July 2nd, 2012
Sometimes you just have to pinch your nose and swallow your medicine. In my quest to climb all 54 ranked 14ers in Colorado, Mount Antero seemed like it was going to be one of these times. A ten mile round trip with over eight miles of it being on a well used 4WD road, did not sound like my idea of an ideal wilderness outing. But remember, "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." A last minute call to J.C. and I had a partner for this trip. It would be his first 14er of the year.
So once more this year I was headed back down into the Arkansas Valley. Karen and I should have attempted this peak when we were down here two weeks ago, as the trailhead was only 10 miles or so past Mount Princeton Hot Springs. We left Fort Collins at 4 p.m. with the hope of being able to get up the first 3 miles of the 4WD road, up to Antero, and over the creek crossing to set up camp before dusk. We started up the road at 8 p.m. and made it into our camp just before dark. This is the toughest 4WD road that I have driven on. While it was wider than the road up to the radio towers at Mt. Princeton, is was much more rutted and rock studded. I had a firm grip on the steering wheel of the X-terra as we slowly climbed up to 10,840'. It was a relief to finally reach camp and turn in for the night.
With the weatherman calling for a 40% chance of thunderstorms after noon, we hit the trail at 5:45 a.m. Trail is a misnomer, as four of the five miles up this route are on a well used 4WD road. The road climbed a little steeper than I had imagined, but we managed to keep up a steady, but slow pace. I was feeling sluggish this morning for some reason. I did not seem to get my usual hiking legs, after warming up.
After climbing southwards for a mile and a half or so, the road begins a series of switchbacks leading up to Antero's south ridge. Just past the first switchback I spied an obvious rocky wash, leading upwards to a steep grassy slope, which topped out a couple of hundred yards below the south ridge on the 4WD road. It looked like this route would go and avoid most of the switchbacks. I would like to say I by-passed this option because I wanted to get the entire Antero experience, but truth be told, while this route looked do-able, it also looked steep, and frankly more work than I wanted to put in this early in the day. Jon and I continued to hike up the road and eventually gained Antero's south ridge at 13,089'. A half mile below the ridge we were passed by an older Ford Bronco on its way down. The driver was amazed by the fact that we had hiked up from the stream. I was amazed that he drove up. While the road was better than the first three miles we drove up, I do not think my nerves would have held up for me to drive all the way up here. On the ridge is a sign talking about the history and gems of the area. I noticed a patch of what looked like mountain goat hair imbedded in the wood of the sign, with a larger clump on the ground below. It looked like a goat had used the sign as an itching post to help shed its winter coat.
We continued moving eastward on FR 278A. To the south we had a great view of Mount White. There was an SUV parked on the ridge below White's summit, which looked really cool in silhouette. After a half mile or so the road once again began to switchback towards the road's end. I ended up cutting the last switchback and headed cross country to reach the end of the road, where I was greeted by a mamma mountain goat and her kid. I sat on a rock and waited for Jon within 20 yards of them. The kid was a little jumpy but mom seemed relaxed. Just before Jon joined me, five minutes later, the pair had ambled out of sight. What a treat for me!
Where the road ends, the fun begins. The remainder of the route to the summit can be broken down in two sections: the ridge, and the rocky summit push. The ridge consists of a class II scramble. Nothing difficult, but enough variety to make this section fun and interesting. Great views could be seen below each side of the ridge to the east and west. The final summit push was through a boulder field. There were two options for this push, a direct ascent to the summit or a traverse eastwards then a final switchback to the summit. Once again I went with the more gentler option. I reached the summit a few minutes before Jon, an enjoyed the solitude. The weather was perfect; blue sky, no significant clouds, and no wind. We relaxed and fueled up for 30 minutes, with no other company, before heading down.
Half way back across the ridge we noticed that the sky was beginning to darken. The clouds seemed to appear out of nowhere. We made it off the ridge and 100 yards down the road before the thunder began. Shortly after the thunder, lightening streaked horizontally across the sky just to the west of us. I did not need any more encouragement to pick up the pace. I have only been caught above tree line in a lightning storm once before, but once was enough for me to know it was not a place I wanted to be. As the road curved back onto the south ridge, Jon and I both put on our rain jackets. Within 5 minutes the rain had turned to a hail/sleet mix. We were passed by several vehicles that decided it was time to head down as well. When we turned north off the south ridge we walked into the full force of the storm. With the sky still dark and thunder rolling on I decided I needed to get down as quick as possible.
After a quick consultation with Jon, I headed down the steep grassy slope that I had first noticed on the way up. While it was steep, the ground was solid and I made quick work on the descent. I kept looking back to make sure that Jon was doing good as well. The lower we got the better the storm got.
The bottom of the grassy slope gave way to the rocky gully. Both Jon and I kept our eyes peeled for crystals as we worked down the gully. No luck though. The gully deposited us back on the road, at tree line. It was great to be back below the trees again. With a big sigh we started down the road towards the car again. We made it back to the car by 1:30. As happy as I was to avoid getting zapped in the storm, we still had the drive out to contend with. I was worried that the rain would have made the road slippery, making for an interesting ride out. turned out that it was a needless worry. The road was in as "good" of shape as when we came up. When we made it to the main road, there was no sign that the rain had made it that far.
Antero is not my first choice for a 14er to do again. It would be a good first 14er to take someone on, if you drove all the way up to tree line, to avoid much of the road walk. They would not get the '"required" 3000' elevation gain to "officially" count, but it would be a nice intro to 14ers.
3000' elevation gain, is as Roach says, the "Purists" goal on each 14er. Is this something I need to stick to? Does is matter if I do not gain 3000' on each attempt? After all this is my own project, can't I set my own rules? If I do start setting my own rules, where do they end? Couldn't I just drive up Pikes Peak and call it good? It may be my project, but it is their game, so I have decided that I need to play by their rules as best as I can. I do not feel that I have to gain 3000' on every 14er separately, but rather on each outing ( for example the Lincoln, Democrat, Bross group). Hopefully this is enough to gain the respect if the 14er community, once (if) I complete all 54. Respect is not why I am climbing these mountains (that is a whole separate entry someday, once I figure it out myself), but I would like to think that others would say I played the game honestly.