Meaden Peak West is an interesting peak in the Elkhead Mountains. Meaden Peak West is just barely below timberline, and receives heavy winter snows. In a normal year, the snowbanks on the mountain stay until sometime in August despite its relatively low elevation. Although we were the first to sign the register in about a year, Meaden Peak West is climbed fairly frequently by Elkhead Mountain standards and several years have several signatures. Meaden Peak West is not climbed as often as nearby peaks such as Hahns Peak, Sand Mountain or Bears Ears, but is climbed much more than nearby peaks such as Mount Oliphant or Buck Point. The peak is neither the hardest nor the easiest peak to climb in the area.
There is some confusion about the name of the mountain. According to Kramarsic’s book on the history of the area, the name Meaden Peak originally identified the peak to the west at 10,561 feet that overlooks California Park and which is featured on this page. In 1932 the wrong name was applied on the map to the peak just to the east which is the highest peak in the Elkhead Mountains. Because of this, the 7.5 minute map labels this peak as Meaden Peak and since the mistake was made 76 years ago, most locals also refer to the peak to the east as Meaden Peak, East Meaden Peak, or Meaden Peak East and often call this Meaden Peak West.
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.
Elkhead Mountains-10,000+ Foot Peaks with 300+ feet of Prominence
This is near the summit of Meaden Peak West.
The topo maps available don’t show the roads or trails around this mountain accurately. The closest one that bears resemblance to reality is the Forest Service Map-Routt National Forest
, but it is of a small scale. The USGS maps don’t show many of the roads in the areas, but seem to show roads and trails that don’t exist; at least not any more.
The USGS has (finally) updated the 7.5 minute maps. They were scheduled to be produced for Colorado last year, but I’m not sure when they will hit all the stores. Right now you can get/see/print/buy the new 7.5 minute maps on My Topo.
The good news is that all the roads and trails are FINALLY accurate for the Elkhead Mountains (and undoubtedly other areas as well). After receiving the new maps, I am very pleased to see that the roads and trails are in the right places. I am also very pleased that the USGS has a new agreement with the US Forest Service and within the national forest service areas, the private land holdings are shaded (but only in USFS areas, land ownership is not shown outside FS lands) on the 7.5 minute scale maps.
Without directions, these trailheads aren’t exactly easy to find, so I took lots of notes and have done my best to explain them. On our first attempt, we failed to find the correct trailhead, so these directions should help, even if they sound slightly confusing! The maps of the area are not accurate!!
VIA STEAMBOAT SPRINGS
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. Drive north on CR 129 for approximately 26 miles. Pass Steamboat Lake and turn left on County Road 62. Drive County Road 62 west and south for about 3.5 miles to FR 42 on the right. Turn right on FR 42 and drive for 0.6 miles to the forest service gate. This gate is locked until July 1st each year. Drive County Road 42 for 1.5 miles to where FR 480 (east loop) takes off to the left. The road here is bumpy, but still passable to 2wd’s if you go slowly. Rather than turning left, continue straight along County Road 42 and follow the bumpy road for another ~3.7 miles. The west loop of FR 480 takes off to the left. Park here if you have a 2wd, or follow FR 480 left for 0.4 miles to 480B. Turn left on FR 480B and follow this short road to its end.
From Walnut Street in Hayden, turn north on Walnut, a.k.a. County Road 76, and follow it north for 0.7 miles to County Road 80. Turn right on (gravel) County Road 80 and follow it for 27.3 miles to FR 42. Turn right on FR 42. The first 2.5 miles of FR 2.5 are pretty good, but it quickly turns into a 4wd road after that. The rough section lasts for 1.4 miles and ends at a saddle. Continue straight at the saddle (instead of heading left), and follow FR 42 for another 0.8 miles. At this point, FR 480-West Loop takes off to the right. See the above paragraph for directions to the trailhead from here.
A sign pointing to the peak from California Park and the road from Hayden.
Meaden Peak West is a mountain with a variety of terrain. Some sides are gentle and some are fairly rugged. The below outline a few possibilities, but there are other routes on the mountain. There are some cliffs around, but technical climbing isn’t really practical since the rock is so crumbly.
The East Ridge Route is probably the easiest route on the mountain. From the trailhead, the route climbs steeply to the northwest up to Point 10287 and then follows the ridge west up to the East Ridge over several false summits to the true summit. There is no trail and there are many logs to cross and some steep sections, but the route is pretty easy. At less than five miles round trip, it’s a fairly short route, but is slower than hiking on a marked trail.
This is the true summit of Meaden Peak West as viewed from a false summit on the East Ridge.
There are other routes available up Meaden Peak West as well. If you want an all day climb, one obvious place to start would be California Park west of the peak. The west and southwest ridges appear to offer reasonable routes.
There is no red tape, but make sure to tread lightly.
There are many informal campsites along the road to the trailheads after you reach the forest boundary. Also in the area 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.
When to Climb
July through early September could be considered the normal season to climb the mountain. The access road doesn’t open until July 1, but the roads could certainly be walked, snowshoed, or skied before then. The Elkhead Mountains are a very popular hunting destination in September and October (until snow closes the road), so use extreme caution at this time of year. In winter, this mountain isn’t that far from the road closure, so it could be climbed in two days.
Meaden Peak West on September 11 2009.
Mountain ConditionsCLICK HERE FOR THE MEADEN PEAK WEST 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 Meaden Peak to be 10-20 degrees colder than in Steamboat (except for cold winter nights).
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