Crystal Peak/Peak 10 trip report


This was a very late start to my hiking season in the "real" mountains. But, better late than never. People think I'm nuts, but the fastest way to the high country via the I-70 corridor from downtown Boulder is to drive to Golden and take US 6 up through Clear Creek Canyon. Assuming there isn't heavy traffic, which there usually isn't at 3:30am. I arrived at the Spruce Creek "Portal" parking area a few miles above Breckenridge as it was starting to get light.

I started hiking at 0507, late enough to avoid using a headlamp. For a moment, I questioned my strategy of starting the hike in shorts, but despite an air temperature possibly below 40F, it didn't take too long to get comfortable. I made my way up the road, which splits just past the "portal". For this hike, I wanted the steeper right fork. It didn't take too long to pass the turnoff for Francies Cabin, part of the area hut system. Shortly past that was the junction with the Wheeler trail. I had made this first thousand feet of gain in about 35 minutes and felt like I was going to have a good day physically. You partially break out of the trees at this point so you can see Father Dyer Peak with Crystal Peak in the background. It looks impressive from here, but Father Dyer is really just a minor false summit on Crystal. Peak 10 was sort of visible through some trees. There was a fair bit of snow visible, but it didn't look like it was going to cause any problems. The Sun was just starting to hit the tops of the peaks.

The Wheeler Trail takes a diagonal approach up to the east ridge of Peak 10, and doesn't actually cross the ridge until 12400 ft. I had to continue slightly past the nominal turn-off point to skirt a large snow slope on the ridge. I had my trekking poles, but was just wearing my hiking shoes without a solid toe box, so I wasn't well-equipped to deal with anything but flat snow. At this point you leave the comfort of the trail, but the ridge only has a couple steeper spots on talus. There is a small cluster of communications equipment at about 13400 ft, including a microwave repeater. This is at the top of a steep jeep road coming out of the Breckenridge ski area. In fact, from what I saw on the hike, it is quite popular for people to drive the Peak 10 road up through the ski area pretty high. This gives access to a very nice snow slope on the northeast face of Peak 10, which appears to be a very popular ski/snowboard run. It looks like a good snow climb and leads more or less right to the summit. I watched some people snowboarding down the slope and a couple of people climbing.

Just past the equipment, the ridgecrest was covered in snow, but luckily was very shallow. I summited Peak 10 at 0731. There was a motley collection of artifacts at the summit; a Buddhist prayer flag on a pole, a small American flag, a bugle, and an empty summit register tube with a broken cap. The sky was clear as far as the eye could see, except for light haze visible over the Front Range cities, thanks to the heat wave.

I had just finished some video work when the two climbers arrived at the summit. They lived in Summit County and I chatted with them for a while. At one point one of the guys pulled out a hash pipe and lit up. (Well, I'm pretty sure it was straight pot in the pipe and not hash, but I like the phrase "hash pipe".) I've heard that this is quite a common summit ritual, but hadn't actually seen it before. They offered to share, but that's never been my deal. I found it more amusing than anything; "Lifestyles of the Young and Stoned". During this time, a conga line was developing coming from the ski area.

I had spent more time on Peak 10 than planned, but I wasn't in much of a hurry with the perfect weather. I finally left and worked my way down to the saddle and then up to Crystal. There was quite a bit of snow on the left side of the ridge to Crystal, but the ridgecrest was dry. The talus is a bit tedious and this is the steepest sustained hiking of the entire route. But, it's not very long and I reached the summit at 0845.

I was noticing how warm it felt hiking up the ridge to Crystal and standing on the summit. I almost packed my jacket on the way up. But, it actually was only 44F on the summit; it just felt warm with the Sun and only a 5 mph breeze.

I probably shouldn't admit this, but I had my cell phone with me and tried to call my Mom back in Iowa just for the heck of it, but she and my stepdad weren't sitting around the house on the 4th, either. I'm not one of those co-dependent psycho-messes who needs to be in audible contact with people at all times. I bought a "pay as you go" phone earlier this year mainly for automobile problems (including the possibility of a slighty worse deer encounter than last time), and other "urgent" or "emergency" things. Not only for hiking trips, but also for some of the remote places I take my telescope for dark-sky viewing and the occasional other long drive. Since I have it, I figure there's not much point in leaving it in the car while I'm hiking; you never know. In my mind, it's as least as "pure" to have a cell phone while hiking alone than to hike with a partner for "safety". I figured I should test it out at least once.

Anyway...there wasn't a register or summit indicator except a short rock wind shelter (too short to be useful) at the higher of two little rises that I explored. This would have been a great day to have had a long picnic lunch on the summit, but I didn't have a tablecloth or a picnic basket full of goodies. I shot some more video and still photos, and contemplated the other surrounding high peaks I've climbed. The Sawatch Range was laid out to the west, including Mount of the Holy Cross and the namesake Cross Coulior, which wasn't in great form, but was easily recognizable. Beyond, I was able to see Snowmass Mountain 50 miles in the distance.

I made my way back down to the saddle, encountering a loose group of 6 people. At the saddle, I crossed about 10 meters of snow in the immediate lee of the saddle. This is a loop route and I would catch the Crystal Trail near Upper Crystal Lake. But, I had to angle down to the left on talus and tundra to catch the trail at the highest point that was snow-free. Unfortunately, this trail is actually an old Jeep road and traverses high on the south slopes of Peak 10. There were still several snow slopes crossing the trail before it descended to the valley, generally about 25-50 meters across or so. The first one had steps and wasn't too steep. The second one took me about 10 minutes to creep across. There wasn't much help from previous steps, so I had to punch in steps with my heels. It was a 35 degree slope and although a fall would only slide me down about 50 vertical feet, I still didn't like being there without any snow gear. The third snow slope I avoided by sneaking down 40 feet and crossing a flatter and shorter part of the snowfield before climbing back up to the trail. The 4th one was fairly flat and easy to cross. The fifth one was short and easy to avoid. The final one was short and flat and easy to cross. By this time I was heading back toward Crystal Peak on a big switchback, and then finally down to Lower Crystal Lake.

A guy in hip waders was fishing in the lake, and I assume his was the 4WD parked there next to an old cabin. From there, it was a pleasant 2.3 mile stroll down the road back to the trailhead. I did encounter some casual hikers heading for the lake, including a couple who were going fishing. There were a few more vehicles heading up the road, and the parking area was pretty much full when I reached my car at 1110.

I was curious as to how busy the roads would be on this holiday afternoon. Breckenridge ("Blechenridge" as I call it) had the only through route blocked off downtown for their 4th of July stuff. (They sometimes do this on non-holidays, too.) So, it took about 20 minutes to get through town on side streets. Boulder blocks off the most used north-south route through town on Memorial Day for the Bolder Boulder 10K race, but there are two other 4-lane routes through town. Screw 'em; it's not like I have much reason to support ski towns anyway. And, losing 15 minutes wasn't such a big deal, especially because traffic was light once I hit I-70.

I often take Clear Creek Canyon home, because even with afternoon traffic, it can still be faster than driving to west Denver and then through Golden or Arvada. But, I decided to go with the latter because I wasn't sure about 4th of July traffic. Right after the exit for the canyon, where I-70 becomes 3 lanes each way to Denver, the traffic jam for people leaving Denver began. There was something like 8 miles of this 15-20 mph traffic, and that was before the jam would have to compress into 2 lanes! It was already past noon and I thought it was weird to have traffic backed up before the Idaho Springs corridor, implying a mass exodus from Denver at lunchtime. I wondered if it was people that decided to avoid the early morning rush out of town. I don't know if the morning traffic was bunched up, too. In any case, there wasn't much traffic at all in my direction right through west Denver, Arvada, and into Boulder where it was well up into the 90s again.

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File last modified: 01 January 2005

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