Thu, Aug 18, 2022
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On my way to Steamboat, CO, I stopped off in the Routt National Forest northeast of Craig for some unfinished business. I had been in the area the previous year for the Moffat CoHP, Black Mtn, and afterwards was unable to reach the TH for Oliphant and the other peaks due to construction to fix a drainage pipe on the access road. No such trouble this year. I was interested in this collection of summits in the Elk Range north of Black Mtn, all of them over 10,000ft, mostly due to the name, "Oliphant". I had spent the night camped below the Black Mtn TH and was up early to drive the remaining distance to the Roaring Fork Slater Creek TH. I was a little too confident in my navigation skills and happily drove off down the wrong fork for more than 30min before acknowledging my error. I ended up losing more than an hour in the wasted effort and didn't get started until almost 8a.
The Bears Ears Trail runs northwest across the range with the trail's highpoint going over the saddle between Mt. Oliphant and Mt. Welba. The trail is really a repurposed old road, no longer open to vehicles, and poorly maintained for foot and horse traffic. I followed the trail for the first mile, leaving it to make my way west and southwest up to Peak 10,245ft, my first stop. Almost from the start I noticed there was a great variety of mushrooms in large quantities, carpeting the forest floor almost everywhere I went today, far more than I've seen anywhere else in my travels. If only I had a semblence of a clue as to which ones were tasty and which would kill me. The other thing in great abundance on the way to Peak 10,245ft, was downfall. With seven miles of cross-country on this outing, I would have to stop far short of my plans if the downfall was everywhere. Luckily, things would get better after leaving the first summit.
It took me an hour to cover the two mile distance to Peak 10,245ft, half of that cross-country. I found an old firering near the top and a Scott Patterson register from 2013 at the summit. I recognized the name as one of the top contributors on SummitPost from back in the day. Most of the other names on the three pages were familiar, too - John & Alyson Kirk, Teresa Gergen, Ken Nolan. I think I might be the first visitor not from Colorado. The summit was forested over and devoid of views, sadly.
Next up was the highpoint of the day, Mt. Oliphant, another two miles further and all cross-country. After passing over the summit of Peak 10,245ft, I had to drop west into the upper reaches of the Roaring Fork drainage before beginning the climb up to Oliphant from the southeast and south. There was much downfall and lush conditions in the drainage, though little water in the creek, which made for an easy crossing. The forest begins to give way on the upper half of the mountain, giving some hope for views. But the true summit is located behind the talus-strewn false summit, and there were again no views to be had. A register in a small cairn dated to 2008, also left by Scott Patterson. Most of the entries were dated since 2020.
After a few minutes at the summit, I headed northwest through forest and then down the North Ridge to the saddle with Mt. Welba. As expected, I found the Bears Ears Trail crossing over the saddle. I was happy to see it was in better shape here and would be easy to follow on my way back later. I spent a little over an hour covering the two miles between Oliphant and Welba, much easier than the previous two miles to Oliphant. There is little downfall at all on this segment and the terrain is more open to views. There are some interesting volcanic pinnacles south of Welbo's summit, at least one of these looking like a class 5 affair. The highpoint is on the western edge of a summit plateau with cliffs dropping steeply off the southwest and northeast sides. There is a memorial cross made of welded horseshoes at the summit, a tribute to an old hunter and what looks like his son or grandson who died much too early. There was also a very busy register with many entries from visiting family members. The register had been left in 2003 by Mike and Julia Garratt, unrelated to the memorial left a few years later.
The last summit, Buck Point, was another 1.5mi of cross-country to the southeast, the easiest leg of the day with not much elevation gain/loss. Much of the route is forested, but the summit of Buck is open to expansive views looking east, south and west. It had another Patterson register from 2009 with only two pages of entries. This one had the best views and the fewest visitors. To avoid cliffs on the south side, I backtracked along the summit edge to the northwest until I could find a slope to drop down towards the southwest, eventually rejoining the Bears Ears Trail. What I thought would be an easy downhill finish to the trailhead turned out more than that since I hadn't really looked much at the topo map beforehand. On the way back to the trailhead, the trail descends low into the Roaring Fork drainage before climbing back out more than 500ft go over the northeast shoulder of Peak 10,245ft. Not a steep climb, just longer than expected. I was back to the TH by 2:20p and ready to call it a day. I had another two hours of driving to get me to Steamboat where I was expected sometime in the afternoon...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Oliphant - Peak 10,245ft - Mt. Welba
This page last updated: Tue Sep 13 16:03:06 2022
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