From Middle Saint Vrain Trailhead
Elk Tooth is a remote mountain at the north end of the Indian Peaks wilderness. It’s actually right on the border of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Wild Basin. Brian and I had been wanting to climb it for a long time and I even went on a hike last November to scout out the trailhead. So I was all psyched up for this trip EXCEPT the night before I ate something that didn’t agree with me and I was up at 3am sick. I still felt like I should go mainly because I planned the trip and about 8 people were going on the climb. I figured I could always drive back home once I got to the trailhead. It took me an hour to get to the parking lot where I met Brian. I was feeling better actually although I had had nothing to eat for breakfast and very little to drink. We were supposed to meet Mike here at the parking lot as well.
We waited for about 15 minutes and decided to go on ahead without him. I drove Brian and I in my Jeep. I had told the other guys that I had scouted the road the year before and that it wasn’t that rough. Oops – well I guess all the hard parts were covered by snow because this turned out to be one of the roughest roads that I’ve been on in Colorado. It wasn’t as consistently rough as the South Colony Lakes road to the Crestones, but there were sections that were a lot harder. It took nearly an hour to arrive at the trailhead where Bill and his friends were waiting.
We began hiking a few minutes later and Mike ended up catching up to us after all. So the entire group was here. The peaks’ summits (above) were covered with the typical low Indian Peaks clouds and that meant high winds. Fortunately, I was feeling much better overall from my mild food poisoning. The terrain up here was absolutely breathtaking and I realized how much prettier, in general, that the “lowly” Indian Peaks were than most of the fourteeners. I believe the scenery pepped me up a bit. It was good to get back to the 12ers and 13ers again. I had been concentrating so much on the fourteeners this summer that I missed out on my usual dose of these lower peaks. The trail that we were on, the Middle Saint Vrain trail, was in good shape although parts of the trail were very muddy. After crossing the Middle Saint Vrain creek on a log jam, and then a second stream crossing on a log over a choppy section of the creek, we came to an absolutely gorgeous lake (right). This lake seemed to be fairly new because it was dammed by a log jam with new logs, was shallow, and had lots of grass under the water; it really looked like a gigantic puddle. A couple of small peninsulas had formed as well. We paused here for food and drink as well as photo-ops. After this we continued up, then crossed the creek again and began heading up the huge, steep gully that lead to the ridge east of Elk Tooth’s summit.
It was here that the effects of my illness the night before caught up to me. My energy sapped out fairly quickly and I slowed down a lot. I didn’t feel sick or bad, but just really really slow and fatigued. I quickly became the slowest member of the team. Most everyone got pretty far in front of me. After what seemed like a couple of hours, I arrived at the top of the ridge. Bill and Johnson were there as well waiting on me. We started up the ridge and I quickly fell behind again. After finally arriving at the top of the first ridge knob, I realized how much further we had to go. There were at least 5 small knobs before arriving at the true summit. I was feeling so tired at this point that I frequently stopped to sit down. I must have taken nearly twenty sitting breaks for the entire trip and I usually take none. The ridge itself was class 3 and had some tricky sections here and there. Overall, it was fairly easy. I took one final break about 80 feet below the summit. Brian commented that he knew I must have been pretty tired because I was sprawled out on my back so close to the summit. Finally, I made it.
We took the standard pictures on top. This one is of the GeoGraphix employees. From left to right it’s Bill, Mike, Brian, and myself. I’m sitting right on the edge of “the tooth”. It’s about a 600 drop straight down from here – pretty cool. I tried to eat my sandwich but only succeeded in eating about a fourth of it. I guess I was so tired because I had no fuel inside of me. I had been nearly 24 hours without food. While all the other guys chatted and walked around on the fairly small summit studying the Ogallala ridge, I just lay on my back. I even fell asleep a couple of times and then would awake not knowing where I was. It was pretty surreal. I hadn’t experienced that before on a mountain.
We were originally planning on a mega long hike over the class 4 ridge to Ogallala and then along the Continental Divide to Sawtooth Mountain and then out the Buchannan Pass trail which would eventually hook up with the Middle Saint Vrain trail. I knew there was no way I could do that though. Surprisingly, no one else attempted it either. Actually, it was getting pretty late so we decided just to head down.
Here’s a shot of the ridge leading to Ogallala from the summit of Elk Tooth. You can even see the Elk Tooth’s summit register canister too. As we thought, not too many people had climbed Elk Tooth recently. If I recall, there was one person in August and another party in July. Only a handful of signatures were there and the canister had been placed in 1987.
The hike down was uneventful but enjoyable. We did stop at the base of the talus field below the gully to filter and drink some water. It was really pretty here – full of wildflowers. I had enough energy to hike out at a pretty good pace so I was pleased about that. Overall, I enjoyed the trip but I wouldn’t do it again if I were sick like that. It’s nice though to discover that I was able to push myself to complete the climb though.