Clear... but chilly

Today was probably the clearest the sky has been on any of my climbs this summer, and it only took until August 28! Of course there was some light snow in the higher elevations, as low as 10,000 feet in some places... It was very light, but there was still a bit of a dusting on the meadows and rocks as we hiked. My friend Ben and I decided we would like something short and relatively easy, but with an option to do more if we felt up to the challenge. We decided on Fletcher Mountain, a 13,951 foot peak right behind the fourteener Quandary. The route is only about 2 1/4 miles one way with 2,251 feet of altitude gain. The route is considered Class 2, but only because there is no trail, the route is gentle and makes a nice short outing. The lack of a trail was great because it keeps the route less traveled, and gives you a sense of being the first people to ever set foot in the area. Of course we had that sense shattered when we found a miner’s cabin at around 13,400 feet. This was a good one, it was well preserved (all four walls and the roof in tact), and even still had a rusted out stove inside! Very cool find. We reached Fletcher’s summit to be basked in clear blue skies as far as the eye could see. We could even see to the Maroon Bells west of Aspen which were over 40 miles away (as the crow flies). We decided with the weather so good, and our legs itching for more of a work out, we would traverse the ridge to the south of Fletcher and summit an unnamed peak at 13,900 feet, commonly called Drift Peak. The descent off Fletcher was easy, but Drift’s ridge is a much more challenging climb a Class 3 scramble. There are several false summits along the ridge that are very steep and rugged, the easiest way to deal with them is to go around them rather than over them. Even this required us to climb up a steep couloir, where we had to use both hands and feet to work our way up. Definitely more of a climb than a hike, and with it being on the shaded side of the mountain, it still had some of the previous night’s snow. The snow made it a little tougher, but mostly it just made it colder on our hands as we climbed. At the top of the couloir is a notch between two of the false summit towers, we could then traverse the last false summit to the real one on a nice Class 2 slope. From the summit, the descent was down a steep face that had a couple of brief Class 3 sections, but nothing as steep as the couloir on the way up. The traverse and climb of Drift turned out to be a really enjoyable and athletic scramble. We saw two other people who were climbing it behind us, but their route finding skills were not as good as ours, as they tried to go over one of the false summits. The steep cliff on the other side changed their minds, as it was next to impossible to descend without a rope. About a half hour later we saw them come through the notch at the top of the couloir we climbed, I guess our tracks in the snow showed them the right way to go! It made us feel pretty good to have judged our route well enough to find the easiest way, even it was still a bit of a challenge.
It was a great climb, but even with all of the sunshine and blue skies the climb was cool and very breezy. On top of that, the tundra grasses at the top of the peaks are starting to turn orange and red. Combined with the light snow, it looks like summer is over for the high country, I can’t believe how fall-like it was starting to feel on this hike. In another month all of the aspen trees will be in full fall color, and by early November the ski areas will start to open. I guess the peak bagging will start to wind down, but don’t worry, there are going to be some great fall foliage hikes in late September, so the blog reports will live on!