January 29-30: Mount Princeton (Colorado)Mount Princeton is one of Colorado’s “14ers”. Since I am working on climbing them all in the winter, I posted for partners on Summitpost and 14ers.com (I had also attempted the mountain on February 1-2 2008 with another group, but we turned back in bad weather and conditions). Knowing that it would be very difficult to climb the peak in a single push without the trail broken, I was hoping a few of us could make the trip into an overnighter and break trail to near timberline the previous day.
January 29Joel, Kenneth and I met in Buena Vista at 10 am and drove to the trailhead and packed up. After meeting we discussed whether or not to take the tents. There is a stone cabin high on the slopes of Mount Princeton, but on the drive in it looked like the route to the cabin crossed an avalanche slope. We decided to play it safe and forget about the cabin and pack the tents with us. We also met a group of three other snowshoers that were headed for the radio towers partway up the mountain and this was good news since we wouldn’t have to break trail the entire way ourselves.
The hike up to the towers was relatively uneventful and we took our time. After the radio towers (the snow was all virgin beyond this point), we decided to push on to the base of the steep ridge before camping at 10,980 feet. The moon was incredibly bright at night and the whole mountain was lit up. It was almost tempting to leave and climb the peak on the very well lit and calm night.
January 30It was a warm night (for the altitude) at 14F/-10C, but I didn’t sleep that well. Since the other two brought stoves, I left mine in the vehicle and since they kindly did the cooking of breakfast, I offered to leave a little earlier and to start breaking trail up the mountain. The standard summer route would have been much easier, but we plowed a more direct route up the thickly forested ridge to timberline since it avoided an avalanche slope.
Breaking trail was quite difficult and very strenuous. I made maybe 200 feet vertical before the others caught up with me. After that we took turns breaking trail, but everyone had it equally tough. It was by far the most difficult part of the climb. After ascending 400 feet, we met Steve and some others whom started up the mountain at 6 am. The worst of the trail breaking was done, but we were thankful to have some more people to push the route up to timberline.
When we re-crossed the summer route, Steve continued straight up the mountain and the rest of us decided to try and follow the summer route a ways. We found that the summer route crossed a potential avalanche slope so we backtracked and followed Steve’s broken trail up the mountain. We all took a rest at the ridgeline above 12,000 feet and above timberline. Others climbers joined us along the way. We all ditched our snowshoes.
We discussed climbing the ridge directly over Tigger Peak, but it appeared that the north facing traverse below Tigger Peak might be in OK condition and would cut off some elevation gain. The traverse along the north facing slope was very slow and tedious and Steve pushed the rest of the route. The route was relatively safe and in condition on this day, but if any more snow falls on it, in one section, it could definitely slide after a fresh snowstorm. After the traverse we climbed directly up to the notch at 13,200 feet. There was lots of loose scree coated with powder snow (since the slope I north facing it hadn’t seen any melting so the scree was not frozen in place). It was a battle between hard (but slippery) rock and soft snow. More people joined us along the way and after the notch it was a strenuous but straightforward climb another 1000 feet to the summit.
By the time we were on the summit, there were 12 people in our group (all members of SP and 14ers.com), but one person had turned back early. It was late afternoon and it was obvious that we would not be back by dark, so we headed back down the mountain.
After reaching our snowshoes again we all headed off the mountain and the group was scattered into many small groups by then. Joel, Kenneth and I basically stayed together and stopped at camp to pack up. Joel decided that he might as well camp another night instead of spending the night in a hotel (he had flown in from Kentucky, so was far away from home), so I gave him the last of my leftover food and headed down with Kenneth. We shook hands with Joel and Kenneth and I hurried down the mountain in the dark (I packed my light away, but had plenty of light between Kenneth’s headlamp and the bright moon) and did the rest of the descent in an almost jogging pace and very quickly without ever stopping. I had hoped to catch up with some of the others to say goodbyes, but since we stopped to pack up camp, we just missed them. We got to the parking lot right when the other vehicles were leaving.
It was a good climb (for a choss pile at least) and we definitely earned the summit. The drive home was a long one.