Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rist Canyon Triple Trudge: Buckhorn, "Leila", Ethel

Buckhorn Mountain (8341')
Pt. 8415' ("Leila Peak")
Mt. Ethel (8471')
~9 Miles, 3000' gain, 4.5 hours

Nick hatched another plan to bag some local Larimer County peaks on Sunday. While a longer route would clearly be manageable in the summer, it was dubious in winter, since any time estimates had to be derived not from the standard multiplication by the bushwhack factor (BWF), but instead by the dreaded postholing bushwhack factor (PBWF), in addition to the recent plague of the wind factor (MFWF). So it was unlikely that we would get many miles of running, but it was still more interesting than piling on road miles, again, and an alpine start (well, drive) from Nick's house would guarantee being done by noon. So I didn't want to miss out.

First up was a 700' climb in just over a mile, up the backside of Rist Canyon Road. This was just a warmup to get into the foothills...but first, let me give Rist Canyon Rd its due.

Rist Canyon

Rist Canyon is (in)famous around town for many reasons. Mostly, it's a popular cycling (if not motorcycling) road in decent weather; in fact, there's an annual road race. Not surprisingly, it's a popular training route -- to the consternation of local non-cycling residents, whose angry newspaper letters are also an annual occurrence. (Trying to be a peacemaker, my opinion remains Drivers, don't overdrive your viewing distance and Cyclists, single up and stay to the right). Training groups include not only the championship CSU cycling team, but also legends like the hiking boot man, who may or may not have been a pro cyclist.

Anyway, Rist Canyon showed up in popular bike route searches when we moved here in 2006, so the first weekend we were here, I was anxious to ride my aluminum steed along the classic Buckhorn-Rist loop, which ends up being a convenient 100k from my house. Ignorantly, I did the loop clockwise, which is essentially the wrong way, by ascending the nice straightaway and descending the switchbacks. I overshot the first switchback dramatically and was thankful for being safe -- and thus was introduced to the more serious cycling to be found in Colorado.

By descending the backside, which has nice views and a convenient runout to bleed off speed before the Stove Prairie intersection, it's easy to hit 50+ mph on the bike -- and I'm a lightweight, cautious descender. Others are able to crack 60. But I was even more surprised to learn of another subculture that was able to hit 70+ mph...

Videos of this used to be available publicly online, and there was talk of organized and disorganized skating up there, but it seems skateboards draw public ire even more than spandex does, so they have to keep it underground. Keep on rollin', guys!

So that's Rist Canyon. Of course, people rarely get out to explore around the area, so I was intrigued to do so.

First up, along public Co Rd 41 heading South from the summit of Rist Canyon Road, is an open summit with a communication tower:

Followed by the summit of Buckhorn itself:

This was easy enough, with rewarding views -- the worst part was perhaps the ice on Co Rd 41.

Next up was Pt' 8415 and Mt. Ethel. Being located in heavy tree cover and shade, the snow was deeper -- often crotch-deep, which, although it's a relative measurement, serves the purpose (generally, and rarely, only superseded by "armpit deep") and the going was slow. But this summit was more photogenic and interesting, with a summit pole and random beer bottle on top. Since the summit, only slightly lower than neighboring Ethel, ended up being sufficiently interesting yet unnamed, Nick and I agreed to "Leila Peak", with Jessica's late, great-aunt Leila being a sister to her great-aunt Ethel. (Also, her late husband Clyde worked the railroad in the hills of Western Nebraska into Colorado).

Also at the summit was, unfortunately, constant wind, so we didn't linger too long. The route to Ethel was clearly visible, but was to involve significant travel through the forest. And, the quickest (or, at least shortest) descent was a direct downclimb:

Being in the shade and the wind was a bad deal with light gloves on, as my fingers froze while I still needed them for group. We were both anxious to be out of the wind and into the trees...only to deal with more breakable crust on top of deep snow.

More slogging, and eventually we made it to an unnamed subpeak connected to the Ethel Ridge, but still had another descent and climb up Ethel proper. I think we generally nailed the orienteering for the day up until this point, but we could have tacked more to the left and avoided some unnecessary elevation, at the expense of having been in the deeper snow in the trees. So, it was an extra-credit sub-summit.

More slogging over to Ethel, and we knew it would be the last summit of the day.

We did not find a rumored summit register, but it could very well have been buried in snow. All that remained was a final descent to Stove Prairie Road -- but it was also the longest stretch of tree cover and deep snow yet, occasionally slowed down further by some icy boulder downclimbing.

Finally, we popped out directly on Stove Prairie Road, and were ironically appreciative to be able to run on the road again, just about a mile from the car, although I didn't have feeling in either foot. At the intersection, we met local runners Wes and Debbie, who were friendly and have been running in the Stove Prairie area for years. They told us that Old Flowers Rd. was an icy mess, so I guess we didn't miss out on that.

All told, not many miles, but a fun day in the hills. Specificity for WS100 training? Not so much, but Nick's interest in peak-bagging gave me a secret idea about how to beat him at WS100 (you heard it here first) by distracting him...with another "special" summit list in June.

1 comment:

  1. Hope you got permission - Buckhorn is all private-owned land. :-)