Delta County High Point Trip Report

Mount Lamborn (11,396 ft)

Date: November 24, 2001
Author: Gary Swing

On the day after Thanksgiving, we drove from Conifer to the little town of Crawford, Colorado in preparation for climbing 11,396 foot Mount Lamborn, the highest point of Delta County. It was a snowy weekend which presented us with some slow, treacherous driving on questionable roads. We arrived in Crawford on Friday evening just in time to see the end of a local Christmas festival. The whole town was lit up with holiday lights. We stopped at the Mad Dog Fountain Cafe and craft market where we consumed some excellent vegetarian black bean soup, corn bread, and hot chocolate. It was cold and windy outside and we didn't feel like pitching a tent. The local inn and general store was booked for the night, so we drove to Paonia to find a hotel room.

On Saturday morning, we discussed several possible approaches to climb Mount Lamborn, choosing to follow the primary route described in the guidebook: Hiking Colorado's Summits. Despite Mt. Lamborn's supposedly low elevation, we found it to be a very prominent peak, rising as much as 6,000 feet above surrounding towns.

From Paonia, we headed south on J-75 Drive, 39.50 Road, and 39.00 Road. Then we continued southwest on G Drive, which turns west and becomes F Road, joining the guidebook's approach route near an impressive igneous plug called Needle Rock. From there, we followed F Road and FR 835 toward the trailhead. The last part of the county road and the forest road were covered with several inches of fresh, unplowed snow that nobody had driven on yet. The forest road became increasingly difficult for the four-wheel drive Blazer, and we stopped about 0.7 mile short of the trailhead.

We started hiking along the small, rolling hills of the forest road at 10:00 am, finding it blocked in several places by bent or fallen trees. There were several places where we had to cross half-frozen patches of water and mud. A fence marked the trailhead and the end of legal travel for cars.

The trail to Inter-Ocean Pass began as an old road. Despite the heavy use in the area, there were no human footprints in the snow. Deer tracks were everywhere and the first part of the trail was clearly marked with figures of headless, naked women carved into the trunks of trees. About 0.9 miles from the trailhead, we reached a junction at a second sign where FT 892 heads off to the right. We stayed left on the Headless Naked Woman Trail (FT 890). The trail headed north northeast along a drainage. We followed it as best we could in the fresh snow, watching for obvious pathways, useful deer tracks, and graffiti carved into the trees. Eventually, we lost the trail entirely and bushwhacked steeply north up wooded slopes. We followed bits and pieces of deer tracks when they seemed to be helpful, and eventually encountered the apparent trail again shortly below Inter-Ocean Pass. We followed the trail up to the east saddle of the pass, marked by a wooden sign. From there, the guidebook suggested contouring west around a small hill, but we chose to hike over the top of the hill and down the other side to the west saddle of the pass.

On our left was the east-trending ridge leading towards a 10,627-foot point. On the right was a slope leading directly towards Mt. Lamborn. We started up the slope on the right, but quickly reconsidered this route. Our route up had been going quite slowly, and I thought it might be prudent to try a shortcut on the hike back out. Setting footprints on the east-trending ridge could facilitate this. We contoured left into a drainage, then climbed steeply up to the ridge. We followed the ridge up towards the 10,627-foot point. About an hour before sunset, I suggested that we turn around and head toward the truck. Debby wanted to keep going, but more slowly. She suggested that I go on ahead, and she would follow behind in my footsteps.

We proceeded in this fashion, skirting right of Point 10,627, across a saddle, and through a grove of trees. Beyond the trees, there was a steep slog up a slope with deeper snow to reach the summit ridge. The wind was picking up, making it bitterly cold. When I reached the final section of summit ridge, it was extremely windy and cold. Soon, the dramatic summit cap came into view: a pile of large boulders with some minor scrambling required. I climbed up on top of the boulders to the edge of a precipitous cliff. With this summit, I had reached the highest point in 56 of Colorado's 64 counties.

Just below the summit was a canister with a register that included a great number of entries. I signed the register and put it back in the canister. I ate some food and waited for a few minutes to see if Debby would show up. Then I started heading back down. I reached Debby within ten minutes, and walked back up to the summit with her. After a short rest, we started heading back down at 4:30 pm.

We retraced our route to the east-trending ridge, and followed the ridge most of the way back to Inter-Ocean Pass' west saddle. Before we reached the saddle, we cut downhill to the southeast, hoping to intersect the drainage with the main trail more directly than we had climbed up. We walked quickly, trying to cover as much ground as we could before the last light of day disappeared. Before long, we were bushwhacking in the dark by headlamp. At one point, I saw three lights that appeared to be nearby. I was sure that somebody else was out there in the woods near us, either hiking or camping. We had to decide whether to head for the lights or try to avoid them. Neither of us had expected to see anybody else out there in the snow, especially at night. We started walking south toward the lights, but they didn't seem to be getting any closer. Soon, we realized that the lights weren't from hikers after all, but from houses many miles away!

We turned back southeast, trying to distinguish deer tracks from human footprints by headlamp, a prospect made more difficult by the blowing snow. We found the drainage again and succeeded in locating our own footprints from the hike up. We followed the path back down at a good pace. Debby's headlamp burned out along the way, and we went the rest of the way just using mine. It was 7:30 pm by the time we reached the truck. It had taken us 6 1/2 hours to hike up and 3 hours to hike back, mostly in the dark. The guidebook indicates that this is a 9.8 mile round trip hike with 3,446 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead. We did a bit more.

The drive out was probably the scariest part of this climb. The road was slippery with melting snow and mud, but we finally made it back to maintained routes. We stopped at a restaurant called Pizza the Heart in Paonia where a couple were giving a live folk song performance, one with a banjo, the other playing a guitar. After dinner, we drove over McClure Pass in heavy snow to spend the night in Carbondale.