Gray Wolf Mountain
October 15, 2012 - from Guanella Pass
I'd climbed Mt. Bierstadt the Sunday before this climb to try out the ankle that I broke climbing in the San Juans 8 weeks earlier. The Bierstadt climb went well and now . . . a week later . . . I figured I'd better get out again to make sure the prior climb wasn't just dumb luck. Actually, I ended up working all of Saturday and part of Sunday and I'd be damned if I was going work on Monday. The forecast was for a blue bird day and I needed but one peak to finish up the Front Range Bicentennials . . . Gray Wolf Mountain.
I got a late start from Cheyenne and arrived at Guanella Pass at about 8 in the morning. Worry not, I thought to myself as it is October and there was not a hint of any need for an alpine start. I left the truck, carrying a prudent minimum light pack and looking forward to a 6 mile solo trip to the summit and back. I took the regular trail to the last rise above Scott Gomer Creek and then cut up creek, connecting hummocks to avoid the bogs and aiming for the trees at the base of the climb proper. The bog that I did have to crosss was still a bit frozen so I managed the traverse with my feet dry, not a bad stunt through this particular piece of terrain.
I scored a strong trail on the far side, which I knew was there from prior descents from Evans, Spaulding and the Sawtooth. Not wishing to re-invent the route, I took the trail up through the trees, avoiding dead fall here and there and eventually breaking the short cliff band that rises just beyond a small lake perched out of sight above the trees. I was feeling lucky as the weather forecast called for a blustery day but so far there was not a hint of wind. I set a general course upward figuring to break the visible ridge line and then moving up ridge to the summit. The last of the willows had petered out as had the trail that I'd come up on, but no matter, nothing but a gentle rise to the skyline.
Breaking the ridge left me looking at the hump in front of me and another one far off in the distance. Ordinarily, I would just pull out the map but not today as I'd left it on the arm of the sofa as I packed for the next day's climb. But I did have the right map for a climb of Tweeto . . . the other peak I contemplated climbing . . . really helpful. Regardless, when in doubt, climb the closest summit and then skip the other unless it is higher, that's my theory. Actually, I'd pretty much memorized the map but as I learned the summit of Gray Wolf is a bit deceptive, not seeming high enough compared to Spaulding, but ending up plenty high at the end.
Rather than going left to the ridge, I decided to make a climbing traverse of the face, connecting paths of easy grade until I had to climb a bit of talus. I'll admit to babying the foot, taking it easy and as the MD said . . . "not doing anything stupid." I hopped a bit of talus to score the summit and found that I was not there yet and that yes, this peak was as high as Spaulding, especially as I had to cross a short flat and then climb another mound to officially summit. At that point, the wind came up, bringing the cold with it and sapping any desire on my part to spend any more time on top than needed for a photo and the usual offering. I snapped my usual solo summit shot of the pack and hiking poles, left the single gummy bear for Pachamama and then started down.
I made a rather direct line from the summit down to the upper most reach of the gully that separates Gray Wolf from Spaulding. I avoided the bottom proper, staying far enough on the flank to ensure no boggy ground. Soon enough, I was back at the short cliff band and the solid trail that cuts through the draw above the perched lake and then onward to the willows. I knew that this trail could peter out in the willows and it did just that when I was opposite the big lake not that far down from the car park. I took a few game trails, crossed one bog using the "think light" method, and was soon enough on the Bierstadt trail and headed for the truck. Overall about a 5 1/2 hour round trip and a bit of a tired foot, but still on the upswing for sure.