Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mount Princeton

Mount Princeton
I’m hoping to get back into the one 14er per week routine again, or at least one summit per week.  After seeing massive Mount Princeton last week while driving through Buena Vista I knew it would be a great climb for the following week.  About a month prior I climbed Mount Evans with Brian and thought it would be good to get out with him on another mountain.  We set plans to leave the metro area around 4am on Monday morning, and my next 14er was now scheduled for the on deck circle.

Brian met me at the Meyer Ranch car park just after 4am and we were off on the road to Buena Vista.  It seemed like a fast drive over early in the morning.  I love it because we were basically the only ones driving West so there was no traffic to speak of.  A little before 6am we were driving through Buena Vista heading up the road to the Mount Princeton TH.  The sun was starting to rise over the valley and the view was amazing.  Still a blue cloudless sky we headed up the 4WD road to Princeton’s upper TH.

About a 3 mile drive up a dusty, mildly rutted road will get you to the radio towers where most people park for the upper TH.  The road is narrow, but I actually thought it was going to be worse than it was.  There were about five cars parked in the vicinity of the radio towers where there are a few campsites available to those that are interested.  We found a spot big enough for the Blazer and parked since we weren’t sure there would be anywhere to park further up the road.

By 6:45am we were off up the road.  This was great; our plan was to be on the trail up by 7am so we were ahead of schedule.  There were two other hikers on the road ahead of us, so as usual we wouldn’t be alone in the Colorado Mountains.   I must put this into my report for those of you who didn’t read my Evans report.  Brian is a tri-athlete, so with that being said we all know there is no way of keeping up with him.  He set the pace heading up the road, not quite in a run but we were moving pretty good.  It was just about the right pace for the grade, you know not to give me a heart attack before 7am.  No, it was actually nice giving me some motivation to move faster than I typically would.  I knew the forecast was unpleasant for the afternoon, so mentally I prepared myself to move faster than normal.

TH from the road
From reading TR’s on 14ers.com I had a good idea of where the TH starts from the road and what to look for.  There is a small cairn and a stair case that leads up and over an initial ridge before traversing to Princeton.  The two guys ahead of us were deep in conversation and walked past the TH.  We picked it up right away and tried yelling to them, but they were too far ahead.  A Ford Explorer made it to the TH where they must have had fun turning around on the narrow road.  I told Brian we should write “Cheater” on the dust of their back window.  Hahaha, hell I would have parked there if I knew there was a spot.  Like Jim Gaffigan says: I’m not training for the Olympics here.

We found the trail and headed up and over the quick section of dirt and grass before the route turned to a Class 2 rock fest.  Once on top of this small rib you can see most of the route heading all the way to the summit.  As we were making our way up the first half mile of rock we noticed another climber heading down to our trail from high on the ridge, he must have missed the TH too.  So, keep your eye out while walking the road it will save you a lot of boulder hopping.  The grade was nice; you couldn’t even feel the elevation gain yet.  And what I’ve always thought being nice with class 2 rock is you are constantly concentrating on your foot placement you forget for a minute that you’re breathing hard.  So either I enjoy this type of climbing more and find a way to place a mental block on my fatigue or I’m getting better adapted to climbing 14ers.  Who knows, I just know these routes beat the hell out of a dirt trail to the summit.

After we passed a few gullies we decided to have a fuel break.  Just about an hour into the climb we were over my average of 1,000ft per hour which was a good feeling.  It seemed that Princeton was so close all day.  I love this feeling compared to when I was on Yale last week and couldn’t see the mountain for the first two hours.  I had some Sharkies (and electorlite energy chew) and gorp (trail mix: Great Old Raisins and Peanuts) and noticed my bag of chips was close to popping from the elevation gain.  As we were getting ready to start again we noticed two climbers making their way quickly up the route towards us.  They caught us within the next half hour and I was more than happy to let them pass.

There was a blockade of the old trail that keeps traversing directly towards Princeton and the trail started switch-backing towards the ridge line.  The trail here had a really nice grade making its way up tight switch-backs making the elevation gain add up rapidly.  I think this was a route cut in by the Colorado Fourteener Initiative (CFI) like most of these 14er trails, hard work for them but I do appreciate it.  It didn’t seem like we were hiking too long at all before we reached the ridge line.  The views of Mount Antero were amazing, the sky was still clear and we were still on our climbing schedule; all was good with the world.

From the ridge on it was a solid class 2 climb to the summit.  There were multiple routes with cairns all over the place.  I found the best option was to stay up high on the ridge where it seemed to be a well used route.  We had just over 1,000ft left to go, and with the summit looming over you it gives you more motivation to keep climbing without resting.  Once we started climbing Brian got out in front of me by about 100yds as I tend to slow my rate of ascent as I get higher on the mountains.  A few people were on their way down by now, and it really didn’t seem long till I was near the summit.  About 100ft below the summit was a metal plaque bolted onto a rock.  A lady in the 90’s lost her life at this point due to a lightning strike.  That immediately made me look to the weather.  Still looks good, so on I went.

Princeton Summit
Brian was there to greet me on the summit.  With a 3hr 15minute climb from the car to the summit, I was very pleased with my performance today.  The air was smoky in almost all directions, but the views were still amazing.  It was Brian’s turn to pack summit beers, so he pulled out a New Belgium beer called Shift.  I said this is still cold!  Brian said, well I did pack it in ice.  Now that’s the sign of a good climbing partner.  I must say this was the first for me having an ice cold beer on the summit of a 14er, and it was amazing!  We had lunch took the standard pictures of everything and started to get ready to head down.  Then another climber was just reaching the summit.  This was one of the guys that was ahead of us on the road early in the morning.  Another guy from St. Louis, we talked for a few and he decided to head down with us as we could tell the clouds were starting to turn ugly.

Summit Beer
Our descent was eventful to say the least.  After we got down the loose rock and pebbled dirt from the summit we could see the weather developing very quickly.  There was a massive cloud of darkness hitting Antero and we had a good idea it was on its way to us.  We got down to where two climbers from Texas were debating on weather to turn around or not and we advised them to head down with us.  At this point Brian said he can feel the electricity in his trekking poles, and I just heard them zap and was like this isn’t good.  We headed off the ridge immediately.  At about the same time the rain started drizzling on us, which really makes traveling across granite a laborsome chore.

As we were crossing the rock slides I went to place my left foot on a rock and it moved on me cramping up my left calf muscle.  Awesome!  Nothing like having a calf cramp at 13,000ft during a thunderstorm.  I stretched it for about 20 seconds and soldiered on; I really didn’t have a choice.  We had to keep moving.  After we dropped a bit further the rain started pouring so we stopped put on jackets and packed our lightning rods (trekking poles) away.  At one point we discussed ditching them all together, right when the thunder was on the ridge.  I made the call that we were good now, and Brian trusted my judgment.  I’ve been though some nasty weather out in the mountains so I like to feel I have a sense for what is going on.  But, weather is unpredictable and there is always a gamble involved.  This is why starting so early is such a necessity in Colorado.  This storm was hitting at 11am, which is pretty nutty if you ask me.

Traverse Trail
Slowly but surely we made our way across the slick rock and gained the trail again.  By now the Texans were on a run and probably to their car by now, and “Slide” as I called the man from St. Louis was waiting to make sure we made it onto the trail.  I nicknamed him slide because three or four times heading down from the summit he slid right onto his butt in the loose rock.  We thanked each other for the help we gave each other during the descent and I told him he could take off.  Once on the main trail I think nerves settled down and the storm seemed to pass over.  We could still hear some thunder here and there, but at least it wasn’t above us.  The tail end of the cloud was passing us and we both decided it was time for a rest after such a scamper across the wet boulder field.

From here on out it was a typical uneventful descent.  The weather around us was clear and the only dread we had was the drive down the narrow 4WD road to Buena Vista.  Now that Brian and I have been on two climbs together I think we have a good grasp on each others capabilities.  He is the ascender and I am the descender.  We work well together and plan to do many more mountains together in the future; hopefully Mount Massive next week.  This is just another account of a trip that could have gone horribly wrong, but through experience, staying clam and working together we made it out injury free and I still put it up there as another great Colorado climb.

I’m really hoping to get all the Colligate Peaks done by the end of the summer.  I still have three colleges to go, which shouldn’t be a problem.  But in a place where there are so many mountains to choose from it’s easy to move onto another goal before finishing the one you were working on.  I love the diversity in the mountains and the ease to get to them here.  I’m up to 25 this year so half way to my main goal of 50 summits in 2012. 

GPS Track
Date: 7/2/2012
Starting Elevation:  11,000ft
Mount Princeton Summit: 14,197ft
Total Gained Elevation: 3,200ft
Distance: 6.6 miles
Time:  3hr15min ascent, 3hr descent 
Climbing Partner: Brian

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