Saturday, September 26, 2009

Stanley Mountain

Distance: 6.5 miles
Elevation: 11,307 ft to 12,521 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,214 ft
Date Hiked : 9 August, 2009

The view looking south from the summit of Stanley Mountain

Stanley Mountain is a lovely tundra walk on the west side of Berthoud Pass. It is not as topographically varied as Mt. Flora on the east side of the pass, but it is lovely none-the-less, and a great place to let the dogs run.

The initial trail goes in and out of groups of trees

Views of mountains and meadows periodically grace the lower portion of the trail

The route gets rockier as the trail approaches the plateau. The trail eventually ascends the hill in the distance.

The trail starts out winding up through coniferous trees with occasional openings into cascading meadows with views of nearby peaks. The initial destination of this portion of the trail is a flat, rocky plateau. For those looking for an al fresco lunch spot, this would be sufficient in and of itself. 180° views of verdant peaks combined with interesting geology make this more interesting that your average picnic ground. It is a bit of a lung buster to get to this point though so leave the candelabra in the car.

Looking southeast from the plateau

On the plateau, heading towards the ridge

Looking up at the wall. It looks harder than it is.

A short walk across the plateau leads to a wall about 200 ft high. Tight switch backs ascend this wall in short but steep segments. This is the hardest portion of the hike. On top of this wall is the ridge and from here, it is just a tundra walk to the summit of Stanley Mountain.

Looking north from part way up the wall

Looking southeast and down onto highway 40

On this trip, the temperatures were warm, but the wind was blowing at least 20 mph. We had to wear our rain coats the whole way, and since I had forgotten to put my newly washed gloves back into my pack, my hands were freezing. I walked with them shoved into the pockets of my pants, making for an awkward gait. This is one more reminder that even in early August, conditions in the high country can be unpredictable.

On top of the wall, the trail extends across the tundra

A little ways along the ridge, a hidden lake comes into view

You can not see the summit of Stanley Mountain until you are within a 100 yards or so of it. The trail undulates across the tundra in a series of false bumps. That is in essence what Stanley Mountain looks like from the trail, a small pile of talus, a bump on the tundra. It is not until you scramble to the top of this pile that you realize you are on a mountain. The sides to the south and west drop off precipitously. The wind was blowing so hard and cold that we did not linger on top, but eased down part way to hide in the rocks and wolf down our sandwiches.

Even though this was the first weekend in August, the tundra flowers had all turned brown.

Vasquez Peak is off to the right and in the distance. Notice Elaine's rain jacket. It is filled with wind.

Those looking for a longer challenge can bushwhack across the tundra to the west and the summit of Vasquez Peak. There is no designated trail to this peak and the route descends quite a bit before heading straight up Vasquez, so plan accordingly.

The summit of Stanley Mountain comes briefly into view. It is the bump at the far end of the ridge.

The summit viewed from below

We did meet two hikers on the summit who were doing a shuttle hike down into the tree filled gulch visible from the ridge. The far end of the gulch is accessible from the Granby area.

Vasquez Peak from the summit. Here the pile looks like a bump.

The view looking south from the summit. From this angle the rock pile feels more summit-like.

While I think that Mt. Florais more scenic than Mt. Stanley, this trip is worth doing particularly at the height of the tundra wildflower season. Consider it an altitude training hike for loftier, and more difficult pursuits.

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