This is one of the many 14ers that doesn't have much mountaineering excitement, but as has always been the case for me in the mountains, it wasn't at all boring. [I think that statement in my original rec.backcountry report was a subtle response to a major thread about how stupid peak baggers were for bagging peaks and how they were all inexperienced gumbies who should get training and climb "quality" routes instead of high peaks. Or something like that.]
There is a 4WD road that goes up to about 13700ft, so, of course, this is the best route in terms of low-impact. This road starts across from Alpine along one of seemingly hundreds of numbered backroads in Chaffee County. This approach road is paved except for the last couple miles which is a good dirt road. BTW, Roach's guidebook is wrong on the mileage b/w US 285 and the Baldwin Gulch Road, it's 12.5 like Borneman and Lampert say. (That's OK; B and L are wrong on the length of the hike for this route and for other 14ers as well.)
I started up under a full moon at 4:16am, not needing my headlamp. Although I'm not sure at what point you couldn't drive up the road with 2WD, the road becomes high-clearance almost immediately. Even when the scattered clouds covered the Moon, there was still enough light to hike. The first landmark is the Baldwin Creek crossing at about 10840ft which I reached at 5:26. This crossing requires good balance as you hike across a sparse path of rocks to stay dry. A short while later there's another creek crossing for which it's also a little tricky to stay dry.
Above treeline, the road is an impressive, exposed shelf road as it climbs the south face of the mountain in large switchbacks. The road finally dies near the famous gem mine on a minor summit a half-mile south of the real summit. It's been pretty well picked over by now, but has produced gem quality aquamarines, as well as huge clear quartz crystals.
By this time, I was at the bottom of the ragged cloud deck and still couldn't see the summit. However, the sky was clear otherwise and I pressed onward. The climbers trail up the ridge isn't very good and it branches into several trails in places. Most of the time it stayed on the east (right) side of the ridge, only hitting the ridge occasionally. The ridge crest is surprisingly sharp in places, much like Mount Massive.
Visibility generally got worse as I ascended. The main problem, though, was the light frost or snow on the talus, making the rock slick. This slowed me down a little bit, and I wasn't in a good rhythm after the many miles of easy hiking. I reached the summit at 8:01. The summit is surprisingly large (still pretty small, though), with a summit register in place. It needs a new PVC cap, though, and the first couple pages were in bad shape from getting wet.
Alan Silverstein once reported identifying 40 out of the 54 14ers with binoculars from this summit, but I was having trouble even seeing the one I was on. In addition it was breezy and the temperature was right around freezing. I put on the extra clothing that I had sense enough to bring with me (after consistantly warm weather most of the summer, fall is in the air), and decided to try to wait out the weather for a while. Occasionally, I could see down into one of the drainages to the east, but that was about it. I looked through the summit register, but there wasn't anything interesting in it. After about a half-hour, I gave up on the weather and started back down.
About half-way down the ridge, I started coming out of the clouds again. I looked to the west, and saw a glory (or "Brockenspectre") encircling my shadow. I scrambled for my camera, but didn't get to it in time. The clouds were still climbing, so I didn't have another photo op; it was still one of those moments that makes all this effort worthwhile.
By the time I was back to the gem mine, the weather was sunny and warming up; the summit was socked in until after 9am. I was in no hurry so I rock-hounded for a while, finding a few rocks with small specks of blue crystal embedded.
I made it partway down the road before seeing anyone else; the first people were on 4-wheelers. The hike down was uneventful, passing quite a few hikers that seemed unduly impressed with my start time, as well as many 4WD vehicles. I finished up at quarter-to-noon with the weather still good.
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File last modified: 21 November 2005