Peak(s):  Pettingell Peak  -  13,553 feet
Date Posted:  07/09/2021
Date Climbed:   06/18/2021
Author:  petal53run
 Petting Zoo   

After exploring SW Colorado while bicycling Ride the Rockies, I had one day of vacation left and the weather was clear blue skies. Using it to climb a mountain sounded like a good finale. I was feeling good, not overly sore, but just in case, a nearby 13er would do if I had to bail. The goal was to stand atop Pettingell Peak(13553) which could be reached via Herman Gulch trail(HGT); an old sawmill road.

From Denver, travel west on I70 for about an hour, exit at 218 and turn right into the large dirt parking lot on the N side of the interstate. The trailhead is visibly marked by US Forest Service marker. The HGT is located in Clear Creek Ranger District of the Arapaho National Forest on the Continental Divide Trail(CDT)(pic1).

Herman Gulch is a super busy trail but not at 445am. One car was in the parking lot and I believe it was the same entity that Wild Wanderer mentioned in her report. But any time is a good time to hike a mountain and I walked into the darkness of the early dawn. The trail begins immediately W of the storyboards(pic2). It is 1/4mile to a junction. Marked by a brown wood sign, which is not visible in the dark, so be wary of your distance to make the crucial left turn onto Herman Gulch Trail 98(pic3).

Continuing W on the uphill, embedded rocky trail, it bends N. Hiking through a tunnel of aspen and pines looks really pretty(pic4), but the deafening noise of the 170 traffic and the roaring Clear Creek River sounded pretty awful. Luckily after another ¼ mile(pic5), like magic, it becomes quiet and still. Then the trail cuts through a meadow and the spectacular views inspire the soul. Although the temperature was 38degrees at the TH, it felt a bit cooler here so being enticed to walk faster kept me warm. Around me, the spring flowers were shyly blooming (pic6-7-8-9-10). While I was admiring the flowers, a deer crossed the trail in front of me(pic11).

The steady incline continues but the trail surface changes dramatically: smooth to rocky(pic12) to exposed gnarly roots(pic13) with several bridges made from railroad ties(pic14). Back into the cover of the forest is where I picked up a friend: a porcupine. This is Latin for quill pig, but classified as a rodent. Common in this woodland and brushy area, this is the first time Ive seen one during a hike. Normally a solitary creature, it maintained a somewhat comfortable distance as it followed me. Then it wandered off the trail and threw out its quills while munching on a pinecone(pic15-16). I wished it a good day and cautiously scurried up the trail.

Closer to treeline(pic17), the angle sharpens and the wind tried to cut through my windbreaker. Denver is experiencing 100degree temps but I could see fields of snowpack still hanging around up and ahead(pic18). I crossed one(pic19) to see Herman Lake. Next, was deciding which way to go. Pettingell looks like a small bump on the CDT with no distinct path leaving HGT to get there. The west ¾ of the lake was clearly reflecting the sky. However, the E/right side was covered with snow/ice. I could not determine where the water joined land to get to a reasonably flat ascent ridge N above the lake as most reports said. Going low would be too dangerous, so I aimed high through spaces between the willows(pic20). The hill was doable(pic21) and I found embedded rocks to step on as I picked my way across the snowmelt flowing down the steep incline. I walked across another snowfield, no post holing or need of microspikes, and emerged on the flat ridge with dry feet.

Bad news, I had lots of saucer sized scree to creep upwards on. But it had to be done. Occasionally I found a segment of a path to walk on(pic22) but primarily the method was to focus on the saddle and Pettingell would be left. Relief briefly came as I reached more stable footing of grass/rock mix in the saddle(pic23) but that quickly dissolved into Class 3 scrambling to the top(pic24) looking W. That’s where another mountain friend joined me: a marmot(pic25). We exchanged howdy dos at the windbreak (13553)(pic26), the W views(pic27) with Hagar visible in the middle. This is the highest point in Grand County, which is an honorable tribute to pioneer Jacob Pettingell who in 1880, moved to Colorado from Boston to be the county postmaster, county commissioner and county court judge for 50+ years.

The morning was still early and I was still feeling spry. I carefully navigated through the class2-3 rock chunks of this part and stable snow(pic28) of the CDT to get a closer look at The Citadel(13294). Pic 29 looks back at Pettingell. I sat atop one of the flat chimneys of the traverse to eat lunch and was joined again by the marmot(pic30). After that conversation, Pettingell was it for the day. The choice was slowly picking my way down the scree or to glissandro down the snow. I chose the latter(pic31). Herman Lake was at the bottom. Pic32 is my track. After I got the hang of sliding out of control, I stopped in front of a rock/tundra field N of the lake. I saw 2 grouse jumping around the rocks(pic33). From there I aimed high to the willows again(pic34), to work around the east side of Herman Lake and connected with the HGT, which was easy to find as by now, a line of people were snaking along its path. The noontime temps were warm and the flowers(pic35--36) were blooming their little hearts out and some strawberries(pic37). Getting closer to the car when going through the boulder field(pic38) and back to the car(pic39).

In sum, HGT is a user friendly trail for any ability. Class 1-3 are doable ranges to hike: the pleasant steady uphill class1 trail to the Lake, the class 2 hillside and then a class 3 scramble to get to Pettingell. Minus my extra walk, the round trip distance is about 8 miles and 6.5 hours. Users of the HGT rank it thumbs up as a year-round hike/ski. The glaring bad part is the traffic noise the first and last 1/2miles. The amazing part is being in blissful silence on the summit while the visible trail below is full of people. Thats good we are using the HGT as healthy individuals. And the wildlife too.

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Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Great pics
07/09/2021 18:30
That dry erase board is a fantastic idea for those who want a summit pic! Nice going and great enthusiasm

nice adventure
07/13/2021 13:42
Thanks for sharing you experiences. I will seriously look at this area to hike. Glad the wildlife was friendly

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