Mt. Princeton - 14,197 feet
Mt. Princeton - 14,197 feet
Arrived at the trailhead with the morning sun beating down on us as it popped over the pass from Antero Junction.
The lower parking lot was empty, but as we geared up a 4WD vehicle passed us on the way to the upper lot. We probably had 4 vehicles pass us on the way up to the upper parking lot. The lower portion of the trail was not too steep, with amicable pine trees and shrubs lining the trail.
Do not be deceived by several of these pictures: the road to the upper lot is rough with huge pits and holes in several locations. High clearance 4WD vehicles will have no issue, but do not even attempt in a sedan. An ominous wooden cross sits above the trail at an early switchback.
We cracked jokes and made light of the early morning trek up to the upper lot. 3 miles of watching cars drive past you can be a mental challenge, but the hike itself is easy on a nice dirt road. As we climbed up our first 1,000 feet of the hike we passed through denser forest and evergreens on the way up.
Upon reaching the upper lot we took a quick break to snack and refocus. The helipad and the radio towers are the obvious markers here, along with the mass of cars parked for the day (and some, night). The main upper lot was completely full as we passed through it, and some creative driver was actively trying to park their Subaru at a nearly comical angle on on of the slopes.
I had done this hike once before and forgotten that there was another large parking section a short distance away from the main upper lot. We walked through this area and saw several open spots for new takers.
The dirt road continued well past the upper parking lot, skirting the north side of the mountain as the road got steeper.
After a few thousand feet of walking we reached some open switchbacks where more cars were parked. The view opens up over the Arkansas River Valley and the entire road in can be studied.
Visible just barely in the bottom-left of that picture a snowfield can be seen. This snow/ice blocks easy passage any further, although we saw one brave driver drive up with his right tire straddling the ice. Having been familiar with the hike, I knew the remaining hike to the ridge was straightforward and scenic. The pine trees continue to line the road and the views continue to become more expansive.
We knew we reached the ridge/slope when Tigger Peak jumped out in front of us. The road appears to continue unabated for another mile or so as it winds around the east side of the mountain. Do not continue on the dirt road as it will take you to Bristlecone Park. Here we took a quick pause to collect ourselves before heading up the steep east slope.
The path is well maintained, but not always completely obvious, as it winds steeply up the east slopes towards Tigger Peak.
We followed the scenic path up through tundra and treeline. At this point the exposure to sun and the elements becomes inevitable. The steep grade here helps prepare the legs for the adventure to come.
Once the top of the slope approach is reached, a large cairn points the way towards Tigger Peak and the rugged rock fields.
The views from the east slopes of Tigger Peak are wide and epic across the valley.
Quickly the class 1 trail turned into class 2 talus. At this point your legs should be fully ready for rock hopping for the next few hours.
The trail along the talus and across Tigger Peak is long and cumbersome. The rocks are very stable though and an experienced hiker should have no issue running this section if needed. About halfway across the talus we encountered a few easily passable snowfields.
After the first few easy snowfields, a large snow patch remains that cannot be avoided. The snow is melted enough that self arrest should be easy, but it is steep enough to give most hikers pause. Here is the snowfield as seen from the distance. Two hikers can be seen crossing.
The closer we got, the easier the traverse looked. The snow is largely beat down and compressed by hundreds of eager hikers like ourselves.
Up close, we could see that we needed to be careful, but the traverse was easy and straightforward. This picture does not do great justice to how large the existing footsteps are, and the angle is not bad. We did not see a single hiker use traction to cross this field the entire day.
As we crossed the snowfield, we maybe post-holed once, enough to laugh and perhaps cool down? This thing should be quickly melted out in a few days/weeks.
Immediately beyond the final snowfield the approach up to the saddle was visible. Numerous switchbacks and some glorious cairns guide the hiker straight up to the saddle between the two great peaks.
A couple hundred feet up steep and winding slopes was the mission to the saddle. After spending significant time on flatter talus, this approach may seem steep to hikers new to 14ers. Finally upon reaching the saddle, we had magnificent and epic views of Antero and surrounding peaks. Some small pit of rocks (perhaps a fire pit?) marks the top of the saddle here.
We looked across the ridge at the remaining trail to the summit. Maybe 30% of the path is class 1 with the remainder being large talus hopping. This is all great practice for people new to class 2.
From the saddle we enjoyed the expansive views of the Sawatch mountains. The peaks are always frosty and colorful this time of year.
Lots of hikers littered the ridge as each person chose their own path across the talus. Several cairns exist to guide the hiker on a path of least resistance. Pretty much everything goes. No risk of exposure here, just watch the weather.
A couple stacks of boulders let the hiker choose to stay ridge direct or slightly to the east side.
We continued to push across the ridge, encountering the majority of the other hikers along the way. This is likely to be the highest traffic spot, as people going up and down cross paths. Met a pretty cool dog named Yoshi, shout out to the girls with the Wyoming plates.
Several sections of the ridge are packed down and class 1 dirt trails, so pick your poison.
As we approached the steeper sections of the ridge we kept talus bashing and pushing.
The entire time on the ridge presents awesome views of the Sawatch. Enjoy it!
The ridge curves upwards dramatically during the summit approach. We continued onwards and upwards.
As we climbed higher a look back shows the upper sections of the ridge.
Finally with the summit in sight, we focused on that final burst to the top. Rock size varies a lot across the ridge, but everything is stable.
Just a short distance from the top we encountered a sobering plaque dedicated to a lightning strike victim from years past. This was particularly harrowing because the weather was dramatically changing above us since reaching the ridge.
Even closer to the summit, just a few feet away. Looking back down on the ridge. The majority of the talus hike along Princeton can be seen from here.
We reached the top as the weather menaced above us. This was Jarrod's second 14er ever, and it was absolutely impressive to watch him tackle class 2 extensively at such high elevation.
Several large wind shelters exist at the summit, and the views are amazing! The clouds were consolidating around us and it started to snow on the summit.
With light snow falling around us, we could finally celebrate.
We spent maybe 5 minutes on the summit before powering back down the ridge to the saddle. Several dirt patches amidst the talus exist to make your journey harder.
Somewhere along the talus return trip, the elusive group selfie was acquired.
Upon finally reaching the dirt road again, Jarrod reached for his recovery beverage of choice. The remaining hike out was about 4-5 miles on this steady dirt road.
|Comments or Questions|
Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.