Rio Blanco County Highpoint Trip Report

hill northwest of Orno Peak (12,027 ft)

Date: June 25, 2005
Author: Kevin Baker

route via Mandall Creek trail

On the way back from Idaho, I decided that a trip to the Flattops to knock out a couple more county highpoints would be a worthy cause. My wife was not interested in tramping in the mud, so Doug Shaw was game for the Northwest Orno hike even though he is not a highpointer. We arrived Friday evening at the Bear Lake campground around 10:30 pm and made camp. This is an excellent campground with plenty of sites available. As usual, I didn't get much sleep so 5:15 am came pretty early. We were within a mile or so of the Mandall Creek trailhead and were off by 6:10 am. It looked like we would have a bluebird day as temperatures were in the upper 40's already.

There were a few cars in the parking area but only one party had signed in. The trail climbs gently through beautiful aspens for a mile or so, then drops a couple hundred feet down to Mandall Creek. This section would hurt on the return. The trail began to get muddier as we went higher and I was wishing I had worn my heavier boots. We crossed Mandall Creek three times on logs, a couple of which were a little tricky because they were wet. The basin is filled with many lakes and, as we came to Slide Mandall Lake, we eyed a pass on the ridge which we mistakenly identified as Mandall Pass. We both were not paying attention to our GPS and paid the price. Before discovering this error, we bushwhacked around the lake to the right and climbed a moderate snow slope. We discovered our error and simply traversed north under cliffs on consolidated snow.

As we approached the pass, Doug stayed higher while I stayed low to find the most gentle snow climb, as I did not bring my axe. I found the trail and climbed the low angle snow gully to Mandall Pass. Doug took a little longer due to the steepness of his route so I waited for him at the pass. We then followed a faint trail northeast from the pass to gain the northwest ridge of Orno Peak.

We arrived at the highpoint at 11:00 am and were graced with impressive views off the east side of this ridge. The highpoint is right on the edge of this ridge, which was still heavily corniced just below the crest. The original register from 1996 was still in place and I saw the names of many highpointers whom I have climbed with. We then traversed the ridge to its northern terminus, then decided to head over to the ranked 12'er Orno.

Since my map did not have Orno on it, we were not sure how far away the summit was. On the way, we went over Pt 12,005 and 12,007 along the gentle ridge. This is some of the easiest terrain above tree line I have been on and we made it to the summit of Orno in 1 hour, arriving at 12:30 pm. The final 400 yards or so of the climb to Orno narrows. From a distance, it looks like Orno is class 3 but it is easier than it looks from a distance. We spent a little longer on the summit, then some clouds started building and we headed down at 1:00 pm knowing we had a long way back. I reached my wife who was in Steamboat on Doug's phone, guessing we would be back by 4:00 pm.

The route across the flat top to Mandall Pass was uneventful, then we followed my route back down to the basin. For awhile, we struggled to find the trail but finally came across some large cairns that guided us to the muddy trail. By this time, our hike turned into a snowfield/mud bog traverse. The snow was still somewhat consolidated, so there was minimal post-holing. The hike back to the truck was uneventful and we were glad to end a long day, finishing at 4:11 pm. Doug drove me back to camp and we parted ways as he had to work on Sunday.

Climb statistics: 16 miles round trip (including Orno Peak side-trip), with 3,400 feet of elevation gain.