North Carbonate (13,870 feet)
Via the Baldwin Gulch TH
July 23, 2004 and July 24, 2004
After an easy morning on Princeton, Scott and I thought that we’d go ahead and try to grab Antero also. Probably the hardest part of this climb was the first 3 miles of the Baldwin Gulch road, which we drove with the SUV rental. We parked just after the road turned to the left (about 3 miles), and over the first creek crossing. This was at about 10,840 ft. I had heard that Antero was somewhat boring, mostly because it was road for most of the hike. But, Scott and I thought that the Baldwin Gulch area was beautiful. This year was very wet in Colorado, so part of the reason it was so nice was because the creek(s) were flowing strong.
The trail definitely does follow a pretty solid 4x4 road. This is pure 4x4 road. In fact, I bottomed out in the rental SUV 5 times on the initial 3 mile drive up. About a mile after we left the car, the road began to switchback up the side of the mountain. These switchbacks were long, but very gradual. The first section of the road – from the car – was much, much steeper. At the beginning of the last (LONG) switchback, Scott decided that the weather was looking nasty, and turned back towards the car. Since we had started at 11am, from the car, it was starting to push afternoon about this time. I knew that I was pressing my luck, but I decided to push forward.
At the top of the switchbacks, the road continues left, around the base of the ridge. If you follow the road around the ridge (instead of climbing over the ridge), it eventually turns left, up the backside of the ridge. There are more, smaller switchbacks to get to the top of the ridge. This is still road, but much, much steeper, and very, very loose. So, only a 4x4 with great traction could make this final push. At the top of the ridge, you can see the final push to Antero. This is where I started to get a little worried. The weather started to fill out, and look nasty. Needless, I started my way up the ridge. At this point, I was about ½ mile from the summit. I cautiously took the first part of the ridge (about ¼ mile), then I paused to watch the weather. It had started to hail, and I started to hear thunder. I did not want to be on the ridge, or even worse, on the summit with thunder and lightening in the area. But, I also wasn’t prepared to retreat yet. Plus, my retreat, down the long switchbacks, was cut off by the storm. I had to hope that the storm would pass.
I waited for about 30 minutes. I tucked down behind the ridge, out of the hail. I crawled out a few times to check the progress. It was not getting any better.
Needless to say, this was my cue to bug out… I started a quick trot down the ridge. I made sure to stay off the ridge, and when I had to cross high, or I was in the open, I made sure to move quickly, and stay low. When, I reached the short, steep switchbacks descending the ridge, I breathed a little bit. But, I had a long way to go, and my retreat was still blocked, as far as I knew. As, I started around the base of the ridge, I saw a pickup truck that was slowly heading towards the top of the long switchbacks (my retreat). I ran as fast as I could. I don’t think that they saw me, but they stopped at the top of the switchbacks to check for some firewood. I asked… (begged) for a ride down the face of the mountain. The guy in front told me to jump in the back. The back of the pickup had a bed cap, but more importantly, this was a vehicle, and it had rubber tires…
There were two other guys in the back also. They were all part of a group that was digging for gems on White Mountain. They had gotten chased off the mountain by the weather, and were heading back to their camp, below tree line. The ride down was really rough. In the back, we banged our heads on the roof several times.
As Scott and I were eating Subway for lunch (in Buena Vista), we were discussing our options for the next day. It had to be short (and early), because we had plans to hike into Capitol Lake (6 miles) the next evening. Options were Massive, Harvard/Columbia, Castle/Conundrum. Ultimately, we came upon the idea of attacking Antero, again!! But this time, in order to make amends for the near miss, I wanted to bag both Antero and the centennial North Carbonate.
After lunch, we started right back up that nasty 4x4 road. I forgot to mention that I bottomed out the SUV rental about a dozen times on the descent. But, on the return ascent, I only hit once. I was getting much better at this kind of travel.
We setup camp at about 11,300 feet. We decided to car camp, because it was raining lightly. This was fun. We had to move our suitcases and stuff around and setup our sleeping spots, all while still in the car.
In the morning, I almost had to drag Scott out of bed. He was hoping that the weather was still ugly, because he was sleepy, but it was a beautiful morning.
In order to get the requisite 3,000 feet of elevation gain, I drove down the road about ½ mile before getting started on the hike. The trail was the same as the previous day. Scott had started at the camp spot, so I was playing catch up until we hit the top of the long switchbacks. At this point, we took a short break, then pushed for the summit. We quickly made it back to the point where I hunkered down the previous day. This time, the weather was clear. In about 20 minutes we were at the top. The last push was quicker than I thought it would be. Overall time from the car was 2 hours and 15 minutes. We spent 10 minutes on the summit. This was Scott’s second fourteener. As we started back down the trail, Scott decided that he would head back to the car. We both agreed that the skies looked clear for my attempt on North Carbonate. We parted ways at the top of the switchbacks.
The climb down to the saddle of Antero and North Carbonate was tough, because I knew that it only meant that I had to regain elevation.
Ultimately, I made the summit of North Carbonate. It took me about an hour and 40 minutes from the summit of Antero. This was longer than I had expected. I signed the register. This register was fresh, and clean; not crinkled up and jammed in the holder like on most fourteeners. I spent 5 minutes, then started down the North ridge. This was not the same route that I had used on the ascent of North Carbonate.
The trip down was just as frustrating as the ascent. I was watching the skies the whole time, but it stayed pretty clear. As I hit the bottom part of the ridge, I turned East, down into the valley. This was a scree slide most of the way. I had to empty the gravel from my shoes at the bottom. The valley was beautiful, but I could not find any kind of a solid trail. Luckily, I marked my destination (the bottom of the long switchbacks) with my GPS. I just kept pushing forward, crossed the creek, then ascended up through the pines, when I eventually hit the road. I followed the road back to the SUV and Scott. Total round trip was around 5 hours and 45 minutes; for both peaks.
This was worth hitting a second time. I really did like this peak. I’m really glad that I was able to bag it, and it’s neighbor North Carbonate. I sure am glad that Mother Nature allowed me to finish this day without incident.
By the way, on the descent, in the SUV, I only hit bottom 2 times.