Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hartenstein Lake and its Forgotten Peaks

Winter weather finally hit the high country in the past couple weeks.  The early season winter weather can make for tricky travel in the backcountry.  Most places don't have a solid covering of snow causing rocks and other features hidden and tricky to negotiate.  However a few days around 60F helped melt away a lot of the snow.

My original plan for my outing on November 3rd was Ptarmigan Lakes and hopefully Jones Mountain, a 13,000 foot summit just above it.  The day before however, the road to Cottonwood Pass was closed for the season.  The road was still free of snow but officially closed at the Denny Creek trailhead a couple miles short of the Ptarmigan Lakes trailhead.  Even though the road was only partially gated, I didn't know what the forest service would do if I drove beyond.  I decided to hike from Denny Creek and head toward Hartenstein Lake.  I have always avoided this area in summer since it is the main access to 14er Mt Yale and can be quite busy.
I have done several hikes from Denny Creek but never to Hartenstein Lake.  The hike to the lake is fairly easy and only three miles of gradual elevation gain.  I was hoping to visit some of the less traveled peaks around the area, particularly 13er Turner Peak.  I didn't have any set plans though since I wasn't sure what kind of conditions I was up against.

From the trailhead, the trail was mostly dry with only a few spots of minor snow.  When I finally split from the main trail and headed toward Hartenstein, the trail traveled into thicker trees and was mostly snow covered.  I quickly reached the lake and studied the terrain for access to the surrounding mountains. 

Icy stream crossing
A mix of snow and dry ground on the Hartenstein Lake Trail

Peak 12,739

A partially frozen Hartenstein Lake

Peak 12,739 on left and Turner Peak on far right
My main goal, Turner Peak, didn't appear to have easy access from the lake.  Directly above the north shore of the lake was the mass of Peak 12,956, an unnamed but ranked summit along the Continental Divide.  The south face was an ugly jumble of rock however. Just a short distance back the trail was a straightforward shot at the peak's gradual east ridge.

South face of Peak 12,956

The easy looking east ridge of Peak 12,956

I backtracked and quickly gained the ridge.  Early along the ridge, the south facing terrain had full sun exposure and stayed mostly snowfree.  The easy travel ended quickly though as I hit a more serrated ridge with more snow in the shadows.  Sticking to the ridge proper, I made decent progress until I hit the summit block.  The terrain became more jumbled and steeper with more snow to complicate route finding.  I picked my first line and my progress was stopped by a dangerously steep snow slope with dangerous fall out.

Looking back down the east ridge toward Mt Yale

Making my way up the still tame east ridge

The start of the trickier terrain

Looking across the south face

The rest of the ridge is quite jagged

I descended from my route to try another angle of attack.  After crossing a narrow gully, I tried another path with more rock and less snow.  At this point I was in consistent class 3 terrain that was complicated by steep snow.  I managed to reach the end of the rock and was left facing the business end of the cornice that started to develop at the summit.  I managed to get within 10 vertical feet from the summit with no more than 20 feet of distance to travel but I didn't feel safe to continue.  I had class 3 and 4 terrain waiting to greet me below if the cornice gave out  The snow was softening under the bright sun and 40F+ temps.  I didn't really feel like going for a couple hundred vertical foot ride as a pinball down the gully below me.

The Continental Divide heading north

A blocky section of ridge

The Three Apostles in the distance

Interesting spire

Looking back down the east ridge from near the summit

This is taken feet below the summit looking toward Turner Peak

I descended again and tried one more line.  I traveled further along the south face of the peak into the jagged mess that I saw from the lake.  I found a fairly wide gully that was snow free.  I didn't get too far up the gully until I hit rough terrain.  I traveled less than a couple hundred vertical feet before I was plagued with numerous obstacles involving class 4 moves. 

One of the routes I attempted.  I don't know if the depth is captured here
but it's a 1500' drop to the lake visible in the upper corner of the photo
and maybe a 1/4 mile of distance away.  Extremely steep.

Looking up another section of the south face that eventually stopped me

Taking a break on a flatter section
looking across the south face toward Turner Peak.  The rock on
the right gives you a good idea of the steepness.

Three hours had passed since I first started up the ridge.  Traveling over dicey terrain that was complicated by tricky shoulder season snow and a constant stiff wind took its toll and I descended back toward the lake.  I regained the trail at the lake and hiked back to the trailhead falling ten feet shy of a summit.

Looking south over Hartenstein Lake

Luckily the lower slopes mellowed as I returned to the lake

Peak 12,739 and Turner Peak over the lake

Another look at the south face of Peak 12,956

Not all was lost on the outing however.  From the high reaches of the peak, I got a good layout of the surrounding terrain and could see a fairly straightforward route to Turner Peak when I returned.  The visibility was endless and I had never ending views.  This area is in the heart of the Sawatch Range and mountains stand out in all directions including numerous 14ers.  Mt Yale is about 2 miles away. 

View to the south
Peak 12,739 and Turner Peak over the lake

Looking north

Mt Yale

Turner Peak

Perhaps the most interesting part of the trip was the  mountain goat tracks.  Because of the snow, I could see goat tracks all over the place on the higher slopes of the peak.  The tracks came from all directions and passed over all terrain, no matter how treacherous.  It's amazing to see the terrain the goats will travel over.  I wouldn't consider moving over some of that terrain with technical gear.  Although the risk is minimal now, the goats travel over terrain in high avalanche risk areas.  There must be goats triggering avalanches when the snow is right and a few of them getting caught in the slides themselves.

Goat tracks heading along the ridge

Fast forward a week later and I was ready to hit the mountains again.  Puma was off at work and I had another pristine, blue sky day to play.  Despite a little bit of snow in the past week, the conditions hadn't changed much and I wanted to reach Turner Peak before the snow was too dangerous.  I returned to Hartenstein Lake with a better lay of the land.

Shortly after 7AM on November 9th I was back on the trail, heading toward the lake.  Even though I had a destination in mind, for a moment I contemplated a climb of Mt Yale, which I passed the trail for.  Shortly after 8, I was at the lake.

An early look at Turner Peak in the distance
 with Peak 12,739 in the foreground

Looking up at Peak 12,956, I saw some white that looked different from the rest of the snow.  It appeared to be a mountain goat.  I took a full zoom picture and further enlarged it.  It was definitely a goat.  It was however 1500 vertical feet above me and I couldn't get a clear photo.

The white point on the peak is a mountain goat.
(Click to enlarge it may be clearer)
Not my best goat photo but it's the best I could do
this time.

A little closer to the goat

Hartenstein Lake at 11,451' sits just below treeline.  Above the lake there are some trees before reaching a willow choked basin with difficult passage.  Scouting the area from last weeks trip, I knew I could climb above the vegetation and travel a rock and grass mixture, missing the travel through the willows.  A few minutes of trudging through some willows brought me above the mess.  I began traveling along the lower flanks of Peak 12,956.

Mellow terrain below Peak 12,956
The travel was fairly easy.  I even came across an old game trail that headed my direction.  The snow was minimal on the sunny south facing slopes.  As I traveled under Peak 12,956, its ugly jumble of rocks on the south slope gave way to gentler terrain.  I also noticed that my friend the mountain goat was still hanging around the summit.

A faint trail
Since my plans weren't set in stone, I decided to head up Peak 12,956.  I figured I could reach the summit that stopped my so close to the top last week.  I had a much easier approach from this angle.  I was also hoping that as I approached I might get a better look at the mountain goat.  Better yet, I thought there may be more than one.

Looking across the slopes of Peak 12,956

The climb was fairly straightforward; a mix of rock, grass, and good snow.  I stuck to the snow where I could since it was solid and avoided the rock.  About half way up the slope, Mr Goat decided to move on.  Just below the summit I had a few options on a route through the rock.  The last bit was a fairly easy class 2 scramble to the summit.

Easy travel through the solid snow

Out of the snow and onto the rock

This route to the top of Peak 12 956 was much easier than the east ridge.  I doubt too many people visit this lowly 12er summit but if you do, I recommend arriving this way.  It's a worthwhile summit in its own right.  The mountain is on the Continental Divide.  There are great 360 degree views with 14ers Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton all very close with other distance 14ers and endless mountains in all directions.

Tuner Peak and its subpeak

Looking east from the summit.  Notice the
tracks from the goat in the lower corner.

Looking north

Mountains as far as the eye can see

Another look toward Turner

Looking back down the Denny Creek Drainage

Since this peak wasn't originally on the agenda, I had to decide if I still wanted to climb Turner.  On the summit, along the Continental Divide, I was getting blasted by a steady wind and it was now considerably cooler.  I could either stay along the divide and continue to Turner, or descend and get back to my original route.  Since a fairly sharp knife edge is necessary on the Divide proper, I descended and headed below the ridge.  This allowed me to avoid the knife edge and get out of the wind.

Looking along the Continental Divide at the route ahead from
the summit of Peak 12,956

Below the Divide and out of the wind, I put on my shell and contoured the Divide.  My path brought me to a saddle below the next unnamed peak on the Divide, a subpeak of Peak 12,956.  From the saddle, the travel on the Divide proper was easier despite the wind.  The next peak was somewhat tricky to gain with postholing snow.  However, a mountain goat laid tracks before me and picked a pretty good line to the summit that I followed with ease.

The saddle between Peak 12,956 and its subpeak

Looking back at Peak 12,956

Nearing the summit of the subpeak with
goat tracks in the snow

Once on the summit, the route became easier.  The south ridge of this peak descended a gradual stretch of tundra to a saddle.  Still following the Divide, I had another hump, Turner's subpeak, to pass before I reached Turner.  The hump was a mix of grass and rock and never very steep.  I skirted to the east side of the hump to avoid some of the wind.  As I neared the top, the snow on the east side became deeper and I regained the on the Divide. 

The top of the subpeak of Peak 12,956 looking at my route
ahead.  More goat tracks in the snow.

The Three Apostles

Looking back at Peak 12,956 with Yale beyond

Mt Yale towering over Peak 12,956

Turner Peak in the distance behind its subpeak

One more saddle brought me to the north ridge of Turner Peak.  Turner Peak looked more menacing from afar but once I started climbing, travel was not too difficult.  The north ridge was a straightforward rock hop.  Most of the snow had blown off the rocks and didn't cause too much difficulty.  Near the summit I had a little more snow to contend with.

Tackling Turner Peak's north ridge

At 13,233', Turner Peak was the high point of my outing.  Turner Peak sits 1200' feet above Cottonwood Pass.  The few people that do climb it, I'm guessing approach the summit from the road over Cottonwood Pass.  I'm don't think there isn't a ton of traffic on this obscure 13er.  The views from the small summit are wonderful, but not too many people yearn to climb the 396th highest mountain in Colorado.

South from Turner Peak

View across Cottonwood Pass

Mt Yale is the biggest peak in the view

The Three Apostles and Huron Peak

I had a good view back to Hartenstein Lake from the summit.  Rather than retrace the Continental Divide, I decided to make a more direct route to the lake.  I descended directly down the north slope of the peak.  As I descended, I began to doubt the decision.  The snow seemed like it settled on this slope.  I rockhopped when I could but there were fewer rocks.  Between rocks, I postholed to my thigh a lot of the time.  Had there been more snow, I would have avoided it because of avalanche risk but the snow was shallow enough that I wasn't worried.  To add to the challenge, I was continually being hit with gusty wind and spindrift. 

Looking down toward Hartenstein Lake, on the right of the picture
Looking north

Mt Yale across Turner's north slope


Looking back at my route down the north
slope of Turner.  You can see my foot prints down the
middle of the picture.  (It's clearer if you click
to enlarge)
I finally made it below the slope, but the travel difficulties continued.  Initially I had some ankle deep terrain to travel.  As I passed below the Continental Divide, I encountered another section with deep snow deposit.  I followed rocks when I could, but often found myself postholing knee-deep or more. 

Traveling snow covered tundra below Turner

Looking down the Hartenstein Basin
with Mt Yale looming in the background

Another look at the Three Apostles

My route to this point was a basically a straight
shot from Turner, the distant peak.
  This picture makes it look tamer than it actually was.

I should have continued to the snowless section below Peak 12,956, but I didn't.  I descended into the basin above the lake.  I didn't see the willows because they were snow covered.  This led to more difficult travel.  As I got lower, I found myself in the thick of the willows that I purposely avoided in the beginning.  So much for my quick direct descent.  Finally, I was just above the lake and descended toward it where I intersected the trail.  The last three miles went by quickly as I traveled on the packed trail.

Trudging through the snow covered willows

Peak 12,956 and it's subpeak

Somehow I ended up in this mess of thick willows

Despite difficulties both trips, I enjoyed these hikes.  I had clear days and superb scenery both days and that's one of the great appeals of traveling in the mountains.  The fringe season between summer and winter conditions is always more unpredictable and prone to unforeseen obstacles.  Because of hidden rocks and willows just below the snow most places, I don't think snowshoes would have offered much help.  There was also a lot of mix between deeper sections with shallow snow where snowshoes would have been more of a hindrance.  

Although the second trip was chillier both days were nearly identical with weather.  There was a little less snow the first hike and it reached the 40s.  The second hike had more snow and was in the 30s, but long exposure in the stiff winds made it feel cooler.  The first hike, Hartenstein Lake still had patches of open water.  By the second trip, it was completely frozen.

Although Hartenstein Lake sees its share of travelers in the summer, this time of year, there is a good chance for solitude.  I think the peaks I climbed always have a good chance of solitude.  The hike to the lake is 3 miles from the trailhead.  The rest of my travel was off trail.  My second hike lasted just over 6 hours and I would guess covered more than 10 miles.

Yet another view of the Three Apostles for the parting shot

For blog posts on other hikes in this area you can click the links below.
Views from the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness
A Snowy Climb of Mt Yale

And for much better pictures of mountain goats, click the link below to see a post from a hike last year on Mt Antero.
Mountain Goats on Mt Antero