Monday, July 10, 2017

Chipeta Mountain

On June 8th, I had a surgery that left a four inch incision on my knee and another 2 1/2 incision near my groin.  On Friday, June 30th, I had my final visit with my surgeon and was no longer restricted from any activity.  I actually enjoyed the down time for the first week or so.  After weeks of summer weather and rapid snowmelt in the mountains, I was ready for my next mountain adventure.  The following Monday was my first free day, and I headed to the mountains.

I decide to climb Chipeta Mountain.  Up until recently, 13,472' Chipeta Mountain was officially nameless, shown on maps as UN 13,472.  For whatever reason, Chipeta Mountain was officially the name of a 12,850 bump on the shoulder of UN 13,472.  The Board of Geographic Names was petitioned and the name Chipeta Mountain was officially moved to the higher 13,472' summit.  Even before the official name change, I have heard Salida locals refer to the higher point as Chipeta Mountain

Chipeta is named after the wife of Ute Chief Ouray.  When viewing the area from Salida, there are three prominent peaks to the west, south of Monarch Pass.  The highest and southern most peak is 13,971' Mt Ouray.  To the north is Chipeta Mountain.  To the north of Chipeta Mountain is Pahlone Peak, named after Chief Ouray's son.

For whatever reason, I had more interest in climbing the 13,472' peak now that is was officially named.  I already climbed Ouray and Chipeta seemed like a good peak to visit.  It was 4th of July weekend and an obscure peak like Chipeta sounded even more appealing.

From the limited amount of information on Chipeta Mountain, it seems like nearly everyone approaches is it from Marshall Pass.  The Marshall Pass area tends to get quite busy, especially on weekends and holidays.  I didn't have much interest in that approach.

Just west of Poncha Springs, CO is a trailhead and trail that sees little traffic called Pass Creek.  I had never been there so it seemed like a good place to start my hike.  Everything I heard about the road to Pass Creek trailhead indicated a rough ride.  I brought my bike along to ride to the trailhead if necessary, but the road wasn't that bad and I made it there with my Outback without too much concern.

Trailhead

I started my hike a little after 7AM.  From the trailhead, there is a trail that travels a few miles to Pass Creek Lake.  I'm not sure of the exact distance of the trail.  I've read numerous different mileages ranging from 3.2 to 4.2 miles to the lake.  The trailhead sign indicates 4 miles.  The trailhead elevation is around 9600'.  The trail begins at old rundown cabin.

Old cabin remains

The trail to the lake is pretty gentle despite climbing around 2700',  Much of the way it travels close to Pass Creek.  The trail never gets too steep or far away from the creek.  A few sections of the creek are widened where beaver seemed to have dammed it.  Closer to the lake there are a few patches of lingering snow on the trail.

Early wildflowers

Wide area of Pass Creek

Early view of alpine area

wild sunfowers

I made it to the lake in just over an hour and ten minutes.  Given the quick time to the lake, I'm guessing the trail is actually on the shorter end of the mileage estimates.   The lake sits just below treeline at 11,360'.  From the lake there are nice views of the surrounding higher mountains including Chipeta Mountain.  The rocky cliff face of an unnamed 12,660' subpeak dominates the view just beyond the lake.  Beyond the lake is a large boggy area.  Large piles of snow also lingered near the lake.  The soggy ground from snow melt, as well as the bog, seemed to support a decent population of mosquitoes.  I didn't get bit too much, but I was definitely aware of their presence.

Pass Creek Lake

Chipeta is the high point in the distance

From the lake, I had to find a route to Chipeta since the trail ended.  I started out heading directly toward the peak to avoid the cliffs of UN 12,660.  Above the lake, there was a couple hundred vertical feet of trees before reaching the alpine zone.  Heading into the forest, I immediately ran into a nasty tangle of blowdowns.  I could see the treeline end not to far in front of me, I just couldn't get to it.

Typical conditions in the blowdown area

After getting nowhere and wasting time in the blowdowns for nearly 30 minutes and making no progress, I had to find a new route.  I descended back toward the bog.  I followed a small rivulet flowing with snow melt.  This offered a relatively clear course through the forest away from the blowdowns.  I was able to make my way above the trees just below the base of the cliffs.

Reaching the end of the trees

Small snowfield crossing below cliffs

I made my way across the bottom of the cliffs over a field of talus.  Once around the cliffs, I left the talus for a grassy area.  There were two small tarns in a grassy clearing that offered a good look at possible routes up Chipeta.  The higher, smaller tarn still had a little bit of ice.

The larger of the tarns

Cliffs above the tarn

A look at my route

The upper tarn

I chose the direct route that headed straight for the summit.  I faced two short snow crossings as I made my way up the steep slope.  The snow was soft enough to kick steps.  Suncups made convenient steps as well.  Most of the lower slope traveled through grass.  As I climbed higher, I encountered more rock.  I expected to reach at least a portion of ridge before reaching the summit but I topped out right at the summit cairn.

Making my way above the tarns

Looking back toward the cliffs

The rocky upper slope

Looking down at a tarn and Pass Creek Lake in the distance

Summit cairn

As clouds developed, the visibility at the summit was a little hazy.  I still had decent visibility reaching to the Elk and San Juan Ranges as well as Pikes Peak.  The view to the south is dominated by Mt Ouray with the southern most 13er of the Sawatch Range, Antora Peak, rising just beyond.  The Monarch Crest and Continental Divide lies just below Chipeta to the west.  Pahlone Peak is just to the north with 14ers Shavano and Tabeuache not too far beyond.  Much of the Sawatch Range is in the distance with its endless mountains.  The Arkansas Valley lies to the east with the city of Salida visible, including the "S" on "S" Mountain above town.  The long line of the Sangre de Cristo Range heads southeast on the other side of Poncha Pass and peaks as far away as the Blanca Group are visible.

Looking down the ridge at the original Chipeta Mountain
View north over Pahlone Peak

Mt Aetna and Mt Taylor over Pahlone

Close up of Shavano and Tabeuache

Sangre de Cristos

East ridge of Chipeta

Mt Ouray with Antora Peak in the background

Antora Peak

Rather than retrace my steps down the steep northeast slope, I descended via the north ridge.  After passing the rocky, upper part of the ridge, I reached the grassy saddle between Chipeta and UN 12,660.   From the saddle I followed flat, grassy tundra along the top of the cliffs rising above Pass Creek Lake.  The tundra was wide open and allowed me to stay above treeline longer and enjoy the unobstructed views.  I followed the grassy tundra until I had a more gradual descent toward the lake.

Looking down the north ridge from the summit

Grassy slopes on the north ridge

Looking back toward the summit

Looking back at large talus

A good look at the grassy tundra

Looking down at the high tarns

Nearing the saddle

Looking back at Chipeta from the saddle

Descending toward the lake started out on loose rock traveling down a fairly steep slope.  Below the slope I traveled through a boulder field a short distance before reaching the forest.  Now on the western end of the lake, I avoided most of the blowdowns.  I traveled along the edge of the marshy area before rejoining the trail.

Lingering snow field

A good look back on the north ridge

A good look north into the Sawatch Range

Looking back at the slope I climbed

Looking back at the summit

Looking down at the tarns

View above the cliffs

Shavano across the tundra

Dividing ridge between Pass and Green Creeks

View across cliffs

Down in the upper part of the basin

The last 3-4 miles I retraced my route on the trail back to the trailhead.  As I reached the trail it began to rain lightly.  The rain only lasted 30 minutes or so.  More than half way down the trail, I passed a pair with horses, the only others I saw while hiking.  Just before 1PM I reached the trailhead and finished my hike.

View toward Chalk Creek Pass

Making my way through talus on the north ridge

Given the off-trail travel and lack of agreement between signs and maps, I don't know the exact distance, but I would estimate the hike at 10-11 miles.  The elevation gain as just under 4000 vertical feet.  Other than running into the blowdowns, the hike wasn't too difficult for a 13er.  For the casual trail hiker, it may be a challenging hike, but for those that travel off-trail regularly, I'd consider it a moderate hike  I was happy that I my knee felt fine after the hike since this was my first real outing since the surgery.

Pahlone Peak

View toward the tarns

Looking into the Sawatch Range

Chipeta Mountain was a good choice for this hike.  Other than the two horseman, I had the area to myself.  I'm sure Chipeta rarely sees many people and the Pass Creek area seems to see relatively few visitors.  Given that the mountains of Colorado were full of visitors for the 4th of July holiday, I consider myself lucky to get a summit and high mountain lake to myself.  With no shortage of good views and solitude, Chipeta was a nice summit to visit.

Wildflowers along the north ridge

Columbines in the upper basin

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