Garfield Peak A (Ranked, 13,780′, #117)
Red Mountain B (Unranked, 13,500′, N/A)
Unnamed 13,463 (Ranked, 13,463′, #277)
Middle Mountain A (Ranked, 13,100′, #568)
Unnamed 13,322 (Ranked, 13,322′, #374)
“Booby Prize” (Ranked, 13,312′, #381)
Prize Benchmark (Ranked, 13,384′, #327)
Wednesday, late-July. I wanted to take advantage of a perfect weather forecast and try for a big loop I had envisioned in the western-Sawatch. The loop, while eccentric, allowed me to nab a group of peaks that I had been eyeing for awhile but was reluctant to pull the trigger on because of access concerns.
Most of the group (namely Middle Mountain, “Booby Prize”, and Prize Benchmark) are almost always accessed via McNasser Gulch, or at least I’ve never seen a report to the contrary. Word on the street is that the road up McNasser has been destroyed over the past few years by early-season Jeep’ing, and with relatively meager vehicle clearance, I wasn’t convinced I could make it up there with my oil pan intact. Having recently been up the Lincoln Creek Road and finding it to be manageable, I decided to head up that way again and hit the peaks from Lincoln, foregoing McNasser altogether. It worked out pretty well, although I’m not sure the loop is one I’d necessarily recommend.
The day began after an early-AM caffeine-infused drive from Denver up and over Indy Pass and roughly 9 miles up the Lincoln Creek Road. I parked just before the rough section near the turnoff for Anderson Lake and made my way up the massive tundra slope that is Garfield Peak’s west face. This slope is nothing more than an outdoor Stairmaster for 2,500 ft. Loose rock near the summit did its best to hamper my progress, but I persevered and topped out on Garfield right around 8am.
With big plans for the day, I didn’t stay for long. One of the question marks of the day was what the traverse from Garfield to unranked Red Peak would entail. Turns out it wasn’t as bad as I had read about. A few crumbly towers comprise the ridge proper, but dropping below them to the west wasn’t too difficult. A short traverse and regain later and I was on top of Red’s indistinguishable summit.
I had always wondered what the big red stain was that can be picked out of the sea of brown from the summit of just about every northern-Sawatch peak. It’s Red Mountain’s namesake colored slopes, which were cool to see up close in person (see the opening photo in this TR). After working across the Mars-like landscape, the third peak of the day went down quickly.
After completing the traverse to “Grand Prize” peak I dropped east off the summit and down to a boulder field between it and Middle Mountain. Recalling stories I had heard of the POMRanian and Co working their way across the top of the Middle/463 connecting ridge, I was perfectly content to be passing underneath on (relatively) solid ground.
The run along Middle’s ridge was probably the most aesthetic part of the entire loop. It’s a cool looking peak, especially when approaching from the west.
From Middle I decided to go for the outlier peak of the day, Unnamed 13,322, which resides in an isolated spot just east of Lake Pass. The elevation drop and regain through the south fork of Lake Creek sucked, not to mention the willow bushwhack down low. According to the map there’s a trail that ascends the north side of Lake Pass. I must have missed it…
After a brain jarring descent back into upper-Lake Creek I skirted below a few 12ers and moseyed on up the east ridge of “Booby Prize”. This was another long stretch of traversing that beat my feet up, capped off by a small dose of fun scrambling near BP’s summit. I was happy to have the majority of the elevation gain for the day behind me.
My attention then turned to my final peak of the day – Prize Benchmark. From what I had heard and read I was in for some class 3/4 downclimbing down to the Booby Prize/Prize Benchmark saddle. I never came across anything that was class 4, or arguably even class 3 for that matter.
One final lung burning leg churning grunt capped off by a few moves that I would consider to be class 3, I topped out on Prize Benchmark around 2:30 in the afternoon.
I was tired, running low on water, and ready to get back down to the car. Thankfully the descent back to the saddle and then down into upper-Lincoln Creek was fairly friendly. I hit the road and had around a mile of walking to get back to the car.
Most of us would think that hiking on a Wednesday in an area as far away from Denver as Lincoln Creek would ensure no brain damage on the drive home. And I think most of the time most of us would be right. On this evening though all logic went by the wayside in a true “double zero” moment. As I was exiting the Lincoln Creek Road back to Highway 82 with the Tennessee Pass Cafe on my mind, I got caught up in one of the more bizarre incidents I’ve ever heard of on Independence Pass.
The extremely short version is some guy decided to hold 3 people hostage at gun point on the southern side of the creek just before the wooden bridge crossing. SWAT and police from just about every county in Colorado showed up and managed to detain the man, but not before numerous shots were fired (allegedly at police as well as into the sky and ground). What then ensued for the unfortunate individuals stuck on the Lincoln Creek Road was a 2+ hour delay as a forensic investigator came from Glendwood Springs and cataloged the crime scene. Aspen Police was super nice though, even providing all of us with pizza after diffusing a dangerous situation (read more about this incident here). Overall I was delayed getting home by 3 hours. But after a great day and an incident in which no one got hurt that could have easily turned out a lot worse, I really couldn’t complain. Finally hitting the pillow at 1am sure felt good. Just another day in the lovely state we all call home!