping and ridge-walking led to the top. There was a bit of a cool breeze from the west, so after admiring the east face of Big Agnes, I found a seat on the other side to eat my ridiculous cookie (thanks, Tom!).

Red Dirt Pass

Knowing that I wanted a bit more than Zirkel by itself, I had plotted out a route back south over Flattop to Ute Pass, with a possible detour to Bear Mountain. I retraced my route to Red Dirt, then found more faint use/game trail and easy cross-country to the highest pile of rocks on Flattop’s expansive, verdant plateau. The weather excellent, but I lacked the food and energy for a three-mile detour to Bear, so I headed straight down the pass. (I should bring more of both next time…) The trail was mostly buried on this west-facing slope, so I did my best to link boot-skiable snowfields on the descent.

Gold Creek drainage

I tried to find the trail again down near Gold Creek, hoping it had a convenient crossing log, but gave up and forded the small stream. After wringing out my shoes, I located the trail and slogged back up to the Red Dirt Pass trail to close the loop. Most of the trail was pleasantly joggable on the return, and I even found the energy to jog a few of the short climbs. Below the Gilpin Lake junction I met a surprising number of hikers. Normally peaks this low and far from Greater Denver are quiet during the week, but the parking lot was full when I returned. I took my time eating lunch, then drove back through the sheep and continued southeast, steeling myself for a brief encounter with the Front Range. It has all the traffic, crowding, and regulation of the Bay Area, but at least its mountains are slightly better.

Powell, Eagles Nest

Powell and Peak C from return

Eagles Nest and Powell, also known as Peaks A and B, are the northernmost of the Gore Range’s “letter peaks.” To their south stretches Ripsaw Ridge, comprised of Peaks C through H. I had traversed these peaks back in 2012, skipping H because its summit is indistinct from below, but ran out of energy to continue to B and A. Looking at C from Powell, it looks like it might not have been possible to continue the traverse. Powell is the range highpoint, making it an appealing enough target to brave the horrors of Vail on my way south.

Trailhead from pass

I drove the long, dusty road to Piney Lake, which felt much worse than I remembered, reaching the parking area outside the ranch around dusk. All of the designated camp spots along the way were occupied, but no one seemed to mind my sleeping in the car at the trailhead. I was awakened around 4:30 when two young guys pulled in next to me and packed for what I guessed (correctly) to be a traverse of Ripsaw Ridge. I found their conversation insufferably “bro-ish,” but that probably says more about me and the early hour than about them. I tried to get a bit more sleep, then started at a civilized time when I would not need a headlamp.

Bad side of Kneeknocker Pass

I passed a few photographers on the trail, likely guests of the ranch, photographing a few moose hanging out in the willows, and was passed by a couple of young women out for their morning jogs. Farther up I met a bow hunter, out on the last weekend of the season and unlikely to have much luck in such a high-traffic area. I easily found the cairned trail to Kneeknocker Pass, and turned steeply uphill on a surprisingly nice trail. The sun was finally hitting the ranch and meadows, but I remained in Ripsaw Ridge’s shade. Kneeknocker Pass was supposed to be a wretched talus-slog, but I found a decent path on the left side almost to the top.

Start of ridge

There are two ways to Powell’s summit from the pass: follow the ridge, or drop down the other side a little ways to reach the broad south slope. The other side of the pass was hardpack and ball bearings that looked somewhere between miserable and dangerous, so I opted for the ridge. After some traversing to the left, passing the occasional cairn, I returned to the right side, where I easily gained elevation on some nice slabs. The ridge eventually deposited me on Powell’s summit plateau, from which I made my way to the highest of several large talus mounds. The air was clear, and I had unobstructed views of Holy Cross and the Sawatch to the southwest. Closer, I could see the various side-ridges east of the Gore crest that hold most of the remaining letter peaks. There are also a couple of colorful lakes east of Ripsaw, fed by small patches of ice.

Eagles Nest ridge

The ridge to Eagles Nest looked long and tricky, and I knew nothing about it, but I had nothing better to do with my day, so I took off across the summit plateau to its start. I found generally smooth sailing on the first part, staying near the crest or following ledge systems to the west. Things turned much trickier near the saddle, where there are many small gendarmes and both sides of the ridge seem steep. At the lowest notch, I tried a possible ramp on the west side, chickened out at a dihedral that felt too steep to be safe, then retreated to the crest. Picking my way down the other side, I eventually found my way down a steep gully until I could cross the next rib and reclimb to the saddle. This felt like about low fifth class, harder than I had expected but not unreasonable.

Oh, hi!

Beyond this, there were more towers to go over and around, but the climbing generally became a bit easier. I even spotted a few cairns, suggesting that I was on the correct version of some route. Eventually the gendarmes ceased and the ridge began a steady climb toward the summit. Looking ahead, I was surprised to see five brightly-colored people in helmets. They turned out to be four guys and a woman, who had started early that morning from the north end and had a car shuttle back at Piney Lake. After meeting no one on the higher and much easier Powell, I was surprised to see someone on this more difficult and obscure route. They informed me that it is in Roach’s book, and that the ridge is supposedly easier if you drop farther off the west side.

Powell from Eagles Nest

I continued to Eagles Nest, where I paused to have a snack and check out the view of the small glaciers north of Powell, and the oddly-perched Dora Lake. I then retraced my route along the ridge, planning to drop west and cross the col at the head of Cataract Creek and rejoin the Kneeknocker Pass trail. I had spotted some gullies that did not cliff out as I traversed, and figured I would choose one of them. I ran into the party of five again, passing them as they began their descending traverse, then made my way to the valley bottom without much trouble. I did not say anything, but given their pace, I saw headlamp time in their future.

Goat family

The col worked well, and I was surprised not to find a use trail, since it seems like a useful connector. Stopping near the trail on the other side to get some water, I watched a family of mountain goats graze watchfully not too far away. A few minutes down the trail, I met four inexperienced-seeming people and an unleashed dog aiming to climb Powell. I gave them what route advice I could, told them about the goats, and suggested they leash their dog. They happily ignored me and continued, but I did not hear an altercation. While there were not many peak-baggers out, there were tons of leaf-peepers on the lower trail. I dodged them as I jogged and hiked my way back to the overflowing parking lot. I was hungry, and would normally have taken my time over a meal, but the crowds were too much. I drove back toward Vail, then up a less-traveled side-road, looking for a nice spot to camp. The few flat pullouts were taken, so I finally settled for a flat-ish wide spot in the road. Not ideal, but good enough.

Aiguille du Fleur

Summit plateau and Fleur de Lis

Rocky Mountain National Park is a casualty of greater Denver’s unchecked growth. It was already a bit of a circus when I visited to climb Longs in 2009, and has only gotten worse since. Recently the Park has instituted a “timed entry permit” system, in which one must have one of a limited number of permits to enter the park at a particular place in each two-hour window of the normal day. These permits are “free” through (there is some kind of “convenience fee,” of course), and both the far-in-advance and day-before ones seem to go quickly. Timed entry for the east-side entrances starts at 5:00 AM, and somewhat later for the less-popular west-side ones.

I have long wanted to check out some east-side routes for the next edition of my book, including the Cables and Kiener’s routes on Longs, the 5.6 route on Spearhead, and the long traverse of Glacier Gorge called “A Walk in the Park.” But between the crowds, entry permits, and increasing difficulty of camping in that part of the Front Range, I probably never will. It is sad that these potentially “classic” scrambles have been ruined by unchecked population growth, but there you have it. If I am not willing to put up with the nonsense required to reach them, I cannot recommend them to others. Given that Yosemite seems to be headed toward similar or even worse crowding and restrictions, I may remove Matthes Crest and Cathedral from the next edition.

Almost-lake creek

With the east side of the Park off limits, I decided to check out “Aiguille du Fleur,” a minor tower with a scramble route that I had read about on Steph Abegg’s site. From my camp in the burned-out forest west of Grand Lake, I drove over to the East Inlet trailhead, where I was met with timed entry signs. I had not expected them at a trailhead with no entry booth on this side of the park, and did not know what to do. I had cell service, but there were no reservable permits available online, and the explanation of when one needed a permit was not at all clear. I eventually asked a local guy what the deal was, and he said that, since I had arrived at the parking lot before timed entries started, I was fine. I have no idea if or how they enforce the system at this trailhead.

Blasted trail

I put my annual pass on the dashboard just in case, then started off up the trail. Once past some falls, it stays flat for awhile, crossing some meadows with a meandering, barely-moving creek. The trail then climbs the valley’s north wall to get up a headwall, with impressive blasting in some sections. Along the way there are named, designated camping spots — apparently camping, too, requires reservations. Above the headwall, the valley climbs past a series of lakes, from Lone Pine Lake all the way to Fifth Lake, at the base of Isolation Peak.

Aiguille from approach

I went to the third lake’s outlet, then left the fading trail to cross the small creek and bash south through the woods. Expecting a climbers’ trail here, I was disappointed to find only bits of game path, but the rough part was short, and travel became easier as the side-valley flattened. As the Aiguille came into clear view, I skirted around its slabby apron, taking a gully toward the head of the valley before cutting back toward its sheer east face. Here I could see the obvious ledge leading to the base of the north ridge route, supposedly 5.6. I was slightly tempted to try it, but I was worried about north-facing snow on potentially slabby terrain, and not feeling all that ambitious. Instead I stuck to my initial plan to climb the easier south ridge. If I had extra energy after that, I could continue to Fleur de Lis Peak, then follow the plateau west before dropping to the trail lower down.

Hard side

After an easy gully, I found a short tricky section dealing with a chockstone in the notch between the Aiguille and the ridge to the Peak. Once past this, I found more low-fifth scrambling meandering up and right, which eventually eased off to a hike to the long, flat summit plateau. I had felt off my game on the scramble, which was supposed to be only a bit of 5.4. I walked over to the highpoint, a jumble of boulders on the other side, where I found a cairn and a couple of slings. The views into the valley, and of the cirques to the south, were striking, but other than Isolation, most of the surrounding peaks are just bumps on a high plateau.

Without much energy, I decided to return the way I had come. Back at the other side of the summit plateau, I followed a ramp toward the other side of the notch, and realized I had made my life much harder than necessary on the way up. Other than a step-around and a couple of moves, this way out of the notch would have been a simple walk. I did not find a climbers’ trail on the way down, but managed to follow slightly better game paths. The trail was too rocky to be much fun to run, but I jogged the smoother sections. As I got within a mile or so of the trailhead, jogging again became nearly impossible due to crowds of meandering tourists, including what looked like a wedding party. I ate my meal in the completely full parking lot, then took off south and west toward less crowded places.