Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mountain Goats on Mt. Antero

When I first looked into climbing Mt. Antero, it didn't sound like an impressive hike.  The standard route to the summit involves a 16 mile round trip from the two wheel drive trailhead with majority of the route hiking on jeep roads.  The area is popular with four wheel drives and experienced Jeepers can drive within a half mile and only 400 vertical feet of the summit.

After looking over a map, I discovered a couple of possible alternative routes.  A little research confirmed an alternative route from the east that avoided majority of the jeep trails.  The route I chose started from the Browns Creek trailhead between Salida and Buena Vista. I arrived at the trailhead in the dark.  After eating a quick breakfast, I began my hike about 625AM.  There was just enough light that I didn't need my headlamp.

From the trailhead, I started at an elevation around 8900 feet.  Almost immediately there were views of alpine summits.  After a little more than a mile I reached the Colorado Trail.  I followed the Colorado Trail  for only a 1/4 mile before turning onto the Little Browns Creek Trail.

The views start early 

Start of the Little Browns Creek Trail

The Little Browns Creek Trail makes for a pleasant hike.  The trail stays close to Little Browns Creek most of the way, often within sight of the water.   The trail climbs gradually and is never steep.  Although sections of the trail get rocky, most of the time the path is fairly smooth.  I had to pay close attention a few places where the forest blended into the trail and it was a little harder to follow.  Just before the trail left the forest for good, there was a stretch with several blowdowns.  Most of the blowdowns were easily bypassed however.

Another early view along the lower reaches of the trail

Easy hiking in the forest

A short rocky stretch of trail

Interesting rock along the trail

Small waterfall on Little Browns Creek

After leaving the trees the trail broke out into a nice alpine meadow.   13er Mt. White dominated the view along the meadow.  After several days of rain earlier in the week, Little Browns Creek flowed strongly  through the meadow for late Septmember.  Part of the way through the meadow the trail eventually crossed the creek.

Rocky lower slopes of Mt. White

Emerging from the trees

Little Browns Creek tumbling through the alpine meadow

Looking up the alpine meadow

After crossing the creek, there are a couple of route options.  The main trail continues after crossing the creek until it meets a jeep trail.  A right turn on the jeep trail ultimately leads to the summit ridge of Antero.  There is an alternative and somewhat shorter route to the summit ridge.  I traveled a short distance after crossing the creek when another trail came into view on the opposite side of the creek.  This trail followed the creek a short distance before climbing  toward Antero.  I followed this trail that gained elevation fairly steeply.  This trail reached the Antero jeep trail as well but at a higher elevation.  For a short distance I followed this jeep trail that ended at the start of Antero's summit ridge.

Looking toward Tabeguache

View over the alpine meadow

The short stretch of jeep road

The last half mile of climbing follows the summit ridge.  The ridge is fairly rugged and the most technical part of the hike although it is no more than class 2 difficulty.  There is a trail to follow most of the way.  The narrowest part of the ridge ended before climbing more steeply.  As the climb became steeper the trail became less distinct.  There were several faint paths along the last stretch to the summit.  Generally, if you just follow the path of least resistance going up, you'll reach the summit.  About 10AM ,after hiking 7 or so miles, I reached the summit of Mt Antero at 14269 feet.  I had the summit to myself.

Summit ridge

Fall color from the summit ridge

Like any summit above treeline, Antero's peak had fine views in all directions.  Mt. White dominates the view to the south with the 14er pair of Shavano and Tabeguache standing beyond White.  The length of the Sangre de Cristo Range to the southeast.  The Arkansas Valley is to the east with the Arkansas Hills in the background and Pikes Peak visible in the distance.  South Park is visible beyond Buena Vista.  The views of Mt. Princeton and Chalk Cliffs are quite a sight with the endless line of Sawatch Range peaks heading north with its numerous 14ers.  The Continental Divide lies to the west with Centenial 13er Cronin Peak dominating the view.  After a quick lunch, I headed back down the mountain.

Mt. Princeton

Chalk Cliffs

Looking down Antero's north ridge

Cronin Peak

Tabeguache and Shavano

Looking over Mt. White

Sangre de Cristo Range

East ridge of Antero

Even though the summit of Antero is the highest elevation of this hike, it was not the high point of my trip.  As I neared the end of the summit ridge on my descent, my attention was focused on the terrain as I traversed over the rocky terrain.  So when I heard movement ahead, I was somewhat startled.  I looked toward the noise and saw a handful of mountain goats climbing up the side of the mountain.  When the goats first saw me, most of them retreated down the mountain a short distance while a couple climbed higher away from me.  I stopped and watched them for several minutes and took pictures.  I wasn't moving much and the goats seemed to lose their fear.  They began walking towards me.  As I sat, many more goats continued to come into sight.  The goats continued toward me, walking on either side as if I was in their way.  Eventually they surrounded me as they passed by me.  Some of the goats were no more than 15 feet away from me as they walked by.  By the time the all the goats came into sight, I counted 21 in the herd.  Among the herd, I saw numerous kids born this year and at least one large buck.  After taking numerous photos and observing the herd for a fairly long time, a couple people that rode up the jeep trail came close and the herd started to wander away.  A few from the herd, higher on the slope, lingered a little longer.

First sighting of goats

Goats running away

Buck and doe

Buck deciding if I'm a threat

Goats hanging out while I watch them

Goats coming toward me

Goat carefully walking toward me

A pair of kids

I have seen a lot of wildlife over the years on hikes and bike rides.  I had never seen a mountain goat before this however.  Mountain goats were high on my wishlist of wildlife sightings.  I couldn't have asked for a better sighting of mountain goats.  Not only did I see one, I saw 21, and at close range.  They all had their full winter coats and looked impressive.  Those that know me personally, know I raise goats, and seeing wild goats in their natural environment was quite a treat for me.

More goats climbing toward me

Another pair of goats

The main herd passing by me

More goats passing by me

Goats heading to more rugged terrain

The rest of the hike went quickly.  After leaving the jeep trail, the route is never steep and the trail is mellow most of the way back down the Little Browns Creek Trail. The trail seemed a little trickier to follow on the way down more so than it did on the hike up.  I never lost the trail but I had to pay close attention a few spots, especially when the trail turned.  The sun was higher in the sky and the yellow aspen leaves really popped against the bright blue sky.  I reached the trailhead just after 1 PM.  Despite hiking 14 miles and gaining 5350 vertical feet, the trip took just over 6.5 hours.  Occasionally I will jog some of the easier sections of hikes, but I did not on this trip and still made quick time.  I was surprised at how quickly I finished this trip, especially with my time watching the goats.

The view heading back down the meadow

Fall color along the trail

The mountain goats made this a particularly nice hike.  Even without the goats the trip was still pleasant.  I highly recommend using the Little Browns Creek approach for climbing Antero.  I never hiked the standard route following the jeep trails but I don't find road hikes that impressive.  The Little Browns Creek route is a nice trail through the forest.  The hike through the alpine meadow was particularly nice as it followed the creek.  Only a short stretch of the jeep trail needs to be followed on this route.  My only regret on this trip is forgetting sunscreen.  I forgot it in my dark car in the morning.  With bluebird skies at 14000+ feet, I got a pretty good sunburn on my neck and face.  Hiking during the week allowed me to have the trails nearly to myself.  I passed a group of backpackers near the trailhead early on the hike and saw a few people on ATVs and Jeeps on the jeep road. I enjoyed having the rest of the day to myself.

Mountain goat buck

Tabeguache and Shavano from summit ridge 

Looking up the meadow over Little Browns Creek

It has been a while since I took a self portrait.  
Tomcat on Antero with Mt. Princeton in background

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Climbing Shavano and Tabeguache

I have been mountain biking quite a bit the past month.  I haven't hiked since early August.  After the long break from hiking, I was ready to hit the mountains on foot.

Since I moved to Colorado, all of my hikes have been in the Sangre de Cristo Range since they were the closest mountains to my house.  I have since moved closer to Salida and the Sawatch Range.  While there are 14000 foot peaks (14ers) in the Sangre de Cristos,  I never climbed them.  All of the hikes I did were among the 13000 foot peaks (13ers).  Most 13ers have only a fraction of the traffic that 14ers see and are often just as majestic and equally challenging so I was content exploring them.

After three months of living in Colorado, I finally decided to climb some 14ers.  The western skyline of Salida is dominated by the Sawatch Range.  The mountain that is most prominent from town is the 14229 foot summit of Mt. Shavano.  Shavano and its neighbor, 14155 foot Tabeguache Peak, are about a mile apart and are often climbed together in one hike.

I started from the Mt Shavano trailhead about 630AM before the sunrise.  There was plenty of twilight to start without a headlamp.  After a few minutes on the Colorado Trail, I began climbing the Mt. Shavano Trail.  The trail started out somewhat rocky but it didn't stay too rocky very long.  After a couple miles in the forest, I reached treeline fairly quickly.  Once I reached treeline I could see the trail make its way gradually to the saddle below Shavano.  The trail never seemed too difficult or steep.  I saw several sets of bighorn sheep tracks and scat along the way but unfortunately no sheep.

Start of the Mt. Shavano Trail

The trail starts out rocky

Mt. Ouray in the distance

Breaking out of the trees

Headed toward the saddle

From the saddle, the trail becomes more challenging.  Upon reaching the saddle I started to feel some chilly wind and was glad I added a hat and gloves to my pack at the last minute.  Initially the trail crossed a nice grassy section of tundra.  After a brief section of flat trail, the rocky and steep pitch to the summit began.  Looking at Shavano, there are paths visible up the rocks.  The paths seemed to fade away at places and join other paths in other places.  They weren't official trails as much as herd paths.  From the saddle, the final pitch to the summit gains about 700 feet or so.  In less than five miles, I gained 4600 feet in elevation and was standing at 14229 feet in just over two hours.  Despite the elevation gain in a relatively short distance, the climb never seemed to difficult except for the final rocky pitch above the saddle. While that final pitch was steep and rocky, breathing the thin air at 14000 feet while climbing is the biggest challenge.  I didn't see any people on my hike to the summit.  When I reached the top, I had the summit to myself.
Shavano's summit above the saddle

View west from the saddle

The views got bigger as I climbed

Looking north over Jones Peak toward Mt. Antero
with Mt. Princeton poking out behind it near Shavano's summit

From the summit, I descended Shavano toward Tabeguache Peak.  The descent followed the northwest ridge of Shavano.  The ridge leaving the summit was not as steep as the pitch I climbed to the summit although it resembled a knife edge in places.  The knife edge can be avoided in most places however by hiking just to right of it.  Occasionally there was a herd path to follow on the way to the saddle below Tabeguache but the paths never seemed to last long before fading.  Route finding however was easy with good visibility. The route dropped 600 feet in .6 miles on its way to the saddle between Shavano and Tabeguache.

The many peaks of the Sawatch Range coming into view
as I descended toward Tabeguache

Tabeguache coming into view

The climb to Tabeguache's summit is similar to that of Shavano.  The route becomes steeper and rockier.  Numerous herd paths and a few cairns mark the way.  Just follow the steep ridge up and you'll eventually reach the summit which is only .4 miles and 500 feet above the saddle.  Once again I had the summit to myself where I enjoyed the views while eating a snack.

Looking up Tabeguache

View from Tabeguache

Looking east from the summit

My least favorite part of this hike was the return trip.  This route is an out and back.  Once I descended Tabeguache, I had to reclimb Shavano since there are no good routes around it.  Despite regaining 700 feet of elevation, the trip back up Shavano wasn't as bad I expected.  The ridge from the Tabeguache side is more gradual and I made it back to the top fairly quickly.  I gained some energy after my snack on Tabeguache.   The summit was still free of people although I could see another hiker making his way near the saddle.

The climb back up Shavano follows the ridge

Nearing Shavano's summit

I enjoyed the company of marmots and pikas as I left the summit of Shavano. They are common in any alpine setting in Colorado.  Usually they will whistle at you before they run away or hide under rocks.  One marmot in particular caught my attention more so however.  This marmot was perched on a rock with somewhat of a steep drop behind it.  He didn't run.  What made this marmot sighting so interesting was the fine view behind it.  It almost looked as if the marmot was sitting on its perch enjoying the view.

Pika enjoying the view

Marmot determining if I am a threat

Marmot enjoying the scenery

The remainder of the descent went quickly.  Along the way I passed a handful of other groups making their way to the summit of Shavano.  The footing on the way down was a little loose at spots with sandy tread.  The descent was particularly easy as I could breathe a lot easier going downhill.  I was back at the trailhead just under six hours from the start of the trip after 11.25 miles of hiking and 5600 feet of elevation gain.

Looking toward the saddle below Shavano

Trail as it descends Shavano

Looking toward the Arkansas Valley

With large stretches of terrain above treeline, this trip had good scenery.  It seemed like the length of the Sawatch Range was visible.  The most prominent peak visible was 14er Mt.Antero just to the north with Mt. Princeton peeking out behind it. To the south, Mt. Ouray is most dominant.  The peaks of the continental divide are just to the west with the ski area and towers on top of Monarch Pass easy to spot.  The Arkansas Valley and the city of Salida are directly to the east with the Arkansas Hills beyond the valley.  I think I could even see the outline of Pikes Peaks in the distance.  The long line of peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Range can be seen to the southeast.  With autumn approaching, patches of bright yellow aspens stood out in all directions.

Plenty of scenery above treeline

Looking toward Mt. Antero

Mt White in front of Mt. Antero

Endless mountains

This hike was fairly easy compared to last few hikes I have done.  Most of the route had trails and only minor scambling never exceeded easy class 2 difficulty.  My last few hikes were all 15 miles or more and consisted of several summits.  Large portions of those hikes were off trail as well with sections of class 3 and even a few short sections of class 4 on one hike.  While the elevation gain is fairly substantial and the thin air at 14000+ feet is noticeable, these peaks were easier than most of the 13ers I have climbed.

Looking back at Shavano