Unfortunately, I had a setback in my recovery from hernia surgery and lost nearly all of July for hiking. At the end of the month, I had to fly out to Minnesota to find a place to live for my upcoming forced move, and the last week or so I've been dealing with a lot of other move-related issues. But, with that mostly under control I could start thinking about hiking again. Unfortunately, moving around boxes while packing hasn't agreed with some of the muscles damaged during surgery, especially after the impromptu run down Mount Parnassus (although I'm not convinced that was really the primary problem). Which is a long way of saying that my shitty year has continued, and I'm not going to be able to do any of the decent hikes I had been planning this summer.
But, I was hopeful that I could at least try a more modest hike and see if my groin would hold up. I also wanted something with a fairly short drive, so I decided to do Pettingell Peak. Although I had forgotten both facts, Pettingell is on the Continental Divide and is the highest point in Grand County. So, this peak would be my 16th county highpoint in Colorado and 60th peak out of the top 250 in Colorado (but who's counting?).
I started the hike with just enough light to see without my headlamp, although I did use it at the trailhead register. Skies were mostly clear and it was about 38 degrees with very little wind. The trail climbs fairly steeply at times, but is mostly not very steep. Signage indicates that it is 3 3/4 miles to Herman Lake, a very popular destination hike. I'm not sure if it is that long or not, but I think it is at least 3 miles, and I have assumed 3 1/4 miles plus a mile from the lake to the peak for the total distance.
The trail goes through a couple of nice meadows and it doesn't take too long before there is a tall ridge between you and the I-70 traffic. The final approach to the lake is kinda weird because you go through a fairly flat area with a few ponds on a bench before a short descent to the lake. The lake sits in a fairly steep cirque that rises on the west, north, and northeast sides. You can actually see Pettingell most of the way up Herman Gulch when the trees are thin, but I couldn't confirm this until I got up to the lake, where the location of Pettingell and the general route up a moderate angle ramp become obvious.
It's a decent lake, but was obviously at low water and not at its most impressive. It was very still and provided a good reflection of the higher terrain to the west. The impressive thing was that I was shooting some video and heard a jet, so I decided to try to get a shot of it. Just as I acquired the target, I could see that it was heading right across the last quarter Moon! Definitely a unique shot, and one that requires a lot more zoom than just about any still camera equipment one would carry up a mountain.
From the north end of the lake, one follows a rocky gully up to the west. If you know exactly what you are doing, you can take a very obscure turn to the left and get on grassy slopes at the south edge of the ramp for most of the rest of the ascent after the short gully. But, I ended up on a very tedious route up loose talus and just never managed to get far enough left to hit the grassy route. It was definitely not the optimal route, and not really what I wanted to be doing with my injury. Plus, I'm a little out of shape as far as doing strenuous activities. By the time I got up to around 13000 feet or so, there wasn't much point in trying to get over to the grass. At that point, my groin was getting sore, and if I hadn't been so close to the summit and knowing that I would have an easier descent, I might have turned back just to be on the safe side.
Whether you take the proper lower route or not, the final couple hundred feet to the summit requires some Class 2 hiking on talus, but not too bad. I reached the summit at 0815. It was still a gorgeous morning, with hardly any wind and mostly clear skies. The only significant cloud cover was actually below me, about 30-40 miles east over the I-25 corridor from a weak cold front that came in during the morning. The effect of looking down on a cloudbank was not as dramatic at this distance, but still pretty cool.
There was a summit register in place, and befitting its position as something like the 217th highest peak in Colorado, the register was only about half full despite being about 3 years old. I poked through the names and found Jim Gehres, probably still the record holder for the most times having climbed all the Colorado 14ers with something like a dozen; it's good to see that someone like that also slums around on the lower peaks. Only one person each had signed in on Friday and Saturday. I was the first on Sunday, and the good weather may have allowed someone to reach the summit later. I was actually a little surprised that more people don't climb the peak in view of the popularity of the trail and the trivial access to the trailhead from right off the interstate. But, the route certainly wouldn't look very inviting from the lake for a casual hiker.
On the way back down to the lake it was much easier follow the grassier slopes and avoid most of the nasty talus. Just before entering the rocky gully to get down the last slope to the lake, I was treated to a very nice aerial view of the lake from the edge of the ramp. Back down at the top of the gully, just where the lowest finger of snow ran out, looking back up at my descent route I would have never guessed in a million years that it was the ideal route! If you want to try, the key is to get as far left as possible as soon as possible on the ascent and hope for the best.
It was after 9am at this point and there were several people at the lake already. I would encounter about 50 people on their way up, mostly in the bottom half of the trail to the lake. For being so late in the year, there were quite a few wildflowers along the trail, and I bet this is even prettier shortly after all the snow melts. This would have been a particularly good day for someone to wait until 10am to start hiking up to the lake as it was not to be a significant t-storm day. I wrapped up the hike shortly after 10am.
This was my first hike in a new pair of low-topped "boots", which look more like high-topped shoes; whatever. They are Vasque Catalyst Mid XCR's, with "Stealth" rubber soles, which should make them particularly good for boulder-hopping and scrambling. The also have a Gore-Tex lining, because I was getting sick of wearing non-waterproof footwear and having to walk through wet grass and/or willows on random mornings. I taped up both little toes to prevent blisters since the only break-in I had done with these "boots" was a 2 mile walk mostly on sidewalks a month ago. Anyway, I found them to be quite comfortable, and while I did get hot spots on the bottoms of my big toes, I didn't get any blisters. It's hard to say whether my little toes would have had problems if left bare. They handled well on the relatively rare large rocks on the route, but there wasn't enough of this sort of terrain to really give the Stealth rubber a good test.
To the chronological trip index
To the Pettingell Peak page
File last modified: 02 January 2005