Garfield to “Booby Prize” Loop

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Red tundra en route to “Grand Prize” (elevation debatable) from Garfield Peak, Sawatch Range, CO.

Peaks

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)

Stats

12.5 miles
8,450 feet
10 hours


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.

Grizzly Peak A, Colorado’s highest 13er, from Garfield’s summit.

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.

The initial portion of the traverse between Garfield and “Grand Prize”. It wasn’t hard to drop off the ridge to the right and traverse below a series of towers to friendlier terrain.

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.

Sunflowers on the ridge with Petroleum and the Truros behind.

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.

“Grand Prize” summit, looking back at Garfield.

Apparently a consensus regarding the true elevation and name of this peak has not been arrived at.

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.

Middle Mountain within striking distance.

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…

Summit of UN 13,322, looking east. That’s Booby Prize at the far end of the valley.

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.

Approaching Booby Prize’s east ridge.

‘Booby Prize” summit, looking back at Middle Mountain (left) and UN 13,322 (right). I don’t recommend the grunt from Middle to 13,222 to “Booby Prize”.

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.

Prize Benchmark seen from the summit of “Booby Prize”.

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.

Prize Benchmark summit. The Lincoln Creek Road and my morning route up Garfield can be seen in the distance.

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.

Old ruins along the road, framed by the Truros.

Keeping it classy. 

Map Code

Map of the loop.

Epilogue

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!

4 thoughts on “Garfield to “Booby Prize” Loop

  1. TJ

    wow – 7 – 13 teeners in 10 hours and a shoot – out at the end for a bit more excitement. What a great day and the pictures are amazing.

  2. Floyd

    Why bypass all the 12ers? You elevation snobs make me laugh. Congrats on a big day and not ending up part of the hostage situation back there.

    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks Scot, I’m glad I just missed it as well. Re: 12ers, I thought about adding them but realized it would have put the day into the 9,000 ft realm, and I was heading to the Cimarrons only a few days later (not to mention that easternmost 12er looked like a nightmare pile of loose crap). Priorities!!

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