Our trip to Paonia was very much a last minute decision: indeed I learned I was going only four hours before leaving, and it was just my luck that I had room in my schedule. Upon arrival our hosts pointed the mountain out to us, and told us that she would accompany us to the top the next day.
After a good’s night sleep we were able to hit the trail by 8:30. We rumbled up the road for about two miles before deciding to call it quits and just start hiking. After a mile and a half we finally started hiking up the actual trail and it steepened considerably. The trail climbed into Bell Canyon, and followed Bell Creek as it wound its way up through heavy vegetation. The trail continued up through the canyon through a beautiful Aspen forest. The trail through the canyon, though beautiful seemed interminable and we were somewhat relieved when we reached the end. From here the trail climbed steeply up the south side and we started seeing spectacular views of the San Juans to the south. After this steep climb the trail leveled out before the final summit pitch. Here we stopped to rest, and soak in the views of the West Elks, Rubies, and Elks that had opened up to the east and northeast. From here the view of the rest of the route looked very impressive and we new that it would be a hard final push.
Going up the final push was quite hard and our progress was considerably slowed. It was very hard finding a path through the scrubby trees and bushes on the lower half of the slopes before climbing up to the very steep upper section of the slope. Once we climbed this slope we were on the final summit ridge, and immediately realized the huge exposure directly to the west. It was quite a shock as the landscape transitioned from sub alpine to alpine within just a few feet. We scrambled along this ridge and up the final feet to the rocky summit block. I was immediately taken aback by the awesome view from the summit and had a hard time soaking all of it in. We sat down on the smooth summit slabs warmed by the sun and ate our lunch. Not wanting to leave, we decided to take a nap on the summit and I drifted off to sleep with the cool mountain breeze in my hair.
I awoke an hour later with the weather still as beautiful, but the time getting a little late and decided that it was best that we start heading down. The descent was mostly uneventful except that it was very long. We reached the house in Paonia exhausted but thoroughly pleased with our day.
That evening over dinner my friend suggested that we wake up at four in the morning to try the hike again. He desperately wanted to see what kind of time we could make on this mountain. At first I thought he was just joking but as the evening he continued he kept pressing the issue and the idea started appealing to me, it would be a lot of fun to do a sunrise hike and this hike that we had so enjoyed today.
At four in the morning the next day we begrudgingly got out of our sleeping bags, and prepared for the day ahead. This time we drove all the way to the trailhead to save ourselves some effort and were able to start hiking by 5:15. We didn’t need headlamps since we were so close to the solstice, and set a fast pace in the cool morning air to due our lighter packs. After only two hours we cleared the trees and exited from the canyon. Here our pace slowed slightly as we started crawling up the steep section. We took a break at the saddle with spectacular views all around us. After a nice long break we started up the last steep pitch, and were able to summit by 8:30, three hours and fifteen minutes after starting from the trailhead. We were able to summit in two hours less than the time it taken us to summit the day before.
The view from the top was all the more spectacular knowing what we had accomplished. We signed the summit log again, making our names the second and third names in the log for the season. We basked in the morning sun for a while before heading back. We were back in Paonia by 11:30 and very thrilled with our double summit adventure of the last day.