November 18, 2012 - Kangaroo Gulch
The weather forecast was for a bit of wind, perhaps somewhat more than a bit, but the temps were supposed to be at or above freezing and the snows of winter were holding off. These circumstances put Bob, Cman, G and I in Salida on Saturday night and on the way to the top of Taylor Mountain the next morning.
Lomo saltado the night before in Denver slowed our trip to Salida but I'd given the innkeeper notice of our anticipated late arrival and found an envelope with my name taped to the front door of the Super 8's office. We had a room and a quick breakfast the next morning before heading to the parking area across from the Monarch Lodge, from which we would start our anticipated twofer hike of Taylor Mountain and Mount Aetna. We knew that the first mile or so would be on an old road, which turned out to be one steep old road that led up through the woods, past a small fenced grave and more steeply up the southern flank of Kangaroo Gulch.
The trail had a bit of snow and the tracks of at least one fellow who had left just a few minutes before we did. We arrived at the hard left turn and stopped as this was our first real exposure to the wind that was forecast to be 15 to 20 mph with gusts to 35 or 40. The wind was exactly as forecast and after but a moment of hesitation, the balaclava and wool caps came out of the packs and onto the heads. With hoods up and the wind buffeting us from behind, we left the road and wended up through a few remaining trees into the gully that forms upper Kangaroo Gulch. The gully was filled with enough snow that we could hike, "thinking light" of course, up the center except for the few spots where the snow was fragile.
The wind was relentless at the bottom but subsided a bit further up and came in bursts but it seemed that there were breaks in the clouds coordinated with the worst of the wind to offset the cold with a bit of sunshine. We continued upward, picking grassier paths and taking but one break before we hit the steeper talus and boulders that guarded our approach to the ridge crest. Once past the large boulders we were on the ridge proper and taking our second break of the day. The summit appeared to be just a few minutes away but after climbing another 75 feet or so of vertical, we topped a false summit with the real thing but a few more minutes ahead.
We climbed on and topped out on the summit of Taylor Mountain, at an elevation that seemed to be about 100 feet below the base of the clouds sliding across the lower Sawatch. No doubt we were in the ground effect but still close enough to add a layer of down and minimize our time on the summit. The goal had been to climb Aetna as well, but given more than a few cold fingers and toes, we opted to descend and leave Aetna for another day, given that the wind would be in our face the whole way across. However, extra points went to a group of three who were halfway across, having tracked the summit of Taylor no more than an hour before our arrival.
Our route down was the SW ridge proper, all the way down to the start of the trees. Then we had a choice, drop left to descend on the route we elected not to hike up that morning . . . or drop right to the spot on the road where we earlier put on extra layers for a shorter, non swithcbacking route to the car. We opted for the short known route and descended a talus slope from hell. Nothing big but much of it loose enough to make the footing difficult from the start to the road far below. We ended up avoiding the direct drop for individual traverses back up-gulch to intercept the gully bottom snow line.
The goal was to score both peaks but the wind and cold made for a change of plans . . . without argument. We covered 5 or 6 miles, 4000+ feet of vertical and got in a good Bicentennial climb with no prepared trail and no Cottoneers for the whole day. Not a bad trick for mid November!