Jul 18, 2016
Spending a week with Eric and Steve would be a lot easier if I wasn't singularly focused on maximizing my time in the mountains that surround the beautiful town of Telluride, CO. Eric, who had been one of my earliest influences for the outdoor life, owns several condos in town and invited Steve and I to join him for a spell. The first year in 2015 proved so successful that we were all eager to come back again the next year. There are a number of strategies that can be employed to allow us time together outside without Eric and Steve feeling like they've been "bobbed" or Bob feeling unfulfilled. Today we would use the one-way, car shuttle hike. Only instead of two cars we'd use just one, driving to the higher TH, hiking together for a while, letting Bob run off and do some summits while the others continue to the lower TH. If all goes as planned, Bob gets back to the car and drives to the lower TH around the time the others should arrive.
It was not an early start, partly due to the longish dirt road drive and partly because it almost never is with these two. We used Eric's Subaru to get us to the northwest end of the Deep Creek TH around 10a, found just below where the Last Dollar Road goes over a high saddle northeast of Last Dollar Mtn. The trail starts high at 10,600ft, climbing 1,000ft over the first mile to its highpoint at a saddle between S 10 and Whipple Mtn. It's a fine trail with open views for much of the route, with Gray Head and Last Dollar Mtn behind us to the west and the Wilson Group of 14ers to the southwest. We reached the saddle and the Mt. Sneffles Wilderness boundary by 10:30a and it was here that we had planned to part ways. When they found that the summit of Whipple was only a quarter mile away and barely 300ft of gain, they decided to join me.
Whipple's summit is broad, rounded and grass-covered, a nice surprise since it had appeared to be a talus heap when viewed from the west. A use trail makes it easy to get to the summit. At the summit I made fun of the others as they worked to understand Steve's new iPhone, taking more time in figuring out how to send a photograph than was otherwise spent in taking in the fine views around us. The weather had deteriorated greatly since the previous day and it looked like the monsoon may have finally arrived. There was very little blue sky remaining and it seemed I might not get to all my peaks before the rain was ready to let loose. After descending back to the saddle, the others headed east down the switchbacks of the Deep Creek Trail while I continued north to the summit of S 10. The SW Ridge is somewhat imposing, but goes at no more than class 3 and makes for a fun bit of scrambling. It wasn't obvious until I had nearly reached the summit that a much easier class 1-2 grass & talus slope could be found on the west side. I would make good use of it on the descent.
There was no register atop either summit, though I did find the remnants of a broken glass jar that probably once held one. Seems there are more folks here in Colorado that dislike registers and they don't seem to last very long. The most interesting view was to the northeast where a collection of 13ers ring the upper reaches of the Deep Creek drainage. These looked like they'd be worthy objectives on some future visit to the area. I turned and headed down the West Ridge of S 10, easy at first on open, grassy slopes, but eventually becoming a steep, forested descent before I eventually found a use trail leading me back to the saddle with Last Dollar Mtn where I could find the Last Dollar Road. It began to rain lightly when I reached the saddle, though hardly in amounts that would make a real deterrent. I'd come prepared with rain gear and was not afraid to use it. From the saddle I followed a spur forest road as it initially began to climb up towards the East Ridge of Last Dollar Mtn, then veered off into the woods on the north side of the mountain, ending at what seemed a random and poorly located camping spot. But a use trail marked by a cairn originates from here, helping to make short work of the climb to Last Dollar's summit. As I walked west along the summit ridge, the trail having vanished for the last few hundred yards, the rain began to increase from a light drizzle. I had hoped to continue to Gray Head, but that didn't seem like much fun now. A crash of thunder several miles off made the idea somewhat dangerous, too. I examined the summit cairn briefly (can't remember if I found a register or not) and beat a hasty retreat back along the ridgeline and into the relative safety of the forest on the use trail back down the northeast side. By the time I reached the car around 1:15p the rain had increased to a torrent and it was with great relief that I got myself out of the weather and into the now damp car.
My totally ununecessary troubles began here as I found I could not get the car to start. The battery appeared to be almost completely dead. This would not do. The others would be stranded in pouring rain, not knowing what had become of me. It was something like 8mi down the road, a terribly disagreeable distance to hike in such weather. I managed to send a text to Steve that I couldn't get the car started, but the phone showed no service just after this. It was a poor location to depend on a phone and I had no idea if he'd get the text anyway. Wondering if perhaps I was doing something wrong, I pulled out the owner's manual to see if I could find an answer and found that it was filled with all sorts of information but not a single sentence on the sequence for starting the car. After some 20min I was ready to send the Japanese ambassador a nasty email, and it was only the poor cell coverage that prevented me from doing so. I had tried depressing the brake, depressing the clutch, putting the gearshift in 1st or neutral, looking for the hidden kill switch to deter thieves. Nothing. Eventually I tried depressing the clutch all the way to the floor and was thrilled when the engine roared to life as I turned the key. I guess I wouldn't be stuck out here for days before a search party was organized to find me.
I drove down to the designated ending TH location, arriving almost an hour late but not finding the others. Their hike would take almost two hours longer than expected. There was no rain here and the ground was merely damp, evidently the torrential rains I experienced were localized. After spreading my wet clothing out on a nearby fence, I whiled away the time by walking around, observing and talking to a couple of government employees who had been dispatched to the area with a large truck, a thousand gallons of herbicide and long hoses to be used in an effort to eradicate a non-native thistle that grew all over the place. The color of the spray wasn't quite a natural-looking green and it was obvious where they sprayed it. I walked some along the trail and noted the thistle growing just about everywhere. It must have been a pretty sorry feeling for these two knowing they were barely making a dent on the invasive stuff.
Eventually Steve and Eric arrived, also surprised by the extra time it had taken them. My initial estimate of the route's length was off by several miles at least, which explained much of the delay. They reported only a few drops of water and a wonderful hike down from Whipple Mtn. Oh well, at least my clothes were dry now and we could head back to Telluride...
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