Climbing Mount Hope

Faithful blog readers will be aware of the latest saga with Taco; unfortunately, the saga continues. As you may recall, the water pump bit the bullet last weekend painfully close to Buena Vista. Todd and I had to leave the girls and the kids along the side of the road while we went in search of a tow truck. While Henry thoroughly enjoyed the tow truck operation, it signaled the start of a long weekend of trying to shuffle too many people to and fro with too few seats. Of course, it doesn’t help that Henry and Phoebe have massive custom seats that take up more then their fair share of the back seat.

Originally the car was to be ready on Thursday; however, some extra parts were required. It turned out that the upper engine mount was a bit rusty and broke when it was removed. You could see the cracks in the mount, so I wasn’t totally surprised to hear about this. We also needed a new harmonic dampener to finish the timing belt replacement. The old one was pretty worn, and it seemed a good time to have it replaced while the water pump (driven by the timing belt) was being replaced.

Since I knew Pete was keen to do some mountaineering, I though he might want to do a climb in the BV area on Saturday. That way I could pick up the car afterward without having to plan a special trip just to retrieve Taco. In principle this was a great idea, but in practice the shop wasn’t 100% confident it would be ready when I talked to them Friday afternoon.

Based on the less-than-ideal prognosis, Pete and I planned to stop by the garage when they opened at 8:00 to pay for the work and make arrangements for them to leave the car outside with the key locked in the glove box until we returned from the climb. We got to the repair shop at about 7:15, and as expected they weren’t in just yet. We detoured back to Bongo Billy’s for a cup of coffee and a bagel. By the time we returned they were in, a little before 8:00 as well! It took a while to get everything squared away, but eventually we were headed to the trailhead. I was even able to retrieve my sunglasses from the back seat of Taco. I’d lost at least a half hour of sleep the night before searching the house for those glasses. It was a good thing too, because spending a day up on the snow without sunglasses would have been a very bad idea indeed.

The awesome view down-valley from our first snack stop about 1,200 feet above the trailhead.
The awesome view down-valley from our first snack stop about 1,200 feet above the trailhead.

The climb Pete had picked for the day was the Hopeful Couloir on Mount Hope. Hope is a high thirteener, which means it’s one of the tallest mountains in North America, but at 13,933′, it’s around 67 feet shy of mattering to most Coloradans. This meant we were almost certain to have the mountain to ourselves. We pulled into the Sheep Gulch trailhead (~9,900′) by about 9:15. By 9:30 we’d repacked our bags and were ready to set off up the trail. We’d totally blown the “alpine” start and it was already pretty hot, so we opted to hike in shorts and stuff some pants and gaiters into the bottom of our packs. I pulled the SLR out of its case and wrapped it into my emergency belay parka to save a little weight. I had been mentally debating taking a 2nd tool all morning and made the decision to go light with just a borrowed piolet.

The sheep gulch trail is brutally steep. You get about 50 feet of level ground as you walk out from the parking lot before it turns straight up. From there it’s something like 2,700 feet of elevation gain in around 2.5 miles to Hope Pass (12,540′). The steepest part is probably the first mile, which is also rough and choked with broken rock, etc. We encountered a couple of creek crossings. Some of them were more like walking through the creek as in places it had swelled beyond its banks. We also stumbled on an awesome vista looking back down the valley. We stopped for a brief packs-off snack and took a few pictures. From this point, the trail seemed to become somewhat less steep; nevertheless, the average grade to Hope Pass remains about 20% and you feel every bit of it.

The view from Hope Pass at 12,540 feet.
The view from Hope Pass at 12,540 feet.

Continuing on, we encountered a very well preserved prospector’s shack. As we got closer to the pass, we came across our first snow fields. We were fortunate to find relatively little snow south of the pass. Surprisingly, most of the snow south of the pass was well consolidated and easily crossed. There was a bit of post-holing but nothing too epic. When we reached the pass, we could see the amount of snow sitting in the northeast bowl of Mount Hope. It didn’t look too bad. We changed into our pants and gaiters and pulled out the axes. Our plan was to drop down from the pass and contour the slope until we intersected Hopeful Couloir. That way we’d only lose a few hundred feet of elevation before hitting the route.

The first snow field was nicely consolidated, but unfortunately that wouldn’t hold for all of the snow fields between the pass and the couloir. In fact, the next couple were so bad that we wondered if we’d be able to climb the intended route. We noted several other gullies and rock bands that we might be able to ascend as an alternative if the couloir was in poor shape. Luckily things firmed up a bit as we approached the climb. This was especially welcome as many of the rock bands and gullies spit the occasional boulder—making for unappealing escape routes!

We took another short break on a lovely rock adjacent the climb and fueled up. After a few minutes Pete set up the climb kicking great steps. I started about 10 minutes behind him and thoroughly enjoyed both the climb and the relative ease of following in Pete’s footsteps. It was a longish and somewhat slow climb with frequent panting stops, but otherwise pretty straightforward. Most of the guidebooks seem to report that the couloir averages about 36 degrees and steepens somewhat near the end. About 400-500 feet below the ridge, Pete kicked out a small ledge where he cramponed up. I discovered the ledge, but never felt that crampons were necessary (great steps Pete). I did have one small slip, but my ice axe placement held nicely and I was able to recover with some new steps and a bit of extra panting.

It's pretty comfy up here and I'm tired. Do we really have to go down?
It's pretty comfy up here and I'm tired. Do we really have to go down?

About 20 minutes after Pete hit the ridge, I too popped out the top to spectacular views. From the summit (or near to the summit) of Mount Hope you get an incredible view of the adjacent mountain, and you really feel walled in by high peaks. We dropped our packs and made a quick run to the summit with the camera, where we grabbed the obligatory summit photos and some additional shots of the surrounding splendor.

After returning to the pack we had another short snack break (both Pete and I ran out of water on the climb) before packing up for the glissade back down the east ridge. The glissade was fun, but the snow was a bit too soft for the relatively gentle slopes and petered out a bit early. This led Pete to contour the slope back to the trail, but I was post-holing miserably. I managed to find an alternative route that seemed to work reasonably well. We rendezvoused back on the trail and stripped off our pants and gaiters. Mine were soaked and quite muddy from the down-climb, so I turned them inside-out in an attempt  to keep everything else in the pack clean. We stowed the ice axes and began the still brutally steep hike back to the Jeep.

At just before 6:30 the trail flattened out and the Jeep came into sight. All told it was about a 9-hour round trip. A bit longer than we’d hoped, but with around 4,500 feet of cumulative elevation gain a pace of around 1 mile per hour didn’t seem that bad. We also had some bad snow in spots, so there’s another excuse.

Some of the incredible panorama view from the summit of Mount Hope. From here it's pretty much mountains everywhere you look.
Some of the incredible panorama view from the summit of Mount Hope. From here it's pretty much mountains everywhere you look.

The whole day had gone pretty darn well, so I guess I should have expected something to break the string of good luck. When we got back to BV we discovered that Taco was not sitting out in front of the repair shop as expected. Jess had left a message on Pete’s cell phone that one of the parts that arrived in the morning was the wrong part. Once again the repair would have to be delayed, thanks to the relative isolation of Chaffe County. So we hopped back into the Jeep and stopped at City Market to pick up some “dinner” we could eat during the drive back to Boulder.

2 thoughts on “Climbing Mount Hope”

  1. Given the fact that you had been climbing, I am happy to hear the day went well until it was time to pick up Taco!!
    Just a worried…… but relieved MOM.

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