The road less traveled
Participants: cftbq, solo
Distance: ~14.3 mi.
Vertical: ~3,700 ft.
After looking at it and looking at it for literally years, I finally decided that the time had come for Cameron Cone--so easy to see and so hard to get to. However, I didn’t relish driving over to the Barr trailhead and trying to find a parking space there (even though I planned on a good and early start). Since I was (as usual) also looking for some solitude, the obvious choice was to try the “road less traveled”: the longer, but less steep, route from the south.
I only had to drive up North Cheyenne Cañon to the Gold Camp Road closure (less than 10 minutes), and start from there. The route goes west up the Seven Bridges Trail along North Cheyenne Creek, then north, west, and north again through Jones Park, and finally off-trail, over the ridge between Tuckaway Mountain and Mt. Garfield and then (somehow or other) up the south slopes to the summit.
There were no other cars in the parking lot when I got there. I hit the trail a little before sunrise, at 4:30 MST. The Seven Bridges Trail up North Cheyenne Cañon and the turn north to Jones Park were old hat and no problem, but I did stop to photograph one place, above the last bridge, where what looks like the obvious trail, leading straight ahead, is a poor choice, leading to a very steep scree slog just a few yards ahead.
Navigating the Trail Maze
Once in Jones Park, however, I began paying more attention. On a previous trip, I had missed a turn on the way back, and had ended up going down the Bear Creek drainage instead of back to the top of the Seven Bridges Trail. This required climbing back up over the east slopes of Kineo Mtn.--perfectly doable, and it leads back to the same trailhead, but at the price of some needless elevation gain. First, there is a trail junction just a few feet from a sign proclaiming this to be part of the “Ring the Peak” trail network. Going up, one turns left (west) here, away from the sign.
Not long thereafter, the trail turns distinctly north (without any junction), and begins to climb the first of two gentle ridges out of the Jones Park/Cheyenne Creek drainage. After it begins descending (still going nearly due north), a creek is crossed, and the trail comes out into an open meadow area, angling somewhat to the east. At the edge of the meadow, there is a junction with a trail heading off to the east (right), and the trail climbs again, to crest the second ridge. This is the junction which fooled me before, because the “right” trail--back to Seven Bridges--is distinctly less used and smaller than the other one. I noted well what the junction looked like from the reverse direction.
That done, it was off on the fairly lengthy section of trail which runs north along the creek just to the west of Mt. Garfield. After crossing over the stream and back a couple of times, the trail then heads distinctly west, under the southern slopes of Tuckaway Mountain. It was just before this turn that I planned to head up through the timber, north and east, to come up to a saddle on the ridge between Tuckaway and Garfield.
I found a decent launching point, through some reasonably sparse aspens, and soon found a gently sloped gully with open ground, which served as a reasonably quick route to the top. After that, I planned to descend as far as I had to into the drainage of Willow Creek (which flows into Horsetooth Reservoir), cross the creek as high as possible, and then contour around to the left of the long ridge running down from Garfield. After that, a small amount of re-climbing ought to get me to the broad saddle just south of Cameron Cone.
A lot of the efficiency of this plan was based on the notion that, after cresting the ridge, I would be able to see out over the basin beyond, and fine-tune my route accordingly. It was not to be. Useable views proved to be scarce and fleeting. As a result, I dodged rocks and downed timber going down to Willow Creek. Worse, still in morning shadow, I misjudged directions, and turned way too far to the right (east), and did some unnecessary climbing because I thought I was already on the east slopes of the ridge I was trying to hike around.
I wasn’t. After this mistake was corrected, I finally did cross the creek, and began a gently climbing traverse to the north, trying to aim for the saddle.
Once again, I misjudged, and, once again, I climbed too steeply. I eventually topped out on the Garfield ridge, thinking I was much closer to my objective than I really was. As a result, I kept negotiating--slowly!--spiky ridge points, trying to get a decent view ahead. When I finally did get a useful view, I realized the nature of my error, and saw that I was far above the sought-after saddle. Cameron Cone was basically dead ahead, but I would have to drop down quite a ways before I could begin climbing its south slopes.
This, too, was slow, as the ridge I was on is relentlessly rocky and there is virtually no open ground. So I continued to do a mix of rock scrambling and weaving through brush and timber. I estimate that I added nearly an hour to my time with this little side trip. In retrospect, though, the scrambling was actually enjoyable. And, since I knew I really had all day if I needed it, it ended up being a rather cool mountain adventure--just one on which I hadn’t planned.
Things Get Easier
Once the saddle was reached, views improved somewhat. Also, the actual climb (500 ft.?) to the summit was really easy, as the timber was less dense, and there are only rocks on the last 100 feet or so. It took me almost five hours to reach the summit--half of it spent after I crossed over the Garfield-Tuckaway ridge--but the day was beautiful and warm, and the weather looked to hold that way for many hours to come. Had it not been for the ants constantly trying to swarm over my body, I might well have spent even more than the twenty minutes or so that I spent there, despite being behind my intended schedule.
Before starting down, I tried to take a good look at my route back, so as to avoid repeating any of my navigational mistakes. The best plan seemed to be to angle off the summit to my right, completely avoiding the ridge from Garfield. Then I would find Willow Creek as soon (as low) as possible, and, if necessary, simply follow it up to a point from which the saddle I had crossed over above the trail could easily be reached.
Things Get Harder Again
This, too, was not to be. I did avoid the ridge, but I found that the terrain on the east side of the creek at its base was just as steep and rough as the rest of it, and just as devoid of visibility. Thus, I struggled through on dead reckoning for quite a while before finally finding the creek much higher up than I had intended.
Then, it should have been a simple matter to traverse up to the right and back over the ridge. Somehow or other, though, my traversing did not gain altitude nearly fast enough. Despite the fact that I occasionally switchbacked to my left, either to avoid difficult rock outcroppings, or because I believed that I had actually gone too far to the west.
With everything I could use to get my bearings hidden most of the time, the slope seemed to go on forever. Finally, I had no idea where on the ridge I really was, or where I would top out, and resigned myself simply to continuing to climb by whatever route I could, knowing that I would eventually top out somewhere,
and then be able to see into the drainage on the other side. That drainage held the trail, and I knew it couldn’t take too long to descend to it. After that, reasonable should be possible again.
Well, as it turns out, I had indeed gone too far west, and I was basically climbing up the back (north) side of Tuckaway Mtn. I finally came out into the first major saddle east of the mountain, quite some distance west of where I had gone over the ridge on the way out.
Running Back Down
Fortunately, that was the end of the difficulties and uncertainly. I did an easy scree descent and re-joined the trail a quarter of a mile or so west of where I had left it. I estimate that I had added yet another mile to my distance with that second misadventure.
Still, now back on a trail which I had traversed several times, I had no trouble making decent (not stellar, just decent) time downhill. And my attentiveness on the way up paid off, since I had no trouble this time finding all the right turns and retracing my route back to the top of the Seven Bridges Trail. The gorgeous weather continued, and I was surprised that I didn’t see anyone else on the trail until I was almost back to the bridges, no more than a mile and a half from the trailhead.
My return took about three hours and forty minutes. Had I followed my intended path, it would probably have been three hours or less. But, what the heck: it was a beautiful day to spend in the mountains, running and climbing.
So, my advice to future climbers wishing to use this route is this: It seems to be easy to veer off to one’s right after leaving the trail. This is true going both directions. Owing to the nature of the terrain, you won’t set any speed records (besides personal ones) no matter what you do, so be prepared to take your time. The route, even without the unintended additions, proved to be longer than I had estimated. This is not the simplest or fastest way to climb Cameron Cone. Still, it’s perfectly feasible, and gets you away from the crowds very nicely.