Grand County Highpoint Trip Report

Pettingell Peak (13,553 ft)

Date: October 30, 2004
Author: Kevin Baker

My friend John Collard scheduled to lead a CMC climb of Pettingell Peak, which was a county highpoint that I needed, so I signed up. About 12 people showed up, as this is a popular climb for "A" level hikers to get a "C" status as Pettingell is rated a difficult C. It probably would be a stroll in the park in ideal summer conditions but, throw in some snow and wind, and the climb is much more difficult.

We met at the 6th and Union Park and Ride in Denver, making it to the Herman Gulch Trailhead at a little after 7. At the trailhead, there was probably no more than 1" of snow, but we all brought ice axes and snowshoes just in case. We set out at 7:30am to a decent pace with temps probably hovering in the low 20's. Since Pettingell is on the Continental Divide, clouds tend to get hung up on the ridge, so we couldn't see the top all day.

The initial climb up Herman Gulch is pretty steep, so a clothing adjustment was in order early on. Herman Gulch is notorious for deadly avalanches as it is narrow but there wasn't enough snow to worry about that. I quickly noticed that this group of hikers were very strong. For some reason, I was feeling sub-par this day. Must have been the heavy boots I never wear! The snow naturally deepened as we climbed but, for the most part, there was probably 6" or less with a few deep drifts. With John leading, we made it in good time to frozen Herman Lake at 12,000 feet in about 2 hours.

From here, the real grunt begins. We all donned our wind gear in anticipation of getting blasted on the ridge. We went around the right side of the lake then climbed the shoulder to a bump on the slope. At this point, we split up the group but we were still all within range of sight. Even with the cold temps, I quickly found out I didn't need a down coat under my shell as I was quickly overheating. Each hiker basically picked their own route, some climbing the annoying loose rock and others staying on rather firm snow. I tried to stay on the snow but most of the time it was slow progress for everybody. We basically bypassed the saddle on the south side of the summit and intersected the Continental Divide on the other side of the summit. At this point, we all took a break just below the ridge to regroup.

To celebrate Halloween, I donned a long wig. John commented that I looked like Twisted Sister. I was more like Frosty Sister as some of the hair of the wig frosted up. From here, it was only 0.1 mile south on the ridge to the summit. John was kind enough to let Twisted Sister stagger to the summit first, as John and I were the only county hp'ers in the group. Somebody said it was 5 degrees on the ridge, so with 20-30 mph winds it wasn't pleasant. We couldn't see far below the summit, so we took a couple pictures and headed down.

On the way down, there were a few spots for some short glissades, which were fun. We took a long lunch break back at the lake, which was much more pleasant but still cold. The last 3 miles back to the cars was uneventful but long for me, as I was pretty hammered from the climb. All in all, the weather wasn't great but bearable enough to enjoy it. Thanks to John for a fine climb.

Climb statistics: About 7.5 miles with 3,200 feet of elevation gain.
4 hours 20 minutes up; 3 hours 18 minutes down.