Last week I had attempted Fletcher Mountain, a near-14er just west of 14er Quandary Peak, but was foiled by rock-hard, slick snow slopes (crampons would have been very useful) and couldn't get up to the southeast ridge of Fletcher which would probably have been no problem to climb. In the post-mortem, I found another route on the topo which is a little longer, but might work better, so I may attempt this again in the near future.
However, one good thing that came out of last week's failure was that on the way home I took a minor detour up to Loveland Pass to check out the snow conditions in this area. Climbing in this area is on ridges, which appeared to have a shallow snowcover last week. Thus, I planned to climb Grizzly Peak (interestingly, even at 13,400+ this is only the fourth highest Grizzly Peak in Colorado).
As with my last successful climb, this one is completely on the Continental Divide. Starting from Loveland Pass at 11,990 feet, you climb east to Point 12915, take a sharp right with the Divide, down to a saddle at 12714, up to 13117, down to 12756, up to 12936, down to 12740, and finally up to Grizzly Peak. There allegedly is a trail that skirts the first two ridge points, but I thought it would be more fun to stay right on the Divide.
I arrived at Loveland Pass at about 5:20am, before dawn. I finally started up at 5:53, when it was finally light enough to see anything. The sky was mostly clear with light winds and a temp of about 20F. There was only patchy snow on this first slope as it faces into the wind.
Speaking of the wind, about 200 feet below the first ridge point it started to dramatically increase, and by the time I reached this summit, it was a 40mph gale with a temperature of 19F. On top of this, the Sun wasn't up yet, so needless to say it felt pretty cold up there. Descending down to the first saddle, I found a small portion that was shielded from most of the wind, the only respite from the wind I would have the entire trip while hiking.
The hike up and down to the last ridge point before Grizzly was uneventful. The Atlantic side was corniced so I was mostly hiking on rock and tundra, staying away from the very Divide itself. There was no evidence of any recent cornice failure anywhere, but I didn't want to take any chances. The wind was consisantly sustained at 40-50mph, but as the Divide runs generally north-south here, the wind was mostly a crosswind. The sky was almost completely clear so the sunshine helped a bit.
Between the last ridge summit and Grizzly was where all the excitement was. First of all, there was some blowing snow here which is no fun when being driven by gale force winds. Most importantly, the route became more challenging with the trip's only actual climbing. Going down to the saddle, there was one good but short (~40 feet) glissade. Interestingly, I had been seeing fairly fresh tracks from boots and skis on the route, and at this point I could see that someone else had done a sitting glissade here.
Ascending the final 600+ feet to Grizzly's summit was pretty interesting. It's mostly scree and loose broken talus, with a few solid spots. There was still a little snow and ice here, so I stuck mainly to the talus, and did about 50 feet worth of easy scrambling. I also managed to find a 40-foot pitch of 30 degree snow in good kick-stepping condition. In general, though, this is a steep walk-up.
I wouldn't have been surprised by a false summit or two at the very end, but the angle suddenly eased revealing a fifty yard hike to a rock wind shelter, which I reached at about 8:15. The wind was a bit less here but still around 35mph. The shelter was filled with snow so I decided to dig away some of it for a place to sit out of the wind. I made it about a foot down when I hit the PVC cap of a CMC register tube. I shouldn't have been surprised because rock shelters are often the work of CMC members. I had to thump it with my axe to loosen the cap. The register was only about half full and had been there since last spring. There were only five recorded ascents this calender year, three of those by the same person. However, all three of the different people were CMC members, and I suspect they all knew that there was a register buried under the snow. It was a fluke that I found it, so I have no idea when the last previous ascent was. I didn't see any evidence in the snow of a recent ascent, so I don't know whether the person who made the earlier tracks I saw made it or not.
I spent about 20 minutes on top, soaking up the marvelous views (what can I say; you had to be there). I will mention that the cornices in this area were built up pretty good, but seemed solid. I walked out near the edge to get a look down Grizzly Gulch, but didn't linger long. If you continue on the Divide you end up on top of Torreys Peak, a 14er. This was an option, but the total gain from the Grizzly/Torreys saddle to Torreys and then from the saddle back to Grizzly is about 2000 feet, so I quickly ruled this out. This would be an interesting summer hike, though (and is briefly descibed in Roach's 14er book).
The interesting parts of the hike back were another short, fast 40-foot glissade going back down to the saddle below Grizzly, and a 40-foot pitch of quality 35 degree snow climbing.
At the summit directly above Loveland Pass, I had the option of continuing north to 13,234-foot Mount Sniktau and decided to give it a shot. I made it up to a 13,152-foot false summit less than a half mile from Sniktau. However, this side trip put me over the 3000 feet gain mark for the day and it was another 200 feet from the connecting saddle to Sniktau. Also, there was a lot of blowing snow visible there, and I was getting pretty sick of the wind anyway. And besides, I hadn't slept in over 24 hours. Thus I decided to head back to the Divide and reached Loveland Pass shortly after 11am.
There was a group of backcountry skiers getting ready to climb up to between the first two summits that I had climbed, and I gave them beta on the wind conditions up there (the winds were still light at the Pass). Kind of ironic that they were just starting and I had been hiking for over five hours.
Yet another excellent day in the Colorado mountains, and as has been the case for all four of my solo trips this year, I've had the mountain all to myself.
To the chronological trip index
To the Grizzly Peak (D) page
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File last modified: 20 December 2004