The rather posh Francie's Cabin.
After a brief discussion, we headed for the Tenmile Range near Breckenridge, one of my favorite areas in Colorado. Our aim was to do 'something' in the Crystal Creek drainage. Amy and I were here back in January when we attempted Peak 10 and were impressed at the relatively easy access to a high alpine environment. Crystal Creek pours out of a long valley crowned at the end by Crystal Peak (13,852') and flanked by the 13ers Peak 10 on the north and Mount Helen and Father Dyer Peak to the south.
We arrived at the Spruce Creek trailhead and continued another mile or so through some rather challenging terrain. But Chris and his subaru were up to the challenge and we arrived at the road junction at 11,000' before 9am. The weather was beautiful with temps in the 40s and half a foot of snow or so in the woods. The road was plowed, however, and we made good time up 3/4 of a mile to the popular Francies Cabin at the entrance to the valley. As with any trip with Peter and Chris, testosterone was high and with it ambition. The significant snowfall of six days ago coated the peaks with frothy whiteness and everything was beautiful.
|Our first view of the Crystal Creek drainage. Crystal Peak is the far mountain with the cloud over it. Father Dyer Mountain is in the center with the dramatic cliffs. Peak 10 is around the corner to the right.||Headed off-trail at 12,000'.|
Beyond the Cabin, we got the first taste of what was to become a reoccuring theme for the day--postholing! We followed a set of snowshoe prints as they took us north toward the Wheeler Trail and the north side of the valley. Fair enough. We were feeling good and were hoping to hit Peak 10, then Crystal, then continue counterclockwise around the valley and hit Father Dyer, cross the impressively jagged ridge to Helen, then descend the broad east slope directly to waiting car.
The snowshoe tracks gave out and we started slabbing across the north side of the valley on what, in the summer, is a nice, wide trail. Now it was covered in significant snow and every third step plunged us in shin-deep. Clouds could be seen in the west periodically hiding the summit of Crystal Peak and it looked like we might be in for a change in the weather. Eventually, I got bored with the trail and, sighting a nice looking snow slope covered with firm snow, frontpointed up 30 feet headed straight for the summit of Peak 10. The snow was firmly packed, perfect for climbing and I'd much rather take the short, steep route than the long boring one any day. The others dutifully followed, but we soon found ourselves in knee-deep soft powder covering mid-sized talus.
Peter pauses for breath at 13,500' near the summit of Peak 10. Crystal and Pacific Peaks can be seen to the left along with Upper Crystal Lake.
We slogged up farther and finally made the ridge of Peak 10 near an antenna facility. To the north was a fine view of the upper bowls of Breckenridge, mostly snow-covered, but not yet quite ready for skiing. We hiked up the last few hundred feet of narrow ridge to the summit. From most angles, Peak 10 doesn't look like much, but it is a distinctly airy perch. Chris commented that it really looked like some sort of Patagonia ad featuring a remote Himalayan Peak. The east ridge is gentle enough, but features steep drops on both sides. The south ridge is fantastic, with lots of exposure and mushrooms of snow all over the place. We stuck to the edge peering down the precipitous and craggy west face on our way down to the 13,250' saddle with Crystal Peak.
|Chris insists that I always do a weird dance when I summit a mountain. I have no idea what he's talking about.||Chris is a corporate tool...|
Peter starts the exciting descent from Peak 10.
At 2:30 we finally reached the non-descript summit of Crystal Peak, in many ways the complete opposite of Peak 10. Crystal is quite impressive from afar, but much less interesting up close. The view, however, is spectacular, with a great view of Pacific Peak, my favorite mountain and Quandary Peak to the south, Grays and Torreys and the front range to the east, the Sawatch Range to the west, and the rest of the Tenmile and Gore ranges to the north. It was windy and bitterly cold. To the west, we watched an enormous golden eagle soar in the gusty breezes on two-meter wings.
We looked east and saw the minor summit of Father Dyer Mountain separated from us by a long, narrow ridge. And to get there entailed a steep descent down the snowy eastern face of Crystal. Mount Helen seemed an impossible distance away. It was already 3pm and our testosterone driven enthusiasm was waning.
"I'd be okay with just two peaks today" said Peter.
"Me too," I added, glad that Peter had broached the subject.
Chris didn't put up much of a fight either, so we retraced our steps down the ridge to the saddle. The snow was just as deep, but this time we could stick to our ascent track and the going was a bit easier.
|Pacific Peak from the summit of Crystal. This is my favorite mountain in Colorado.||Incredible lighting on Crystal.|
Moonrise over the Continental Divide. Torreys and Grays are the twin peaks on the left.
Next time, we bring snowshoes!
The Wilderness Journal