Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Climbing Mt Princeton with Tigger Peak

The weather has been beautiful here in this part of Colorado for early December.  Generally it has been sunny with temperatures in the 50s in the day and it hasn't snowed for a couple weeks.  This weather has allowed me to get in some quality trips to the mountains.  Even though it has been cooler and snowier in the mountains, the conditions are still pretty good for December.

The lower Sawatch Range between Salida and Buena Vista is relatively free of snow.  The 14ers in this area and their surrounding peaks are mostly bare on the summits.  The only 14er in this area that I haven't climbed was Mt Princeton.  Taking advantage of sunny and warm weather Monday, I headed to Mt Princeton. 

Mt. Princeton has one main trail that accesses the summit from the east side.  There is a four wheel drive road that travels to over 11000 feet.  When the road is free of snow and dry, people with higher clearance vehicles often will park above 11000 feet to start the hike.  Another common starting point is at the 10800 foot mark where there is a few spots to park at a communication tower site.  Both of these options cut miles off the trip.  For those with low clearance cars or if the road is snowy, the starting point is at a parking area at 8900 feet, making for a 5400 vertical foot climb and over 13 miles round trip.  Because the road is narrow, there aren't many places to park between the lower lot and the radio towers.  With some snow on the road, I didn't want to take chances in my Outback, so I parked in the lower lot.

Nearly full moon above Tigger Peak  from near the trailhead
I started my hike a few minutes before 7AM just before sunrise and started my trudge up the road.  The road didn't have too much snow on it and I made fast time traveling on the road.  With a vehicle, there was a few sketchy sections of ice but on foot it was avoidable.  Above the radio towers, most of the road was snow covered but it could be avoided by walking on the downhill edge of the road that was mostly still dirt or shallow snow. 

Early view of Tigger Peak
Traveling along the road.  Most of the way the snow could be avoided.
View over Buena Vista toward the Buffalo Peaks from the road
The trail finally splits from the road around treeline.  The first couple hundred feet I traveled through packed snow before reaching clear trail on the tundra.  The trail passed over a small ridge before turning east toward Mt Princeton.  Passing over this ridge, I was hit with a steady wind and put on my shell.  The trail travels along the slope of Princeton's neighboring peak Tigger Peak.  I could see the route ahead of me with the trail visible nearly all the way to the saddle below Princeton.

Near the start of the trail
Mt Princeton coming into view
The dirt trail ended quickly.  The trail ahead was covered in packed snow the rest of the way.  There wasn't much snow around the trail however.  The snow seemed to have drifted right onto the trail bed.  The snowy trail made for amazing travel however.  The snow was very firm and covered any rocks that may have been on the trail.  It was like walking on pavement and I made excellent time.  The snow was never too slick and I never did put on any traction. The wind from earlier quickly died down.

Heading toward Mt Princeton
Below Tigger Peak.  The white ribbon heading
toward Princeton is the trail
The trail never seemed to gain much elevation.  As I neared the saddle below Princeton, the trail was less visible.  I picked my own path to the ridge.  The path to the ridge was rockier with the snow mostly between the rocks.  I chose a good route and rock hopped up the ridge on pretty solid rock.  Once on the ridge, there were only spotty paths visible.  The final trudge up the summit ridge gained about 1000 feet pretty quickly.

Climbing toward the ridge
Looking toward Princeton from the ridge
I made it to the summit just after 10AM.  It took me just over 3 hours to travel over 6.5 miles and climb 5400 vertical feet.  It was a very clear day and like any 14000 foot summit, the views were spectacular.  Once again, I had the summit to myself.  While there was a steady wind on the north side of the summit, I sat on the east side in nearly calm conditions eating my lunch and taking in the scenery.  The temperature had to be above 40F.  Quite a change from Mt Yale's summit last week where I was dealing with gusty conditions and it was quite uncomfortable.  Click on the link to see that trip to Mt Yale.  A Snowy Climb of Mt Yale

Sign on the summit
Never ending summit views
Looking down Princeton's east ridge
Looking toward Mt Harvard, Mt Columbia, and Mt Yale
More mountains
Pikes Peak in the distance
Looking toward Mt Antero
While I sat on my perch looking at the scenery, I was eyeing up Tigger Peak which is connected to Princeton by a ridge.  Tigger was only a mile or so away and looked like a pretty easy ridge walk.  At 13300 feet or so, I wouldn't have any substantial elevation gain from the saddle between the two peaks.  I decided to travel to Tigger Peak and I was glad that I did.  The saddle between the peaks stays above 13000 feet.  From the saddle to Tigger, there are a couple of bumps along the way and a couple of more jagged ridges but they can be avoided.  None of the bumps ever gain too much elevation.  Even the final climb to the high point which is marked with a cairn is an easy climb.  The summit of Tigger Peak is about 240 feet higher than the saddle, 60 feet shy of making it a ranked 13er.

Looking down the ridge toward Tigger Peak.  The white ribbon
is the trail running below Tigger.
The ridge walk to Tigger Peak was a nice addition to the hike.  From 13000 plus feet the entire way, you get to enjoy the views, especially toward Mt. Antero which loom ahead.  There was patchy snow along the ridge but generally not too deep and usually avoidable.  There appeared to be sections of trail occasionally visible along the way as well.

Cliff band between Princeton and Tigger
Tigger Peak from the saddle
Looking back at the ridge toward Princeton
Another look back toward Princeton
Along Tigger's Ridge, the distant bump is the highest and
marked with a cairn
I continued down the ridge of Tigger Peak to connect back up to the road.  The route was a pretty straightforward descent down the rocky ridge.  There was very little snow along the ridge and the rocks were stable.  The ridge never exceeded more than class two in difficulty and route finding was easy.  From the ridge, most of the trail to Princeton was visible as well as the road.  I picked my way down the rocks on the ridge and met the road right by its junction with the trail.

Chalk Cliffs from the descent of Tigger 
Descending Tigger, the trail is visible below
Looking back up Tigger's ridge
The rest of the route was back down the road.  I made quick time and was back to my car about 115PM, just over 6 hours roundtrip.  The entire trip was over 13 miles and gained at least 5700 vertical feet.  The travel on the road was part of the reason for the quick travel.  The packed snow on the trail also made for quick travel.  This was quite the change from my Mt Yale hike last week that took 8.5 hours for nearly 10 miles over the mixed snow conditions.

Where I met the road right by the trail junction
with Tigger in the distance
Close up of Chalk Cliffs while hiking down the road
The addition of Tigger Peak made this a much nicer hike.  It made the trip more interesting and added to the scenery.  And for anyone that's interested, from what I understand, Tigger Peak got its name because the Tiger is the mascot for Princeton University and since the two peaks share a ridge and Tigger Peak is considered a sub-peak of Mt Princeton.  I'm not sure why they call it Tigger Peak instead of Tiger.  I highly recommend adding Tigger Peak to a Mt Princeton climb to make a loop.  The route finding is very straightforward and to me it added greatly to the trip.  Because the route parallels the main trail, the distance isn't much different.

Another view from Princeton's summit


  1. Brian Zohner 12/12/14......You sure are living the life...Good for you

  2. I climbed Princeton yesterday, thanks for the beta- I did use my 'spikes on the white ribbon. Couldn't come close to your time though, 7:39 roundtrip- without Tigger. You are a Beast!

  3. This will be very helpful for my climb up Princeton this week. Thanks for sharing your report. Btw- Tigger the Tiger is from Winnie the Pooh