Distance: 8.41 miles (out and back) Elevation Gain: 2,965 (total) 2,920 (net)
Max Elevation: 13,305 ft Min. Elevation: 10,385 ft
On Saturday, June 7th we repeated a hike/climb to the top of 13er, James Peak. This was our first early season summit attempt, and despite all the remaining snow fields and subsequent route-finding, the hike was quite successful. On Friday evening, weather forecasts were predicating rain/snow showers all day long, and we resigned to the idea of another weekend indoors watching movies for fun and hopping on the treadmill for conditioning. Fast-forward to early Saturday morning, and the weather predication changed completely. The front range went from 80% precipitation to 0% overnight. We threw on our hiking clothes and backpacks and jumped in the car. By 10:00 am we were at the parking lot about 3/4 miles from the base of St. Mary’s Glacier. The temperature was perfect for the start of the hike, and we didn’t see snow until we got much closer to the lake. We moved quickly to reach the base of the snowfield and began the long slog up the side of the glacier. This time we both had hiking poles for stability, which proved vital for this hike as we had to post-hole and wander across ice in many later sections of the trip.
Getting to the top of the glacier is much more difficult than it initially appears. It looks like the top is just a little further, but once you get to that point, it becomes apparent that there is still more and more to climb. We don’t have many photos of the glacier this time, since we’ve visited many times before. Seen below is the trail that develops just beyond it. 75% of this trail was snow free.
The next mile or so of the hike is very flat for the most part. The path is very straight forward until it runs into a 4-wheeler trail. The trail reconnects about 75 yards away from the junction, but there was a lot of snow from this point on. We were unable to see a clear path, but James Peak loomed in the distance as our guide. We walked steadily upward across snowfields for a good 15 min before, we saw a cairn, and the trail peek through a bit. The snow, for the most part, was packed in quite well, with the exception of a few sneaky soft spots. We were fine with sturdy hiking boots and poles. Along the way up, we got a great look at Steuart Lake which can be seen below. It was still partially frozen.
After this point, we began to feel the air thin out as we got closer and closer to 13,000 ft. We noticed that it began to get later in the day, and we had a wedding to attend in the early evening. We halfway considered turning back, but we had a little case of “summit fever” and pressed on. The trail weaved in and out of snowfields and ice. Dry sections pleasantly surprised us on occasion but as we reached the final 300 feet, we were forced into the snow for the final pitch. There was no trail to follow, so we just climbed up the side of the peak. It will be quite interesting to see our route in the summer when it has all melted away.
Shortly after summiting, a large cloud headed straight toward us engulfing us in a blanket of thick white air. We were fortunate to get a few views and photos before it blocked out the surrounding scenery and blasted us with cold mountain air. Seen below are photos of the final section, and our five minutes at the summit.
We hauled it down the mountain now for two reasons: to be able to see and to make the wedding. In fact, we were able to glissade a few times on the way down which was incredibly fun and shaved off a few min from the descent. Seen below are photos on the way back. And yes, we did lose five minutes to pose LIFE magazine style.
It’s interesting the lengths we will go to spend five minutes on top of the world. 2.5 hours of hard climbing, plus the risk of getting ready for a wedding in a gas station bathroom all for 5 min. of breathtaking splendor. But if you hike and/or climb, you completely understand. Life is too short to miss spending a gorgeous Saturday outside in Colorado. This was a great way to start our hiking season. We chose a nice challenge with an amazing reward. We can’t wait for the next one!