June 20th, 2012
After a day off to recover from our meeting with the queen of Colorado 14ers, we decided to go see if we could meet up with the Prince. While lounging and resting at Mount Princeton Hot Spring's pools the day before, we were able to stare up at our objective of the day, Mount Princeton, 14,197'. The springs had done their job and relaxed Karen's knees and legs, from the Mt Massive hike, so she agreed to give it a shot.
With the X-terra doing a great job getting us to the upper Mt Massive trailhead, I decided to give it another go and drove up to the radio towers on Mt Princeton. This also would take six miles off of our roundtrip distance. The drive up to the radio towers was an adventure in itself. The road is not wide at all! I think it was about 5-6 feet wider than our car; less if you ask Karen. She was white knuckled the entire drive up to the towers. I think there are still fingernail marks in the dashboard. While the road was narrow it was in good shape and relatively smooth. Luckily we did not encounter any other vehicles coming down the road as we were going up. I am not sure how we would have managed to pass each other, as there was only one or two good spots to pull over to let each other pass.
We headed upwards right around 7 a.m. From the radio towers the trail climbs the road up through several sets of long switchbacks to 11,800'. The road made for a nice warm-up, which let us work out the last our aches. We had a black FJ pass us on the road as we worked our way up. They said they had spent the night in the Chalet near the top of Point 13,971, and left for the summit at 4:30 a.m. I did not know that there was any type of shelter up there, might be worth looking into if we ever return.
The turn off the road to the trail was not as well marked as I thought it would be. It looked like the cairn had fallen over and the stone steps broken down. Must have been a rough winter up here, or we headed up the wrong trail. And of course with the low snow year the second choice was the correct one. We left the road about 30 yards to early, but did not fully realize this until we came down later in the day. The correct turn off is every well marked, with a great cairn and steps. So if the trail does not looked well maintained keep going up the road a little until you see the correct turn off.
|Keep going. This is not the correct turn off!|
Once off the road the trail climbs to a small ridge, before turning west and entering the rocks. The trail traverses westward below Point 13,300 through a continuous talus field. The trail was much easier to follow than on Massive. About a third of the way through the traverse, Karen decided she had enough. She just got to a point where she did not feel comfortable. Looking back now, I wish I would have stayed with her a little longer because I think I would have been able to help her get passed the section that was scaring her (it was not scary, just a loose section of dirt/scree mix). As Karen turned back towards the ridge I continued on.
The trail through this section never felt steep. The rocky terrain kept it interesting as I had to watch my footing. I think I got off trail a few times, as I found myself moving up, down and over large boulders, that I did not notice on the way back later in the day. The trail finally began to climb once it hit the "new" rerouted section up to the ridge between Point 13,300 and Princeton. The wind, which had been minimal up to this point, was blowing good over the saddle . Strong enough that I had to stow my hat to keep from losing it.
I broke the climb up to the summit from this point into 3 sections: cliff band, bump, summit. I have always found that smaller goals, make the overall progress go much quicker on 14ers. I managed to lose the main trail on the way up to the cliffs and ended up climbing farther to the east than the actual trail. Before I knew it I was standing just above the cliffs, looking upwards to the "bump". I ended up combining sections two and three into one push.
About half way up, off route again, I came to a plaque memorializing a women who had been killed by lightening on that very spot in 1995. It was a humbling reminder of the risk we take when we enter the high country to play our games. I carried her memory up to the summit with me and hoped she was watching out for me on this day.
I reached the summit at 10:14; my usual 1000 feet per hour pace still in tack. Once again I found myself alone on a peak. It has been so nice to be able to experience the summits this year with no crowds, and almost no other people around. Shortly after arriving the winds picked up. At one point I was able to lean into them and stay standing up right. The wind actually knocked over my camcorder and tripod. I ate a quick bite and headed down, because I did not want Karen to have to wait too long for me.
Heading to the western edge of the summit for one last picture, I noticed a large group coming up from a different route than I had ascended (probably from the grouse Creek trailhead). I tried to get off quicker now, so that they could have the same solitary summit experience that I had. I passed a lady and her dog (Aussie) on my way down before hitting the ridge again. She had started from the lower trailhead, just as we drove through this morning. She was making good time! I also passed a group of three "older" gentlemen just before dropping off the ridge again. They asked, with a smile, if they were "on the right path to Mount Yale?"
The hike back to the ridge above the road went without a hitch. I actually managed to stay on the correct trail the entire way. I was surprised to arrive back at the lower ridge and see Karen still there. I had told her to head back to the car and I would meet her there. Apparently she decided to hike further up the ridge and investigate the Chalet and surrounding area. It was nice to be able to walk the remainder of the way back to the car with her. We made it back by 2:30; just over six hours for the round trip.
Once back to the car, we still had the three miles down the 4WD road to contend with. White- knuckled and slowly we made our way back down (more of Karen's nail marks in the dashboard) to the main road. We made a quick stop back at the hot springs to wash off the dust, and try out the water slide that we missed the day before, before we headed home.
I felt really good the entire day. I should have eaten better, as I only had one pack of cliff blocks the entire day. I got away with one there. This was probably the easiest 14er I have done so far, but very enjoyable.