San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Greetings From Crested Butte

Last week I wrote that I was heading out to Crested Butte for a couple of days of climbing and wildflower viewing.  Here are the results of that trip.

The most interesting day was a loop drive and hike to the top of a 12,000+ foot summit named Cinnamon Mountain.  We departed Crested Butte and headed north along Slate Creek, in search of Paradise Divide and the place we would start our hike.  After about 16 miles of easy dirt road we came to the pass and parked the car.  Looking west we were treated to this view of Purple Mountain (there are two Purple Mountains in the same range, named the Ruby Range, in this part of Colorado).  I don't know if the lady who penned the line about "purple mountain majesty" had this view in mind (she was on the summit of Pikes Peak at the time) but I think it is a pretty good example of what she was describing.

We began our direct assault upon Cinnamon Mountain from this alpine tarn.  It was a short, steep and beautiful climb.  As we ascended the mountain we were treated to more views to the north.  The Maroon Bells wilderness is directly north of the area we were in and the view of the Maroon Bells from the south is not one most people are familiar with.   I have been told that the standard photograph of the Maroon Bells, take from Maroon Lake on the east side of the peaks, is the single most popular mountain photograph known to man.  I don't know how that could be determined but I am sure that there are many examples of that particular photo floating around.  Here is a shot of the Bells, with North Maroon the lower point on the left and South Maroon (the high point in this photo) and its long south ridge descending to the right, as taken from the slopes of Cinnamon Mountain.  By the way, I have had the pleasure of climbing the south ridge of Maroon Peak two different times in my career.  It is as challenging as it looks.  The flowers in the foreground give you a good sample of what we enjoyed that day.

We arrived at the summit in short order and were treated to this view of Paradise Divide, now about 1000 feet below us.  The tarn in this photo is the same tarn as in the first photo above.  The peak in the background left/center of the photo is Crested Butte.  There is a ski resort there and we had a hotel room at the ski village that we shared with hoards of insufferable Yuppies.  They were all driving expensive Jeeps and walking around wearing climbing attire.  Strangely, we didn't see any of them on this trip once we got out of town.  When I got back to the parking lot of the hotel, which one Yuppie SUV had blocked by parking directly in the exit pathway, I noticed that none of the Jeeps had dust on them.  Our truck was covered with dust.  Go figure.

I promised I would give you a taste of the wildflowers.  We were a week or two too late to enjoy the high season for wildflowers.  Some cold weather had already started to reduce the display and it was not nearly as profuse as I had hoped it would be.  Nevertheless, I managed to get this shot of some flowering tundra right near the summit of the peak.

As we approached the summit it was not only the Maroon Bells and Pyramid peak that came into view.  The other half of the Elk mountains is made up of a very different geological formation.  Sweeping granite ridges replace the red sedimentary rock of the Bells as one goes north in the range.  The twin summits of Capitol and Snowmass, as well as the 13er Hagerman, are seen in the photo below.  If you look carefully you can see K-2 and the infamous "knife edge" of Capitol.  Capitol is the peak in the back left and the flat ridge going to the right leads to K-2.  I have had the pleasure of being on the knife edge three times in my climbing career.  It is as exciting as it looks.

As we were preparing to begin the steep descent back to the truck my wife told me to hush as she pointed out one of the many joys of the high peaks.  A mother ptarmigan and her chicks were just to our right.  I quickly snapped a photograph of them.  Can you see the mother?  How many chicks can you see?  Hint:  They are centered in the photo.

Thus was one of our three days in Crested Butte.  It was an enjoyable three days and the mountains were in fine form.  I do have one piece of advice for you however.  If you go there try to avoid the Yuppies.  That is easy to do if you leave the resort and head to the high mountains.  Despite all their talk about being "extreme," Yuppies don't do much more than pose in places where they can be seen by others. 

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