Intro/StatsFrench Mtn (13940')- CO Rank 63
Frasco Benchmark (13876')- unranked
Casco Pk (13908')- CO Rank 69
Pt 13660B- soft ranked
"Lackawanna Pk" (13823')- CO Rank 95
10.75 miles RT, 5940' gain
From Halfmoon Cr 2WD TH (10240')
Participants: Dave & Emily Hale, Matt Hale, Jeff & Allison Valliere, Dave "Hoot" Gibson, & Kevin Baker
Sept 22, 2007
September is a great month for long ridge traverses, so Hoot came up with the idea of adding centennial Lackawanna to the French group of centennials. I hadn't seen many TR's about the ridge between Casco and Lackawanna, but I found a couple that confirmed that it could be kept at class 3. Jeff had the French group on his radar as well, so long story short we ended up joining forces for part of the hike. In order to minimize distance and vertical, I parked my car at the Upper Lake Creek TH on Hwy 82 the night before. As long as the weather held, Hoot and I would run the ridge all the way from French over to Lackawanna. The drawback to doing this as a shuttle is you have a 1 hr return trip back to the Halfmoon TH at the end of the day. We should have given the keys to somebody in our group to drive Hoot's Jeep to our ending point!
We all met at various times at a nice campground just beyond the Halfmoon TH for Elbert. I had a pretty decent night of sleep for once in my tent. Dave and Hoot drove us up to the 2WD trailhead for the French group. They decided not to try the stream crossings to the 4WD trailhead in the dark. We were off at 6:30am under a clear sky and a 36 degree temp.
Warmup on French
I was wanting to do this ridge run from north to south so that we could conserve energy on the road that climbs gently up S. Halfmoon Creek. Going up steep Lackawanna first would have left me dragging at the end of the day. We took our time enjoying each others company, making our way up to the Iron Mike Mine below the steep south slopes of French. From here, we pretty much all went at our own paces to the saddle and on to the summit of French. Superman Jeff blasted up the final 1400' vertical or so in 28 minutes, while the rest of us mortals tried to at least keep him in sight for awhile.
The south slopes of French from near the Iron Mike Mine.
There was a little snow on the saddle, but other than that the route was dry. The wind picked up once on the ridge, but it wasn't bad at all. I topped out at 9:41am, rewarded with some nice views of Elbert, Massive, and our route for the rest of the day. Clouds were beginning to build, so Hoot and I only hung around for 15 minutes before heading for Frasco Benchmark. Jeff and Dave decided to save Lackawanna for a winter outing. It was fun hiking with this group, and I hope to hookup with them on future outings.
Frasco & Casco
There is a bit of a trail on portions of this ridge, which we followed over to unranked Frasco Benchmark. This little bump looks like nothing more than a point on a ridge from the mine, but it looks pretty cool from French. The easy trip over to Frasco went quick and we topped out on a nice block at 10:19.
Unranked Frasco Benchmark from French.
The ridge from Frasco to Casco gets a little rougher, but the trail nicely skirts around some towers, mostly on the west side.
Hoot on the ridge traverse to Casco.
We lost the trail beyond the Fiascol saddle if there was one, as we now had a little snow to deal with. It felt good to hike in snow again, although it made the route finding a little tougher than it should have been below the summit. I pretty much tried staying on the ridge crest, but some icy slabs forced me down to easier terrain. I'm not sure how the crest of the ridge could stay at class 2, but maybe there was an easier route hidden by the snow. We topped out at 11:35 with a temp of 48, and it looked like the weather would hold for the long walk over to Lackawanna. We saw Scooby and Shep leading the way for the rest of the group on Casco's north ridge.
Traverse to 13660B & Lackawanna
Hoot and I felt that the traverse between Casco and Lackawanna was class
2+ if you choose to skirt around some minor towers. We made good time down to the saddle at 12940', but we weren't looking forward to any more vertical. The good thing is you never have to do more than 600' at one time, so the hike up to Pt 13580 wasn't too bad.
Early season snow highlights cliffs on the way to Lackawanna.
As we approached this point, we noticed there was a cornice on it! This must get pretty huge in winter! We decided to hike right up it, which was pretty fun. Soft ranked 13660B was a goal of mine for the day if the weather held, so Hoot obliged and we ditched out packs before making the easy 280' climb to this nice summit that must be pretty prominent from Independence Pass. From here we had a good preview of our remaining vertical up to Lackawanna, our 3rd and final centennial for the day.
Our remaining uphill for the day to centennial Lackawanna.
I was not looking forward to this final slog, but shot blocks did the trick and the final 500' up Lackawanna wasn't too bad. I decided to go straight up the summit block to cap off the day, since the traverse didn't offer too much scrambling.
A fun variation I took on the summit block of Lackawanna.
We topped out at 2:25 and got a signal to call our wives. Lackawanna is an appropriate name for this peak, as it isn't that appealing, thus the reason to combine it with the French group! I must say the summit view is pretty nice though as you're pretty much right in the middle of the Sawatch. We had dark clouds overhead, but they weren't building vertically, so we weren't too concerned.
3400 Ft Descent In 1.4 Miles!
We hung around for 15 minutes and began the short but insanely steep descent down the south slopes to my car. From the southern false summit of Lackawanna, it's a knee jarring 3400' descent in only 1.4 miles! That's a steeper overall grade than the Manitou Incline! The first part is over loose boulders, which gives way to a grassy ridge mixed with talus. We stayed on the ridge as my GPS was pointing to a prominent avy chute across the valley on Star Peak's north slopes.
Once we reached treeline, the bushwacking games began. As we descended, the brush continued to get thicker and the steepness would not relent. After a seemingly endless series of tree belaying, thrashing about, and skirting through some minor cliff bands, we finally hit the "trailhead" dead on at 4:39. Ah, the joys of GPS technology! I'm surprised we maintained such a consistent bearing through this mess.
Looking back at the route description posted on Summitpost, we should have angled to the s.w. into an avalanche gully. Perhaps the bushwacking would have been easier there. All in all, Hoot and I agreed that we were glad we added Lackawanna to the day as it wouldn't be much fun in winter other than a cool glissade that makes things easier. Another secluded day on some Sawatch centennials!