Tue, Aug 23, 2022
Bear Mtn and nearby Peak 9,296ft lie on the Continental Divide in the Rabbit Ears Range, just east of US40 and Muddy Pass. Both peaks are part of the huge Bear Mountain cattle ranch. In the wintertime, the area is transformed into the Bluebird Backcountry Ski Area - no chairlifts, just human-propelled transportation up the mountain, with two temporary structures that serve for base camp and a higher warming hut located in the saddle between the two peaks. There would be no snow anywhere in sight on our visit in late August. We used a BLM parcel adjacent to SR14 to gain access to the ranch in as inconspicuous a manner as we could manage. We parked at the chain up/down turnouts along the roadway and started out shortly after 6:30a.
After crossing Grizzly Creek (not much water this close to the Continental Divide), the first quarter mile is a slow climb through knee to waist-high brush and grass. We then entered the woods where aspens dominate but also sections mixed with conifers. We were happy to find none of the heavy sections of downfall we'd found the previous day, but there was still some and our pace was modest at best. We moved in and out of forest sections as we climbed higher heading south. After the first hour we reached a fencline on the Continental Divide about half a mile from the summit. The going becomes easier as brush has been cleared from both sides of the good fenceline. We simply followed the fence and divide all the way to the summit in another 12min. The summit has a small view area surrounded by a new-ish wooden fence on three sides. It seems likely that this was constructed by the Bluebird Backcountry folks. To the south and west are homes and cabins. To the east rises the higher Bear Mtn. In the saddle between them could be seen a number of cattle grazing in the large open fields.
The east side of Peak 9,296ft is quite steep and seemed a bit unsafe to descend directly. The ridgeline descending to the southeast follows the divide and would be the easiest way to get to Bear Mtn, but it is open and exposed to view from both sides of the ranch property. Instead, we backtracked a short distance and descended the steep slope through forest, one of the slowest sections of the day due to downfall. Conifers gave way to aspen for easier travel lower down and the slope eased as we neared the saddle meadows. As we neared the cattle, they paused to watch us, but none made any noise, nor any effort to move away. We seemed mostly just a curiosity to them. Once past the saddle meadows, we again entered forest, crossing a number of minor drainages before climbing onto Bear Mtn's North Ridge. The ridge offered views and easier travel, though again downfall would keep our pace modest. We had about 800ft through heavy forest cover before reaching the more open summit around 9:30a. There are some fine views looking east, south and southwest, trees blocking views in other directions. We did not find a register but didn't really expect to on private property. We noted there was much tree-cutting near the summit and down the northeast ridge. We thought it might be for tree thinning, but later reckoned it was for improving access for the ski area. We hung about for about 15min or so, snacking and taking in the views, then shouldered our packs to head back down.
Our return initially followed the North Ridge back down, then began to diverge from the ascent route since there was no need to go back over Peak 9,296ft. We chose a path to minimize our exposure to view from the ranch roads, then skirting through aspen forest around a collection of buildings we'd seen from afar. Once past this, we used the GPSr to navigate a more or less direct route back through mostly forest cover to our starting point on the highway. The navigation worked nicely, getting us back to the Jeep before noon. The weather was getting warm for the last hour or two, so this seemed like a good time to call it a day and head back to town for less strenuous pursuits...
This page last updated: Mon Sep 26 10:22:19 2022
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