"Drift Peak" trip report


"Drift Peak" is an unofficially named peak which provides the southernmost vertebra to the backbone of the Tenmile Range. (Ignoring Wheeler Mountain, which is on the Continental Divide and thus in both the Tenmile and Mosquito Ranges, or perhaps in neither.) In any case, Drift is at the end of a string of five 13800+ foot peaks along a few-mile section of ridge. I've climbed the other four; what makes Drift different is that it may or may not be a separate peak. Here comes a major digression into the sticky issues of creating peak lists based on "objective" criteria. Some may find this rather pedantic, but if you are reading this specific report you are probably at least somewhat interested in these sorts of issues.

In Colorado, the general standard is that a "ranked" peak must rise at least 300 feet above the connecting saddles to all other higher "ranked" peaks. The "ranked" peaks then constitute the lists of top 100, top 200, all 13ers, etc. The problem is two-fold. First, most saddles do not have official elevations. Second, some summits do not have official elevations. So, in the two cases you add half of the contour interval (40 feet divided by 2) to the highest contour that does not go through the saddle, or the highest closed contour at the top of a peak, respectively.

Therein lies the problem: the actual saddle drop in these cases is not known precisely and could cover a range of values. That's fine, except for the cases where the range of values falls on either side of 300 feet. Generally, the ones that are above 300 feet with this system are considered separate peaks, even if the lower bound could be less than 300 feet. I.e., Challenger Point, with an elevation of 14081 feet, has a saddle with Kit Carson that could range from 13760 to 13799 feet. With the usual rules, this saddle is considered to be 13780, and Challenger has a 301-foot saddle drop and is considered a separate peak. Yet, the actual saddle drop could be anywhere from 281 to 321 feet. If there is equal likelihood for each possible value, there is only a 53% chance that Challenger satisfies the 300-foot rule! It is interesting that these cases are almost always considered separate peaks, while the opposite case isn't. In addition to Challenger, "Thunder Pyramid" and Mount Bross are the top 100 peaks that could potentially be demoted with better data.

Gerry Roach at least considers the possibility that something like Drift Peak could have a saddle drop of more than the nominal 280 feet derived from imprecise summit and saddle heights. He makes special note of these in his guidebooks and on the peak lists at his website. The peaks that fall into this "soft rank" category that are high enough to make the top 100 list are: "North Massive", "Drift Peak", and Iowa Peak. These are the reverse of Challenger, et al. It is interesting that there are 3 peaks on each list. (I have not taken into account the recent modification of the height of sea-level under Colorado, which makes all the peaks a several feet higher. My feeling is that without further surveys from the USGS, you should add the same number to the heights of the nearby saddles, too, which negates the effect of the higher peak heights on the saddle drop calculation.)

So, the point is that "Drift Peak" is one of those oddities that we peak baggers have to deal with somehow. The obvious solution to these dilemmas is to climb everything, and fortunately, Drift is an interesting peak. As Gerry/Jennifer Roach note, it "has attracted climbers over the years because of its easy access, and distinctive shape." [Now that I've actually climbed it and can unambiguously identify it from highway 91, I agree that it is an attractive peak, and must be really nice with snow.]

This wasn't my original plan for the weekend, but I had a very difficult week at work and just wasn't up to a longer hike and a longer drive. But, I had been contemplating climbing Drift before the mountains started getting much snow. The Mayflower Gulch trailhead is accessed just off of highway 91 and the drive is just a bit over 1.5 hours from Boulder. I got less than 4 hours sleep Saturday night (actually early Sunday morning), but slept a lot the previous night. So, I ended up starting my hike a little after 7:30. Hardly an alpine start, but the forecast was great.

I finally decided my 1.5-year old Kestrel 2000 wind and temperature gauge was MIA, most likely on Mount Adams, and I replaced it with the 3000 model which has humidity and dewpoint capability. (I'm not a gearhead, I'm a datahead; there is a big difference.) As I started up the dirt road, the temperature was 22F; definitely the coldest hiking I had done in a while. The dewpoint was 10F, so I guess I was lucky it wasn't even colder. There was very little wind at that point. It is possible to drive a car a little ways up the road, but this is a relatively short hike, so I enjoyed the 1.5-mile walk up to a point just short of the Boston Mine ruins. For Drift, you take the rough 4WD road to the right, which leads up to the start of Drift's northwest ridge.

The ridge is somewhat rugged in places, and while there are occasional bits and pieces of climber's trails, you are mostly on your own. The first part of the ridge is quite steep, and the guidebook says to find a miners trail to ascend this part. The start of the trail is in an obvious place, but it petered out into the steep, loose face. I ended up scrambling up talus, some of it rather loose. Near the top, when I didn't need the help anymore, the trail appeared again. Hmmmm...

Anyway, the ridge levels off for a while, and then you have to pick your way over and around little bumps on the ridge as you ascend. The best footing is usually on the right (southwest) side of the ridge, as the other side usually falls off quite steeply. There are exceptions. Interestingly, in my last hike up Mount Edwards, the guidebook gives a Class 2+ rating and I thought maybe my route was straight Class 2. The opposite was the case here; the guidebook says Class 2, but I did some Class 2+ sections. That was mainly to find more stable boulders as opposed to loose junk. Some of the larger blocks were a bit unstable at times, too. It was still a fairly straightforward ridge run, and the climb went quite well.

Above about 13000ft, the ridge gets steeper again as it bends more directly east-west and starts to blend in with the west face. It was getting windier, and this last part was steep enough that I was in the shade again. I had to put on my rain/wind jacket, but I was expecting that, and still had more clothing. The last few hundred feet were a little tedious, but I was still in good spirits when I arrived at the summit at 0958.

Except that I wasn't quite sure I was on the summit! I had forgotten which of the two summits that give the peak its distinctive shape was the highest. They both have maximum closed contours of 13880 feet. I was pretty sure that the other summit was a bit lower, but it seems to be much harder to be sure when you are on the taller one. There was just a metal pole imbedded in a small concrete pad, and no summit register or other "official" marking.

It was pretty windy up there and chilly, under completely clear skies. I thought about it and decided that I ought to make the 200 yard trek to the other summit. From my altimeter, this added only another 140ft of gain round-trip. Once at the second summit, it was pretty clear that the first one was higher. Oh well; based on the windy weather, I decided the second summit should be called "Draft Peak". Unfortunately, perhaps due to the effects of the wind, my altimeter watch gave a 20-foot difference between the two times I was in the saddle between the two peaks. That meant that the 20-foot height difference between the heights of the two summits may not have been accurate. However, it is worth noting that the second summit has to be at least 13880ft and probably a little more since the contour has some size to it. Thus, the main summit probably is at least 13900ft. However, Drift also needs a larger saddle drop over to Fletcher to be a ranked peak.

Shortly after beginning the summit traverse, I had to put on my shell pants in the cold wind. I started noticing some coldness, um, down below. In other words, I was worried about freezing my dork. I think I need windblocker briefs, because this tends to be the main reason I put on my shell pants.

Finally, back at the main summit, I rested for a while and shot some video and still photos. I also did a full weather report for the video (except that I forgot to note the barometric pressure on my watch). The temperature was 26F (one degree warmer than the other summit), with a dewpoint of -1F and a relative humidity of 30%. In a check that lasted a minute or so, the wind averaged around 18 mph with a gust to 23. Not brutal, but cold nonetheless. I still managed to not need my Polartec mittens over my glove liners.

There still isn't much snow in the high country, just dustings on favorable faces of certain peaks, and the ubiquitous snowmass on Snowmass Mountain in the distant west. I also couldn't see many aspen trees from this summit, or anywhere on the hike. Don't climb Drift expecting fall color. Nothing along I-70 was at peak color quite yet, but next weekend ought to be pretty good. It was still a gorgeous day, except for the wind.

About 200 feet below the summit, I encountered a pair of hikers that had taken a somewhat looser and rougher route, apparently similar to the northwest bowl route given in the guidebook. We chatted for a bit and I warned them that the traverse to Fletcher is probably technical. I'm not sure about that, but I attempted this from the Fletcher side many years ago and ran into at least Class 3 terrain. It is very telling that the guidebook does not include this ridge traverse and says that the easiest route for climbing both peaks involves descending back into the basin to the east. Gerry Roach is not one to leave out such an obvious route if it is non-technical.

Just as the terrain levels off around 13200ft, I stopped and took off my shell pants as the wind was lighter. A little later I also got rid of the shell jacket, and by the time I reached the rough 4WD road, I had swapped my balaclava for a floppy hat.

The descent was uneventful. Back at the steep, loose hill just before the terrain becomes Class 1 for the rest of the hike, I easily found the start of the trail at the top of the hill, and tried to follow it down. That got me into really loose dirt and was very "environmentally incorrect". I finally started working more directly down talus until I hit the good lower part of the trail. So, the "miners trail" that the guidebook discusses isn't really much help and you should not expect to follow it all the way up the hill. The best bet is to trend left onto the more stable but steep talus and boulders as you are ascending.

There were a fair number of people hiking the road, but it only took me 21 minutes to pound down the last 1.5 miles, so I didn't have time to see a lot of people. (Yes, that's a 4+ mph walking pace; still slower than when I walk to work carrying a similar pack.) The temperature was up to 49F at the trailhead, but the dewpoint was only up to 6F, giving a relative humidity of just 18%.

It seemed like this hike went really well, and seemed to go by pretty quickly. It certainly wasn't supposed to be a long hike timewise, but it seemed to be even a little mellower than expected. I happened to wear the heartrate monitor that goes with my altimeter watch (datahead, remember?), and when I got around to checking the dataset, it even indicated I was taking it a bit easier than normal. A nice summer-type hike except for the near-zero wind chill on the summit!

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File last modified: 02 January 2005

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