4,000 meters is an unrecognized altitude threshold within the United States. However, it is as well known where the metric system is used, as 14,000 feet is known in the US. This page is dedicated to climbing those peaks in Colorado that rise above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Huron Peak. An Oddly Crowded, But a Very Happy Mtn.


July 18, what a great day to be in the mountains. Huron Peak is in a class by itself. It is stuck back and hidden deep within the Sawatch Range but offers a fantastic hike with incredible views. Making Huron even better for me personally is the fact that it was my final Sawatch 14er. I have come to loathe the Sawatch Range. Its 14ers typically command a greater than 4,300 foot ascent. Nasty ascent profiles with countless switchbacks, and sweltering miles of hiking below tree line. And oh yah…there are fifteen 14,000+ foot peaks in the Sawatch Range.

Huron is the queen peak of them all. Don and I started this season off a little late due to other commitments and delays.We rescheduled Huron for July 18th and the weather held. In fact, the weather could not have been better. We drove down through Leadville and out to the Huron trailhead. We arrived about 5pm Friday evening. At that time there were two vehicles in the parking area and no camps set up or other people around. Don and I set up our tents. Our tents ended up smashed together as we were jockeying for level ground.


Camp at the Huron Trail Head


The Views from our Camp Site were Outstanding

We cooked up a spectacular dinner of previously hydrated goo after our camp was squared away. We then wandered about the trail head taking pictures and scoping things out. A total of three more cars showed up between dinner and going to sleep at about 9pm for a total of about 5 additional people. This apparent “under crowding” was to change the next day.

Don and I planned to wake up around 5am the next morning and be on the trail by 6. And that in fact was what we did actually hitting the trail around 6:10am.

The trail starts out like any other Sawatch 14er. Relatively steep right from the start with plenty of switchbacks winding around below tree line.


The Start of the Hike to Huron Peak

The trail includes around 17,051 switchbacks below tree line and then finally breaks out into the open to magnificent views of The Three Apostles.


The Three Apostles Just Coming Into View at the End of Tree line

Above tree line the trail winds into a large basin at the base of Huron and the angle of the ascent eases. This basin is beautiful with an enormous array of wild flowers and views of Huron. The trail winds its way to the steeper slope up the shoulder of Huron on the far side of the basin.


Our First Glimpse of Huron Peak in the Morning Light


The Trail Topping out at the Lower Edge of the Basin

Don and I crossed the basin and made a stop to fuel up and adjust our layers in preparation for the much steeper ascent and final pitch to the summit.

I should say here that the trail on Huron is one of the best that I have ever seen. The Colorado Fourteen Initiative (CFI) who typically maintains 14er trails did a magnificent job. The trail routing and quality are truly incredible.

As you cross to the far side of the basin you encounter a very steep “flight” of finely made rock steps. This is the initiation to the remainder of the relatively steep and switchbacked climb. Fortunately, the trail is great, the views are fantastic, and the mountain is well in view.

At this point Don and I noticed something odd about this hike. Something that would characterize the hike and this mountain. As we looked down into the basin we saw…LOTS of people. Not just a few. Not just a couple of groups. But lots of groups with lots of people. It was becoming fantastically crowded on the trail below us.


A Shot of the Building Crowds on Huron

This crowding was really strange. I am used to seeing crowds like this on Grays, Torreys, and Bierstadt. But this was Huron. Huron is two and a half hours from Denver. Its back at the end of a four wheel drive road. I was shocked to see how many people were on the trail. And it was only about 8:30am!

The weather was so perfect and the mountain so beautiful that both Don and I were in no hurry. It was one of those great days in the mountains. Don had a new Canon DSLR and was breaking in my new Olympus E620 with a new 12mm-60mm lens. So we had a lot of incredible high altitude subject matter to practice on.

So despite the weather and our relaxed demeanor, seeing all the throngs of people heading up behind us gave us a bit of a push to move along. We didn't really want to arrive at the summit with 20 of our closest friends.


The Upper Slopes of the Hike and the Final Summit Push

We ground our way up the switchbacks that zigzagged up the steep alpine tundra slopes. This portion of the hike stretched from the basin all the way to the base of the rocky final summit push.

Earlier in the hike, we had met a wonderful couple who had a large, ferocious looking dog. The dog, deceptively named Lizzy, looked as though it was on vacation from guarding the gates of hell. This dog had a block-shaped head the size of a riding lawnmower. Gold eyes (yes really), and a powerful looking body. But she was really quite sweet. The dogs owners were very friendly and we enjoyed conversation on and off nearly the whole way up the mountain. I never got their names, except for the Devil Dog Lizzy.

We climbed up through the tundra and made the summit base where the climbing turned into easy boulder-hopping and route finding in the rocks, as is common in the Sawatch.


A Snow Field Just Below 14,000 Feet Near the Summit

The final few hundred feet of climb was on a rocky trail near a few picturesque snow fields. Don and I shared the last few hundred feet with other hikers slogging their way to the summit.


The Final Few Feet to Huron’s Summit

We finally topped out and walked onto the small summit around 9:20am. Not a bad time considering some longish stops we made for clothing adjustments, talking, and photography. My 33 lbs of weight loss is really starting to pay dividends. Yeah!


The Crowded Summit. Don is at Left. Lizzy “The Devil Dog” in Foreground

We spent about 45 minutes on the summit enjoying the great weather, taking pictures, and talking to the many folks who were sharing the summit with us. The mood at the summit was truly positive and happy. There was a pervasive party atmosphere on Huron’s summit.

Don made an observation regarding the number of people. He said that when there is just a few people on a trail/summit, its cool. When there is a moderate amount of people on a trail/summit, it can start to be a drag because there are too many people to be “intimate” and to few to be fun. But when there are lots of people on a trail/summit, then the whole thing turns into a big, almost ridiculous, surreal party, and its fun.

And that's just the atmosphere we had on Huron. A happy and fun “party” with strangers in the high peaks.


The Author (left) and Don Lochner (right) on the Summit. The Three Apostles Behind Us. No Gut. All the Glory!


A Beautiful Shot of the Three Apostles

After a long and relaxed stay at Huron’s 14,005 foot summit, Don and I decided to head on down as we had an appointment with a burrito in Leadville.

We headed back down our ascent route into even more people coming up. As we left, Don counted 30 people already on the summit. It was bizarre to see huge numbers of people heading up and down this relatively shy and unknown peak located so far from Denver. But there they were.


More Throngs Just Below the Summit of Huron

The return hike back down the mountain was uneventful but still beautiful. The lighting had changed from the morning and the wild flowers and distant peaks looked very clear and colorful. It continued to get hotter as the day wore on and we descended.


The Trail Winds Past a High Altitude Tarn with Distant Peaks in the Background

We arrived back at camp around 12:30pm and to our surprise a ton of cars parked in and around the trail head. There must have been 20 or 30 cars. It looked like a dinner party.

We changed into some new clothes then packed up camp and headed to Leadville for lunch. Huron was a great hike. I would put it into my top five. Definitely one of the finest Sawatch and a great way to start the season and end my pursuit of the Sawatch range.

HuronGPSTrkJul18, 09

GPS Track Record for Huron Peak