Sometimes it’s seems that it’s hard to follow up something like the Tour of the Highest Hundred with the next project. It took years to get myself physically and mentally ready to take something like that on – save nothing for the financial burden of taking so much time off work and the burden of that food bill!
Still, in the heartbeat, I’d do it all again. But the world is a big place, and there’s so many fun and challenging things to do – even so close to where I live. I don’t necessarily like to repeat myself, but I do like to progress in what it is I do, and in doing so: explore different facets of the talents I’ve taken a life to develop.
Anyways, the future! What’s on my mind to do this summer (or next)? Here’s two projects I’d like to try (more coming, later…)
The Complete Mosquito Tenmile Traverse Traverse (Fastpack)
The Mosquito Tenmile Traverse is a beautiful ridgeline of mountains that start north near Frisco, Colorado, and end at Weston Pass, 38 miles later. 38 peaks are within this one line including two 14ers, 24 13ers, and eight 12ers – and the meat of the traverse doesn’t dip below 13,000 feet for about 26 of those miles – most likely the longest ridgeline above 13,000 feet anywhere in the lower 48 states. See Peter Bakwin’s stories on his attempts (one, two). It’s only been completed once and Jeff Rome’s trip report about it is curiously bare.
I can’t think of a most perfect challenge for someone like me! To sprinkle a little of my own style into the challenge, I plan to attempt my Mosquito Traverse at Trout Creek Pass, where the range actually starts/terminates in the south and do a little bit of a prologue by hiking up East and West Buffalo Peak, before tackling the rest of the range, starting at Weston Pass, all the way to Frisco, CO. The peaks before Weston Pass are of a different geological makeup than the rest of the range – volcanic in nature, rather than gneiss, so the peaks don’t line up as much in a ridgeline as they do for everything north of them.
I plan to do this as a completely unsupported fastpack, taking around three or so days. Hopefully, I can do the challenge when there’s still a bit of snow on the ridge, and just bring a small stove to melt water for drinking. Finishing in Frisco will be intentionally convenient, as I can grab food any hour of the day, and catch the bus back to the front range if work requires!
A lot of this terrain will be familiar to me, as I’ve done the Tenmile Traverse: Mt. Royal/Mt. Victoria/Peak 1 – 10), from Frisco to Breckenridge (then I ran the Peaks Trail back!). I’ve also traversed Buckskin/Democrat/McNamee/Traver/Clinton on the Tour of the Highest Hundred as well as Fletcher/Atlantic/Pacific/Crystal on that same tour. The unknowns will be the crux bits: Drift/Fletcher/Atlantic. That may need a recon trip to check out what the cruxes are – maybe I can get Peter Bakwin to tag along with me! And maybe I can time my attempt just right, so the cruxes are snow traverses, rather than rock climbs.
The timing of hitting these peaks seems important. The vast majority of this traverse seems to be doable at any time of the day, but I’d like to have that Drift/Fletcher/Atlantic dashed off with plenty of daylight, and perhaps after a few winks of sleep. Doing the first part, Trout Creek Pass to Weston Pass leisurely with an early quitting time, followed by a very early wakeup call to start up from Weston Pass should deliver me to the col before Fletcher before I completely lose my mind. Then, giving myself plenty of time to get through Drift/Fletcher/Atlantic in the early morning on firm snow should set me up for the rest of the traverse that is in front me.
Sangre de Cristo Range Traverse
Another unsupported Fastpack, it makes the previous one look like a mere warmup. I… I have no idea how many named peaks this one traverses over (a lot – at least 83 peaks over 11,000 feet), but the line from the beginning of Lake Como Road outside of Blanca, CO (the southernmost public access point) to the TH for Methodist Mountain outside of Salida Colorado is a little more than 103 miles. It’s quite incredible that there is a line of mountains with such a well-defined ridgeline that goes on for so far.
Some highlights of this trip: there are no paved routes intersecting the range for the entire 103 miles. The traverse of the entire range also includes doing two of the four great 14er traverses: Little Bear to Blanca (and right afterwards Ellingwood Point – another 14er, to California Peak, a Centennial) and Crestone Needle to Crestone Peak – right to Mt. Adams, another Centennial.
From what I can tell in my research, this route has only been tried once by Brendan Leonard and Jim Harris (see The High Lonesome, Backpacker Magazine and beta). Leonard and Harris, starting in Salida, weren’t able to reach Lake Como, and finished off at the Lake Zapata trailhead, as the 100 year flood of 2013 was just starting to rage.
Cruxes here will definitely be the two 14er traverses – neither of which Leonard/Harris took on. I’ve done both traverses twice, so I’m not too concerned about them – can’t wait to revisit! I’ll start from the southern terminus to get the business out of the way, before continuing my way south toward Salida (and guaranteed burritos).
I can only guess how long something like this would take, but I would wager a solid week. The first part of the trip would be the slowest, and after Mt. Adams, it would be time to put on the afterburners to cruise (albeit relatively speaking). Little Bear would be the first peak I’d get on, so that makes timing the traverse a bit easy – if the weather holds to complete the traverse all the way to California, I could really put in some extra miles before stopping. It’s very hard to estimate when I’d be in the area for the Crestone Traverse, but I would first need to summit both Milwaukee and Broken Hand Peak before reaching them. I’m guessing I’ll be bivvying on Broken Hand Pass between Broken Hand Peak and Crestone Needle, to get an extra super early start for the day.
- 36.5 miles
- 2 days, 11min
Three Centennials Summited:
- Capitol Peak
- Snowmass Mountain
- Hagerman Peak
After cruising through the Sawatch, I had to once again cross west over the Continental Divide – this time with an unruly bear canister in tow, to dash off the Elk Range.
A fairly stout portion of the tour was awaiting me, featuring some interesting climbing, some fairly loose and dangerous routes, and some unknowns for me with Hagerman, Cathedral, and Thunder Pyramid.
Timing wasn’t very good. It was coming up on Labor Day weekend. I certainly didn’t want to visit the Maroon Bells at that time – an already busy area would be a mad house (lots of people = lots of potential rockfall), so I opted to take the range in a strange order: first Capitol, Snowmass, and Hagerman in the west, then Cathedral, Castle, and Conundrum at the east side of the range; and finally the Bells and Pyramids right in the middle.
- 32 miles
- 10,000’+ elevation
- 1 day, 2hr, 30min
Three Centennials Summited:
- “Phoenix Peak”
- San Luis
- Stewart Peak
I questioned framing this leg of my Tour of the Highest Hundred as a, “Fastpack from Hell”, as the numbers really don’t compare to the Crestones, Sierra Blanca – let alone the mighty Weminuche. A motivated person, starting early with fine weather, could potentially do this course between sunrise and sundown. Unfortunately, that wasn’t my situation, when I left my bike far above Creede, CO in the summer of 2017.
- 81.4 Miles
- 34,847’+ elevation
- 5 days, 1hr, 44min
Nine Centennials Summited:
- Pigeon Peak
- Turret Peak
- Jupiter Mountain
- Windom Peak
- Sunlight Peak
- North Eolus
- Mount Eolus
- Jagged Mountain
- Vestal Peak
The Weminuche. This was the make-or-break section of my tour. A large project within an enormous project. Lots of terrain to cover, lots of mountains to top. Technical scrambling in a desolate setting. For example, Jagged Mountain’s easiest route rated at 5.2 is one of the technical cruxes of the whole trip and is located more than a dozen miles from any trailhead. Jagged is also one of the more remote peaks in the Highest Hundred itinerary. I also planned to take Vestal’s Wham Ridge (5.4) to summit, rather than the easiest, if much looser, Southeast Couloir. I would have to descend the Southeast Couloir anyways, but Wham Ridge seemed too incredible to pass off in the name of speed.
Let’s talk logistics of even getting in there. There are nine peaks of the the Weminuche (sans the isolated Rio Grande Pyramid, which I did in a separate trip). First the good news. Five of the them: Jupiter, Windom, Sunlight, North Eolus, and Eolus are clumped into one area, easily accessible from each other in the quite popular (for Weminuche standards) Chicago Basin.
Now the bad: Turret/Pigeon, Jagged Mountain, and Vestal Peak are spaced quite far away from each other, separated by gnarly mountain passes, with no trail connecting them together.
Further complicating matters is the weather: it can be terrible, especially in the monsoon season, which is when I inevitably hit the area. With the trip being a multi-day affair and my goal of moving quickly, I could only afford bringing just so much food in my 35 liter pack, which limits how long I can stay out for. Margin of error is low, or I would face the problem of needing to go back into town to resupply, and making yet another unplanned backpack approach in, which I imagine would feel completely demoralizing for someone like me going for clock time.
For Seekers of the Self-Powered Way, there are only a few access points that make sense to gain these summits. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is often used to cut down time/distance to access many of these peaks. For me, that would be of course: off the table.
The 2018 FKTOFTY Awards have been announced. I’ve very thankful that the Tour of the Highest Hundred was selected in the lineup! Although, it didn’t “win”, I really had no reason to think I would! I’m actually a little confused how different FKT attempts can even be compared to each other, but if all we want to do is celebrate FKT projects in general, I think that’s a worthwhile reason to make such lists.
But if I hope that the Tour of the Highest Hundred would win something like a popularity contest… forget it. It’s too long, too hard, too weird, and too obscure to ever become the type of, “Destination FKT” something like the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim or the John Muir Trail are quickly becoming. And that’s totally fine with me. A litmus test is this: try to visualize exact what teh Highest Hundred challenge would entail. Kinda hard, right? What do you focus on? The distance, the peaks themselves, the elevation gain, the route? It’s a complex mother.
But, there’s a lot of reasons I think going for the Colorado Centennials by bike and by foot self-supported makes a totally life-changing challenge, even if you don’t make it your own FKT.
Check out the La Sportiva Blog to read and read about just how I got to where I am in all this peak-bagging self-powered adventuring.
Thanks goes to La Sportiva for believing in me, and providing me with the best trail running shoe on the planet: The Mutant.
The Crestones! A highlight of my Highest Hundred trip – the mountains of this group are awesomely steep, the rock is solid, the scrambling: divine. This is truly a Fastpack from Hell-yeah!
- 36.1 Miles
- 15,200’+ elevation
- 1 day, 17hr, 28min
Seven Centennials summited:
- Kit Carson
- Columbia Point
- Crestone Needle
- Crestone Peak
- 33.1 Miles
- 15,085’+ elevation
- 2 days 25min
Six Centennials summited:
- Ellingwood Point
- Little Bear Peak
- Blanca Peak
- “Huerfano Peak”
- Mt. Lindsey
- California Peak
To make the Tour of the Highest Hundred work, my general strategy was to keep the number of separate trailheads I needed to visit by bike as low as possible, while designing my route on foot to tag as many mountains in an area as possible. Transitioning to/from bike-mode/hike-mode and superfluous riding are big time sucks.
One of the largest puzzles is the Sierra Blancas. Even enthusiastic peak baggers will separate this group of mountains into >= two trips:
- Approaching from the east for Mt. Lindsey and “Huerfano Peak” via the Huerfano/Lily Lake Trailhead
- Approaching from the west to access Ellingwood Point, Little Bear, and Blanca via Lake Como Road
- And well, also approaching from the west for California Peak (if the Centennials are part of your goal), which is accessed from an altogether trail head: Zapata Falls.
Three different trips to three different trailheads is a lot of bike riding for six mountains that sit close together. Visiting the eastern trailhead, then the western ones means either crossing a northern mountain pass (Mosca Pass), or going around the entire southern end of the Sierra Blancas (La Veta Pass) – I was willing and needed to do one, but not both.
Miracles of Miracles, I managed to complete my Big Project for the year: The Tour of the Highest Hundred! There’s many projects that I’ll be branching off from this summer’s trip, but below are some articles/interviews covering the Tour – I’ll update if/when others are published:
REI Co-op Journal: Justin Simoni Summits Colorado’s Highest Hundred Peaks. By Bike.
Bikepacking.com: Interview With The Long Ranger