October 9, 2000 in Central
This was to be my last real hike of 2000. A week later, the first of several fall snowstorms moved in and blanketed the entire wilderness. The year before, there was virtually no snow through the middle of November. Not so in 2000; the snow cam in mid October and was there to stay. I wanted to do one last decent hike before the snow came so I picked a seldom-visited mountain in the Gore Range – Mount Solitude. Mount Solitude is a relatively gentle mountain (at least from the side we approached it from) on the east side of Pitkin Creek Valley. A friend from work, Mike, accompanied me on this trip.
We arrived at the Pitkin Lake trailhead around 7 in the morning. Like most of the trailheads from this side, it was paved but very small – only enough room for a few cars. The morning air was really cold and brisk; it definitely felt like winter was on the way. The trail started out along the creek passing by people’s condo porches for a few yards then climbed steeply up. Finally, the trail leveled off and we were strolling through the classic Gore Range woods – lots of aspen with ponderosa pines dotting the woods, thick grass, and steep gorges and walls around us. We could eventually see the first impressive waterfall in the distance. Several minutes later, we passed in front of a second waterfall which was our signal to leave the trail and start heading up Mount Solitude’s grassy slopes.
The climb up to Mount Solitude, though covered in thick grass, was very steep. It was about a 2000 foot slog to get up the ridge but we enjoyed it. Finally, we arrived at the saddle between Climber’s Point and Mount Solitude. We were staring right at the jagged, broken west face of Keller Mountain. It took me a few moment to get figure that out (it’s hard to pick out peaks in this range because there so densely packed). South along the ridge we were looking at Climber’s Point which looked absolutely awesome (left). To the right was a longer and gentler hike to Mount Solitude. We started out by heading for Climber’s Point and quickly realized that the point we saw earlier was a false summit. It was a easy scramble to the true summit, however we passed over a couple of spots that looked almost 500 feet down near-vertical icy walls.
After several minutes on the summit, we retraced our steps back to the saddle and headed on to Mount Solitude. It was an easy hike to the summit. Although it was an easy hike, that didn’t mean it wasn’t inspiring – the views were phenomenal from here. So far, I think these peaks have the best views of all the Gores because there so centrally located.
Because of the inspiring views, I had tons of extra energy. Mike was up for anything so we opted to head for the next mountain along the ridge, Point 13,075. This side of the 3rd peak was an easy hike but things were to change on the north ridge. We were very close to the saddle that connected the valley we came from with the Boulder Lake Valley so we decided to hike on to that. From the saddle, Peak “X” was only a quarter mile away. To climb those 4 peaks in one day would have been a great effort and I knew I had the energy in me. Mike started feeling a bit tired though (this was his only real hike of the year). We started to try to climb the ridge over to the saddle but it got really difficult really fast. We both went in opposite directions around some towers looking for a passage. It seems that most difficult peaks in Colorado have a weakness in their ramparts but after several minutes, we found none. There’s no sense in attempting a risky route so we backed down and traversed underneath the ridge along some steep snowy slopes. These easier slopes though were by no means a walk-in-the-park though. After a while, Mike decided that he would downclimb one of the gullies while I opted to continue traversing and eventually hook back up with the ridge at a more gentle spot and hike to the saddle. We picked out some small tarns that we’d meet up at in the valley floor beneath “East Partner Peak” on the opposite side of the valley.
My hike over to the saddle was awesome. The view of Point 13,075 from this side is absolutely stunning, hence the nickname “Vista” or “Vista Peak”. It was a good thing that we retreated because, from this vantage point, it appeared that the ridge got even more precipitous and difficult. I took a ten minute rest at the saddle taking in the views. Peak “X” was so close and I was still tempted to climb it. It would have taken another two hours though so I opted not to leave Mike worrying. There was a faint trail here at the saddle linking the two valleys but it wasn’t one that received much traffic obviously.
The hike back down to the valley floor was easier than I thought it would be. The slopes looked like they were very loose, but it was surprisingly stable. Mike and I met up at exactly the same time. The gully that he had tried downclimbing had cliffed-out so he was forced to traverse as well to in order to find decent passage down.
After a long rest, we headed out. Pitkin Valley splits into two smaller valleys that head northwest and northeast with “East Partner Peak” separating them. Pitkin Lake is at the head of the northwestern valley and we were in the northeastern one. Again, there was not much of a trail here and after passing another set of absolutely lovely tarns, we completely lost the trail and ended up bushwacking through delightful forest until we came out near the waterfall where we left the trail to originally climb up to the saddle between Mount Solitude and Climber’s Point. During the hike out, we saw a large group of deer go bounding past us. This turned out to be my most enjoyable day hike of the year. The weather was absolutely perfect. Though it was fall and brisk out, it was perfect. There was also enough cloud cover to keep the sun from being over-powering. Maybe the best thing was that, except for the very beginning of the hike, we didn’t see a soul all day.