12,429 Feet (Ranked 1,054th in Colorado)
12,100 Feet (Soft Ranking)
Long Gulch Trailhead (10,080 Feet)
March 8th, 2009
About 6.9 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: Approximately 2,900 Feet
“Peak X” is the highest peak in the Kenosha Mountains, and it is the second highest mountain in the Retirement Range. The granite towers and other interesting rock outcroppings make it one of the most interesting summits in the Lost Creek Wilderness. Its little sister “X Prime” has a soft ranking because it only rises 280 feet above its saddle with “Peak X,” but it is still a wild and scenic spot to visit. “X Prime” is not usually destination in itself, but it is frequently climbed in conjunction with “Peak X;” this is commonly referred to as the X2 combination. I needed “X Prime” to finish my Kenosha Mountains 12ers, and I was more than glad to revisit one of my personal favorites, “Peak X.”
Lost Park Rd. was nearly snow-free, but there was one tricky spot with deep ruts in the snow that would have given low-clearance vehicles some trouble. The snow at the Long Gulch Trailhead has receded over the past few weeks, and the parking area is now entirely bare. Before I started, I took the time to collect some litter that had accumulated over the winter. Wilderness areas deserve to be treated like wilderness!
There was still good snow on most of the trail. It was well packed, so I didn’t need snowshoes at first. I passed the junction with the Colorado Trail, and continued on the Hooper Trail until I reached the spur trail at 10,500 feet. It was easy to follow the tracks in the snow, but it is not difficult to follow the blazes on the trees when fresh snow obscures the trail.
Junction of the Hooper Trail (straight) and the spur trail (left)
Some parts of the spur trail had started to melt out; spring hiking conditions have nearly arrived. I had a lot of territory to cover, so I was glad to be wearing boots instead of snowshoes.
The freeze/thaw cycle had turned a stretch of the trail into a slippery nightmare. It was possible to bypass this section, which was even slicker when temperatures edged above freezing in the afternoon.
When I reached the top of the gulch, the incredible “Peak X” came into view. It is not just a peak to climb and check off of a list; it is worth exploring the various rock formations on and below the summit. I found a nice bighorn sheep skull up there once (which I left, of course), and there is plenty of other bighorn sheep “evidence” to be found. I also found a cow leg bone that appeared to have been chewed by a mountain lion (ranchers in the area retained grazing rights when the Lost Creek Wilderness was formed in 1979). There is a window rock up there that I have been unable to find. There are plenty of reasons to visit this peak repeatedly.
"Peak X" seen from the willowy plateau. The bare patch on the ridge in the left of this image provided easy access to the upper plateau.
There is a path through the willows that eases the journey to “Peak X;” I bypassed most of this trail because I wanted to angle to the northwest to reach the high plateau on the southwest side of “Peak X.” This is the most direct route to “X Prime.” The willows were dense and the snow was deep, although it was not as deep as it has been in previous winters.
I slogged through the willows towards the southwest ridge on “Peak X.” I saw a bare patch on the ridge that looked like it would be the easiest route. Picking my way through the willows was probably the most miserable part of my trip.
There was a nice patch of snow-free tundra on the plateau below “Peak X.” This would be a good place to visit in late June when the tundra is blooming. I caught my first glimpse of “X Prime” as I headed northwest across the plateau.
I had to lose a couple hundred feet of altitude to reach the willowy plateau at the foot of “X Prime.” There were fresh bighorn sheep tracks in the snow, so I trusted the sheep’s judgment to find the best route through the willows. The route was pretty direct, and appeared to follow the shallowest parts of the snow. “X Prime” was a rugged, magnificent-looking mountain that exceeded my expectations. I was looking forward to reaching the summit. The slope was much more gradual to the east, but I headed straight for the steepest part almost directly below the summit. I thought that it might be worth the additional effort in order to reduce my total mileage for the day.
The route that I chose was steep, but it was not very long. I was approaching the summit in a matter of minutes. I had to cross a short section of wind slab; it was not worth putting on crampons to get across this part. I dug my trekking poles in and inched across carefully. The rocky summit revealed itself to me when I reached the top of the snowfield. There were three summit blocks, and it was not immediately apparent which one was the highest. As I approached the nearest one (to the southeast), it became clear that it was the tallest.
Crossing a steep snowfield to get to the summit of "X Prime." The true summit is just beyond the rock outcrop in the center of the image.
I found a Mike Garratt mayonnaise jar summit register under a pile of rocks. There were some familiar names on the register: Gerry Roach, Jennifer Roach, Dwight Sunwall, et al. There was no pencil in the jar, so I did not sign the register. I probably had one in my backpack, but my fingers were way too cold to try to dig it out! Although it was chilly, I was grateful for the bright sun and still air.
The Mike Garratt mayonnaise jar summit register on “X Prime.”
The view from “X Prime” was exceptional. “Peak X” obstructed the view of the Kenosha Mountains to the southeast, but the view of South Park and the Mosquito Range to the west was unsurpassable.
I enjoyed the view for a few minutes, but I couldn’t stand still for very long because of the bone-chilling cold. I looked over at my next goal, “Peak X;” it looked very different from this angle, and not very intimidating. It was easy to see why it has been known as “Knobby Crest” in the past. It has no official name, and is not likely to get an official name in the near future because it lies entirely within a wilderness area.
I headed straight across the willows, and took the most direct route up the mountain’s northwest ridge. It was moderately steep, but very pleasant and almost entirely snow-free. I made my best pace towards the rocky summit crest, taking several breathers along the way.
There are three major summit blocks on “Peak X,” and I climbed the wrong one at first. It was a fun scramble, but since I had already summited “Peak X” twice, I realized that I was in the wrong place. I headed over towards the true summit, and picked my way through the rocks to the top.
I signed the register, and found a sheltered spot to get out of the increasing wind for a few minutes.
I descended by the standard route on the southeast slopes. I avoided the snowiest parts of the slope, but I still struggled to some extent. I found part of the trail near the bottom, and followed it through the willows to the best of my ability. I found my track in the gulch, and had no problem following it back to the trailhead.
The X2 combination is one of the most satisfying hikes in the Retirement Range. Either summit is worth visiting by itself, but getting two summits of this caliber in one day is memorable. The approach through the remote and scenic Lost Creek Wilderness is the clincher that makes this hike a must-do for enthusiastic trekkers.