Hike StatsJoe and Frédérique Grim, Manuel Fillon and Mary Jackson
4232 feet gain (12% avg. grade)
10 hours, 3 minutes
Hike descriptionAfter eating breakfast in the Pingree Park dining hall (they allowed us to eat early at 7:00am), we started the hike at 7:38am from the cabin where we were staying (N40.57061 W105.59225, WGS84) and hiked down the road to the start of the Old Morrill Trail (N40.56720 W105.59613). A thick frost covered the ground, while the sky was a beautiful blue. We could also see the beautiful snow-tinged mountains to the south, knowing that in a few hours, we would be up there amongst them. The day was starting out great. We hiked up the Old Morrill Trail through small, yet brilliantly golden aspen that have grown up since the 1994 Hourglass Fire. We crossed the Emmaline Lake Trail (N40.56770 W105.59965) and continued on the Old Morrill Trail to the top of a lateral moraine overlooking the Pingree Park campus. It was amazing how much warmer it was up here compared to down at the bottom of the valley.
From there, we generally paralleled the ridge on it northern side, passing by intersections with the Sky Ranch Cutoff Trail (N40.56803 W105.60514), Beaver Falls Trail (N40.56763 W105.60620) and the Surprise Pond Trail (N40.56188 W105.61173). During this stretch of the hike, we had frequent views of Golgotha (Golgotha location: N40.55899 W105.64155), a prominent rocky outcrop on the eastern ridge of Comanche that we planned to pass by on our way up. Shortly after the intersection with the Surprise Pond Trail, we left the burn area and entered darker and lusher forest. The trail followed the moraine through the forest, still allowing us glimpses of the surrounding area, including Fall Mountain to the east-southeast. Eventually, the moraine ended (N40.55851 W105.62338) and the trail made a steeper ascent up the eastern ridge of Comanche Peak. We enjoyed the quiet solitude of the forest as we made our way up. As we neared 10,700 feet, we began encountering rock outcroppings and rockier ground. The trail began to split and rejoin, split and rejoin, until eventually we lost it altogether (~N40.55674 W105.63594). From here, we had a choice of either scrambling over the top of Golgotha or staying down low and pushing through the dense krummholz bushes. We opted for the latter and spent almost an hour getting our way to timberline. At timberline (N40.55529 W105.65103), we stopped to put on suntan lotion and enjoyed the beautiful view back on Golgotha.
The next 700 feet of vertical gain would be the hardest of the day, as we made our way up a steep slope with scattered patches of snow from earlier in the season. We avoided a large snow field left over from the previous winter and made our way up and somewhat diagonally to the right. At the top of this steep part (N40.55376 W105.65818), we all stopped to rest for a bit. We had hoped to see the true summit ahead from here, but alas, all we saw was another rounded ridge ahead. Looking around, we could see some vertically-developing clouds to the north, east and south. For the time being, we were fine, as the clouds were generally moving west to east, but we were keeping a wary eye to the sky from hereon.
After resting a bit, we continued to head up the less steep slope toward the next "high point" we could see (actually not a high point at all, but just the top of the moderately steep slope we were on). Upon reaching this "high point" (N40.55112 W105.66975), we could finally see the summit area of Comanche Peak. We also got our first view of unnamed, but ranked peak 12,716' (N40.55090 W105.68470). As we got within 100 vertical of the summit, Manuel told us he would prefer not to push on, as he was dizzy with a bad headache. We gave him some Excedrin and Frede and I made the final push to the marked summit (N40.54810 W105.67660), while Mary stayed back with Manuel. Upon reaching what we had thought to be the summit, we realized that there are actually three separate bumps (all with their own 40' contour lines on the USGS topo map) that could be the true summit. The easternmost one we were on was class 2, but the other two appeared to be class 3/3+. We later found out that the westernmost one is the tallest. Normally, I would have climbed all three just to make sure I had bagged the true summit, but since we were concerned for Manuel, we declared our summit to be close enough and headed back down. We did stop briefly though to take a few quick photos, including an impressive bird's eye view down on Emmaline and Cirque Lakes.
Upon reaching Manuel, we were glad to hear he was starting to feel better, and we all started to head back. On the way back though, we stayed to the south side of the ridge, so that Manuel and Mary could see down to Emmaline and Cirque Lakes too. They were so beautiful down there below, with a deep emerald green color in the sunlight. Manuel and Mary suggested that we try to find a way down to them. Soon thereafter, we stopped for lunch at 12:38 and studied the map to find a way down. It looked like the only way was to drop down to a ridge point (N40.55057 W105.65091) and then descend down a valley to the east. As we ate a leisurely lunch, we started to hear the low rumble of thunder from a storm well off to the east. After lunch, we headed down toward the "point" and on the way we saw that a narrow area of trees also led down to the bottom toward the south-southwest of the “point”. We figured, if there were trees, we would likely not encounter significant cliff bands.
We made our way down almost to the "point" (N40.54936 W105.65475), where we dropped down into the trees and made our way down the VERY steep mountainside (400’ loss in 800 horizontal feet, i.e., 50% grade). Had it been non-forested, I don't think we would have done it, because if someone took a tumble, they might not have stopped until they reached the bottom. Here though, we had plenty of trees to provide support. After a bit, we began to follow a stream through willow brush and the willow brush got so thick, that for some stretches, we spent more time walking on willow branches than on the ground! All our legs were getting scratched, but we slowly were making our way down. Thunder, which had previously been a distant growl, started to become closer and louder, as it also started to sprinkle. As we finally got down near the bottom (N40.54718 W105.65495), we looked up and were amazed at what we had just come down. It looked so steep that we would have never thought of going up it. We also saw that we had just come through a mere 200-foot wide gap in the cliff bands. Either we did great navigation or we were just lucky to have found the right way down!
After crossing Fall Creek, we joined the Emmaline Lake Trail (N40.54369 W105.65527) and followed it up to Cirque and Emmaline Lakes. We passed a couple, who told us to look out for a bull, cow and calf moose along the trail by a meadow. They told us the bull seemed quite agitated. We kept an eye out and ended up seeing the three of them in a small meadow; they were relatively close so we just kept going so that they wouldn't see us as a threat. As we got up to the lakes, it started to graupel on us. We still stopped at each lake for a bit to enjoy each of them, before turning around and heading back at 3:23. We made quick time heading back and got back at 5:40, allowing us enough time to change shoes before heading down to the dining hall for a Mexican buffet dinner at 6:00. It was a great hike and a great day! It also set our personal record for most elevation gain in a day in Colorado (our all-time record anywhere is 4,473 feet gain for Mount Washington, NH).