The curiously named City Mountain lies in the northeast corner of the Elkhead Mountains. The mountain is one of the most misnamed mountains I know of. In Colorado at least, you can’t get that much farther from a city than where this mountain is located.
Although there is no register on the summit, it is a sure bet that this one is very seldom climbed. Most of the trail-less 10,000+ foot peaks in the area receive less than one ascent per year on average, and since this one is lower than the 10,000 foot mark, it probably sees far fewer ascents than that.
By Colorado standards, this is not a high mountain, but it is an interesting climb. We were surprised to find that the summit block/ridge (actually a volcanic dike) was a technical and exposed knife edge ridge (though short in length) that is challenging to climb from any direction. Also interesting is that the knife edge is completely overhanging on the north side. I rated our route 5.0 on the YDS, but there are certainly harder routes than this. The knife edge on City Mountain is similar to the famous Knife Edge on Capitol Peak, a well known Colorado 14er, but it is slightly harder.
The volcanic dike of City Mountain is somewhat solid and with the possible exceptions of Saddle Mountain and Sawtooth Mountain, makes one of the few reasonable locations in the Elkhead Mountains for technical rock climbing. “Somewhat solid” is a relative term though and loose rock is still present in places.
Several aspects of the Elkhead Mountains make this a rather unique mountain range in Colorado. It is certainly possible that the Elkhead Mountains are the least known of the major mountain ranges in Colorado. This is partially because the range is a long way from any metropolitan area, and partially because the Elkhead Mountains are fairly low by Colorado standards, as there are no peaks reaching 11,000 feet. There are also few lakes, so the range isn’t visited by fishermen. Despite their low altitude, the Elkhead Mountains receive much snow, and snow lasts into July or later on the higher peaks. Most of the peaks in the Elkhead Mountains see very few ascents, but Hahns Peak
, the eastern-most peak in the range is a popular climb for residents of Steamboat Springs. The Bears Ears
see quite a few ascents by Elkhead standards, because of their prominent shape and visibility from the Yampa River Valley. Black Mountain
is also climbed fairly often because it is the highest point in Moffat County, and the popularity is on the increase with more county highpointing interest. Sand Mountain
must be a fairly popular (by Elkhead standards) climb as well, as there is a trail to the top, and as it is the first and only mountain in the range where I have ever met anyone. This was on Labor Day weekend, 2005, when we saw 3 other hikers. Most of the rest of the peaks see few ascents, and one ranger has told me some of the peaks only have a few names in the registers since 1980. So, there are few hikers around, but hunting is another story. The Elkhead Mountains are very popular for hunting in the fall and contain large populations of deer, elk, bear, etc.
One thing unique about the range is that hiker use is overall actually decreasing, rather than increasing as it is in most places in Colorado. The summit registers (which the Forest Service keeps record of) on most peaks indicate that they have had more ascents in the 1960’s and 1970’s than they do now. Even before that, there were many summit logs from the 1930’s and 1940’s from sheepherders.
The Elkhead Mountains are made of old volcanic rocks 17-25 million years old. One thing unusual is that the Elkhead Mountains run west to east as opposed to north and south as most of the ranges run in North America. It is impossible to describe the general forms of the peaks because they are all so different, but most of the peaks are isolated rises from a huge plateau which forms the bulk of the Elkhead Mountains.
Note: We forgot our camera on this trip and my son shot all these photos with our cell phone. Our cell phone does not take the best quality photos.
Kessler topping out on City Mountain on June 14 2015. We were surprised to find that the summit block was technical. Not many people climb this one.
City Mountain as seen from the approach.
From Steamboat Springs, drive to the north end of town and to where County Road 129 leaves Highway 40. A sign marks "Clark" and "Hahns Peak". This is the same road heading to the airport. Follow County Road 129 north for about 32.2 miles, driving past Clark, Hahns Peak village, and Clark. 0.2 miles before the trailhead you will pass the Summit Creek Forest Service Station, but it doesn't seem to be staffed often. 0.2 miles past the ranger station, you will come to a sign for FR 47 and the Nipple Peak Trail. If you have high clearance, you can drive west a short distance to a fence. I would not recommend driving beyond the gate as the track is usually muddy and in very poor condition.
City Mountain from the east and from near the trailhead. The technical summit block is hidden from this angle.
City Mountain Map.
The best way to approach the summit block is probably via the southwest ridge and the saddle to the southwest of City Mountain. We approached this ridge from the Nipple Peak Trail, but you could also access routes to the ridge and saddle by using FR 488 and FR 489. The "standard" route up from the Nipple Peak trailhead requires about 1500 feet elevation gain. The FR 488 and 489 route has a bit less, but more ups and downs and would be a long drive on rough roads (if they are even open).
The south face makes a pretty good descend route, but going up hill, the routefinding might be easier using the southwest ridge.
The summit block and ridge of City Mountain is technical. There are a couple of 4th class/low 5th class routes up to the summit. One is on the east side of the summit block. The other reaches the knife edge just west of the true summit and from the north side.
An interesting technical route would be to traverse the entire knife edge ridge/block from one side to the other.
See also the route page:
City Mountain via Nipple Creek Trailhead
Scramble up to the summit ridge.
High on City Mountain.
When To Climb
Mid June through September could be considered the normal season to climb the mountain. The access roads do not open until late May (or later in heavy snow years). These roads could certainly be walked, snowshoed, or skied before then, and it's not that far of a walk to the trailhead from the winter closure.
A snowmobile would make this a one day climb in the winter, though it could be done in one long day without one. The Elkhead Mountains are a very popular hunting destination in late August, September and October (until snow closes the road), so use extreme caution at this time of year.
The summit ridge of City Mountain on a sunny day.
There is no real red tape here, but motorized vehicles are supposed to refrain using part of the jeep road near the trailhead between July 1 and September 30.
No red tape, but watch your step.
There are some informal campsites along the road near the trailhead and the trailhead itself is open to camping.
Also in the same general area to the east are the campgrounds at Pearl Lake and Steamboat Lake State Park. These are crowded on summer weekends, and reservations are recommended. Hahns Peak Lake is a Forest Service Campground in the area. All the campgrounds are fee-use areas.
View from the Steamboat Lake Campground. Sand Mountain and East Meaden are in the background.
Mountain ConditionsCLICK HERE FOR THE DIAMOND PEAK AREA WEATHER FORECAST
Below is the National Weather Service Climate Summary of Steamboat Springs. The data is from 1908-2005. This is the closest long term weather station, but be aware that higher elevations will be much wetter and colder. Steamboat Springs is at 6695 feet elevation, so expect the temperatures on City Mountain to be 10-20 degrees colder than in Steamboat (except for cold winter nights).
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