I've become something of a conosoir of suffering. Hiking the length of the Tenmile Range, from Frisco to Breckenridge, climbing Peaks 1 through 10 in order, definitely qualifies as some high-quality suffering. When I mentioned this trip to people, they reacted in one of two predictable ways. Either their eyes would light up and they'd say, "ooh, yeah!", or they'd get a puzzled, worried look as they backed slowly away looking for a pointed stick. The latter reaction was generally more common. Even my lovely wife shook her head and muttered something about stupid masculine masochism.
But Colorado is full of like-minded macho masochists and we were a five-some when we left the car at a chilly 4am. Nathan, Chris and I had driven up the night before and camped in an unofficial but heavily used campsite far down a hazily-remembered dirt road outside Frisco. Marella and Mike had the luxury accomodations at Chad and Allie's house (Marella and Allie are sisters, so this kind of thing is expected). I can't speak for the others, but my night was largely spent chaffing at the bit and wanting to get underway interupted with a few hours of uneasy sleep... pretty much like most of my pre-big-trip nights.
Anyway, with packs loaded, GPS programmed, and a fire in our bellies, we set out down the level, paved path headed for the first of an even dozen peaks. The Tenmile Range is a long range of high peaks running from I-70 and the triple towns of Frisco/Dillon/Silverthorne south to the Continental Divide where it changes names to the Mosquito Range. I've done quite a number of memorable trips in the southern portion of the range where the high, interestingly named peaks lie such as the fabulous Pacific and Atlantic Peaks, the frustrating Drift Peak, and the well-trodden 14er Quandary Peak. They apparently ran out of catchy names when mapping the 12ers in the northern end of the range and just resorted to numbering them one through ten. Breckenridge Ski Resort occupies Peaks 7-10 and Peaks 1 and 2 (aka Tenmile Peak) loom large over the sprawling Dillon Reservoir. To these ten numbered peaks, we would add the diminuitive Mt. Royal, a bluff overlooking the trailhead and the town of Frisco, and Mt. Victoria, a high-spot on the long, steep ridge up to Peak 1. This would make it a satisfying dozen peaks in roughly a dozen miles.
Our first view of Peak 1 from below Mt. Victoria.
(left) Sunrise and a sun pillar over Lake Dillon.
The initial climb was steep and dark through forest with a sprinkling of lights from the towns below and stars above. We passed the abandoned mining camp of Masontown and finally emerged at the open saddle below Mt. Royal. We gratefully ditched our packs and hiked a furlong to the rocky bluff of the summit. We could now look down 1500' on the lonely cars driving I-70 and the lights of the towns below.
The grade resumed and we climbed through thinning forest and diminishing trail with a spectacular sunrise. The summit of Victoria was somewhat academic, but the views were not; nor was the ridge which steepened ahead of us rising another thousand feet to the summit of Peak 1. This was our first numbered peak, but already we'd climbed 3500' or more and hiked 3.5 miles.
Looking back at Peak 1 from Tenmile Peak.
...and looking south from Tenmile at Peak 4 and the rest of the ridge. Peak 3 is the low summit leftmost on the ridge. The Dragon is at the lowpoint between 2 and 3.
The ridge between Peaks 1 and 4 are the technical crux of the day with 3rd and 4th class scrambling. The 1-2 ridge was a nice warm-up with the real hard stuff happening between 2 and 3. We traversed around an impressive fin known as the Dragon; Nathan and I inevitably took the easier-looking-but-actually-harder route on the left side and found ourselves in low 5th-class terrain while the others took the actually-easier route around to the right. Peak 3 was fairly modest, but was nicely remote, accessible only over some pretty impressive scrambling ridges. We saw that it had seen less than a dozen ascents in the past year. We spent too short a time scrambling up sharp, exposed ridges on the 3-4 traverse. The rock was solid and the positions wonderfully exposed.
Nathan and I contemplate the head of the Dragon (CG)
The Tenmile Range changes abruptly south of Peak 4. On one side are sharp, rocky ridges and precipitous drop-offs down to I-70 and Breckenridge. To the south, the ridge becomes rolling tundra full of flowers and grass with occasional felsenmere fields. We had a liesurely lunch atop Peak 4, then set off in search of the elusive Peak 5, finding it eventually to be one of the indistinct lumps in the next two miles of ridge. Peak 6 was similarly nebulous though we did have to drop down a couple hundred feet to a saddle and climb again. With 2/3rds of the summits down, we were feeling pretty good.
More scambling on the wonderful 3-4 ridge (NS).
Wonderful flatness! After three ridges of scrambling, we were happy to see flat tundra to hike through. Peak 5 is one of those little lumps. (CG)
From the top of Peak 6, it became apparent that we still had a long ways to go. Peaks 7 and 8 loomed large ahead and we could see the imposing wall of Peak 10 in the distance. We dropped 300' to the broad 6-7 saddle, then quickly gained 500' to the summit of Peak 7. Here we started encountering ski area debris--signs, random antennae, and other junk. But Peak 7 is really only a sub-summit of the much higher Peak 8 and we faced another 300' of climb to that summit. Ten down, two to go. Of course, they were the only two summits over 13,000' and looked pretty intimidating from here. We descended almost 600' to the 8-9 saddle passing some mysterious plywood "hang gliders" positioned at the top of a set of chutes. Presumably they do something to keep the snow stable? We were baffled.
One of the mysterious "hang gliders" perched over the eastern bowls at Breckenridge. We have no idea what they're for, but they look important. If you have an idea, please drop me a line!
Chris, Mike, and Marella slogging up Peak 9.
Peak 9 was pure evil, start to finish. From Peak 8 it didn't look bad--more grassy slopes to climb up--but the ascent was almost 800' in less than a mile. When we first crested the summit, we discovered that it was only the first of two false summits. What's more, the real summit was separated from us by a short bit of scrambling ridge. This was nothing compared to our adventures earlier in the day, but we were all pretty well chipped by that point and not looking for any more technical difficulties.
We finally hit the summit around 4 pm. Mike and Marella announced that they were done and would wait for us below the 9-10 saddle on the road we could see winding attractively down into the valley below. Said road no doubt contained sustanence and refreshment. The weather had turned a bit chilly with ominous clouds and a bit of wind. There was no sign of lightning, though, and no call for it in the forecast, so Nathan, Chris and I pressed on.
I remember standing on top of Peak 10 last fall looking north and thinking that it would be a very steep climb from that side. It didn't look much better from Peak 9. Fortunately, the descent to the 9-10 saddle was blessedly short. The scree slope north face of Peak 10 looked better, but still no fun on our fatigued legs. We opted to head left a bit and catch the rough road which switchbacked up to an antenna facility high on the ridge. From there it's an easy hike to the summit itself.
Finally, we gained the top of our 12th peak of the day at around 5:30. It was actually a pretty emotional experience. I was completely exhausted and probably couldn't have climbed another five feet. Even the indomitable Nathan was done. Looking north, we could clearly see all nine other numbered peaks and it looked mighty impressively far away. Total elapsed distance was 13 miles so far.
Victory! Nathan celebrates a dozen summits in as many miles. (CG)
We hiked down to about 10,700' before our rescuers showed up. They whisked us back to the trailhead and, from there, to the Dam Brewery and it's wonderfully comprehensive selection of burgers and beer. Finally, Chris, Nathan and I departed and arrived back in Boulder around 11:30.
Total elevation gain was around 8100' and loss was 6700', by far the largest vertical I've ever done in a day. Total time was 15 hours and distance was 16.8 miles. In terms of total effort, this trip was up there, but not the worst I've done. Many thanks to Allie and Chad for helping to keep this one from the top spot! The initial peaks of the range were really nice with some quality scrambling. The other peaks were less interesting visually, but the whole package--the pre-dawn start, the scrambling, the incredible physical exertion, the camraderie--was really wonderful. I don't know if I'd do it again, but I would certainly do something similar. Plans are already in the works for something similar in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!
The Wilderness Journal