Saturday, June 26, 2010

James Peak

We've been to St. Mary's Glacier twice for CMC classes, since there are good snow slopes to practice on. Each time, we looked up the slopes and wondered what's up top. We know James Peak is up there, but never got a glimpse since we stayed low on the slopes.

We decided to hike James Peak, but from the other direction -- starting at the Moffat Tunnel / East Portal trailhead. This trailhead is just 5 miles due north of where we park for St. Mary's, but 45 miles away by car. Starting here instead of St. Mary's meant less driving, but more distance and more vertical gain. And so of course, an earlier start.

By 5:45 am we were hiking up the trail. It was already 50 degrees -- surprising at 9200'! The trail was fairly moderate so we set out at a fast pace. Our goal was to summit and return to treeline by 1pm.

The trail follows the South Boulder Creek to its headwaters. With the high temps, there was a lot of water, and not just in the creek! Parts of the trail had streams running down so our boots got pretty wet and muddy.

Around 10,000' we started to see snow, and not long after that we were spending more time on snow than on dry ground. Most of the snow was pretty soft but we weren't post-holing too bad.

Many of the creek crossings had split-log bridges or stones to hop across, but there was one place we had to cross a snow bridge over the river. The snow was a few feet thick and solid so it wasn't much of a concern.

After 4.5 miles we got to a beautiful meadow and soon after had views of Haystack Mountain, Roger's Peak Lake, and Heart Lake. The trail up to Roger's Pass was wonderful -- for such a popular area, it was nice to be hiking on overgrown singletrack.

From there is was about another mile and another hour hiking up steep switchbacks to the Continental Divide. From the ridgetop we could see the town and ski slopes of Winter Park.

The trail stayed on the west side of the divide, avoiding the steep corniced slopes on the east side. There was one place we had to get out our ice axes -- only 30' of snow to cross, but the way down would have been quite a ride if we slipped without any way to arrest.

Finally we got to the northern slope of James Peak. The trail was fairly well marked but easy to lose where covered in snow. There were no tracks to follow. About halfway up we aimed for a misplaced cairn and ended up off trail for most of the rest of the ascent. We eventually saw another person hiking up the ridge. It looked like he was on a trail, so we aimed for that and had an easier time completing the hike.

We arrived on summit right at 11:00, joining three people who had hiked up from St. Mary's. The clouds weren't looking great so after a snack and a summit photo we turned around pretty quick.

Following the trail on the way down was sooooo much nicer than scrambling on the talus! Only a few drops of rain fell on us as we were hiking down the divide -- somehow we managed to stay dry for the 4 hour hike back down.

At the end of the day, we had hiked almost 15 miles (with 4,000' elevation gain) in about 9.5 hours.

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