Peak(s):  French Mtn  -  13,940 feet
Casco Pk  -  13,908 feet
Date Posted:  09/21/2015
Date Climbed:   09/07/2015
Author:  rob runkle
 French Mountain and Casco Peak   

View all Pictures HERE

On the third day of climbing, I was initially planning on going out to the Wilson's to climb Gladstone. But, the weather was looking questionable, and I didn't want to make a 5 hour (10 hour round-trip) drive just for one peak, with a bad forecast. I had talk to my buddy Beau earlier in the week and he was talking about doing the French group. So I called him up to see if he wanted to come out to the Sawatch with me. He said he would drive out first thing in the morning. I grabbed the camp spot at the base of Mount Elbert along Halfmoon Road. At around 6am Beau drove up to my campsite, and we packed everything up and headed towards the trail head. We drove to the end of the N. Halfmoon Rd. and crossed the creek and parked on the other side. We attempted to go little higher, but the rental car would could not go any higher. It was starting to rain pretty badly, and the muddy road was too slick for the rental. As we walked up the road a little, I realized that the rental would have not made it much further anyway.

We start up the trail around 6:40 in the morning. When we first started it was still raining, but it stopped raining pretty quickly. I was surprised at how well the trail continue to follow the road. I thought that the road would ended about a mile in, but there was a solid road at least 4 to 4 1/2 miles up into the basin. As we got close to the end of the road it was clear that our route would be straight up the slopes onto the French saddle, then follow the saddle to French Mountain. It looked like an easy climb, from the bottom. It was pretty much a grassy slope. It turned out to be a lot more work then either Beau or I thought it would be. It was slow and long, but we ultimately made the ridge in about an hour from leaving road. I was a little ahead of Beau, but I continued up the ridge to the summit. The weather was starting to get bad. It was starting to sleet, graupel, and it was very cold.
Casco from the French Ridge
Beau hitting the summit of French

I got to the summit in about three hours from the trail head. Beau showed up on the summit about 10 minutes after I did. As Beau came up towards me, his first words were, "I think I'm done for today." I knew Beau was strong-minded, so I knew that he had made his decision. And honestly, I wasn't sure that I should be up on the ridge at this point anymore either. My feet were wet, my hands were wet. My gloves and shoes were both soaked. The wind was brutal, and I was cold. It just seemed stupid for me to considered traversing at this elevation for another hour or more. If the weather stayed the same, I would be miserable at best, and possibly in danger of hurting myself at worst. I was looking over at Frasco and Casco, and they looked wet, cold and slippery. The terrain looked semi technical, and would probably be slow to traverse. So, I decided to skip the traverse today also. We didn't spend very much time at top; just enough time to take some pictures and sign in at the registry. Then we headed back down the slopes. Maybe it was fate, but I had made a comment on the way up about how coming down the slopes would've been a lot nicer than going up in. Well, it we confirmed that to be true. As we got down in elevation, it definitely started to get warmer. By the time we got back to the mining road, I could feel my fingers and toes again. They were still wet, but the temperature was much more comfortable down in the basin. Beau and stopped at the cabin ruins to take a break and snack. As we rested, I continued to look up at the skies. The skies was cloudy, but the clouds were not threatening. Unfortunately, we could not see the skies behind Casco Peak. And, the weather was definitely coming from that direction. After our break, Beau and I started back down the road. As we started back up, Mother Nature gave us one last teaser. The skies completely clear up, and the sun came out. Just down from the cabin ruins, there is a feint trail that goes off towards the base of Casco. As we passed the trail, I decided that I wanted to make one last shot at Casco. I asked Beau if he was interested in making a run for it, and he said that we wasn't, but that I should definitely go for it. Beau and I chatted for a few more minutes about my potential route up Casco. Basically, the plan was to follow the trail as long as I could. Then, once at the base of Casco, I would start climbing towards the ridge. There looked to be several grassy sections, with some mixed rock. Ideally I would climb diagonally, following the ridge, and slowly gaining on the ridge, until I was on to of the ridge. Then, I would follow the ridge the rest of the way to the summit.
Casco from the Cabin
French from the Cabin

Once I got started up the trail, initially was was running. The trail was pretty easy to follow. It was clear that a 4WD vehicle had recently driven up this trail. I continued to follow the trail, until it made a hard left, towards the low point in the saddle. At that point, I cut right, and began up the slopes towards the ridge. I was able to traverse mostly diagonally. Traversing, as I gained the ridge was much easier than going straight up the slopes - like we did on French. I was able to climb very quickly. In about 40 minutes, I was on the ridge. At this point, the weather was still looking pretty good. The skies behind Casco were cloudy and a bit dark, but not crazy. They looked better then when Beau and I were on French Mountain. As I was climbing up the ridge, I kept looking back, and Beau was watching me. I kept thinking to myself, "I wonder if it looks like I'm going fast up to the ridge?" Beau later confirmed for me that I was flying up to the ridge. The route up to the ridge was mostly grassy, with some sections of rock. At points it was pretty steep, but never very difficult.

I only had another couple hundred feet left to gain the summit of Casco. Since Mother Nature looked like she was started to get pissed off, I didn't slow down. As I got closer to the summit, it did start to hail on me a little bit. It definitely wasn't as bad as on French though. The wind also began to pickup a bit. Fortunately, as I was gaining the ridge, I was protected from the wind mostly. At one point, along the ridge, a huge gust of wind came through, and blew my brand new rain cover off my pack, and down the ridge. I saw it fly off, out of the corner of my eye, but there was no way that I was going to try and go after it. I would see if I could find it on the way down. It was bright yellow. So, I thought there was a pretty good chance I could spot it on the way down.

I made the summit of Casco in about 55 minutes from leaving Beau. Honestly, the summit of Casco might be one of the coolest summits that I've been on in the Sawatch. It reminded me alot of the summit of Sunshine Peak. It was just a huge pile of vehicle sized boulders piled on top. Scrambling to the high point was easy, and had almost no exposure. I was glad that the hail and rain had held off. It would have been a pain to be on those boulders if they were wet. I quickly took some videos and pictures, and started back down. I only spent 5 minutes on Casco.
Frasco ridge from Casco
Selfie on Casco boulder pile

Selfie with French in the background
Pano from Casco
Casco boulder summit
My pack cover

As I left Casco, the skies were still cloudy, but it looked like Mother Nature was going to let me off this rock pile, without too much excitement. I made great progress on the descent. As I was going down the ridge, I took left at about the point where I thought I had lost my pack cover. Just around the side of the ridge, my pack cover was sitting in the rocks. It wasn't windy at all on the other side of the ridge. So, my pack cover would have probably stayed there for a while. I was able to scramble down easily, get my pack cover, then I continued down the ridge. My descent was definitely fast than my ascent time. When I got back down to the mining road, I was shocked to look at my watch and find out that I had descended in 28 minutes. For some reason, on this hiking trip, I was feeling alot more stable on the downhills. Usually, I feel a bit wobbly on the downhills, which means I can't go as fast as I would like on the descents. Round trip for me to grab Casco was just under an hour 30 minutes.

I ran a bunch of the descent on the road and my footing was very solid. A 4 mile hike out, alone, is usually long and boring, but this time it seemed to go very quick. I got down to the road and I got got back out of the rental car and Beau was there wait for me. We packed up the car and headed into town. I convinced Beau to grab a pizza with me in Leadville.

Ultimately, this turned out to be an outstanding day. It was a great hike with my friend. And, it was great to get 2 more named centennials. It was especially cool to grab both the way that Mother Nature dictated. I followed her lead, and she allowed me to see those summits. It took a little more effort on my parts, but it was also a great confidence builder for me. Ultimately, I got around 6,400 of elevation, 12.7 miles and 7:15 hours round trip.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Gorgeous area
09/21/2015 12:02
Casco IS a cool summit, isn’t it? Nice, nice pictures.

Killin’ it!
09/21/2015 22:58
Man after the long day 2 with me in Tenmile range, you checked off a couple more this day. Great job!

You had quite a mountain spree.

Way To Go O–Hi–O
09/22/2015 14:46
You sure were flying up, your ascent to the ridge was fast, but once you got on the ridge, your silhouetted body was moving up at an amazing speed. I wanted to see your summit, but I was just getting too cold in that wind exposed spot. You certainly were focused on your second chance and hammered it! Your return to the car was most inconspicuous, I think you were a little excited, but I couldn’t really tell ! Yep it was a great day for you and sharing a pizza with you was an added bonus!

rob runkle
09/22/2015 17:20
It was a great confidence builder....

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