June 7, 2009 - Hope Pass Trail & East Ridge
This was the second day of a solo climbing weekend, a break from Cheyenne and an opportunity to go out and climb on my own a bit. The day before I'd climbed Horseshoe Mountain in the lower Mosquito Range and afterward I decided to wander over to the Sawatch and climb Mount Hope, a peak I had seen many times but not had the chance to climb. I found a camp spot along the creek just shy of the Sheep Gulch trail head and set up the tent. Once the tent was up, I dozed a bit in the truck and then headed to Quincy's in Leadville for dinner. Fully loaded with prime rib, I was back at my camp by 8 pm and called it a day . . . the alarm was set for 5 am the next day.
The wind of the day before broke sometime during the night and the morning revealed a partly cloudy sky and the start of a warm day, at least down low. I packed a minimal pack but did take along an axe and crampons as the guide noted that there was often an early summer snowfield guarding the summit on the east ridge approach. Six Goo's, two Clif bars and a quart of Cytomax. I dropped the filter in the pack, knowing that the route would cross Sheep Creek a number of times during the climb. Gerry Roach characterizes the trail as steep from the start and he is right on. Once you take that first upward step, get used to it, there are many more coming before you get to Hope Pass. But the route could not be more pretty as you climb through stands of aspen on a trail still littered with the last remains of the previous season's leaves, some still showing a bit of autumn color here and there.
The route is steady throughout its course and after about 3/4 mile, I passed a spring on the right side and then after about another 1/2 mile, I broke from the trees, now pines, to cross over the creek and continue my climb up a steep traverse of the far slope. True to the guide, there is an old cabin off the trail right at the point where you turn to head for Hope Pass. The trail continues through the last of the now scrubby pines before coming out into the open and zigging its way to the pass. Its a steady as you go slog and if you use your rest step, you ought to be able to do this climb with but a stop here or there for a goo or a sip. I made the pass and looked at the east ridge which really is a climb of two bumps and then a final summit pitch. I chose not to go up and over the two humps but instead picked up a slight climber's course that took the route I preferred, a steadily ascending traverse along the flank of the bumps calculated to drop me right at the junction of the second bump and summit mass.
The course was not very clear and I would come onto it and lose it a number of times. It is not even a climber's trail but more of a path of disturbed rocks and footfalls marked by exposed dirt where others have slipped or taken a hard step upward to another patch of talus. I'm a boulder hopper by nature hence I really found myself connecting patches of talus where I could make easy vertical feet. Once at the base of the summit climb, I chose snow over rock and stopped to put on the crampons. The snow was still hard and I did not break through as I took almost a straight line to the first major outcrop where I had planned to cut directly up to hit the summit plateau. But rather than cut up, I ended up just sticking with my straight course and intersecting the southeast ridge as it approached and connected with the summit hump.
I connected with the ridge, which is really quite rounded, and took the easy ground to the apparent summit, a false summit of course. The jaunt to the real summit is only another 50 yards and soon enough, there I was on top of Mount Hope. The view is good and for the first time, picked out a number of high 13'ers that I had not really taken time to identify in the past. Mount Hope gives a good look up the back side of the Sawatch and I was able to identify peaks such as Lackawanna, Frasco, Oklahoma. I could also see a solid band of rain working the Elk Range which I took as my signal to leave the summit and make time heading for lower ground. I saw no sign of lightning, but also saw no reason to get wet at a high elevation when I could do the same in a lower, warmer clime.
I reversed my route back to the advertised snow field and took a steep route down to my prior tracks. After about 50 feet, I let my forward momentum get the best of me in combination with a spot of weak crust thrown in and I took a nice tumble forward. The slope was soft enough that I did not need a formal arrest but a good elbow plant en route to the planting of the axe did the trick. I left my mark on the snow and made my way on down, a bit more carefully, but confident that like the first time seven years ago, my ice axe arrest was still firmly routed in my muscle memory. Once at the bottom of the snow, I dropped the crampons, stowed the axe and took up again with the poles to talus hop my way on back along the side slopes of the two bumps to reach the trail at the pass.
The trade off for steep is that instead of the standard 12 mile Sawatch climb, you get to do a high 13'er in half the distance. The bad aspect is that the descent must be a knee jarring affair but I will say that the Hope Pass trail is well graded and I credit the trail crew who took the time to re-work the worst of the switchbacks and create a very nice course, up or down.
I wandered on back down, hit the trees, passed the old cabin and stopped for a break when I got to the aspen. The sky was darkening and here and there were short spurts of ice pellets but no real rain or snow. I hit the trail head before I really knew it and called it a climb. I'd started at 5:45 and I was back at the truck almost at 11:45 exactly, not a bad way to spend six hours on a June Sunday morning in Colorado.
I broke camp in about 10 minutes flat and headed on home, finding that the dark clouds and snow squalls that I saw over the Elks had made their way to Fremont pass, which was in the clutches of a snow storm, while Silverthorne was being heavily rained on. But I will give the wind, the rain and the snow credit for one thing . . . there was no back-up at the I-70 tunnel, no brake lights all the way down to Georgetown and no backup leading all the way to Idaho Springs. I thought it was a fair trade . . .