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Mount Antero
Elevation: 14,269 feet
Climbed: May 30, 2004; Aug 15, 2004
Mountain Range: Sawatch Range
Colorado Rank: 10th
Class Rating: 2
Latitude: 38.673889
Longitude: -106.246109

Trip Report

Aug 15, 2004

Round Two
After being turned back by Mount Antero on May 30, 2004 (see below), it was time to tackle the mountain again. I left Colorado Springs on Saturday, August 14, after meeting some of the family for a bite at Monica's Taco Shop. I said goodbye to them at the restaurant about 6:15 PM or so. After stopping for gasoline, I hopped on Highway 24, arriving at Johnson's Village, at the intersection of Highways 24 and 285, after dark. Lightning was striking the area as raindrops pelted my windshield. Knowing I had some rough 4-wheel-drive road ahead of me, I hoped the weather wouldn't create problems going up that road.

As I drove west from Nathrop, I drove out of the rain. I reached the lower Baldwin Gulch Trailhead about 2 miles after the paved surface ended on road 162. Shifting into 4WD, I took a hard left, leaving 162 and starting up the last, rough 3 miles. The road was dry, and illuminated only by my headlights, it was much less intimidating than in the daylight. This time, I didn't have any rocks sliding off the mountain into the side of my truck.

Arriving at the upper trailhead at Baldwin Creek, I backed into a parking spot between some trees and boulders. Even though it got quite cool during the night, it was still fairly warm when I arrived, even at 9:30 PM. Settling into the bed of my Ford Ranger pickup, my sleeping quarters for the night, I read some pages from Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Then I set my watch alarm for 5:15 AM and tried to fall asleep.

Though I didn't hear my watch alarm the next morning, I was awake by around 5:30 AM. It was still dark. Sunrise was supposed to be at 6:12 AM, though the sun wouldn't reach this deep mountain valley until much later, after I was well on my way up the trail. At 6:15, I stepped across Baldwin Creek and started my climb toward the summit of Mount Antero.

The trail at this point was actually a 4WD road that ran next to a stream tributary. Sometimes water flowed over the rocky trail, creating a wet trail, but not icy like it was in May. As the trail approached treeline, I noticed that all traces of the large snowfields had also melted since May.

Once above treeline, the trail/road began to switchback up the mountain across the alpine tundra. The road was wide enough for one vehicle, but in May a snowy slope covered much of the road. In those places, a single, narrow footpath along the downhill edge of the road had been the only exposed trail. Even that little bit of trail had sometimes disappeared, requiring traverses on steep snow fields.

Now, more than two months later, all that snow was gone. Treacherous snowfields had melted, revealing a decent 4WD road, with occasional Jeep and motorcycle traffic.

As I approached 13,000 feet, I took some photographs of the spot at which I had turned back during the May climb. Two huge blocks of granite marked the location, though both had been buried beneath a deep snow field at the time.

Continuing up the trail, the road headed south and east around the shoulder of the mountain. Past the bend, other 4WD roads could be seen rising from other valleys to meet this road. Switchbacks got steeper as I climbed higher. Eventually, the extremely rugged road, strewn with rocky obstacles, ended less than 1/2 mile south of the summit of Mount Antero.

The last push to the summit was across a Class 2 ridge and then lots of talus. The trail along the ridge was good, usually following below the east side of the ridge. This trail was easy to find and was quite enjoyable. Once the ridge traverse ended, the final scramble up the talus began. Other than a general lack of oxygen, the scramble was uneventful, ultimately leading to the rocky summit of Mount Antero.

There were several people on top, including three members of the Ham radio community. They were talking to other Ham members who had climbed other 14ers around the state that day.

I stayed on top for probably 30 minutes, eating some food, taking some photos, and talking with fellow climbers. As clouds started to gather, several of us decided it was time to abandon the summit.

Soon after I reached the 4WD trail, I found I had taken a wrong turn on the network of roads near the top. I had to turn around and re-ascend the trail, soon correcting my mistake, but consuming some extra energy.

The only spill I took was on an uneventful section of the descent along the 4WD trail, where the footing was pretty solid. Before I knew it, my feet slid out and I went down on both palms and one knee. No damage done, so the descent continued, eventually coming to the most unpleasant part of the descent. Loose, slippery rock and gravel covered the steep lower sections of the trail, which had been much easier to ascend. Now, going downhill, extra care was required to keep from doing a face-plant. It was so loose that a motorcycle rider couldn't get up the road and had to turn around and go back down.

Once below treeline, the threatening clouds started dropping ice pellets, mixed with light rain. It was gentle enough that I didn't even break out the raingear. Soon the sun returned. One foot in front of the other, the miles were soon behind me. Arriving back at my pickup truck about 2 PM, I changed shoes and socks, ate some yogurt, drank some water, and started the drive back down the rough road. The drive down seemed worse than the drive up the night before. I met some traffic and sometimes had to back up and sometimes had to squeeze the truck against the mountain.

During the May climb, I made the decision to descend after reaching about 13,000 feet. Even though I thought it was the right decision at the time, I sometimes wondered if I could have made the summit that day. After completing this climb and knowing the effort I had to expend above 13,000 feet, I feel confident that I made the right decision in May to turn back.

I didn't have a lot left in the gas tank when I finished this climb, but it felt good to complete what I had started more than two months before.

May 30, 2004

I am planning to climb Mount Antero tomorrow, Sunday, May 30, 2004. Since this is Memorial Day weekend, I don't expect much solitude, especially since Mount Antero has a reputation for attracting gem-seekers. There are 4-wheel-drive roads that go pretty high on the mountain, as well, so the 4x4 crowd will probably be out in force.

The weather forecast calls for cooler temperatures and a chance of precipitation, which means I might encounter anything from showers to snow. I will plan accordingly.

I've never climbed a 14er this early in the season, so I'm not sure how much snow to expect on the ground. If Pikes Peak is any indication, there will still be snow on the mountain, but not any expansive snow fields. I would carry an ice ax on some mountains this time of year, based on other climber's early-season trip reports, but I'm not expecting Mount Antero to require this.

I will leave Colorado Springs sometime this afternoon, sleep in my pickup truck, and get an early morning start up the mountain. If all goes as planned, I'd like to begin hiking before first light, ensuring that I am off the summit well before any thunderstorms begin to build.

The Climb
I left Colorado Springs by 2:30 PM on Saturday, traveling west on highway 24, then highway 285. I arrived in the Buena Vista area about two hours after leaving my house, stopping at the overlook just east of town to gaze at the Collegiate Peaks, which rise abruptly just west of Buena Vista and the Arkansas valley. The Collegiate Peaks are part of the Sawatch Range and get their name because several peaks are named after colleges, including Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and Harvard. Mount Antero, my destination, is located just south of Mount Princeton. I drove south from Buena Vista on highway 285, turning west at Nathrop on road 162. At 4 1/2 miles I passed Mount Princeton Hot Springs, then continued up 162 for about 8 more miles to the Baldwin Gulch trailhead. The trailhead is on the left side of the road, but since this section of the trail is actually a 4-wheel-drive road, I was able to continue 3 more miles up the trail.

The 4-wheel drive-road was rough but manageable. A snowy switchback caused a little excitement as the truck started to slide toward the edge of the road. It got my attention, but as my truck tires reached the edge of the road, they were able to grab some exposed gravel. Further on, during a very routine stretch of road, I heard something that seemed like a hiss. I initially thought either tree branches had brushed the side of the truck or air was escaping from a tire. It turns out that it was neither. A large granite rock had slid off the uphill road embankment and scraped along the side of the truck, coming to rest in front of my right rear tire. It had scraped along the lower door and panel of the truck, taking paint down to bare metal and leaving a crease along its path. After I moved the rock out of my way, I continued on, eventually stopping at a small parking area at 10,890 feet.

After parking, I hopped out of the truck and was amazed to find how cold it already was on this late afternoon. I wondered how cold it would get by nightfall. After putting on some warm clothes and a cap, I walked up the road to explore. I found that the 4WD road continued straight ahead along Baldwin Creek to Baldwin Lake, but the trail to Mount Antero immediately left the road, heading east across Baldwin Creek. There is a ford in the stream here, where vehicles can cross and continue a little bit further.

I walked up the road a short way, until a meadow opened up on the left (east) side of the road. The stream flowed through this meadow, with views of Mount Princeton to the north and Antero to the east. I took a few photographs and headed back to the truck, while shadows filled the mountain valley. Light snow was beginning to fall, so I retreated to the bed of my pickup truck for a light meal and snacks. As the wind blew wet snow against my truck, I bedded down for the night in my sleeping bag. I woke several times during the night, one time noticing that the snow had stopped and the moon and stars had appeared.

I woke sometime between 5:00 and 5:30 A.M., discovering that clouds had again moved into the area. I got my stuff together and ate some yogurt, then took a few photographs of the truck and Mount Princeton to the north. A thin layer of snow covered the ground where none had been the day before.

I was on the trail by 6:00 A.M., immediately coming to the ford on Baldwin Creek. The water was not deep, and a line of small rocks rose above the water. However, all these rocks were covered with a glaze of slippery ice, so I crossed by stepping on rocks just below the water surface. In some places the water was ankle deep, but my boots were watertight and my feet stayed dry.

After crossing Baldwin Creek, the trail began to climb as it followed Baldwin Gulch to the southeast. A stream flowed along the edge of the snowy trail, with shallow tributaries flowing over the trail itself. A thin layer of ice had formed over the trail, which made things a little slippery at times. After crossing the stream a little ways up the trail, the water stopped flowing over the trail.

Soon the snow grew deeper, eventually leading over long, deep snow fields. The snowfields were composed of snow still remaining from the winter before, and though the snow was firm, occasionally my foot would "post-hole" as it broke through the surface of the snow, burying my leg up to the knee.

I began to stop fairly often to regulate my body temperature. First I peeled off clothing, but as the wind and elevation increased, I found I had to start adding clothing again.

It was just below the first snowfield that I met a couple from Albuquerque, NM, who was also climbing Antero. The day before they had both climbed Mount Princeton, which the woman described as hard. Both climbers carried ice axes, but they were only relying on their trekking poles when I saw them. The climbers from New Mexico were the only other climbers I saw during my climb up the mountain. We sometimes crossed paths, but most of the time they were above me.

As the snowfields became steeper, they also became more intimidating. Knowing that a single misstep would send me on a long, uninterrupted ride down the mountain, I made sure I planted my poles securely and kicked my feet into the snowy incline to maintain an edge with my hiking boots.

Stopping for some water and food, I discovered my water was freezing. Chipping my way past the ice, I drank some water through the small, icy hole. Breaking out a Power Bar, I discovered it was frozen, too, but I was able to bite off frozen pieces and slowly eat them. As I sat along the steep, snow-covered trail, the wind began to pummel the mountain, creating momentary white-out conditions. The New Mexico climbers were traversing a steep snowfield as I watched them disappear over a mountain ridge.

Earlier in the climb, I had no doubt that I would reach the summit that day. However, as the wind and cold increased, and I crossed steeper and longer snow chutes, I began to reevaluate my situation. Knowing that if I continued, I'd probably be the last person off the mountain, traversing steeper and longer snowfields without aid of an ice axe, I decided to descend. The possibility of getting injured on the mountain and spending the night up there alone did not sound like a good thing.

At approximately 13,000 feet, or 1,300 feet from the summit of Mount Antero, I made the decision to descend. At the time, this seemed like the best decision I could make. I was cold and weary, plus my water was freezing fast. My lack of high-altitude snowfield experience was also a factor, as was the severe and unpredictable weather. If I had not been climbing alone, I may have continued, but given the situation, I decided to abort my summit attempt.

During the descent, the sun occasionally appeared, as if the mountain was laughing at me as I headed down. In fact, by the time I descended to timberline, the sun had reappeared. By the time I was almost all the way down, I found someone who was still at their vehicle, but just getting ready to begin their climb. If I had know that someone was on their way up, I probably would have continued my summit attempt. However, I had no way of knowing this at the time.

Normally, starting out early is the norm when climbing a fourteener. I'm not sure that helped on this climb, though. It was extremely cold during the early morning climb, which made the lower stretches of the trail quite icy. Since the sun eventually broke through later in the day, my water supply, which was freezing fast at 13,000 feet, probably wouldn't have frozen as fast if I had started later. Afternoon thunderstorms had not become a factor, either. Of course, these observations are all in hindsight, so I'll just have to chalk it up to experience and factor all this information into my future climbs.

I severely under-estimated the conditions that Mount Antero would serve up. The weather had kicked my butt. It had snowed the night before, but it was the lingering snow from winter, along with bitter cold and high winds, that combined to make me abort my summit attempt just short of 13,000 feet.

Sometimes the mountain wins.

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