The Citadel and Hagar Mountain (7/24/10)
My friend, Sarah, and I decided to climb a couple of lightly-traveled “13ers” in the Front Range, choosing the Citadel and Hagar Mountain based on it’s central access from Denver (where I was driving from ) and Fraser (where Sarah was driving from). Access to The Citadel is from Herman Gulch and Herman Lake, a beautiful but extremely popular area. We started hiking at 7 a.m., before the crowds showed up, and considered hiking down the trail-less Dry Gulch, if feasible, on the way out.
With the wildflowers seemingly at their peak, the scenery on the hike to Herman Lake was awesome on the beautiful summer morning.
After reaching Herman Lake, the trail came to an end, so we hiked west across open tundra, dodging willows along the way, as we made our way up to “Fortress Pass”. Once we made it across the open alpine basin to the steep mountainside, we found a faint trail that took us the rest of the way up to the pass. The alpine wildflowers continued to impress.
Once we reached Fortress Pass, we hiked along the steep ridge until reaching a formidable wall of rock, from which point we traversed to the left until reaching a Class-3 gully that leads to the summit. The gully itself was fairly steep, so Sarah and I climbed up the left side, where much more stable rock and solid handholds could be found. From the top of the gully, the summit block lay right in front of us, requiring just a quick scramble.
We reached the summit shortly after 10 a.m. and enjoyed beautiful views of the large expanses of Front Range alpine tundra. The weather was fantastic and we still felt strong, so continuing on to Hagar Mountain was a no-brainer.
The ridge hike to Hagar Mountain wasn’t as strenuous as I was expecting, and after some easy walking, we came face to face with some exciting Class 3 and 4 scrambling, all on good rock. This ended up being the highlight of the day. The scrambling was fantastic and wasn’t anywhere near as difficult as the Maroon Bells traverse just five days earlier! We even got to scramble across an awesome mini-knife edge just before reaching the summit (mini, compared to the knife edge on Capitol Peak, that is!). I would definitely rank the final scramble to Hagar’s summit as one of my favorite Class 3/4 scrambles on a mountain thus far.
Just after crossing the knife edge we reached the summit. The weather was so nice, and wind-free for the second weekend in a row, so we must have chilled out for almost half an hour. Surprisingly, a couple of other climbers joined us on this relatively seldom-visited summit just before we headed down, after coming up the opposite direction from Loveland Ski Area.
We decided to descend via Dry Gulch and make a big loop of the day rather than backtrack. We scurried our way down loose scree into the vast alpine basin, then bushwhacked the rest of the way out until eventually hitting a trail about a mile and a half from I-70 and the Loveland Pass/Loveland Ski Area interchange. After the initial steep descent, the rest of the way out was pretty cool, the bushwhacking wasn’t too difficult and it was nice walking through a beautiful, remote valley. Not surprisingly, the wildflowers were awesome here as well.
As we exited Dry Gulch, we had a longer walk back to the trailhead than we realized. We had to hike west a little ways along a dirt road paralleling the interstate to reach the Loveland exit, and from there, we picked up a newly-built bike-path and hiked east to reach the exit for the Herman Gulch trailhead. At this point, we were walking on a paved path parallel to a noisy interstate, which I supposed pretty much canceled out the bushwhack through a remote wilderness valley we had just completed!
Of course our bushwhacking wasn’t quite finished as it turned out. We missed the junction with the Continental Divide Trail that would have taken us right to our cars, so we decided to bushwhack through frustrating willows and marshes a short distance to the parking lot. When we were almost there, we reached a creek and couldn’t find any obvious ways to cross without getting our feet wet, but decided it wasn’t a big deal since we were just about to reach our cars anyways. This was the second time I had worn my new and lightweight La Sportiva Exum Pro trail shoes. I love these shoes so far, they’re much more comfortable and breathable than hiking boots, but the only trade-off is that they aren’t waterproof. So between drenching them in this creek, and wearing them on the Maroon Bells epic, these shoes have been through a lot on their first two days in the mountains!
The parking lot was packed once we returned, but amazingly enough, we had only seen two other people all day since passing Herman Lake that morning (well, except for crossing the interstate and Loveland Ski Area, obviously). Our route up and around these two 13,000 foot peaks proves that you CAN in fact find solitude in the Front Range on a Saturday!