Hagar Mountain (13,195') Ridge Traverse to The Citadel (13,294')

17 Oct 2003 - by Douglas Cook

To take advantage of the continuing unseasonably warm days, Friday, Oct 17, 2003 I parked on the north side of the west portal of the Eisenhower Tunnel and hiked north past the explosives storage area (hold your breath!) and DOT outbuilding toward the far north end of the Coon Hill cirque. The stream in the gully was running quite fast, which seemed unusual this late in the year with no snowmelt left. The Tunnel restrooms were closed after 911 and parking is restricted by no parking signs nearly everywhere around the portals. I'd talked with the Tunnel supervisor last spring when we were considering the area for a BMS snow day and was advised parking was OK as long as you weren't between the no parking signs and left a note on your dash that you were climbing in the area. I checked with a DOT employee Friday morning, and he said I'd probably be OK parking on the far right side of the paved parking area, and they usually don't tow cars until after a day or two! I left a note inside the windshield...

There was a surprisingly clear trail on the right side of the stream until I reached the far north end of the cirque. Climbing up grassy slopes, I reached the low spot in the ridge around 12,250'. Paul Wilson has provided a few trip reports over the years on routes from the portal to Hagar and the Citadel - thanks for the beta Paul! He often climbs the steep slopes on the east side of the gully to gain the ridge, and you can claim a 13,010' high point on the route toward Hagar.

The ridge run to Hagar begins on wide, grassy slopes for nearly a mile when you are confronted with the huge pile of boulders known as Hagar Mountain. Giant pieces of rock, appearing to have been dropped here like a bundle of short straws - it makes for interesting scrambling. The climbing is class 3 almost all the way to the summit of Hagar. Staying directly on the ridge there were some difficult sections with some exposure and class 4 moves. For the most part, the rock pile was solid. An easier route to the summit would be to stay low on trails around the right/east side of the summit block and climb the easier class 3 walkup to the summit. The trip register, although in a pipe with lid, was soaking wet. If anyone is headed there, a replacement is needed.

The route on the ridge from the summit toward The Citadel looked impossible, so I dropped down the easier east side of the summit and traversed a short distance until I could regain the ridge. The scrambling directly on the ridge the rest of the way to The Citadel was primarily class 3 with some fun routefinding challenges. At the base of the imposing Citadel cliffs, you are below the north of the twin summits and it's a 3rd class scramble to the tiny summit block. For the first time in many visits, I found a trip register - still only about half full after being placed in 1998. I tried staying on the ridge and passing the north summit, but the options end within a few feet with extreme exposure on both sides. I don't think the ridge from the north summit can be traversed, and would probably be quite challenging even with harness, ropes, and pro. The rock is extremely rugged and angular with only a narrow ridge crest. After a short break and dropping back down to the "saddle" below The Citadel, I tried to scout a route around the west side that would allow a climber to run the ridge across about a mile to Pettingell Peak. There is no apparent way you could traverse the angular rock and deep couloirs, although - with enough daylight to burn - a route might be found. It appears to be a pretty committing climb/traverse with a tough retreat. I'm sure at some point the difficulty would ease and you could regain the ridge and proceed to the 13,418' high point and then on to Pettingell, but it would be a long day.

On the return ridge run to Hagar, I decided to try and stay high on the ridge crest and see if it was possible to reach the summit. There were some low class 5 climbing moves, with exposure, but it had to be easier than downclimbing them. After some tricky routefinding and a few dead ends, I was relieved to see the summit again. With this new section completed, I think the ridge crest from Hagar to the Citadel could be downclimbed, but there would be 3-4 tricey sections (tricky+dicey!) where a rope for a Dulfersitz or Hasty Arm rappel (or rappel with harness) would be welcome. Helmets would be wise.

It was a great, fun day and one of the most challenging long ridge runs I've experienced. Maybe Ellingwood Ridge or the Bells next year?! With a slight breeze it was cool enough to require an ear covering all day, but it was sunny and near cloudless. I carried 80' of TechCord and a diaper sling but never needed the rope for support. From TOPO! the route was 6.8 miles and 2715', but my Suunto altimeter (proven quite accurate at catching all the up and down elevation gains) recorded 4110' for the 7.5 hour day. Actual total ascent was probably near 4000'. Another fun climb within an hour's drive from Denver. With the parking limitiations at the tunnel, an approach from Dry Gulch might be a good alternative, but would require about another 2 miles round trip.

Paul Wilson adds:

Doug, Great I was wondering when you would try the route.

Here are some details to get from Hagar to the H-Cit ridge: At the summit of H go toward Cit staying high on the ridge for about 20 feet where it becomes class 5. Look right and notice a safe wide opening (N) going down. Scramble down to it the climb down about 6-10 feet to a ledge which is big enough to be comfortable. Easy class 4. Then just follow a couple of ramps to your left to the easy ridge. From there, as you know its is class 3/4 to the bottom of the Cit gully. I have done this route with very beginner hikers with no need for a rope. It get dicy in winter due to snow packing into this opening and I have declined to do it twice under these conditions. (Take a rope in winter to get down of Hagar).

IMO, Ellingwood is more fun if one avoids the Roach instructions and stays high on the ridge. The difficulty is similar to the H/Cit (in the H/Cit hard places). But I prefer Ellingwood due to the sustained hiking.

The climb from one Cit summit to the other is much easier than it looks. I agree the routes up Cit that do not follow the central gully are much harder.I have failed on two of them, one or the right and one on the left. Inadequate pro was the reason for both failures - and solo both times. Best to back down when uncomfortable.

Question: Has anyone on the list done the Citadel to Pettingell ridge?


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