Peak(s):  "Drift Peak"  -  13,900 feet
Date Posted:  07/15/2008
Modified:  05/23/2015
Date Climbed:   06/28/2008
Author:  MountainHiker
 Drift / Landmark Peak Saddle Survey   

The purpose of this climb was to determine if "Drift" Peak, also known by our party as "Landmark" Peak has the requisite 300' drop to the saddle to be considered a separate thirteener. Not just any thirteener, but a high 100 peak.

Drift / Landmark Peak from Boston Mine

Our party consisted of John & his wife Karen, Warren, MountainHikerette & myself.

A bit of history: When I first moved to Denver in 1983 I met John & Warren through work. Warren was the owner of a mapping company, Landmark Mapping and John worked for him. Warren has since retired and John has bought the company. So what, you say?

John and Warren were also avid mountain climbers. John completed the fourteeners in 1984. Warren meanwhile was working on climbing the highest 100 mountains in Colorado during a seven year span in his sixties! With no to draw on for a wealth of information, it was John & Warren I would call before climbing a new peak.

Back to John & Warren having a mapping company: In the process of their work John & Warren encountered aerial photographs and maps of the area surrounding this peak. Obviously a prominent peak to those who notice it, this peak was largely unnoticed by most.

In 1984 Garret & Martin published A Climbing & Hiking Guide - Colorado's High Thirteeners. This book had a list of named and unnamed, ranked and unranked mountains by height. By holding to a strict 300' rule, this list left as unranked El Diente and North Maroon and included as ranked unnamed 14081', now known as Challenger.

Not included on this list as ranked or unranked was the mountain John & Warren were now calling Landmark Peak. There were some problems helping it to miss this list. On the USGS 7.5' topo map there is no spot height. Also the only way for most to determine the drop to the saddle was to interpolate the map contours. The contour interval is 40'. The highest closed contour on the summit is 13,880'. Interpolating half a contour above that gives an interpolated elevation of 13,900'. The highest contour below the saddle is 13,600' for an interpolated saddle elevation of 13,620'. This gives an interpolated saddle drop of 280'.

The problem with an interpolated saddle drop is it could be off by as much as a contour interval in either direction. Given the fact contours themselves can be off by as much as a half a contour interval the actual saddle drop could be even less accurate. So in theory this unnamed, unnoticed (by Garratt & Martin) could be a separate high 100 peak!

On a trip to USGS, John saw a copy of an old 15' topo map. This map showed a spot height of 13,922' for this peak. If true, the interpolated saddle drop would be 302'! John also saw the archival information for the current 7.5' topo map. He saw the spot height for the peak was left off in favor of including the text TEN MILE (Range) across this mountain. If this spot height is accurate the map is also missing the closed contour for 13,920'.

from above Blue Lakes

Could this really be an unrecognized high 100 peak? John put the aerial photographs for this peak in a mapping instrument known as a stereoplotter. He had issues with the available survey ground control so he was unable to get a satisfactory result on mapping the mountain and its saddle.

Gerry Roach published his Colorado's Thirteeners 13,800 to 13,999 Feet, From Hikes to Climbs in 2001. Roach included this mountain on his list of highest Colorado peaks but listed it as "soft ranked". By soft ranked Gerry is saying it could be a separate peak having a 300' drop, but the contours don't prove it.

I have had numerous conversations with John about this issue over the years. Remember, John owns a mapping company. This mapping company has professional grade survey equipment. We finally decided it was time for us to go survey the saddle drop!

On Sat June 28, 2008 our party set out to determine if Landmark Peak is indeed a separate peak from its higher neighbor Fletcher. We approached from the Mayflower Gulch trailhead. We drove as far up the road to Boston Mine as snow conditions would allow. We had to walk about of a mile to get to the mine.

Warren with the total station

It was agreed that Warren would stay at Boston Mine with the total station while the rest of the party would climb the peak. We had radios and cell phones for communication. We also carried a reflective prism designed for being sighted by the total station.

Snowball posing with the prism

We climbed the NW ridge, known as 4.21 Villa Ridge in Roach's Thirteener book. There was still some snow to contend with in places. We also shared the climb with a CMC group. Karen decided she didn't feel comfortable with the upper part of the ridge so she turned back.

NW Ridge

John, Dorthe & I arrived at the summit ahead of the CMC group and proceeded with our business. John held the prism while Warren sighted it with the total station from below. After Warren advised us he had the measurements John & I proceeded with taking the prism to the saddle. Dorthe stayed on the summit to wait for us.

John with the prism, talking to Warren

Both John & I had climbed this peak from the saddle previously. However, it was harder going this time than either of us had in the past. There was ice in a gully I'm reasonably sure Dorthe & I climbed last time we were up there. So instead John & I down climbed a couloir on the opposite side. This put us on the Blue Lakes side of the mountain. We then had to regain elevation to get back up to the saddle.

Fletcher & Quandary from the summit

When we arrived at the saddle we knew we couldn't go back the same way we came. When John spoke to Warren while doing the measurements he advised him they would have to come get us at the Blue Lakes (Monte Cristo Dam) trailhead. Fortunately John left his keys with Warren so that was possible. This also meant that Dorthe had to down climb to Boston Mine without us. She caught up to the CMC group so she wasn't alone on the mountain.

We were given the result of the survey while still at the saddle. The drop from the summit is 275'. Not enough to be a separate mountain!

Since we weren't able to measure from an accurately known elevation we don't have an elevation for either the summit or the saddle. The instrument was able to calculate the horizontal and vertical differences between itself and the two points (saddle & summit) it measured. It does this with a beam of laser light. It calculates the distance to each of the other points by the time it takes the light to travel. By measuring the vertical angle to each of the other points and the horizontal angle between the points, it defines a triangle. The computer inside then solves this triangle to give the elevation difference between the saddle and the summit.

We were hoping this exercise would show Landmark (or Drift) Peak to be a separate summit. But separate or not, we wanted to know. We are confident this measurement is accurate enough that this peak does not have a 300' drop. If anything the drop to the saddle might be a few feet less than measured. There was still a significant snowdrift at the saddle. We measured where it was blown clear. There could have been a few more feet of saddle rising under the snow.

Now that we have completed this survey there are other soft ranked peaks we could measure. The most obvious one is North Massive. As with Drift, Gerry Roach points out North Massive could potentially have a 300' drop to its saddle with Massive! Stayed tuned.

Some additional notes from John.

In the process of climbing the highest 100 mountains Warren and I (John) eventually found ourselves on the summit of Fletcher Peak (10-11-1987) and noticed a very prominent and high peak rising to the west. With time we decided to scramble to the summit and were impressed with the ridge difficulty and the apparent vertical rise above the Fletcher saddle. This peak was not listed in Garrett and Martin's new 13er book.

One the part-time employees at Landmark Mapping also worked at the USGS. He was able to let us look at the original USGS topo map compilation folder. We discovered that not only was there a spot elevation on the summit of Landmark/Drift Peak of 13,922' (on the provisional 7.5 ' quad) but also that it was deleted on the production version because of editing protocol.

We also have copies of other maps created by the USGS in conjunction with the 10 Mile Mining District. There are some other contradictions between various editions of the maps.

After notifying Garrett and Martin of our find, Mike Garrett responded with a very detailed letter. Basically the letter acknowledged there were multiple instances where their list could be subject to revision. However for consistency they chose to go with the largest scale final versions of published USGS topo maps for the peak elevations and saddle drops. The one exception was Challenger where they used a peak elevation provided by USGS.

This survey was conducted using a Topcon GTS 300 total station sighting to 2 triple remote signals on identical range poles. Using this setup we feel confident that, even in light of the distance, the accuracy of our survey was within a foot of true elevation difference. In light of the fact that the distance we determined was only 275' there must have been a reason why the highest closed contour was deleted on the production quad sheets.

Comments or Questions
Awesome work Ian!
07/16/2008 04:58
Nice TR, wish I could have been there with you guys....stay tuned

Cool sleuthing
07/16/2008 05:10
This is really interesting to read. Thanks for taking it on. My wife wants to know if you can measure the elevation of paperwork at the end of my desk.

Chris P.
Interesting work
07/16/2008 14:30
I like that someone is getting out and measuring some of these saddles. I‘m always running across soft ranked peaks that I wonder about. I‘m anxious to hear the results of a North Massive measurement.

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