Happy Hiking: Mount Princeton

I recently tackled my fourth fourteener of the summer, or should I say the first of the fall, upon summitting Mount Princeton with my friend Cat and Tanya. We selected Mount Princeton to celebrate Tanya’s final summit in the Sawatch range. 

Getting There

In order to shorten the day a little bit, Tanya and I spent the night at Cat’s house in Breckenridge.  That way we shaved about an hour off our drive to Buena Vista the following morning.  We wanted to arrive early enough on a week day, that we could get one of the four parking spots by the towers and didn’t have to contend with finishers driving their SUV’s down the narrow dirt road that leads to the trailhead.  Additionally, we wanted to give the crisp autumn day a chance to warm up.

Fortunately, we were successful in all our goals and as the driver, I was relieved!  While I had walked down a portion of the road as part of the Colorado Trail and didn’t remember it to be rocky or difficult the comments on 14ers.com indicated it was rutted and narrow with limited places to pull to the side to pass.

In fact, the reviews of the road seemed so daunting in August, that Tanya and I ditched our plans to hike Mount Princeton and knocked out Missouri Mountain (aka Misery Mountain) instead.  Lucky for us, since then the Forest Service smoothed the road as well, so it was much easier to drive than I expected.  My Honda CR-V made it up without a hitch.

Only one other car was at the upper “lot.” I have use quotes as it is really a pull-off area by a turn and a road to the towers.  We were thrilled to snag the other good spot.  As we prepared for the 6.8 mile hike, we used the natural toilet in the woods, tightened our shoes, strapped on our packs, and lengthened our poles.

Just as we were headed up the road, two huge utility trucks left the towers heading down the road.  Oh, how happy I felt that I didn’t have to contend with them on the way up.  Perfect timing! 

The Hike

The first 1.5 miles led us up the road at a moderate grade.  So far, the hike was easy and boring (not counting the good company).  There was good reason why I had no desire to park at the bottom lot and walk all the way up the road.  I didn’t remember it being pretty the first time around.

Eventually, we reached the single-track trail located at a set of stairs of rocks stairs on the right of the road even with the treeline.  It is important to read the 14ers.com route description or to have the All Trails app as the trail to the right could be easily missed.

at the single-track trail to mount princeton

The trail to Mount Princeton quickly climbs through the tundra before it levels out briefly and turns to the west. Soon hikers enter a talus field that today was spotted with leftover snow from a storm the previous week. 

The trail has been rerouted.  It is easy to see the old Mount Princeton Trail in the distance that climbs up to the ridge.  Despite the rocks being slightly built up on the trail, after picking through all the boulders in the talus field, it would be easy to step right over it.

We took a rest here before the more intense climb to the summit.  The Mount Princeton Trail follows a few switchbacks up the slope until it eventually ascends steeply to the ridge.  This portion of the ill-defined trail took forever to traverse. We, especially me, were going nowhere fast.  Keely, Cat’s dog, patiently waited on us after she likely lapped us twice anyway.

Fortunately, we were not facing an afternoon storm threat, and I must admit hiking to a 14er summit a on bluebird sky fall day is remarkable.  I might have to extend my fourteener season next year.

Mount Princeton Summit

Eventually we made it Mount Princeton’s peak and shared it with just three others, before we ultimately had it to ourselves.  While I can’t say Mount Princeton is the prettiest 14er I have ever hiked, I can say the view of surrounding peaks with a little snow was nice.

9 second video of view from Mount Princeton

We couldn’t have asked for a better day…No wind, no clouds!  Who knew I would have ended up with a sunburn on my calves from rolling up my pants!?!

The Descent

After celebrating Tanya’s last summit in the Sawatch Range, which sadly despite the sign, we sort of forgot, we made our descent.  This in when I would say Mount Princeton was a slog!  We picked our way through the talus field for two hours which was a really long time for 1.5 miles!! 

While it took us longer going up, all 14er ascents are hard, so we didn’t think much of it.  Going down…just UGH!  We were so ready to be done with the moving boulders.  Overall, it took us about  7 hours to go 7 miles, though we did savor the summit for an hour with the wonderful weather.

Upon finishing, it still wasn’t over for me.  I still had to drive the road down and hope no one was coming up.  We lucked out once again!  An SUV came up the road just as we ended.  As a result, we had a free ride down.  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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