I had been hoping to do another two-bagger this morning, but after sleeping and napping a lot the previous day and some abdominal pain all evening, I never really got to sleep this morning. And, I got up to a rather poor forecast with scattered t-storms possible during the late morning and becoming likely after noon. I could deal with the latter, but I do everything I can not to mess with the former. So, I hurriedly got everything together and was thankful that I still needed to do Peak 9, which is only about a 20 minute drive from Dillon and could be a fast hike.
Some clouds were trying to drift in from the east as I made the drive, and I would see some virga falling from them during the hike, but otherwise the sky remained mostly clear. I started hiking at 0616 from the Spruce Creek Trailhead. The road is driveable a bit further to a Y-split where the roads become rougher but there isn't much parking and it really doesn't help with a normal car.
I had been up much of my planned route on my climb of Peak 10 and Crystal Peak four years ago and knew that it was a fast road and trail up to where it crosses the ridge on Peak 10. Basically, halfway to this point the Wheeler Trail cuts across and this can be taken across the ridge and down into the basin below Peak 9 and Peak 10 before ascending what seemed to be relatively gentle slopes. So, I chose to wear my new running shoes, which I haven't run in but they have now climbed two 13ers in 3 days! And, I used my small hydration pack, which has just enough room to carry the essentials and a two-quart bladder of fluid, with my rain jacket having to be attached to the outside of the pack. (See my Mount Edwards report for more details on what I carry for a minimalist high peak.) I used my trekking poles; not that they would make me any faster, but would save my legs a bit. Plus, if storms did fire up, I would have a nice pair of lightning rods.
I had it in my mind to really push the pace, but not so much that I would burn up on the final approach to the peak. I was having a bit of a hard time keeping the pace down and on the frequent steep parts of the road I was seeing quite a few 40-50 feet per minute climb rates on my altimeter. It's nice to be acclimatized and fit, but that's not quite sustainable for a 3000 vertical foot hike at this altitude for me! According to the watch, during the individual minutes where it recorded a gain, I averaged just over 30 fpm.
I hit the Wheeler Trail junction at 0647 - 31 minutes for 1.42 miles (GPS odometer) and 1050 feet of gain. I took a very short break here, then pounded up the continually steep trail until the one hour mark at 0716 where I was just about to crest the ridge and this is pretty much where I had left the trail on my ascent of Peak 10. I had hiked 2.42 miles and gained 2060 feet by this point, which is about as vigorous as I can do with the reality of significant extra gain and distance to come afterwards.
The good news was that after another 100 feet of gain to cross the ridge, the trail descends 150 feet to give a bit of a break. I had a choice here. I could follow the trail through the willows and ascend the south ridge of Peak 9, or hang a left and hike a clear strip of tundra and dirt up the gentle slopes that lead to the Peak 9/10 saddle and angle up the obvious tundra alley before hitting that ridge. I decided to do the latter since it was a bit more direct, and in any case, the tread of Wheeler Trail through here is quite lush and not necessarily much more environmentally correct than going off-trail sooner.
This starts out gentle and stays that way for a while. There were a few wet spots to cross, including some running water and my well-ventilated running shoes weren't quite up to the task. But, it was looking less likely that I would have weather problems later and I was finally getting some sunshine to take away the slight nip in the air.
The steep tundra slope that leads to either the summit or a point near the summit wasn't too bad, although the dirt was just a bit loose in place, probably thanks to melt from the small snowfield that remained at the top of the ridge.
The route that I took did go basically right to the summit, which appeared very abruptly after a steep section. I was glad to see it because I started to bonk on the last 150 vertical feet, but I felt like I was too close to the summit to stop! I reached the summit at exactly 0800, considerably faster than my optimistic two-hour ascent. However, based on GPS the one-way hike had actually been a quarter-mile shorter than I had thought.
The weather was still good and I had time to take some pictures and have a short sit-down rest. I noticed on the way up that the ridge from the Peak 9/10 saddle up to Peak 10 looks really heinous, steep and loose, and I'm glad I didn't try to climb Peak 9 as the start of my Peak 10 and Crystal Peak ascent! (I think people do this ridge, so maybe it isn't as bad as it looks, but I couldn't find an angle that made it look at all appealing.)
I didn't spend much more than 10 minutes on top, and that was already 10% of my ascent time. I basically retraced my ascent route back to the trail. I was wondering if I would feel bad on the 150-foot climb back over the ridge, but I was still okay then, so the Clif Bloks on the summit did the trick. (Based on Clif Bars and Clif Shots, I would have never tried the Bloks, but I friend of mine gave me a pack when visiting a year ago and they are actually quite good and are my new favorite "quick" hiking food over my old standby, Gu, which I also used once on this hike.)
It became a little cloudier as I banged down the trail, but nothing at all threatening and it turned out that I could have taken it a bit easier on the hike. I finished at 0923 right after encountering a big group of mostly kids heading up and another large group of middle-aged folks milling around a corner of the parking lot. Even though it took a while for storms to develop, I hope they all were just heading to Crystal Lakes or something like that and not climbing a peak. Radar was already getting interesting in the mountains before 11:30am and the first t-storm hit Dillon just after noon. It rained continuously with occasional thunder much of the early afternoon in Dillon, and on radar the storms extended all along the Tenmile Range and into the Mosquito Range.
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File last modified: 28 July 2007