My destination was the ghost town of St Elmo. Looking at a map, I noticed some 13,000 foot peaks that appeared relatively easy to access. My route had a south facing trail to the saddle below the summit, followed by a relatively easy slope to access the summit. Enroute, there are open meadows that receive plenty of sun and hopefully little snow. The upper reaches of the hike are south facing and above treeline with full sun. I even read that there was possibly an unofficial trail to the summit.
After my last hike, I brought some extra gear just in case. This time I had gaiters and snowshoes. I left my ice axe and crampons behind since the slopes looked fairly tame.
Since Colorado has so many mountains, many remain nameless. The peaks are identified by their elevation. This was the case of the summit I was hoping to reach. It is refered to as Unamed (UN) 13,078'. Not a very aspiring name for an alpine summit surrounded by views of endless mountains and high alpine tundra, but this is Colorado. After all, there are 586 higher ranked mountains in the state. I guess they run out of names at some point.
I started early to take advantage of cooler morning temps and hopefully firmer snow. Even at my 10,000' trailhead, It was already 40F when I began. This trailhead is interesting because it requires travelling through the well preserved ghost town of St Elmo. Although it is semi-inhabited, the old townsite has many original buildings from its mining heyday preserved as a historic site. To avoid rough roads in my Outback, I walked the half mile or so through the town to the actual start of the trail. (To see pics of St Elmo click on Alpine Mountain Biking on the CDT: St Elmo, Alpine Tunnel, Tincup Pass Loop)
The real hiking began on the Poplar Gulch Trail. The Poplar Gulch Trail starts out pleasantly and gradually. There was no snow at all for at least the first thousand feet of climbing. After a mile to mile and a half into it, I started to see snow. In the trees, as soon as I hit snow, there was a probably a 50/50 mix of dirt and snow. Most places I could avoid the snow however. Oddly enough, the snow in the middle of the trail had a hard packed section of monorail* most places. (*Monorail is a snow condition where hiker traffic packs the snow firmly. This packed snow melts slower than the snow around it causing a raised track that's usually hard. This is very common on heavily used trails in New England.) I didn't think this trail would see enough traffic for monorail to form, but I took advantage of the firm snow when I needed to. Not long after the snow started, the trail gained elevation via a series of switchbacks. I had to cross a creek at one point that was flowing strongly with snow melt.
|Nice trail on the lower reaches of Poplar Gulch|
|The beginning of the snow|
|Mostly snowfree near the big meadow|
|Easy hiking in thin trees|
|Views open up in the meadow|
|Continuing through the meadow|
|Best views in the meadow are to the south|
|Time for snowshoes|
|Snow receded as I got closer to treeline|
|Looking down at the last spot I needed snowshoes|
on the climb, the snow is much deeper than it looks.
|Nice grassy slopes above treeline|
|Looking at the false summit of UN13,078|
|Looking back the faint trail toward UN 12,637|
|Looking back toward UN 12,976|
|Heading up the grassy slopes|
|On the plateau with true summit of UN 13,078 ahead|
|East toward UN 13,299 and UN13,317 with Princeton|
at the end of the long ridge
|Mt Princeton is the largest peak in the distance|
|Mt Yale is the high point in view|
|Yale on right with Columbia and Harvard beyond|
|Another look at the Three Apostles|
|Mt Mamma with the scar of snow on its north face|
|Looking in Grizzly Lake Basin|
|Looking west toward the Continental Divide as I leave the summit|
|Traveling across the plateau below the summit|
|The tundra here was full of elk scat|
|Continuous views as I descended|
|Approaching the saddle on my descent|
|UN 12,637 from the saddle|
|Parting shot as I approached treeline|
|Mt Mamma from the meadow|
|Looking toward Grizzly Lake Basin|
By the time I got back to St Elmo, the place was already fairly busy. There were quite a few groups of ATVs staging for a ride. I can't imagine there is much riding yet available that isn't snow covered since all the routes in the area climb.
I was back at my car around 1130AM. I don't know for sure but I"m guessing this hike was close to 10 miles round trip. It's roughly 3.5 miles on the Poplar Guclh Trail, maybe a mile to the summit with additional half mile from where I parked to the actual trail. Despite some increased difficulty with sloppy snow, this was a fairly easy hike considering it climbed a 13er. This would be a good hike for someone looking to experience hiking at elevation or just looking to bag an easier peak with great view. Every year around this time, I try to find an easier hike like this to get a feel for the snow conditions in the mountains. Traveling can be tricky this time of year with soft snow and you can't really tell what your up against until you get out there.
I apologize if this post appears a little choppy or not as clean as some of my other blog posts. The day after this hike I accidentally put a large drill bit into my hand and can't really type with it.
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