|Alpenglow on Robeson, Bard and Parnassus|
The forecast for Saturday was looking good and there was a near full moon, so I started putting together plans for a sunrise summit. I knew this would require more of a nap on Friday night since the sunrise is around 5:40am this time of year, so I needed to keep the climb close to Denver.
Since I started climbing mountains in Colorado I had been wanting to do a loop of 13ers near the Urad Mine, which is just out of Empire, Colorado. In 2012 I had planned on doing it and found out the access was closed, so it has kind of been on the back burner for quite a while. This loop consists of Engelman Peak (13,362ft), Robeson Peak (13,140ft), Bard Peak (13,641ft), Mount Parnassus (13,574ft) and Woods Mountain (12,940ft). Over the past few years I have climbed Mount Parnassus and Woods Mountain on separate occasions from Watrous Gulch from the south side, these are easily accessible peaks right off of I-70. For today’s climb I was going to approach the mountains from the north via the Urad Mine.
I wasn’t too hopeful on convincing anyone to join me on such an early climb, so I knew I would be climbing solo today. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it meant I really had to be motivated to get out of bed at 1am to make the drive to the TH. Getting to the TH is quite easy and it doesn’t require 4WD. From Denver take I-70 heading west into the mountains. Head north on U.S. 40 that passes through the small town of Empire. Keep on this road till coming to the hair-pin corner where County Road 202 heads off to Henderson Mine. Follow this taking the second southern road which is County Road 203 heading to Urad Mine. This is all well marked so don’t worry about getting lost. I drove up near the mine where there was a pullout on the north side of the road just before getting to the TH.
I knew this would be a bit of a challenge getting motivated in the early hours of the morning, but I knew it would be good training for Rainier, which I have planned for later in the summer. I had to do a bit more research than I normally do since I would be navigating through the trees in the dark, but I was up for the adventure. I was at the TH and hiking up the old Ruby Creek road just before 3am.
The wind was howling pretty good from the start, but it was quite warm out. Once in the trees along the road the wind didn’t bother me too much. The only issue was the warm temps had me postholing in the snow 50 yards into the climb. I had to make my first gear adjustment of many for the day and put on my snowshoes. The full moon wasn’t helping me as much as I’d like through the trees, so I was having to rely more on my headlamp this morning. I would like to get a better headlamp in the future as the Princeton Tec one I use doesn’t give off the best beam. Lucky for me this is a pretty well used area and the climb started on a road.
An issue constantly on your mind while hiking solo in the dark are the creatures that go “bump in the night.” I don’t think too much about that stuff, but I’m always a bit more cautious when going solo. I’d say I only heard Sasquatch two, maybe three times. Haha, not really but an owl or some other large bird scared the crap out of me when it took off as I got close to it.
|Engelmann Route Options|
Getting back to the route, I wasn’t sure exactly which gully I was going to ascend on Engelmann. I knew that the main gully I tagged it to be Gulley 1 would not be a wise choice. This would be the steepest gully and it is the most direct route to the summit. Gulley 1 does come all the way down the road I was on, so I did contemplate using it at one point to avoid finding my way through the trees. I decided this would not be a wise ascent route being solo. There were three more gullies to choose from. Based on my Google Earth research I was shooting for Gulley 2 or 3. The gulley I ended up ascending was Gulley 4 which I think was a good choice. I was lead to Gulley 4 by some ski tracks, and I would buy that guy a beer if I ran into him at some point. Following the tracks was an efficient way through the trees. I got to the split where you could choose Gulley 2,3 or 4. The ski tracks went to Gulley 4, I still wanted to try Gulley 2 so I started up an opposite path of the tracks. Well that lasted about 10 seconds. I got off the tracks and next thing I knew I was waist deep in the snow. This wasn’t going to work for me so I quickly changed course over to Gulley 4 following the frozen ski tracks. From this point the gulley opened up and I was above treeline. I was about an hour into the climb, and I had planned on 2-2.5hours to summit Engelmann in order to make it for the sunrise.
|Dawn to Dusk|
Now that I was out of the trees the moonlight was really starting to help out. I could had shut off my headlamp, but I kept it on for quite a while. I had the heel ascenders up on my snowshoes and now it was just a climb up the snow filled gulley. The climbing was easy, thanks to the frozen ski track my snowshoes never broke into the snow. My body wasn’t responding too well this morning though. It’s hard to convince your body to work this hard at 4am with a couple hours of sleep. I’m sure I wasn’t taking in enough fuel along the way either. But, when push came to shove I just kept moving up the mountain.
Along the gulley there are multiple options to head up steeper slopes to make the line more direct to the summit. I chose to stay in the gully as the steepness was just right to continue with my snowshoes on and not have to dig out my crampons. I followed the gulley to the ridge, and it did get quite a bit steeper as I got closer to the crest of the ridge. Once I made it to the ridge I took some of my first pictures you will see in the album with the moon and the glow of the sun rise. I still had a bit of a climb to get to the summit of Englemann, but I had a good 45 minutes before sunrise. The ridge is very broad and the light was good so I finally shut off my headlamp. At 5:10am I was on the summit of Engelmann, the first of three 13ers for today.
The wind was constant and it was freezing. I was on the summit and I had a good half hour till the sun came up. This wasn’t good. I took a few pictures and I started to search for a place to get out of the elements. Its wasn’t happening, there was nowhere to hide. I took a few minutes to dig out all my jackets and my warm gloves and I kept moving. I would keep my eye on the horizon hoping to watch the full sunrise, but at this point I was more frozen than anything, so I was focused on moving to stay warm.
|Me on the summit of Bard Peak|
I was making my way down to the saddle where I connected to the ridge and from there it was about 300 vertical feet to the summit of Robeson. Just before reaching the saddle I stopped and watched the sunrise. It was really neat to be able to see that, and I was never so thankful for the sun. I wasn’t even sure I was going to continue to Robeson at this point. The wind still never stopping, was wearing me down piece by piece. I couldn’t convince myself that it was time to head back, hell it was only 6am. I started the climb up to Robeson. As I started up the northeast slope the alpenglow caught my eye. This is when the first sunlight hits the mountain in the morning, and it’s quite the sight to see. It cheered me up a bit and I was convinced there was hope.
I’m not sure what time I was on the summit of Robeson, but the sun was up and my fingers were almost thawed out. I was so close to bailing and having to come back for Bard, but the sun saved me today. I figured about 45 minutes to the summit of Bard from Robeson. Bard is really the reason I am back here anyway, it’s the big boy of the three. I’ve been close to its summit before when I did Mount Parnassus a few years back. I’m extremely glad I got over the mental barrier and continued up Bard, It was a really fun climb from the small bump that was Robeson.
|Robeson and Engelmann from Bard Peak|
There was about 600 vertical feet to gain to Bard’s summit. I kept my snowshoes on, but there was a lot of rock bands to work through to keep the route as easy as I could. At 7:10am I was on my third 13er and the last one for the day, Bard Peak. The panorama view from Bard was one of the best I’ve taken in in Colorado. The sky was clear and the sun was not directly overhead for once, so I was hopeful some pictures might come out this time. I just use my iPhone so I don’t expect too much.
As I was making my way up the final pitch of Bard I had decided I would not continue to Parnassus and Woods. Their ridgelines would be much more time consuming. There were oodles of cornices and I felt the safe option was to return the way I ascended. I had previously climbed those mountains, so it didn’t take much for me to convince myself this was enough. I sent out a few texts to let people know I indeed did not get eaten by Sasquatch and was starting my descent.
Going back was going to be pretty quick. Everything was still frozen so that was a bonus for me. I took of my snowshoes and grabbed my ice axe and started plunge stepping down the north ridge of Bard Peak. I attempted to glissade a few times, but it just wasn’t working. I made a traverse around Robeson and found myself at the top of Gulley 4 at about 8am.
The gully was still in the shade so I knew a glissade could be quick. I figured I’d give it a shot. It was an unwise decision. You could get moving pretty good as the top section was steep, but it was ice, not snow. My ass still hurts from sliding over the old ski tracks. About halfway down the gulley I couldn’t take it anymore. I got up and started hoofing it down on foot. I’m sure this would be a sweet slide/ski in the afternoon, but I wasn’t going to wait around that long.
|Grays and Torreys|
I started down just in boots with no traction. As I found myself getting off the track from my ascent line the snow was crusty and led to postholing. Soon I decided to put on my snowshoes, figuring they would work better than crampons as the temperature started rising. This was a good choice as I was able to make really good time down the route and in no time I was back to the trees. I had a goal of being back to my truck by 9:30am so now I had a little motivation. I kind of let gravity do most of the work for the route through the trees and I was almost in a trot at times. I made it back to the car around 9:10am.
This was a fun climb, I haven’t done a solo early morning climb in years so it’s good to test yourself mentally like that. I highly recommend this route, there are so many options, and I will come back to do the loop maybe during the summer time. If you go up think about bringing a helmet. I did see some rocks come screaming down the gulley as the sun started hitting the upper sections. Now it’s time for me to get some beach time in, and maybe a hike or two in California next week. Cheers!
Date: May 21, 2016
TH Elevation: 10,300 feet
Engelmann Peak Summit: 13,362 feet
Robeson Peak Summit: 13,140 feet
Bard Peak Summit: 13,641 feet
Total Ascent: 4,155 feet
Total Distance: 8.37 miles
Moving Time: 4 hours 32 minutes
Stopped Time: 1 hour 51 minutes