Mt Princeton
(Grouse Canyon)

11 Jun 2001 - by Steve Bremner

Laila Hughes, I and Sam the Wolfdog left Saturday morning for the Grouse Canyon Trailhead up Mt Princeton. This was a scouting session for "Nolan's 14" adventure race in August--a race across 14 of the 15 14ers comprising the Sawatch Range.

It was 11:08 A.M. by the time we hit the trail at Grouse Canyon Trailhead and quite warm. The 4-wheel drive road turns into a poor trail marked by cairns that soon crosses the creek. We followed the creek for a short ways, then lost the trail. I interpreted Roach's instructions to mean you leave the creek right away, so we just started up a gulley and into the steep woods east of the canyon. Climbing steeply through mixed aspen and pine I tried to hedge a bit by traversing north, but never could find the "well-worn" trail referred to by Roach. We were much too far south as it turned out. Eventually we came out at timberline at the extreme southern portion of the ridge to 13,971. We followed the ridge for a while, then traversed along the west side where I thought I could spot a trail below us. When we weren't connecting with it we regained the ridge and soon found a cairn and a solitary post on the ridge placed as a marker for what we thought was the "correct" route. Later we spied this same post from far below on the way back and realized it was a false indication.

Continuing along the ridge we passed over the first two of what would prove to be an eventual six false summits on this class 3 ridge route. We traversed to the east side and on a more difficult section of hand and foot climbing regained the ridge to move to the other side. Sam balked and stayed far below on the east side looking for a better way. We left him, and I told him to wait for us. Looking towards 13,971 and Princeton's stately summit far in the distance I estimated he might be waiting a couple hours.

The rock was mostly rotten, so we picked our way carefully making sure of all holds, and mostly staying to the ridge proper finally found ourselves atop 13,971. As we began the descent to the low point between there and Princeton's summit, the prodigal dog appeared behind us on 13,971. He quickly went by us for a snow bank where he quenched his thirst from what was probably a prodiguous sustained effort. On to Princeton's mundane summit where we delayed just long enough for the obligatory pictures and Sam's well-earned reward of a package of beef jerky. It was now 4:30 P.M., the ascent had taken us more than five hours.

We returned to 13,971 and descended about 400 feet along the ridge. We noted a descent route down a scree chute and nearly tried it. I thought though that we might as well continue, because there may be a better route down. Continuing we found another descent route, but the scree was larger. I thought we should continue, but Laila was holding back. Okay, I said let's try and go down this route. Well, she wanted to go down the large blocks on the spine, which I definitely didn't cotton to. Still we were running out of daylight, so in the interests of getting down I acquiesced. A short ways along I found a chimney leading into the scree and convinced her to follow. Sam was more reluctant, but eventually with some coaxing came down as well. The larger scree was difficult to descend, and Laila who hates scree carefully (read slowly) made her way down. Finally we reached the grassy meadows above timberline at the upper reaches of Grouse Creek.

Traversing south along the timberline we connected with the cairn marked true route. The trail follows a dry drainage and is excellent. The best route off Princeton must be the first scree chute after 13,971, then follow timberline along grassy meadows to connect to the trail.

We reached my truck at 8:30 P.M. just as the lights were going out.

Sam had torn one of his pads, and Laila had blisters on the balls of both feet, so we just made a leisurely hike of Antero on the Baldwin Gulch Road on Sunday. There is very little snow left in the Southern Sawatch. I brought an ice ax up Princeton, but there was no need for it.


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