5,300 feet elevation gain
Introduction: I had wanted badly to make my first trip to the Elk Range this week, but today was my only day to get out and I didn’t know the snow conditions of Castle and that area. Thus, I figured I would be safe going with a gentler alternative, the Sawatch. I knew Princeton would be a beaut with the fresh snow, so I drove southwest from Denver this morning and arrived at the Mount Princeton Road trailhead by 0830.
I brought extra clothes along today because I expected it to be chilly in the morning, but the sun was already warming things up and the air was calm. There were no tire tracks or even footprints on the road, and I could see it was covered with snow farther up, so I decided to just park at the base and begin my hike.
The road is a narrow and rather steep one, as Roach noted, but it looks like it would be an easy road to drive with any 4x4. There were several inches of untouched snow lying on the road most of the way, and I crunched my way uphill through that for several miles. I walked uphill on this dirt road for about two hours, turning left at the radio towers, and continuing up several switchbacks toward the east side of “Tigger Peak.” Just above timberline (about 11,800 feet), the road took a turn south in front of “Tigger Peak.” I left the road, then found a trail and followed it uphill (north) to the top of the 12,000 foot ridge, where I had a great view of what was to come: the southeast ridge of Mount Princeton.
I stayed on the easy-to-follow trail as it very slowly climbed uphill on the north side of “Tigger Peak.” The snow-covered talus was slippery at places, but it wasn't too bad.
This trail does not go to Mount Princeton's summit; rather it heads for an old mine on Princeton's east ridge. There are a couple options for when to leave this trail and climb to Princeton's southeast ridge. I took the first (southernmost) possibility, where several cairns surrounded the trail I was on and led uphill, following a series of well-defined and easy-to-walk switchbacks. Nearing the crest of the ridge, this trail appeared to head more south toward “Tigger Peak,” so I left it and turned northwest toward Princeton, making my way across slippery talus.
Arriving at the southern part of the long saddle between Tigger and Mount Princeton, I was awestruck at the spectacular view of Mount Antero, most prominent in the sea of Sawatch mountains all around me. What a beautiful place, and I had it all to myself!
The route from here was straightforward; all I had to do was keep going up. I followed trails on the east side of the ridge most of the time, but near the top I spent most of my time on the ridge-line.
For some reason the altitude was bothering me today. By the time I stepped on the summit of Mount Princeton at 1315, I was suffering from a dizzying headache. Thus, I only stayed on the summit a few minutes. There were deep drifts of snow all around, but the summit register was resting on one of the stone walls. I signed in, the first person in four days to do so. I did pause to take in the views of Mount Yale and all the Sawatch mountains around me. It was a clear, sunny, pleasant day, and I had unlimited views in every direction!
The wind had been fierce at times on my way up the mountainside, but as the day waned and I began my descent, all became calm.
I was going to bag “Tigger Peak” as well today, but with my altitude sickness and the slippery snow-covered talus, I finally just decided to head out. This time I descended a steeper trail from the northernmost saddle next to Princeton’s steeper east slopes. This trail wasn't too bad with snow, but I imagine it would be quite annoying without snow, because it consisted entirely of steep scree.
Eventually I made it back down to the relatively horizontal mine trail. I followed this rough section of trail back to the southeast, eventually passing the trail I had followed uphill hours earlier. I would definitely recommend this well-made trail over its northern alternative, the one I had just descended.
Retracing my steps, I continued following the mine trail the rest of the way back out to the dirt road.
Most of the snow had melted throughout the day, and I was surprised to find fresh tire tracks on the road when I got to the radio towers.
My legs were aching somewhat by the time I finally completed my 13-mile hike, arriving at my jeep at 1630.
Conclusion: Several times throughout today, I simply paused and enjoyed the silence, the beauty, the freedom of it all. Despite my pounding headache and tired legs, I could not help but marvel at the peace and quiet offered by Mount Princeton, a stately fourteener of the eastern Sawatch, on this serene October day.
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