Flat Top Mountain P2K
Peak 8,140ft P300

Wed, Jul 28, 2021

With: Eric Smith

Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

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Flat Top Mtn

Today we visited the Flat Tops Wilderness in Garfield County, an hour+ drive south of Steamboat Springs where we were staying for the week. As the name suggests, the Wilderness is a collection of high mesas reaching over 12,000ft, created in 1975 and spread across three counties. Eric had been here once as a teenager for an overnight camping trip in high school. Our goal was Flat Top Mtn, the Wilderness and County HP with more than 4,000ft of prominence. It is a relatively easy outing, 2,200ft of gain and less than 9mi roundtrip, much of it on trail and the most delightful cross-country one can imagine.

Stillwater is the highest of three reservoirs built on the Bear River on the northeast side of the Wilderness, with a number of popular campgrounds in the surrounding Routt National Forest. We started from the Stillwater TH just below the reservoir's dam at a height already over 10,000ft, making for cool temps. The water level in the reservoir was currently quite low, as in much of the American West this summer, but that didn't seem to bother the marmots and other creatures that lived along its edges. We followed the North Derby Trail across the dam on the east side of the reservoir through damp, lush forest and past the Wilderness boundary. The forested section didn't last long as the trail quickly climbs above treeline on its way to a saddle between Flat Top and the Derby plateau to the southwest. From here, we turned northeast to follow an on-again off-again use trail along the grassy ridge leading to Flat Top's summit. We spent an hour on the trail getting to the saddle, and a second hour along the ridgeline leading to the summit. Despite haze in the valleys below, there were some great views in all directions, overlooking the Wilderness area on three sides. We found no register in the large, sloppy cairn piled up at the highpoint. There were few clouds mid-morning, and there was little need for us to hurry off. We returned via the same route, taking a little less time for the descent than we had on the way up. It wasn't yet noon when we returned to the TH.

Peak 8,140ft

We decided to check out this unnamed summit, not far off the road on our way back. It is located on the west side of SR131 and the Yampa River and a few miles north of Yampa. We had spied it on the morning drive, noting it looked like a difficult volcanic plug, much like Rabbit Ears a few days earlier. We turned off the highway onto Country Rd 21, then parked at a shooting range south of the summit. We were the only vehicle at the range, quiet now. It looked to be for public use by the signage, so we went through the gate and headed up the ridgeline towards our peak. We went over a fenceline well above the range, then made our way to the base of the summit plug on its south side. The west and east sides appeared to be vertical walls, leaving us the south side as our only option. We scrambled up class 3 rock for 3-4 minutes before coming to a halt about 30ft short of the summit. Eric had stopped a short distance behind me to see what I would do. Looking up, the next section had a crack running up about 12ft that would take an arm, but above that was a blanker section maybe 10ft high that I didn't think I could solo safely. I decided to stop where I was. This one would be more fun with a rope for safety, I concluded, and told Eric I was done. He had no desire to encourage me or try it himself, so we turned to head back down to the car. We had had an enjoyable morning and there seemed no good reason to spoil it with a mishap on this one...

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