RT Length: 10.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 5200’
Hiking/climbing over the next few weeks are going to be tricky since I’m taking my survival troop camping on the weekends (which is always a blast!!!). Today I needed to be back home by noon so I got out my spreadsheet to look for a hike that was: 3 hours or less driving distance, around 10 miles of hiking, and didn’t require much route finding (because I didn’t have time for that today).
I love spreadsheets! They take some initial time to set up but make narrowing down this kind of information so much easier. After finding 4 different Centennials that met my criteria (it’s great having so many options open!) the one with the ‘best’ weather was Hope Mountain A: 50% chance of rain from 3am-9am with 40% chance of thunderstorms after 9am. I liked those numbers, I’d just need to pack extra rain gear.
I made it to the 2WD trailhead at 3:15am. The road is in excellent condition with great signs. There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot when I arrived (and it was still there when I left). The parking area could comfortably hold about 10 vehicles.
The trail was indeed excellent: no route finding necessary until I made it to the Hope Saddle. There weren’t many signs, but they weren’t really needed either.
The beginning of the trail began with solid elevation gain that never quit. It was a nice steady climb through heavily wooded areas of aspens, and after Sheep Gulch switching to small pines and then quickly to alpine tundra. It was a perfect night to see wildlife, yet I didn’t see any tracks so I didn’t expect to see any animals (I didn’t).
As soon as I hit an elevation of 12000’ the switchbacks began. These weren’t the kind of switchbacks that wear you out, but instead the kind that make the hike more enjoyable as they weave up the mountainside.
The hike this far had a lot of elevation gain, but the gain had been steady and hadn’t tired me out. I made it to Hope Pass and thought to myself it was still way too dark. I must have been hiking faster than I’d anticipated. I looked at my watch: Yep, it was only 4:30am. I’d hiked 3 miles with 2700’ of elevation gain in an hour. I was going to need to slow down if I wanted to get pictures from the summit. At the Hope Pass saddle between Hope Mountain A and Quail Mountain there was a cairn with prayer flags.
I couldn’t see Hope Mountain because it was still dark out, but I knew once I made it to the pass to turn left and head up the first ridge. The route was supposed to be easy to figure out and visible from the top of this first ridge, but since it was still too dark to see I couldn’t tell. There was no route from the pass to the summit: no dirt path and certainly no cairns. My flashlight kept going in and out (I need a new one) which was a little frustrating but I’d needed to slow down anyway, so spending time hitting it against a rock to re-light it every time it went out seemed like time well spent.
Here’s the route I took:
That ridge was FUN!!! This is rated as a 2D hike, and I hadn’t brought a helmet, but it would have been nice, especially if others had been on the mountain as well. The ridge had some exposure and would be a great training hike for someone to take before tackling some of those class 3 14ers. I hiked the entire ridge in the dark, so my advice to someone doing the same is to stick to the ridge, and if you must leave the ridge go to the left.
The ridge took me about an hour to climb, which gave me lots of time to think. My mind drifted to 14er firsts. I know some people don’t appreciate the idea of any more “firsts”, but I think they’re fun and encourage people to get outside, and while I don’t plan on attempting any, there are a few I’d like to see: The first person to summit them all in the dark, the first person to spend the night on every summit (has this been attempted/done?) and my favorite, the first to stand on every summit without actually hiking (I’m thinking this one would involve a helicopter, rope, and tons of money). In any event, the topic took up my mind as I climbed the ridge. Here’s a look up and back from halfway up the ridge. To the left is Hope Mountain A, and the right is Quail Mountain.
At about 13000’ the loose rock began. In this picture you can see there’s a false summit
This is where it got a bit sketchy in the dark: those gullies were loose! All rocks the size of microwaves or smaller were very unstable and just waiting to find their way lower down the mountain. I tried not to touch the larger ones.
The trick here is also to stay to the left (the right drops off into a couloir). But as soon as you get up those loose rock gullies you’re met with a nice gentle but rocky slope past a false summit to the true summit. I summited at 5:45am. Here the sun was just beginning to rise and I got a summit photo
I also took a good look around. Yep, it was going to rain. Hmmm… I was still debating hiking Quail Mountain today, but those clouds didn’t look friendly. I guess I was just going to have to skip it and hike it another day.
As I started descending Hope Mountain A it started spitting rain. Nothing much, not enough to put on rain gear or anything, but then the graupel began and I decided to hike a little faster. The graupel only lasted about 2 minutes however, and then was gone. I took another look around me
The sun was rising and Quail Mountain was looking really inviting. Since the rain was behind me I decided to keep looking ahead and not make a decision about hiking Quail until I made it to the pass. In the daylight the ridge was much easier to navigate. This time if necessary I just stayed to the right, but I mainly took the ridge.
I made it back to the prayer flags at 7am and took a look around. All signs of rain in the next two hours were gone, so I decided to attempt Quail Mountain. This 13er didn’t have a trail either. Here’s the route I took
The beginning started with scree, and due to the elevation gain you couldn’t see the summit for most of the hike, so I just aimed for the first bump and began hiking.
There were multiple ‘social trails’ towards the middle of the mountain. The ones to the lower right (where the mountain has red dirt) were on loose scree so I stayed to the upper right on a light but sturdy semi trail through the tundra (stick to where it’s green and you’ll be fine). It became more and more stable as I ascended and then abruptly ended at the first bump
From here I followed the slight ridge up and over the false summit to a small saddle
And just like that, I summited at 7:30am.
From the summit of Quail Mountain I could smell smoke from the nearby fires. It wasn’t overpowering, and reminded me of campfire off in the distance. It also didn’t last very long, and I could only smell smoke when the wind blew strong.
If you’re thinking about hiking Quail Mountain after Hope and the weather’s nice my advice is to just go for it! It only took me half an hour to climb the 950 feet in elevation gain, and the views were incredible! There were a few small and abandoned cabins (mines?) at the summit.
I turned to head back and got a great view of Hope Mountain A and the small ridge I’d followed to the summit of Quail. Going back I followed the mountain to the right
This is another one of those mountains where microspikes are useful on the way down to navigate through the scree. I made it back to Hope Pass at 8:10am and started my way back down the switchbacks. Here I saw the only 3 other people I’d see today: a group of men who looked like they were thru hiking.
The hike through the aspens reminded me once again of why I hike: solitude, beauty, nature, and time to think. I saw a couple of ptarmigans on the trail, but otherwise no wildlife. I made it back to the trailhead at 9am, just as it started to rain, making this 10.6 mile hike with 5200’ in elevation gain in 5.5 hours. Perfect timing to make it back by noon!
On the way out I noticed there was still only one other car in the parking lot at the Sheep Gulch Trailhead I was at, but as I passed the Missouri Gulch trailhead on my way out it was overflowing with cars and there were several passenger vans there guiding groups. I know the trail there goes to 3 different 14ers and several other hikes, but I think it’s safe to say I’m going to have no problem getting used to this less crowded 13er thing!