Mt. Princeton via Grouse Canyon, Colorado
David B. Rogers
Climber: David B. Rogers
I'm getting down to the last few of the 14ers. They fall into two groups-
the nice ones I've been saving to enjoy, and unappealing ones (mainly
with roads up them- Antero, Pikes, Princeton). Now I've done all the
For Mt. Princeton I noticed an alternative to the road route in Lou Dawson's
14er guide, so I decided to give it a try. The route leaves the Chalk Creek
Road about 6 miles west of Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. It climbs over 5000
ft, ending up following the west ridge of the peak.
Dawson's directions were easy to follow, and his description of climbing
along a lovely stream and through beautiful alpine bowls was apt.
The roads near the trail head are littered with "no camping" signs... I spent
the night in a Poncha Springs Motel (pretty sluggish). I hit the trail at 6:30,
about half an hour before sunrise. I followed an old road around the ridge
to join Grouse Creek as it climbed up the canyon. The trail is a little rough,
but well-used and easy to follow.
Dawson's "route finding crux" comes at the point where you climb out of
the canyon at about 9800 ft. He suggests following the stream through
an open area, then climbing up to find a "well-worn trail". This works,
but an alternative is to just stay on the fairly obvious trail the whole time!
While following up the right branch of the drainage, combined views of
yellow aspen leaves and snow-covered peaks began to appear. Mt. Antero
and its neighbors were all snow-covered down to about 12,000 ft. While
beautiful, this caused me a little apprehension about the route ahead.
Near tree line I continued to follow the drainage, then at 11,600 ft (vs.
Dawson's 11,400) climbed to the ridge on the left. This continued up
towards the southern extension of Mt. Princeton's west ridge. At about
12,000 ft it was time to put on the gaiters. By this time I was also in full
goretex, insulated mittens, and fleece hat. The clouds began to thicken,
the wind assumed a constant 30 mph, and the temperature hovered at 35
degrees F for most of the day.
The constant slipping on large rocks thinly covered with 4 to 14 inches of snow
was the only detraction from lovely views of the surrounding alpine scenery.
I was also able to put in considerable early season postholing practice... Once
on the main ridge at 13,000 ft, about 1.25 miles of ridge running remained.
The ridge is pretty straight forward: the first portion goes easily on the left, and
about a third of the way to the false summit where the ridge turns eastward, the
left side is the easier (3rd vs. 5th class) route. Due to a few route finding goofs
I got in some fun snow-covered 4th class climbing, with exposure.
I made the summit at 12:30, after 6 hrs. of climbing, with two hours spent
following the ridge. The ridge was slow going due to the snow. I turned
around pretty quickly as I'd been enjoying summit-type views along the ridge.
On the return I met three young men also enjoying this route. They teased me
about some of my route choices. Three of their companions had turned back,
apparently daunted by the snow-covered rock ridge. Possibly not a bad
decision as the going was slow and slippery. I was glad to have additional foot
prints breaking the snow on the return, as it made finding stable rocks to step on
A pleasant return hike through the still inspiring aspens returned me to my car
shortly after 4:30, for a 10-hr trip. My altimeter (aka performance measurement
system) credited me with an elevation gain of 5400 ft. Starting my car, I headed
at maximum speed towards Bongo Billy's in Buena Vista, for a double latte to
fortify me for my drive home.