Mt. Princeton - 14,197 feet
|Conquering Princeton (The Long Way)|
Mount Princeton (#17)
Princeton is my 5th 14er of 2020 and 17th overall so far. Early summer conditions have made things very easy for me. Even though I have a 4WD vehicle, I wanted to challenge myself a bit and train for more difficult climbs later on so I thought it would be a good idea to start from the 2WD trailhead. I got a couple of funny looks when I said I wanted to start from the 2WD TH to some of my fellow hikers and I get it, I have a twisted sense of pleasure. I'll start with some stats for the day.
Vertical Feet: 5,150
Time: 7 hrs 24
I arrived at the TH at about 3:15 AM to a handful of cars in the parking lot but no signs of life. Sat and rested for a while until 4 AM, readied my gear and left in the darkness. Clear skies and stars were incredible as a cold front pushed some of the smoke from nearby wildfires away. Could clearly see the milky way and a sight I will never take for granted in the mountains.
I began up the 4WD road to the radio towers, about 3.1 miles away. One truck passed on my ascent, but I would not see anyone until the towers. All of this was in the dark so no pictures but the road was fairly rough. Easy hiking though as I was cruising to a cool 20 min/mi pace through this section. The picture below is of the 4WD about 1 mile in. Good view of "Tigger Peak". You can see the radio towers right. The upper end of the road crosses that rocky gully dead ahead on Tigger.
At around 3 miles I arrived at the radio towers at 11,000ish feet. 5 or so cars parked up here and a couple tents. Further up the road there were actually many more parking spots. Sunrise was in full gear at this point and had some great views of the valley below.
Continued up the road and walked over a few really rugged spots. The switchback maybe 0.5 mile above the 2nd set of parking passed the radio towers provided a spot that would give a lot of drivers a challenge. If you're not comfortable with 4WD or don't have as much clearance, you may need to park below. There were a few brave souls who drove above it that I saw on my way back.
The actual trail starts at about 4.64 miles and ~2,800 feet up the 4WD road at the "Stone Steps" pictured below. Hiking the 4WD is easy, made it here in 1 hour and 49 minutes. Now the real fun begins. The 4WD road continues to the "Mt. Princeton Chalet" and the Lucky mine. A couple cars were parked up there and one passer by on my way down said he got his 4runner up there.
The trail leaves the road and up into the high alpine tundra, but only for a short bit, maybe 0.5 miles before it becomes rock. The picture below is early on after leaving the road. Princeton is straight ahead, "Tigger Peak" on the left.
Continuing further up the trail, it becomes all rock from here on out. Mixed class 2 bouldering, talus hoping and some loose dirt/scree all the way to the summit. The trail skirts along the slopes and then switchbacks up to the saddle between Princeton and Tigger. You can faintly see a trail through the rocks.
A good view of the trail looking back to the TH pictured below.
After skirting the southern slope of Tigger Peak, the trail turns into switchbacks to gain the ridge. There is a rock wall built where the old trail used to continue that you can still see in the rocky slope. The switchbacks are steep but short lived. The picture below shows how steep it is.
After gaining the ridge, Antero and a gorgeous backdrop of peaks came into view.
A short break here and then onward to the summit. Fun class 2 scramble to the top but so steep and relentless. This ridge was honestly one of the steepest and most physically demanding class 2 climbs I have had so far. Maybe I am just out of shape because it's still early in the season or maybe I went a little to fast on the 4WD road but it took me a little over an hour to gain 0.8 miles and ~1,100 feet. Don't worry, I'll be in prime shape by the end of July. The pictures below show what it looks like up the ridge to Princeton's summit.
The view looking back on the route is incredible. In the distance you can see the entire ridge to "Tigger Peak". I really wanted to do the double summit to Tigger but when I was coming down from Princeton I figured I had my fill and I was feeling the fatigue.
Summited Princeton at 8:28 AM, just over 4 hours and 6.61 miles after starting from the trailhead. I had the summit to myself for about 20 minutes before the next set of hikers made it. A few minutes of solitude above 14k feet that I won't forget. The views from these 14k summits will never get old. My dad has memories of hiking this peak in the early 1980s as his first 14er summit and recalls being able to see "the whole state of Colorado", which isn't far off. There were beautiful views of the Sawatch, Sangre de Cristo, Elk, San Juan and Front mountain ranges. One of the most beautiful days I've had on a mountain summit so far. The temperature was probably around 45-50 degrees with light 10-20 mph wind.
After about 30 minutes I packed up my gear and headed back down. Passed hoards of people on the way down but hey, I can't blame them for wanting to be out there on such a great day. I only have 2 more 14er summits in the Sawatch range (Antero and Huron) which I plan to get done shortly. Then it's off to explore the Sangre and Elk 14ers. Hope you all enjoy this well documented but classic Colorado peak!
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