Agnes Vaile Falls
This was a scouting session for the Nolan's 14 adventure race to be held in August. This race goes up and over 14 of the 15 14,000 foot peaks in the Sawatch Range of central Colorado. There is a 60 hour time limit on this approximately 100 mile course. In the two years of its running the farthest anyone has made it is 11 peaks, and that by Blake Wood, winner of the Hard Rock 100 in 1999 and one of two to have completed Barkley's 100 in the last twelve years.
In the woods on Princeton's slopes

I left Colorado Springs Saturday morning with Laila and Sam the Wolfdog for the Grouse Canyon Trailhead on Mount Princeton's south side. We took county road 162 just over five miles from the US285 and US24 Junction at Johnson Village south of Buena Vista. Past Mt Princeton Hot Springs and Agnes Vaile Falls there is a road turnoff going across a bridge--shortly after that we found a 4-wheel drive road where we parked after 100 yards. The route goes to the end of the road and turns into a poorly marked tral.

My intention was to scout out a suitable descent route from Princeton, going north to south. We had a look at Agnes Vaille Falls, but given the proximity to Baldwin Gulch and the next fourteener in line, Antero, I decided that Grouse Canyon is by far the best alternative. We hiked the road from Baldwin Gulch to Antero on Sunday, which I think is the "only" feasible route at that stage in the race, when if anyone gets that far, they will not be in the mood for "thinking". A road allows one to turn off their mind, put one foot in front of the other, and "rest".

It was already 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.

Lower south ridge Princeton
Laila above treeline on Princeton's South ridge
Laila on an easier section of Princeton's south ridge
Laila on Princeton's south ridge

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 west 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 a probable 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 the apparent descent route of Blake (which I didn't know he had done at the time--after reading posts this morning I realize now this is what he had done) 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.


13971 on left, Princeton's summit on the right
Steve on 13971, PRinceton in backdrop
Laila, Steve and Sam the Wolfdog on Princeton's summit
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.

Upper Drainage of Grouse Creek
Laila on Princeton
Lower section of south ridge on Princeton (off route)
Sam near "false" post marker
Normal route on Princeton
View towards 13971 from Princeton
Dinner "tailgate style" after Princeton climb
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