13,855 Feet (Ranked 81st in CO)
13,951 Feet (Unranked)
Trailhead: Upper Iowa Gulch (Approximately 12,000 Feet)
September 18th, 2009
4.8 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: Approximately 2,400 Feet
Friday was a great day to play hooky. Fine weather and peak aspen season made even the thought of being confined indoors unbearable, so I headed out to the Mosquito Range to take on a Centennial thirteener. Dyer Mountain is neither the loftiest nor the most scenic of the highest 100, but it can be a fun hike when combined with nearby peaks such as Mt. Evans B, Gemini Peak, or Mt. Sherman.
When I arrived at the trailhead, a hunter decked out in camo was using a spotting scope to scan Dyerís slopes for bighorn rams. He seemed uneasy and left while I was gearing up; I was relieved, because hunting and hiking are activities that donít combine well. I would have gladly hiked elsewhere if I had thought that there would be any shooting on the mountain. The parking area was near one of the portals of the Continental Chief Mine, which probably operated into the 1960ís or 1970ís. Mine tailings are still being spread over several acres at the site, which resembles a West Virginia strip mine. Several buildings from a much earlier era silently crumble nearby.
The hike starts out on an old mining road that heads up into Iowa Gulch. Mt. Sherman looms overhead to the east. A closer look at the seemingly impregnable cliffs reveals that a mining road ascends the face to within a few hundred feet of the summit. The gulch seems like it would be pretty dicey avalanche terrain in winter.
As I approached the head of the gulch, I heard the whoops of hikers on Mt. Sherman reverberating throughout the Iowa Amphitheater. The acoustics were impressive, to say the least. There were several fairly modern mining buildings, as well as an older ore chute and a circa 1880ís hoist house that had entirely collapsed. The standard route continues up the gulch past these buildings and ascends the headwall on the more-gentle western end. It still looked like an agonizingly steep bit of hiking to get to Dyerís east ridge.
I had intended to take the standard route to Dyerís summit, but an easier opportunity presented itself. Just before I got to the cluster of buildings at the head of the gulch, I hung a left and headed up the side of Dyerís south ridge. It was fairly steep, but not nearly as steep as scaling the side of the east ridge. The fairly well-developed trail was marked with several large stone cairns. This route was not mentioned in G. & J. Roachís thirteener book.
There was a little bit of grass on the south ridge, but it was mostly barren, desolate rock. The mountainside was pockmarked by numerous prospecting pits, and I wondered if this trail may have been used by burros to pack ore down to the smelters in Leadville.
The grade of the slope eased a bit as I approached the crest of the ridge. Many of the rocks were flat and ďplatey,Ē identical to the rocks that are found on nearby Horseshoe Mountain and Mt. Sheridan. The numerous cairns on the ridge seemed redundant since it would be nearly impossible to get lost on this sharp ridge.
I had hoped to encounter some Class 3 terrain on the ridge, but it turned out to be solid Class 2. The weather was fantastic, and I was pleased to be hiking in my shirtsleeves this late in the season.
There was a pretty decent wind shelter on the summit, but I really didnít need it Ė I doubt that the wind had reached 5 m.p.h. all morning. I wouldnít go as far as to say that Dyer Mountain is scenic, but there is much to see from the summit. I could see Turquoise Lake, Leadville, and most of the Collegiate peaks to the west. Mt. Sherman and Gemini Peak were neighbors to the east. Mt. Sheridan and Horseshoe Mountain were a short distance to the south. Mt. Evans B was the next mountain to the north, and beyond that was the heart of the Mosquito Range Ė Mt. Democrat, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Bross, Mt. Buckskin, and many others. The views were anything but boring.
Mt. Evans B in the foreground and the heart of the Mosquito Range to the north of Dyer Mountain
Mt. Sherman (right) and Gemini Peak (two bumps to the left) from Dyer Mountain's summit
After a short break on Dyer, I turned my attention towards Gemini Peak. It looked like a short bop across a ridge and an easy trip up a gully between the twin summits. The rounded dome is the higher of the two summits.
There was a clear trail across the saddle, and a faint trail part of the way up Geminiís slopes. I finally lost the trail and followed a set of marmot tracks in the snow. The tracks led directly to the saddle between Geminiís summits.†
Geminiís higher summit resembles a neatly stacked pile of rubble. It didnít take long to zigzag through the talus to the summit.
I was tempted to make a short jaunt over to Mt. Sherman; the distance and elevation gain would have been minimal. The Iowa Gulch route would have taken me right back down to my car. I passed on Mt. Sherman because I wanted to keep my legs fresh for more mountain mischief later in the weekend. Besides, I summited Mt. Sherman three times last year, and Iím not quite ready to go back!
I decided to descend to the Dyer/Gemini saddle and take Dyer Mountainís standard route back to the Iowa Gulch trailhead. The trail drops down from the saddle directly beneath the ďalienĒ power lines (Gerry Roachís description).†††
The trail down from the saddle seemed to disappear after a short distance, and I found myself just heading straight down a ridiculously steep talus slope. I aimed for the gully above the old part of the Continental Chief Mine, and I started to find a few scattered cairns along the way.
I followed what appeared to have been the most logical route, and a trail gradually started to appear. The trail led right past the edge of a collapsed mine tunnel Ė the ground appeared to have been stable, but who can really tell? I stopped at the cluster of old mine buildings to check them out. I prefer to hike in pristine wilderness areas, but sometimes itís interesting to see historical relics along the way.
The weather was still fantastic as I hiked down the old mining road back to the car. I had the satisfaction of finishing my 39th Centennial Peak, but Iíll have to admit that Dyer Mountain was probably the easiest one so far. I had a few work-related stops to make in the Fairplay area, so I decided to drive around to the Fourmile Creek side of Mt. Sherman. I arrived late in the afternoon to find lightning crackling in every direction and three groups of hikers scrambling to make it down from Mt. Sherman. Timing is everything, isnít it?