Clinton Peak trip report


I'm still on vacation, but I couldn't hike on Friday because I stayed up all night observing with my telescope. Then, the expected storm system came in on Friday night through all of Saturday. I gambled that the forecast of rapidly improving conditions early Sunday morning would come to pass and allow for "normal" hiking conditions. I chose Clinton, et al. due to the combination of low technical difficulty in light of probably wet and/or snowy conditions, relatively modest elevation gain so I could still do a couple more trips in the next several days, and a short drive during a major holiday weekend.

When I arrived at Montgomery Reservoir, everything was suitably wet, with some low clouds hanging off the hillsides. But, it was clearly a "post-event" weather pattern. I started hiking at 0544, and used my headlamp for a while, mainly because of the effects of the lingering cloudiness.

The first 2.4 miles of the route is a popular, shallow but rough 4x4 road, followed by a very steep and rough road for another 0.7 to Wheeler Lake. The Roaches guidebook claims that "stock four-wheel drive vehicles" can make it 2.4 miles. Don't expect to get your SUV very far. There are two heinous rock steps near the beginning of the road that were challenging some jacked-up 4x4's when I came back down. Ironically, much of the road would actually be navigable in a high-clearance car or a pickup truck. When hiking the road, you have to avoid many "ponds", by hiking social trails alongside the road, and in some places the "road" has flowing water.

Low clouds continued to float about, and I was treated to a nice sunrise behind me. It was chilly and damp, but I figured the Sun would take care of some of that eventually. Wheeler Lake is a nice one, surrounded on 3 sides by steep slopes and some cliffs. It is sort of hard to assess exactly where the Roaches' route leaves the lake to the west, but it seemed obvious to me that you traverse most of the lake before heading up a relatively shallow gully. I would thus put the route a little farther north than the guidebook, and north of those two tiny lakes north of the main drainage. In fact, my advice is to stay as far north as reasonable all the way up to the lake at 13300ft.

After the steep climb above the lake, the route levels off in the lumpy upper basin. The hiking is mostly on grass, which was not only wet, but there was fresh snow in places above 12500ft. It was never continuous, but there were dinnerplate sized patches in the most shaded areas. Especially on the way up, some of the hiking was on irregular talus; on the way down it was easier to pick better footing. It was windy in this hanging valley with a nice funnelling effect from the terrain, up to 30 mph at times as I approached the highest lake.

From here, you are supposed to turn right and catch the summit ridge of Clinton just below the summit on the east side. I sort of did an ascending traverse on the steep hillside and ended up about 100 yards past the summit! But, at least it wasn't any worse than that, although the footing was rather awkward near the top of my traverse and may have been better if I had taken the proper route. It took me a bit over 3 hours to reach the summit. Two people had arrived from the ridge, apparently after coming over from Wheeler Mountain. They left shortly after I arrived and headed down where I came from.

It was quite windy at the summit, and remained windy on the ridge run over McNamee and Traver. I seem to have misplaced my Kestrel wind/temperature gauge, and of course this was the trip where I wanted it! In any case, the wind was about 40 mph at times on the ridge. Clinton gives an aerial view of the Climax Molybdenum mine, and you can see just how much they tore the hell out of the landscape. The mine is no longer functioning, but work is still done to mitigate the after-effects of 60 years of strip mining, including water quality monitoring.

I didn't linger too long on Clinton and headed along the Continental Divide to McNamee Peak, a minor false summit on the ridge between Clinton and Traver. The ridge is littered with old mining artifacts. There was one short rugged spot, but it was mostly pretty smooth. The worse part was that in a few places I had to stay on the west (shaded) side of the ridge and there was a bit of snow and even verglas on some of the rocks. Not a big deal, but it did require a bit more care than a usual summer hike, especially in the gale force wind.

You leave the Divide and continue to round the cirque counter-clockwise past McNamee to reach Traver. Traver is only 5 feet shorter than Clinton and the deepest saddle drop (between McNamee and Traver) is only 232 feet, so it does not qualify for the standard list of the 100 highest peaks in the state. But, it is a semi-classic 0.9 mile ridge run between Clinton and Traver, and doesn't require too much extra effort because you are already heading back toward the trailhead by the time you reach Traver.

On the final southwestward approach to Traver, the wind was a bit more at my back, which helped a bit. The last 100 feet or so to the summit is again a bit steep and rugged, but still modest Class 2 hiking. The summit register showed far fewer recorded ascents than Clinton, but still a fair number for being an "unranked" peak. It was still windy, and it was getting a bit cloudier than when I started. The clouds were pretty "flat" up to that point (around 1000), and remained so.

Making my way down the east ridge of Traver, I encountered a pair of hikers who were a little confused on where they were at, so I helped them out a bit. (Recalling my overshoot of Clinton, I didn't feel much smugness.) After a short descent on talus and tundra, I angled left to reach the main drainage. There is a short rocky section here, and looking back up the hill, it would be a bit confusing if you were climbing Traver first. I found a wide rocky spot in the creek to cross, and rejoined my ascent route at about 12800ft.

As I already mentioned, I did a better job of micro-managing the route on the way down, and reached Wheeler Lake just before 1100. The remaining 3 miles down the road were fairly uneventful from a hiking perspective. It remained about half cloudy and occasionally breezy. I saw quite a few motorcycles, which is probably the best mode of vehicular transportation for this road. There were a few rugged 4WD vehicles that made it past the early rock steps. I also encounted a few groups of hikers heading for Wheeler Lake. There isn't much tree cover along the road, and I was getting a bit warm in long pants when the Sun was out and the wind calmed.

I spent a few minutes watching some 4x4's get hung up on the 1st rock step, and a few more minutes talking to some nice retirees at the Magnolia Mine just 100ft up the hill from where I had parked. The round-trip took about 6:40, but would have been 10 minutes faster if not for the two stops within a few hundred yards of my car. Traffic wasn't too bad at all on the way home, except the usual slow-down through Blechenridge. Being a food connoisseur, I enjoyed a Grilled Stufft Burrito (tm) at Taco Bell in Frisco before hitting the interstate and heading back to Boulder.

To the chronological trip index

To the Clinton Peak page

To the McNamee Peak page

To the Traver Peak page

File last modified: 01 January 2005

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