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