Tim and I were casually chatting about needing to get together for a hike and after batting around a few ideas I mentioned something about a 14er, having not done one since getting up Elbert in the spring of 2007. Tim suggested Princeton since he’d wanted to take his Jeep up the road and camp at the cabin owned by the Younglife ranch. And thus a plan was hatched.
We spent the rest of the week to Friday wondering how much snow would accumulate on the Princeton road – the Forest Service told Tim six inches – don’t trust them. They also told him that the cabin was privately owned and that you need a permit to stay there overnight. One somewhat panicked phone call confirmed that it is indeed privately owned, but its strictly on a first come first serve basis – no permit required.
Clear Skies at Dawn
Tim at the trail's start
We arrived at the parking lot where Mt Princeton road begins fairly late on Friday evening and begin the slow crawl up the narrow road wondering how much snow we’d encounter. It turned out there was very minimal snow, with only a couple of places where small drifts had accumulated. We made steady progress up the dark road reaching the last switchback (and the last place to turn around) finding the largest drift so far – covering about half the road. Now, we figured we could drive thru it easily enough, but not knowing what lay ahead and given that our information told us that the road only became narrower we opted to turn back while we could and find a place to spend the night. We retreated to a spot about 200 vertical feet above the radio towers and pitched the tarp and crashed out under clear skies.
The next morning dawned chilly but clear – gotta love the clear clean blue of Colorado skies. While breaking camp and making a bit of coffee, a group of hikers passed by and we’d join them later on the summit. We began up the road on foot (get the 3,000 foot rule you know) and soon reached the steps where the trail departs from the road to cross the East Ridge and begin the traverse of the north slopes. The trail was easy and mostly snow free and we soon got our first good look at the day’s objective. Princeton looked HUGE from this perspective and the east slopes appeared very steep as well.
Traverseing the North slopes
Soon we found ourselves in shade on the north slopes traversing towards the west. Down below we spied an old mine and up higher ahead we could make out some tailings as well.
Catching up with the group of hikers that passed our camp in the morning we rested a bit before tackling the steep climb to gain the top of the East Ridge.
Nearing the summit
View from East Ridge
This was the most arduous portion of the hike, moving up steep terrain alternating between good blocky rock and loose scree, I suspected we were slightly off route, but there didn’t really seem to be an obvious route up this portion.
Soon enough though, we made the ridge and views to the South opened up with a spectacular vista. The terrain here eased and we were able to follow a trail of sorts up the talus.
Just below the summit I paused at the plaque in memory of a lightening victim from 1995. Another climber on her way down asked me to read the plaque to her and she instantly recalled the tragedy.
Mountains Everywhere Colorado Glory
I gained the summit just as clouds rolled in obscuring most of my views, but these quickly passed over without incident and when Tim caught up with me we enjoyed tremendous views in all directions.
After relaxing on the summit for a few minutes we began the descent down to the saddle between Princeton and Tigger and then back down the steeper section. I’d thought about heading over to Tigger on the way down, but we tarried long enough on the ascent that I’d squandered my daylight so we just headed back down the way we came. The snow that had been powdery that morning was now rather hard ice and slippery adding a bit of hazard to the traverse but we reached the trailhead again without incident. As we hiked down the road we watched the light change over the Arkansas Valley and looked forward to a large pizza in Buena Vista.
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