So, this was my 2nd summer trip to Colorado from Arizona in 2006 to climb 13ers. I drove up from Prescott to Alamosa on the 16th via Albuquerque, where I took advantage of the REI right off the interstate to pick up some gear, and finally spend my $7 dividend from last year. (I've lived in Prescott for exactly one year now, and I still haven't been to Phoenix at all since the move!) I spent enough so that I've already guaranteed a higher dividend than last year.
Anyway, the Alamosa Super 8 has an appropriate alternative to having a 24-hour desk; they actually charge you for your room ahead of time and you can just drop your key in a bucket on your way out. "What a great concept," he said. So, I was able to leave at 4:30am, for the 2.5-hour drive to Independence Pass. I needed to get to Dillon, but I planned to do a hike on the way, to maximize the number of hikes I could get on this trip. I drove 1.8 miles past the pass to a small trailhead parking area that gives access to Linkins Lake and Lost Man Lake.
It was mostly clear and relatively mild when I started hiking at 0716. I can't say that it was "warm", but it's never really warm in the morning at 11,506ft. Just a couple hundred yards up the trail, it splits with the left fork going to Linkins Lake and the right fork going to Lost Man Lake. This point is also the boundary of the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness.
The plan was to not only climb the east and west summits of Geissler Mountain, but also to bag what was the lowest Colorado 13er, Point 13001. I say "was", due to the 1999 readjustment of the "geoid" which defines sea level under the continental United States. This revision made everything several feet higher such that the highest 12ers are now 13ers, even though there really isn't a new "official" list with all of the correct elevations. (The exact correction varies from place to place.) But, the reality is that everyone is using the 13ers list that has been around for a while, and there are only up to 4 new 13ers to worry about.
To get Point 13001, I had to follow the trail over a pass, then down to Lost Man Lake, down a little further, then up to the peak. The good trail runs 2.3 miles up to the 12800ft pass, passing Independence Lake on the way. Geissler Mountain provides the left skyline at the lake, and 13711-foot Twining Peak provides the right skyline. I had Twining as my first peak after hernia surgery two years ago when I actually still lived in Colorado.
I reached the pass, unofficially known as "Lost Man Pass" at 0809. A layer of stratocumulus was passing over, but nothing worrying was happening yet. The cloud cover was bad for photography, but good for comfort as the wind was very light and the Sun was hot. This location gives a great view of the peak, just over one mile away by air. Understand that this peak is essentially "unknown". I will detail this below, but based on the summit register, hardly anyone climbs it even though a lot of people see it. It was rockier and more non-trivial than I had expected. I was rather excited by the prospect of something non-trivial, but also a bit apprehensive knowing what the weather would probably be doing in a few hours. Clearly, the ascent was going to require some work to avoid a couple of rock buttresses on the ridge, but it looked like that could be done on the side which I could see. I could also pick out what looked like a reasonable route up to the ridge itself near a saddle. Much closer, I could look just to my left to see the ridge route up the east summit of Geissler, which looked steep, but not difficult. But, I could worry about that later.
The trail switchbacked down the slope to Lost Man Lake about 400 feet below. I continued down to something like 12300ft to where I would leave the trail and head up to the peak saddle. I picked my way up steep tundra and around rocks to reach the saddle at the obvious looking spot at around 12500ft. This is only one of two places where I was at the ridge crest. As you get up to the ridge, you realize the true extent of the lower rock buttress.
The route basically is a high traverse on the left (west) side of the ridge to avoid the vertical rock. This is mostly on tundra and dirt, but has several places where you work your way through large talus and boulders. At the rock buttress there is an interesting configuration where you see a nice "hole" in the rocks and this is a good landmark. I passed immediately below this area, touching right up against some huge vertical boulders on a grassy ledge. This led to what I call the "flower gully", an attractive little slot on the rocks with nice flowers. This 20-foot gully gets very steep and rocky, but you can angle to the right onto a flat boulder and avoid anything worse than marginal Class 3. On the way down, I was more or less forced back to the place, although from above it looks like you might get cliffed out.
I continued to work my way up the west side of the ridge toward the summit. At the very summit, you see a big rockpile and I kept going just past it to the highest access on the far side of the summit. From there it is just 20ft of Class 2+ scrambling to the summit cairn. By this point, the area of clouds had moved on and it was mostly clear again. It was just before 9am at this point, so at least it didn't look like anything was going to happen with the weather extremely early.
The summit register had been placed in August 2003. The last sign-ins had been last September when a big crew came up with a woman who had made this peak the finish of her climb of all of the 13ers (and 14ers). Only something like 15 people have done this, so it's still a big deal (637 peaks up to 5.7 in climbing difficulty). However, that was the only one for 2005 and since then no one had signed the register! Thousands of people see the peak every year, but most peakbaggers are going after bigger game, and the casual hikers are probably scared off by the jagged nature of the peak even though it is very close to Lost Man Lake.
I picked my way down the side of the ridge, which was a bit tedious, but still a lot easier than the ascent. I seemed to really be feeling the altitude and was moving pretty slowly. Just before leaving the ridge, I saw two mountain goats ahead of me, but they disappeared down the slope before I could get my camera on them. Once off the ridge, with the Sun back out, the ridge looked even better.
I picked up the trail again about where I left it and worked my way back up to Lost Man Pass. This again was a grunt, and with the cleared skies, was rather hot. I was back at the pass just before 10am and had a decision to make. I could see just a few small puffy clouds, but not enough to worry about quite yet. I was concerned that I might get the main east summit of Geissler and not the west. There was also the issue of the descent from the saddle between the two summits. I could see a line that would seem to work, except for an area of steep gravel I might have to sidehill. This would then lead right down to Independence Lake and the trail. Shooting straight down from the saddle would be problematic, because one would have to cross the bottom of the drainage with probably willow bashing, then climb back up the other side to hit the trail below the level of the lake. No matter what, it would take some time and effort to get both peaks and get down. But, I decided to go ahead and climb the steep ridge to the main summit.
Fortunately, the footing was pretty good on dirt and fairly solid talus. I was dragging, though. Admittedly, it "only" took 25 minutes for the 560ft of climb, but I just couldn't get into a rhythm that would keep my momentum on the steep slope and realistically, 22 fpm is not an impressive climb rate for me. I reached the summit at 1024. Now the clouds were building up somewhat. With this monsoonal pattern, it doesn't take very long for things to happen. I was tired at this point and knew it would take a while to make it over to the west summit and then back to the trail. So, I walked a few yards over to the other tiny closed contour to make sure I had hit the true summit, then I headed back down the ridge. That would be the smoothest way back down to the trail.
By 1046, I was back at Lost Man Pass for the 3rd and final time. Cumulus clouds were continuing to build up and it didn't take much longer for it to turn overcast. That provided welcome relief from the Sun, and I knew I could get down the trail in a hurry if I had to. Just before a small bridge across the creek a half mile from my car, I heard the first thunder overhead. I mostly jogged down to my car in 7 minutes, hearing another 4 weak thunders from overhead. In that short time, I encountered several people coming up the trail, and there had been many others earlier on my descent. It's a wonder that more people aren't struck in Colorado. But, there are several deaths every year, and as a state Colorado had the 3rd highest per capita fatality rate for the years 1990-2003. In July 2000 alone, 11 people were reported struck in Colorado in hiking/climbing/camping/fishing situations and 2 of them died. All of these events happened at noon or later. The June-July 1999 period saw similar stats. When you consider how few peple are in a risky situation at any particular time, lightning is a pretty serious risk, especially if you are out there a lot. Alright, enough of the safety lecture; as long as I don't have to be involved in a rescue, I really don't care if you do something stupid and get struck.
So, the hike ended at 1129. After changing clothes (which took a while due to tourists milling about for no apparent reason), I drove back up to Indpendence Pass in decent rain and I saw several nice cloud-to-ground lightning strikes from that vicinity, quite close to where I had been hiking.
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File last modified: 13 November 2007