Peak(s):  Bard Peak  -  13,641 feet
Mt. Parnassus  -  13,574 feet
Date Posted:  07/16/2010
Date Climbed:   07/11/2010
Author:  wildlobo71
 Mount Parnassus - Bard Peak - the Definitive Loop   

Mount Parnassus - Bard Peak - the Definitive Loop

"Nature the vicar of the Almightie Lord" - Chaucer

Group: Bill (wildlobo71) & Berkeley, Beth (ketel1)& Lilly
Trailhead: Herman's Gulch TH, Clear Creek County (I-70 at exit 218 ).
Ascent Route: Watrous Gulch Trail (#95)
Date: July 11, 2010
Mileage: ~8.6 miles RT (calculated from TOPO!)
Elevation Gain (total): ~4,400 ft. (calculated from TOPO!)
Started: 7:45am
Mount Parnassus summit: 10:30am
Bard Peak summit: 12:00pm
Finished: 3:10pm.
(Rests and photo opps along the way - plenty!)

Columbine - One of a million in the Gulch

Paintbrush in abundance

(Note #1: I looked for a while to find a report about a springtime loop trip that connected these two peaks and couldn't find one... I found separate reports on Bard Peak in the snow; Parnassus only, or Parnassus linked to Woods Mountain, linked to X, Y, and Z mountain and peaks... (no, not the Retirement Range peaks.) Now that I've called it "the definitive loop" I expect, with the help of all of you, to find 36 separate trip- reports; all well written, humorous, and full of photos that I would love to steal and call my own.)

(Note #2: Parnassus was also the title of a collection of favorite poetry, written by others, published by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1884.)

As I was looking for something to climb to keep the legs working this last weekend, my first non-scheduled weekend of the summer, I had planned originally on Argentine Peak and Wilcox Peak to complete the Waldorf Basin loop; however access in would take much more time than I wanted to spend - I wanted the feeling of being able to wake up at a reasonable hour and get to a trail to do a leisurely hike. After all, these are "just 13ers," not 14ers, so it's - by definition - easier, therefore more leisurely, correct? So, I chucked the Waldorf plans at the 11th hour, and contacted my sister to see if she would like to do Parnassus and Bard instead. Yes? Alright, we are on!

Oh then, what soul was his, when, on the tops
Of the high mountains, he beheld the sun
Rise up, and bathe the world in light! He looked -
Ocean and earth, the solid frame of earth
And ocean's liquid mas, beneath him lay
In gladness and deep joy. The clouds were touched
And in their silent faces did he read
Unutterable love. Sound needed none,
Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank
The spectacle; sensation, soul, and form
All melted into him; they swallowed up
His animal being; in them did he live,
And by them did he live; they were his life.
In such access of mind, in such high hour
In visitation from the living God,
Thought was not; in enjoyment it expired.
No thanks he breathed, he proffered no request;
Rapt into still communion that transcends
The imperfect offices of prayer and praise,
His mind was a thanskgiving to the power
That made him; it was blessedness and love.

Parnassus and Bard are peaks that you always seem to drive by on the way to other Peaks; along with Woods Mountain, Bethel Peak, The Citadel, Pettingell Peak, Robeson and Englemann, they form a wall of high 12ers and 13ers on the north side of I-70 that I always would look at and say - ahh, maybe later. I met Beth at her house at 6:30am on Sunday, chowed down homemade breakfast burritos and rounded up the excited pooches

for the hour or so ride to the trailhead. We got to the trailhead at 7:40 and 10 minutes later we were proceeding up the first pitch of the Watrous Gulch Trail.

A sunny morning, and 15 minutes into the hike the trail turns north into the Watrous basin and the I-70 traffic fades to silence.

Woods Mountain up Watrous Gulch

The drainage coming off of the peaks in the basin is still flowing fast, although the volume has probably dropped from a month ago. Having gotten back from the San Juans, and American Basin / Grizzly Gulch area, the week before I was spoiled in the abundance of wildflowers - I really tested the RGB limits of my camera on that trip. Well, this weekend was a great surprise - this basin could not only compete with the famed "American Basin" but could actually knock the socks off of it in terms of both Paintbrush and Columbines (along with others, as I'll document.)

Crossing the stream, we intersect an old cabin site that has been converted into a great camp and is currently occupied by a lone tent; what a great area if you plan on a multi-day trip to get these 13ers and more. At this location is also the junction with the Bard Creek Trail (#83). We push north into the basin, and about 2 miles in, the trail fizzles to nothing.

Arctic Sunflower with little friend!

At this point the next goals are fairly clear, push NW through a small grove of trees and gain the saddle between Woods Mountain and Parnassus. In about 10 minutes we were up on the saddle, and starting to aim for targets along the ridge up to the summit.

Hike up to Parnassus Summit - typical route condition.

Another 20-30 minutes of steady, steep (but comfortable) hiking on a mix of small rock and soft grassy slope, and the flat, large summit of Parnassus appears; it's 10:30am - for us who don't hike for speed, a less-than-3-hour ascent and more than 3,000 feet of gain was an excellent morning!

Parnassus summit

Actually, gaining that summit was sort of anti-climatic. No final crux; no boulder-hopping to a glorious summit... just a higher pile of boulders than the rest of the summit with a broken, empty, register canister. Waited here, with the dogs, while my sister came up more slowly behind... she's a rock geek, and was already enjoying some of her finds of the morning!

Greys and Torreys
Sniktau with Quandary beyond
Grizzly Peak
Beth and Lilly on Parnassus Peak

After about a 10-15 minute break for water, sandwiches and other snacks, we proceed to descend the summit to the saddle between Parnassus and Bard. From Parnassus, Bard Peak looks much larger - taller, and not just by the mere 67-feet. The descent is broken up from a total boredom-filled class-1 grassy stroll by several outcroppings of solid rock and boulders that allow for diversionary class-II mini-scrambles. There is absolutely no risk to these, and there are foot paths that drop below the rocks for those who don't want to test their rock-hopping mettle.

Class II optionsbetween Parnassus and Bard


At the saddle, it's about a 600-foot hike back up to the summit of Bard Peak. This route was a bit messier; looser gravel and scree and baby-heads than on Parnassus, but really not much of an issue on the ascent.

The summit awaits - so do the dogs

At the summit of Bard an ugly, chained-in-place, marker (complete with the vertebra of a goat or elk,) denotes the summit; a generic BLM marker was placed (no name, no elevation,) and there is a plastic peanut-butter jar summit register, and approximately 50 names added since it was placed in June of 2009. The dogs did appreciate the little snowfield at the summit, and practiced their glissading with much happiness.

Glissading Pooches

Parnassus Summit from Bard Peak

Sawtooth across the way

Ruby Creek Basin

It's about noon, now, and the first storms of the day are building to the west; the sky looks ominous so we quickly make adjustments, water the dogs, and proceed back towards the saddle we just ascended. The storm was brief, a bit of wind and graupel; soon the skies were back to vibrant blue. Our chosen exit route is down the southern drainage between Parnassus and Bard much as described in KeithK and bergsteigen's trip report.

Descent route

We descended off the summit, staying as far north in the basin as possible; then kept to the hiker's right as high as possible through the moraine to maintain the exit elevation for the plateau we targeted.

Aim to the hikers left of this snow/pond

After a while, however, this traversing was hurting more than helping as the rock and gravel became looser - we lost elevation no matter what we tried. At this location, about 500 yards north of the plateau, we dropped down into the basin and plotted a course through the largest boulders - a much better option in reality as our movements were much more efficient and quick.

Aim for bottom of drainage - big boulders, easy hiking - then catch game trail up to summit.

Yes, we'd have a steeper upclimb from the basin to the plateau, but this new path saved more energy for us to do so.

Alpine flora!

Stay high left, deal with these for a quarter-mile

Happy discovery in miserable boulders - bouquet of Columbines

Boulder Field

Game Trail - top of Boulders

Upon reaching the plateau, the skies over neighboring Grays, Torreys, and Sniktau are thunderstorm-gray and churning. As you get the top of the plateau in site, a large cairn to the SW of the exit point from the moraine below is your target.

Cairns on Plateau

From here, a series of cairns lead you to the west and to a lightly worn trail that connects to the Bard Creek Trail (#83).

Bard Creek Trail back to TH

Thunder and lightning were our escorts as we made quick time down the steep trail that reconnects in the Watrous Gulch basin at the old cabin site. As the wall of rain came down from Loveland Pass, Beth and I kept waiting for the deluge that appeared to be right on top of us, but it never materialized. The dogs are tired; our dogs (feet) are barking and wanting their comfy sandals that are in the Jeep at the trailhead. The last half-mile (more or less) that parallels the highway is long, if only for the fact that we can hear the traffic, we know we are sort of close - it's the homestretch that never produces the checkered flag- it keeps you waiting. As we near the tree-cutting zone, we are close - closer than ever to rest, relaxation, and a nice beer and early dinner in Idaho Springs.

Felled beetle kill trees on the trail.

Another trip that fools you - 13ers: an easy day hike, "leisurely"... not quite; 4,400 feet of gain in 8.5 miles - that's still, and always, a good day's work. Even with the interstate nearby, this hike results in a quiet peaceful walk through nature, where civilization feels hundreds of miles away in all respects.

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods;
There is a rapture on the lonely shore;
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but nature more.
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Roll on, thou deep and dark-blue ocean, roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin: His control
Stops with the shore; upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man's ravage, save his own,
When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.
-BYRON, Childe Harold

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Coolest ever
07/16/2010 14:56
Glissading pooches? Hahahahaha, I‘d pay to see it!!!

07/16/2010 14:59
That was an awesome and informative report Bill! I will use it when I do Parnassus and Bard. The flower photos were lovely and the dogs looked so happy! Happy trails and looking foward to seeing more of your reports!

Nice TR
07/18/2010 01:20
Wanted to hike these mountains myself soon, possibly adding Engelmann. This is very helpful!

08/03/2010 16:20
Thanks for the good report. Used this as a guide to Watrous and Parnassus this past weekend. A big, dark cloud hovering over the summit (and Bard) and tired legs talked me out of Bard. Need to return for Bard and Engelmann when the weather settles down. The amount of Paintbrush on display this past weekend was stunning. Great location.

01/19/2011 03:38
...for filling in the gap when it comes to a B-P trip report that provides beta on the entire route. Nice pics, too.

Ridge runner
nice pictures!
02/01/2011 00:24
This looks like a good front-range hike that still avoids the crowds. Great work and thanks for posting!

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