Peak(s):  Casco Pk  -  13,908 feet
Frasco BM  -  13,876 feet
French Mtn  -  13,940 feet
Date Posted:  07/31/2016
Date Climbed:   07/30/2016
Author:  rajz06
 My Two Cents   

Starting Point: Halfmoon Creek: ~10,270'
Peaks Climbed in order of ascent: Casco Peak (13,908'), Frasco Benchmark (13,876'), French Mountain (13,940')
Route: Lower northeast slopes and southeast ridge ascent of Casco, ridge traverse to Frasco and French, south slopes descent from "Friscol"
RT Distance: ~11.7 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: ~4,550 feet (per Google Maps)
Group: Solo

Casco Peak caught my attention on my first ascent of Colorado's Monarch, Mt. Elbert, a dozen years ago during the obligatory phase of chasing after 14er summits that all high country hikers suffer (you know who are are). Since then, I've made many forays into this region of the Sawatch, notable ones being my scents of Mt. Massive, Bull Hill, Oklahoma, and Mt. Champion. In recent years, I've spent many a day exploring the beautiful Mt. Massive Wilderness and I dare say that those that malign the Sawatch for being boring or benign, just haven't given it its due. Climbing and scrambling opportunities abound here and while they may not lead to a significant ranked peak, the satisfaction of those that venture is guaranteed!

Casco is part of the French group, with the latter anchoring the northern end of the rough ridge west of Mt. Elbert. My day started at the ripe mid-morning time of 9:35 a.m. at the Halfmoon Creek trailhead just past the creek crossing on Forest Road 110J.


The forecast called for only a slight chance of rain but I knew I was already pushing my luck with the late start, so I kept a good pace up the gentle road.

Forest Road

The road meanders along South Halfmoon creek for the most part but the major creek crossing comes at 10,800'. I'd anticipated that I would need to scour the length of the bank for a bit to find a safe spot to cross but that wasn't the case. Just as the road approached the creek, a small detour on the right lead to a spot with solid well-spaced rocks making the crossing a breeze.

It's as easy as one, two, three!

Around 11,200', the trees thin out just enough and the rocky bluffs to the west come into view followed shortly by the pyramidal cone of Casco.

Rocky bluffs to the west - typical of this area

Casco rears its pretty head

My goal was to ascend Casco first and then proceed to the other peaks but I hadn't decided on the descent route. Approaching 11,400, I stopped to take a good look at the lower slopes coming down from French Mountain. Per geojed's account, his party had descended this slope so I wanted to make sure there was a viable creek crossing at the end of the descent.


I made a quick reconnaissance of the area and found a suitable place to cross the creek.

Easy spot to cross

I marked a waypoint at this spot in case I chose to descend directly off French Mountain, but studying the slope, it appeared to run into cliffs so I wasn't sure. Perhaps, I was too far up the road; in any event, I decided I would make that decision once I was ready to descend from French.

As I rejoined the road, I got my first glimpse of one of the more prominent spurs that I would have to tackle on the connecting ridge between the peaks.

Back on the road

The road itself continues on to Iron Mike Mine around 12,500' and then past that landmark to around 12,800' before petering out below the steep east slopes between Casco and Frasco. I left the road well below that point - around 12,300' where it comes closest to Casco's southeast ridge.

Taking leave of the road

At this point, I mentally mapped the route I would take to gain Casco's southeast ridge: cross the grassy basin, climb the grassy slope to join the prominent gully, and head straight for the rocky outcropping on Casco's ridge.

Mapping my route to Casco's ridge

As it transpired, this was one of those rare times when I actually executed to the plan. Climbing the grassy slope...

Climbing the grassy slope

Joining the rock gully...

Joining the gully

Looking down from the gully

And topping out above 13,000' with the final pitch to the ridge in sight.

Above the gully, aiming for the ridge

I made the final push to the rocky outcropping on the ridge as the terrain transitioned from grass to talus.

Aiming for the rocky outcropping

Gaining the ridge, I was greeted by expansive views of Echo Creek basin behind me.

Echo Creek basin - La Plata dominates the background

Five hundred vertical feet separates this point from Cacsco's summit. The southeast ridge looks rough but its bark is worse than its bite.

Ridge route to Casco

A ramp leads the way to the rocky summit.

Taking the ramp to the rocky summit

Spurred by the sight of my first summit of the day, I charged up the ramp, but before I could reach the summit block I spotted two hikers relaxing on the rocks just off the peak. One of them proved to be rather chatty so I stopped and listened to stories of her recent foray into the Lost Creek Wilderness and the bushwhacking adventure that it became. They were on their descent but I had two more peaks to visit, so I eventually excused myself.

The summit of Casco is a narrow rocky point which clearly gives it that distinctive appearance from all angles. I glanced over at Colorado's highest peak and couldn't help thinking that it was just a high mound compared to my present station.

Elbert and South Elbert

I enjoyed the summit views but didn't spend much time at the top as I knew I would be taking in these views throughout the ridge route the lay ahead.

Next two peaks on the agenda

The descent off Casco was a quick introduction to the nature of the ridge that lay ahead. If you choose to stay on the ridge crest, be prepared to use your hands!

My route in red; easier option in blue

In general, there are easier options below the ridge crest.

Looking back at Casco and the descent

The hurdles gradually relent approaching the saddle. I took the next shot from the saddle at ~13,300' looking back at Casco; that's about 600 vertical feet in 0.3 miles!

Casco from the saddle

Bu the best was yet to come...

Route to Frasco

The ascent to Frasco is the best part of the ridge as far as scrambling opportunities rank.

Staying on the ridge crest

The rocks were generally solid but their edges were sharp. I only encountered loose rock once but that was all it took to made me test every handhold before committing.

Solid rock made for easy scrambling

The roughest part of the traverse was between 13,400' and 13,600, around halfway up the ridge to Frasco.

Looks gnarly, but it goes

I was committed to staying on the ridge proper; one good thing about that - no route finding required! Just climb whatever is in front.

My route in red

Past this point, the ridge mellows out for a bit before the final push to Frasco's summit.

Final pitch to Frasco

Looking back at the route from Casco

Frasco's summit may not be ranked but it didn't feel any less special than its neighboring stations on this ridge.

Deer Mountain - unique to say the least!

Certainly no less special than the 14,433-foot high mound that sure had its share of visitors today.

Elbert will never be lonely

French was up next and I surveyed the ridge route to it.

Ridge route to French Mountain

The descent to the saddle was straightforward and I followed a faint trail over the easiest terrain of the day, spotting a grouse hen and its chick en route. This has been the season for grouse...

Mother and child

Atop the third and highest summit of the day, I surveyed the day's work and enjoyed the views.

The day's work

I've got to do that traverse!

When it was time to leave, I momentarily toyed with the idea of descending directly from French down its steep southeast ridge.

Yowza! That slope just plummets!

It did not look that inviting and for once, I was not up for the route finding that would undoubtedly be required in the event that I hit cliffs at the bottom. Two Centennials and one significant benchmark, and I had earned the right to hit cruise mode. I retraced my path down to the saddle and looked at the gentle slopes and the luscious green valley below and aimed directly for the mine.

Ah, that's more like it!

The terrain was easy and I couldn't wait to hit the road so I could make a run for it and beat the impending storm. For some reason, when I got to the mine, I wasn't so keen on leaving at all. So I lingered around in the valley soaking in the views around me and contemplating whether I could haul in enough lumber to finish building this cabin so I could live in this idyllic setting.

I could live here

I'm haunted by mountains...

Au Revoir!

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

Comments or Questions
A nice loop!
08/01/2016 10:45
Your very well written report brings back fond memories. The water level did seem a bit lower in Image 3 than when I was there last year, tho. I seem to recall a "one, two, oops, get wet, three" crossing. Again, a very nice report, Raj!

Brian Thomas
what Jay said
08/02/2016 08:20
And keep these loop TR's coming please!

Love the report
08/03/2016 14:03
I'm planning on going after these peaks next summer. I will refer to this report before I go on that trip. Great job!

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