With many long high alpine trips on our calendar for later this summer, Ryan and I decided to warm up with an easier 14er to start getting us adjusted to life above 14,000ft.
–> Our mountain of choice was Mt. Princeton (14,197ft) via the East Slopes (out of the Mt. Princeton Trailhead). We took the Xterra on this adventure, bringing our actual hike down to 6.5 miles with 3,200ft of elevation gain. We started hiking at 4:45am, summited about 8am, and made it back down the car by 11am; putting us at a 6hr day. <–
NOTE: If you do not have clearance or 4WD on your vehicle, you will have to park at the lower trailhead (making your hike 13.25mi long with 5,200ft of elevation gain). If you do have a capable vehicle, continue along the road (which goes straight through this lower trailhead). A few miles up the road, you will reach a small parking area near a helicopter pad and radio towers (this is where we parked!). The smallest car we saw up here was a Subaru Outback, but the majority was trucks/jeeps/etc.
From here the road gets a bit more washed out with bigger obstacles (so I would suggest you only travel up this with a 4WD SUV) but it brings you to 2-3 AWESOME campsites that are on the road’s switchbacks that have spectacular views of the Buena Vista valley below. I’ve included some photos of the road and these campsites at the bottom of this post.
4:45am and we’re off! The first part of our hike was simply following the road and the final switchbacks until we got above treeline and found the start of the trail. Luckily we were very exposed so we did not have to use our headlamps, thanks to the moon. Be sure you keep your eyes open to the right side of the road– the steps that lead you to the trail could be easy to miss if you weren’t paying attention.
The big rainstorm from the night before had finally begun to leave the valley, and as we hiked further away from the road we were given not only amazing views of the sun fighting to break through in the Buena Vista valley, but also the summit of Mt. Princeton trying to break through the clouds!
The best way to describe this trail is: rock, rock, and more rock. 99% of the hike is simply traversing across this scree field. Luckily the route is easy enough to follow and once you crest the ridge, you are given amazing views of the Collegiate Range.
Once on the ridge, you turn right for Mt. Princeton. You could also turn left for a quick summit of “Tigger Peak” which stands at 13,300ft. We decided to skip it this morning.
Looking back, you can faintly see the trail from the road wrapping around the side of Tigger Peak.
At this point, the trail mostly disappears as you climb the final scree-filled ascent to the summit. The closer we got, the colder it got. We were soon in the clouds which were quickly blowing past us. It was a cool experience to be surrounded by the moisture.. but we certainly did not stay long! For the sake of our exposed skin, we took our summit photo and headed back down.
Just as luck would have it, the skies cleared once we left and we were soon shedding layers. I wouldn’t have it any way though– we had our misty ascent to ourselves, and shared our sunny descent with dozens of other groups.
Once back at the car.. we kicked off our boots, folded up our tent, and headed down. This was not a very scenic hike, but it was also not very strenuous. A fair trade off, I think!
Nonetheless, we’re happy to have 14er #16/58 under our belt. On to the next one!
As promised; photos of the road conditions as well as the higher switchback campsites.