Peak(s):  Cronin Peak  -  13,870 feet
Date Posted:  04/04/2021
Date Climbed:   04/02/2021
Author:  daway8
 Cronin NE Ridge direct spring climb   

This particular route variation came to my attention after having done a springtime hike up Antero in April 2019 and being impressed by the views across the valley of Cronin. After that trip I searched for info on routes up Cronin and found a recently completed trip report posted by yaktoleft13 going straight up the NE ridge. Seeing that this offered a more avy safe route up Cronin as well as potentially some class 3 scrambling I added this route to my winter list but with yet another winter gone by and no snowflake I decided to go ahead and do it as an early spring hike.

  • Trailhead = Baldwin Gulch
  • Route = NE Ridge direct (leave Antero trail at ~11k)
  • Mileage RT = 10.7mi
  • Gain = ~4,500ft
  • Difficulty = Primarily class 2 with a little class 3 on the lower part of the ridge (but note that the class 2 sometimes involves being a few steps away from a cornice overhanging a cliff on one side and a steep snowy slide down the mountain on the other)
  • Time = 11h 39min (7h 51min up; 3h 28min down)

I'll reiterate what's implied in the name of that other trip report by emphasizing that this is a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGG ridge! (If you want less drama and more data, from leaving the Antero trail it's right about 2 miles of upward ridge gaining somewhere around 3k in elevation if you include the dips along the way)

It probably didn't help that I was solo and thus had no one to restrain my tendency to push too hard on the way up and tire myself out, nor did it help that I hadn't really done any research since spotting that trip report a couple years back (other than making sure I had the GPX loaded) and it certainly really, really, really didn't help that I let myself fall for the good ol' false summit trick - like about 3,237,986 times along this ridge (rough estimate...)

Overall impression: This route has some dramatically beautiful sections of snow covered ridge in winter/spring that fit that iconic ideal of what climbing a mountain in winter is "supposed" to look like but I was disappointed overall that there wasn't anywhere near as much class 3 as I had expected and what was there seemed fairly tame (but maybe I've just done too many winter/spring class 3 scrambles now and need to up my game...).

If you do this route one thing you really ought to emblazon in your mind before you go (as I failed to do) is that there are lots and lots and lots and lots of false summits! (I failed to reread yaktoleft's TR before this hike or I might have realized this...)

One of the classic views along this ridge showing one of many, many, many false summits.

Trailhead and 4WD Road

In summer there's a little lot just off the start of the 277 road but in winter/spring this in inaccessible and you have to park on one of the pull-offs just before on the dirt road (be prepared for mud city depending on the day/hour).

Looks like a couple folks tried their luck on the 4WD road but don't seem to have gotten far - no surprise.
Looking back at the nearest pull-off from the start of the 4WD road.

WARNING #1: In the spring of 2019 (a big snow year) there was some pretty significant avy debris (including full sized trees) that swept across the 4WD road between roughly 2.17 to 2.3 miles up the road (see my previous trip report here if you want to see images of that).

WARNING #2: When I did a winter summit of Antero on 3/1/21 there were a couple a HUGE sheets of ice totally blocking the road along an uphill section (see a couple photos in the TH status report here). I cautiously made it up them with brand new, sharp microspikes (crampons would have been better though only needed for a couple 20ft segments). My hiking partner on that occasion had blunted microspikes and gave up then crawled up the steep snowy hillside to bypass the ice sheets.

On this particular occasion there was some much more minor avy action and the ice sheets seen last month were totally buried in snow (though one started to expose again at the end of the day). I went up the road in below freezing temperatures just as the sun was rising and didn't come back until everything was in the evening shadows and cool again - there had been some very minor slides between when I went up and came back down.

This is where one of the ice floes seen last month is now buried in snow.
A few minor roller balls giving indication of instability (the snow was hard and temp below freezing when I passed this section).
Large roller ball that I spotted on the way up.
This roller ball was roughly the size of a beach ball - I was glad I was passing by in below freezing temperatures...
There's plenty of water at various spots along this 4WD road - thus the sometimes epic sheets of ice.
Once past the shelf portion of the road you're past the main avy risk spots for this route variation.

From Baldwin Creek Crossing to the Ridge Turnoff at 11k

It's a good trek up to the turnoff between FS278 and FS278B. There's a pretty obvious clearing and a very large sign marking the spot where you make a hard left to go over Baldwin Creek.

Beware that you could punch through and get wet feet here - there's not much of a good crossing option besides proceed with caution...

Large sign in middle of photo marks the sharp left turn over Baldwin Creek to head towards Antero/Cronin - don't continue straight.

If you go back and look closely at that photo above you'll get an idea of what awaits you - I didn't dwell on the view of this rippling ridgetop long enough to let it sink in just how many false summits I was going to encounter nor the couple little drop downs along the way...

A closer view of the ridge up Cronin.
Zoomed in view of the ridge up Cronin. Note all those little humps along the way at this stage - none of these are the summit!

The closer you get to the ridge the more deceptive it becomes - don't be fooled into thinking what you see is the summit.

Even without leftover tracks the trail towards Antero is obvious since in summer there's a 4WD road under this snow.
I picked a random, gentle looking spot near 11k to start up towards the ridge.

The Pre-Ridge

There's kind of a pre-ridge where you turn off the Antero at ~11k. It's a comparatively gentle uphill slope (might not feel entirely gentle if you're breaking your own trench) before you get to what I'd consider the true ridge (where all the dark red on the slope angle maps shows up).

Stay on the highest portion of the pre-ridge - don't cut right too soon!
Steep section just before start of the ridge proper.

As you go through the woods it seems easiest to stay on highest section, as seen in the GPX tracks. Avoid the temptation to cut right too soon - you'll run into some ugly, steep, loose terrain if you do. There is one steep hill just before gaining the ridge proper which is borderline avy angle but if you swing left a little away from the ridge you can avoid the most questionable portion.

Looking back up the steep hill at the end of the pre-ridge.
Ridge proper now in view at right. I gained it right around the last tall trees on the ridge.

The Ridge and the Thousand False Summits

Once I picked a line and fought through some snow to gain the ridge proper I switched my snowshoes for microspikes which I wore until I was back down off the ridge again.

I'll not continue repeating the part about the false summits - if you're still reading at this point you may be getting as tired of hearing about them as I was tired of seeing them.

Instead I'll just insert a photo gallery to illustrate the annoying yet beautiful nature of this ridge.

Rocky start to the ridge.
Hitting some of the short class 3 segment at the start of the ridge.
Some impressive looking false summits.
Nope, that's not the summit.
A mountain goat had been up at some point earlier and charted a very good route up the ridge.
I mostly stayed with the mountain goat tracks since the route was very well chosen.
A couple paths to choose from I went up top - to another false summit, but just as well since the lower tracks were on a steep slope.
Know what that is back there? Yep, that's right - another false summit!
This one looks real doesn't it? Bwahaha - not even close! But it sure does look dramatic!
Hesitated for a moment about whether or not to follow these tracks - how much did that mountain goat weigh??? Is it still alive???
You see that way, way back there after repeated dips in the ridge? Well at least now you can start to see there's an end...
Center of the photo is the standard summer route and/or the path skiers sometimes apparently use - I'm pretty avy shy myself.
Still not the summit.
Also not the summit.
Pausing to look over at Antero.
Getting close now...

View From the Top

Well after what seemed like forever I made it to the summit, chugged my hot apple cider and devoured my ProBar Meal.

View of the ridge going down and over to Antero at far left.

I tried to take a pano of the surrounding 13ers but the image kept washing out on me so I took a series of stills instead. I'm pondering doing a long ridge traverse at some point in the future to pick these up...


Going Back Down

Going down was much better - less than half the time I took going up but the couple dips along the ridge did make for some short but bothersome uphill.

Going back down the ridge.
This shot shows the need sometimes to thread between cliffs/cornices and a very steep slide down the mountain.
Dramatic scarf selfie - my signature winter gear for keeping my glasses from fogging over.
Once you start to see trees you're getting closer but still have a ways to go.
Back at the class 3 section - much of this could be kept at class 2 if you put some effort into finding the right path.
Ready to drop down off the ridge at last.

Once I dropped off the ridge it was time to switch back to snowshoes. Even though I followed the trench I put in that morning for which I hadn't really been sinking too far most of the time, on the way back I would randomly plunge past my knees.

Sometimes I would take 10 steps on top of the snow then suddenly plunge almost to my waist. After getting back up on the snow I would take 6 steps on top before plunging, then a couple dozen steps of sinking only a few inches before suddenly plunging deep enough to almost faceplant in the snow.

That was overall far more annoying than needing to trench through consistently knee deep snow, but after getting back to the shelf portion of the road where it was more shaded the snow became more consistent.

Example of the sudden, random plunging in snowshoes.
Small slide along the 4WD road that wasn't there in the morning.

I had been concerned that morning about coming back along that 4WD road in the heat of the day - lol, that proved to not be an issue. While I may be able to outpace some folks on the forum I'm certainly not an FKT kind of guy and letting myself get repeatedly fooled by false summits that I should have taken note of before really hurt my overall pace going up I think.

One of the big ice sheets was starting to make itself seen as the snow melted during the day.

My Times

6:21pm start from pull-off next to Baldwin Gulch 2WD lot.

8:32am stop to put on snowshoes at Baldwin Creek crossing.

10:42am start up ridge proper after switching from snowshoes to microspikes

2:12pm Cronin summit - the real summit - at last!

2:32pm start down

4:26pm back down to the pre-ridge with snowshoes on again

4:56pm Carefully stepping across the snow over Baldwin Creek

6pm sharp - back at the Jeep!

Total: 7hr 51 min going up; 3h 28min coming down. Average moving speed: 1.3mph (slowed down by trenching and endless false summits)

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 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49

Comments or Questions
nice pics
04/04/2021 22:07
I didn't think there was that many false summits to be honest. Well done and great write-up! If anyone is wondering if this trail is dog friendly, yes it is. My pup had no problem on Cronin.

04/05/2021 08:43
Glad you were able to make some use of my report, and congrats on a great effort! That ridge truly lasts forever. The payoff is worth it though, as that's definitely one of my favorite days in the mountains.

Good work!

False Summits
04/05/2021 11:15
Looks like a nice climb. Wondering if you encountered any false summits???

As always -
04/06/2021 09:43
- another great report with incredible pix.

04/09/2021 07:35
nice report

reminds me of 13 plus years ago, can't believe that when I was fortunate enough to share this peak with Steve Gladbach and others, although I say fortunate with tongue in cheek as we started the same and went up the east ridge with 50 mph winds and 65 mph gusts (Steve's report

I don't remember false summits that way but I am older now and the memory is a bit sketchy, I do remember as Steve so eloquently said "even the packed road had armed enough to hide crotch-grapping snow trolls who pulled us down three feet with absolutely no warning"

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