Peak(s):  Mt. Parnassus  -  13,574 feet
Bard Peak  -  13,641 feet
Date Posted:  10/20/2008
Modified:  10/22/2008
Date Climbed:   10/18/2008
Author:  JeffR
 Calendar autumn? PFFFFFFFFFT!   

With all this talk of snow, I decided to bag a pair of bi's during the most recent Ind... er, "Native-American" summer-type weather. I know it's not nice to taunt Mother Nature (Parkay?), but I figured this would be a good weekend to sneak out on the weather gods. I had done Mount Parnassus several times previously, always enjoying the straightforward high-altitude workout just about 45 minutes up I-70. This time, I pumped it up slightly by adding Bard Peak and making a half-day loop hike out of it.

The Herman Gulch TH is a piece of cake to reach (about 50' off I-70 at exit 218 ), as is proven by the 50+ cars in the lot on a normal summer afternoon. Fortunately, I had my pick of almost every parking space just after 7AM. The Watrous Gulch Trail shares this TH with its namesake trail. Just a few minutes from the TH, the trail splits and a right turn leads up to Watrous Gulch along a great path.

Hmmmm... left for huge crowds, right for moderately-less-huge crowds.

Angling NE to the gulch proper.

Thankfully, the I-70 traffic noise fades away after about 15 minutes. The first part of the trail has some decent uphills interspersed with more-level areas and the gulch soon opens up as the path nears the creek.

Just below treeline, looking north to Woods Mountain. A good reason to not do this hike in the winter can be seen to the right.

Soon after treeline, the first views of Mount Parnassus appear across the gulch. Just a little further on, the trail crosses to the east side of the creek on the boards of an old shack. This crossing can be a little squirrely in high water, but is no problem otherwise.

The junction with the Bard Creek Trail just past the creek crossing.

Here, the trail levels out greatly allowing for some more speed through the scenic area. Mount Parnassus' west slopes loom directly to the right of the trail. I believe they can be climbed directly (and very steeply) from here, but most people choose the slightly more knee-friendly route just north of here.

Looking up the gulch.

At about 11,400', the trail crosses back to the west side of the creek. Just before this crossing, a faint trail splits off up a gully to the right. This trail peters out quickly, but the broad tundra slope continues leading up to the Woods/Parnassus saddle.

Turning northeast towards the saddle.

While heading up the slope, I curved away from the saddle and toward the peak, staying off the spine of the ridge to avoid the gusting winds. The tundra turned more screelike, but most of the annoying stuff was easily bypassed. This is a nice, gradually-steepening slope that goes by quickly. Once on the summit, most of the winds died off and allowed me to enjoy the great weather and views.

Ridge back to Woods Mountain.

Kelso Ridge leading to Torreys, with Grays hiding behind it.

Grizzly Peak (left) and Mount Sniktau.

Evans, Sawtooth, Bierstadt.

Hagar, the Citadel, Pettingell.

I would have liked to have stayed and basked in the sun, but Bard Peak beckoned me. So I loaded up and headed due east. The ridge is easy Class 1-2, with only one bump requiring some Class 2 around the south side to keep from losing altitude.

Ridge to Bard Peak, minor detour in center.

The bump in more detail.

From the saddle. Ready, set, GO.

The summit was reached posthaste, but the increasing winds (and lack of non-snow-covered rock to rest on) was good enough reason to not dawdle. I soaked in a few more views then headed back for the saddle.

Robeson Peak from Bard Peak. Longs Peak in the distance.

Ridge back to Parnassus.

Once back at the saddle, I took a hard left down a wide, grassy slope. The next waypoint is a very flat plateau at the end of Mount Parnassus' south ridge. The object here is to end up slightly below the low point of this ridge without having to deal with the acres of scree both directly below the ridge and right above the bottom of the gully. The easier path is to avoid the majority of both of these ankle-breakers and end up at the bottom of a talus chute about 100' below the shoulder.

Splitting the difference between the scree above and below leads to a short bout of climbing.

Closer view of the upclimb.

The east side of the south ridge. Looks like some okay climbing up above.

Once the plateau is reached (a nice place to fly a kite, BTW), the Bard Creek Trail materializes just below the dropoff on the west side. The trail switchbacks down into the trees before re-emerging into the open and traversing its way along Mount Parnassus' south and west slopes.

Looking northwest from the plateau. The trail winds along in the distance.

The trail creeps up and down and over a few various ribs, and there was a nice airy feeling due to the wide open views across Clear Creek Canyon to the south. There is much rockslide and avalanche evidence along the way. This trail doesn't see much use, and the path gets sketchy in a few places (easy to pick back up, though). Elevation loss is very limited for the first mile or two, then the descent into Watrous Gulch begins in earnest. Eventually the Watrous Gulch Trail is reached and the short mile-or-so back to the TH passes in no time. Amazingly, I only saw one person all day, and then only about 5 minutes from the TH.

Overall, a very enjoyable day, and a nice piece of solitude while close to civilization.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
10/23/2008 02:36
That looks like a fun hike that doesn‘t require a lot of driving or ga$oline. Herman Gulch is one of the best wildflower hikes close to Denver; I‘d highly recommend it in late June or early July. Thanks for sharing!

06/02/2011 14:57
Hey Jeff,

Thinking of this for Friday. Nice report.....sure it won't look the same! Have to catch up some time....

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