North Tarryall Peak
11,902 Feet (Ranked 1,357th in CO)
Lost Park Rd. Winter Closure (10,230 Feet)
April 11th, 2009
7.5 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: Approximately 1,800 Feet
Greenhouseguy (Brian) and Zoomie83 (Todd)
North Tarryall Peak is the northernmost mountain in the Tarryall Range. At 11,902 feet, the only higher mountains in this range are Bison Peak and McCurdy Mountain. North Tarryall is in the Pike National Forest, just south of the Lost Creek Wilderness boundary; the scenic Kenosha Mountains are only three to four miles to the north. Although it is not designated as wilderness, the 14,900-acre roadless area on North Tarryall Peak is ecologically important as an elk calving ground, as potential lynx habitat, and as former wolverine habitat. Cryptozoologists have also reported finding sasquatch tracks in the area.
North Tarryall Peak is ordinarily an easy 3.6-mile roundtrip hike from the Lost Pass Trailhead. However, this trailhead is not accessible in winter; there is a gate across Lost Park Rd. that does not open until June 15th. Parking at this gate adds three miles to the roundtrip.
My first attempt to climb North Tarryall Peak on April 5th was an abject failure. Three snowstorms had pounded the area in the previous week, so the snow was deep and unconsolidated. Breaking trail in the soft snow required an immense amount of effort. I slogged my way up to about 11,450 feet before I gave up. However, I refused to allow this effort to go to waste; I planned to return for a rematch on the following Saturday. It would be much easier with a trail packed to 11,450 feet.
Weather conditions were favorable on the 11th. Warm daytime temperatures during the week had melted some of the snow, and the freeze-thaw cycle had consolidated the snowpack to some extent. Below-freezing temperatures would keep the snow from turning to slush under our feet, and wind speeds would be tolerable. The 30% chance of snow was an acceptable risk. I found a partner (Todd) to share the trailbreaking chores.
I saw a small group of elk in a pasture on the way to the trailhead. I had seen a huge herd of more than a hundred elk in this area the previous week. It’s not unusual to see pronghorns along this same stretch of road. I’d had to use 4WD on the last mile of this road the previous week, but it was entirely dry and 2WD accessible this week. I hit the trailhead shortly before 8:00, and geared up. Todd arrived a few minutes later, and we were soon on our way.
There was a light dusting of snow covering bare spots that had not been there the week before. I would estimate that 2”-3” of snow had melted in the past week. We were able to start out wearing boots, so we stowed our snowshoes on our backpacks for the time being. Like most Forest Service roads, the grade was not too steep on this well-maintained road.
We immediately arrived at two switchbacks in the road. The snowpack increased as we gained altitude on Lost Park Road (FS 56).
It only took us about 30 minutes to reach Lost Pass, which was 1.45 miles up the road. A fence and cattle guard cross the road at the summit of Lost Pass; the trailhead is not marked. Lost Pass is the headwaters of Rock Creek (which flows to the west) and the South Fork of Lost Creek (which flows to the east). We took a water break at the pass and put on our snowshoes. From Lost Pass, we headed southwest up a steep slope for about 0.3 miles. Our route paralleled a barbed wire fence for about a hundred yards. The deep snow on the slope had made travel difficult last week, but it required much less effort on the packed track. The grade was steep enough to get our attention, though.
After about 0.3 miles, we arrived at an ocean of willows below North Tarryall’s summit. The elevation at the lower end of the willows was about 11,100 feet. We went around the west side of the willows and followed the margin between the willows and the tall spruce trees for about 0.6 miles. We used the low point in a saddle between North Tarryall and an unnamed 11,300-foot point as a landmark. When we arrived at the saddle (about 11,200 feet), we headed south/southwest up North Tarryall’s northern slopes. The sky was gray and the clouds around the summit appeared to be producing snow. We had fair warning that the weather was about to take a turn for the worse.
The altitude gain was fairly gradual as we bushwhacked from 11,200 to 11,700 feet. There were not many rocks or downed trees to block our progress, so the snow was our only foe. There were deep snowdrifts on the more open slopes, but the snow was not as deep in the denser forest. Todd took over trailbreaking duties beyond the 11,450-foot point that I had reached the previous week.
The Easter Bunny (Lepus americanus) in full winter color (or lack thereof)
We saw a snowshoe hare huddled under a tree at about 11,500 feet. A snowshoe hare’s camouflage is always effective, whether it is in winter white, summer brown, or the mottled in-between colors for spring and fall.
The grade of the slope eased up as we approached the summit ridge, but breaking trail remained difficult until we reached treeline. The wind had scoured all but a few isolated pockets of snow above the trees.
We hit the extreme northwest end of the summit ridge at a saddle between two false summits. The full force of the wind and snow hit us as we broke out of the trees. Visibility was exceptionally poor, and navigation would have been difficult without GPS or a map and compass.
It was snowing pretty hard, but the wind was not bad enough to force us to wear goggles. I didn’t even bother to put on my shell jacket. The snow added another dimension to what was already becoming a pretty fun hike.
North Tarryall Peak’s summit block. The summit cairn and teetering wooden tower are on the left hand side of the block.
We hiked over or around several false summits, all of which were mercifully low. Visibility was so poor that we could scarcely see from one false summit to the next. We finally arrived at the true summit block. It looked pretty steep, but there was a dirt ramp that led directly to a notch in the rocks near the summit.
The summit had a substantial cairn with a pole sticking out of it. Nearby was a shoddy wooden tower listing to one side. The views from this summit are supposed to be spectacular, but the snow and clouds basically restricted our visibility to about 100 yards. The lack of visibility didn’t disappoint me, because I enjoy hiking in the snow. As the picture above indicates, Todd wasn’t too disappointed, either.
Without exception, all of my Retirement Range peaks to date have been gentle slopes with absolutely safe summits. North Tarryall was the first exception. There is a 200+-foot cliff on the south side of the summit block that could produce instant death. As clumsy as I am with snowshoes on, I tried not to get too close to the edge.
As we were headed back down the summit ridge, the clouds parted for a minute and I got a good look at the ridge. There were numerous outcrops of Pikes Peak pink granite, and the landscape was dotted with wind-sculpted limber pine. This was probably the most scenic part of the hike.
Descending back to the trailhead was pretty pleasant. Once we got past the false summits, it was basically downhill all the way. I was amazed at how deep our trench was in some places. Gerry Roach wrote that “the route is short but this stiff bushwhack slows the swift, especially in winter.” The trailbreaking had slowed our progress to a crawl on the ascent, but having a packed trail made the descent a joy.
Ordinarily, the views of the Kenosha Mountains (Peaks “X,” “Y,” “Z,” and “Zephyr”) would have constituted the bulk of the eye candy on this route. Our views were rather lackluster, but it was still a fantastic hike.
On the way back to Lost Pass, I noticed bare patches that hadn’t been there that morning. Even our tracks seemed noticeably shallower. This may have seemed like a winter hike, but springtime has definitely arrived.
Graupel falling on Lost Park Rd.
We took a short water break at Lost Pass, and we stowed our snowshoes. The falling snow had turned to graupel, which stacked up on the snow like little styrofoam pellets. A few short minutes later, we were back at the trailhead.
This hike took us slightly under three hours on the ascent and slightly under two hours on the descent. I’m not sure that it would be challenging enough in the summer from the higher trailhead and under optimal weather conditions. As a longer snowshoe hike from a lower trailhead in a blowing snowstorm, it was incredible. Try to get this one done before the snow melts!
 Gerry Roach and Jennifer Roach, Colorado’s Lost Creek Wilderness: Classic Summit Hikes (Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 2001), 47).