Mount Princeton

  • Mount Princeton
  • 4327 m
  • Primary factor 664 m
  • 20th. in Colorado
  • Location: North 38:44.967, West 106:14.550
  • Climbed June 14, 2001.


How to get there: Go west on the road that intersects US Hwy. 24 at the only traffic light in Buena Vista (Chaffee 306). After about 1 km, there is a clearly marked road (Chaffee 321) that forks left (There are signs for Princeton there). Follow this road until it makes a clear bend on a hilltop where Chaffee 322 (a dirt road) continues straight ahead. Shortly thereafter you are at the trailhead (enter through a gate to the right, there is another private gate entrance to the left.) This is also the start of the Princeton Road (4WD, see below).
It should be noted that Chaffee 321 continues down to Chaffee 162, a paved road from Nathrop. The Princeton Hot Springs (large, warm pools as well as a lodge/motel) are located at this intersection. This is also the access road to Mount Antero (see this).
Route description: The trail starts at about 2700 m and follows the Princeton Road, first in a couple of short switchbacks reaching about 2800 m, then a long traverse north to a trail intersection with the Colorado Trail. From this point the trail climbs south on a long traverse that contours into the large gully (avalanche gully) coming directly from the (false) summit called Tigger (approx. 4050 m). This summit is completely dominating the view from the trail at this point. The trail continues on the jeep road until it touches the bottom of the gully, then bends right and climbs the ridge/hill above with some radio antennas at 3300 m. In the summer 4WD vehicles may find parking here. From this point the trail continues along the road on the ridge, then climbs steeply with several switchbacks. As the road makes a long, horizontal traverse across the gully mentioned above, one should leave the road and climb the north-east ridge of Tigger Peak. (That is leave the road more or less directly right and climb the ridge above.) The winter route now proceeds across the Tigger Peak and further along the connecting ridge to the summit of Princeton. The summer route follows a trail to the north of the ridge, then climbs the ridge between Tigger Peak and Mount Princeton, thus avoiding the extra effort of traversing Tigger Peak.
Comments: This turned out to be a hard one..
First Attempt, March 30th. 2001.
After our successful climb of Mount Antero the day before, we wanted to complete the weekend with what looked like an easier climb of Mount Princeton. We got off to an early start and drove the Jeep up just passed the 9200 foot contour before parking due to some very large snowdrifts blocking further mechanized advancement. We decided to leave the skis behind and climb the mountain on foot. It took us a bit more than one hour to reach the radio antennas, however, shortly thereafter the snow turned softer and hiking on foot for the senior (heavier) member of the party became tricky. In order to minimize distance as well as avalanche danger we headed straight up the ridge where the road goes right (further north). After some struggle (skis would have helped here, but overall judgement is still that it paid NOT to bring the skis), we hit the main ridge coming down from Tigger Peak. This ridge was wind blown and our climb continued up on rocks. Unfortunately, the wind increased, clouds closed in and Pål Jørgen got cold on his feet as well as fingers. We made Tigger Peak and waited out the weather (Pål in the bivu-sack in order to not get any colder). There was no sign of improvement after perhaps 30 minutes and the decision to turn around and head down was fairly easy. We felt we had the peak within reach, but children that get cold certainly take priority and dictated a different action. By the time we were down at the radio antennas, the sun was back out, we were warm, but heading down. Princeton 1, we "nothing".
Second Attempt, May 6th. 2001.
We had taken for granted that the next attempt would be with a start from the radio antennas, after all, we had already done our hike of the Princeton Road. However, early May came with a substantial snow fall (about one meter new snow on Princeton), and our start this time was at the trailhead proper. The strategy called for an early start, ski the Princeton road on the frozen crust and hit the Tigger ridge where we could leave the skis and continue on foot. (The Tigger ridge was free of snow, that could be easily seen from Buena Vista the day before.) We would then hopefully be able to return down the road on skis before the snow became too soft in the afternoon.
We started skiing already at 0430, a record early start for us. Trouble started immediately, the crust did not support me, only Pål Jørgen. Well, hopefully it had been colder higher up, so just struggle higher... More bad news, after digging a continuous trench for 2.5 hours, we had climbed about 350 m and the crust was not any better, but the snow somewhat deeper. A simple extrapolation showed that we would need about 7.5 hours just to reach the beginning of the Tigger Peak ridge. The conclusion was evident, we would not summit Princeton today and be back in any reasonable time. The ski back down in the newly broken skitrack took about 30 minutes. Princeton 2, we "nothing".
Third Attempt, June 14th 2001.
Coming straight from Blanca Peak the day before, we decided to finish off Princeton on the way home to Boulder. We drove to the parking at 3350 meter, just after the radio towers and before the road starts the final switchbacks up the (steeper) hill. After endless struggle along this road on the two previous attempts we figured we had earned this. Start from the car at 0545, easy hiking up the road, then onto the ridge from Tigger. Here Princeton made a very good try at blowing us off, headwind of full storm strength pushed both Pål Jørgen and myself off balance several times. The wind got slightly better as we hiked into the basin under Princeton, then picked up again as we gained the ridge between Tigger and the main summit. To add difficulties, the mountain was covered with new snow from the day before, making all its rocks and boulders slippery. The weather was not mid June, my water bottle froze on the way to the summit. However, we were determined to succeed this time and hit the summit at 0915. Mount Princeton gracefully accepted our victory, called off the wind and offered both good views and some sun during our 30 minute visit. The descent took 2 hours with very pleasant conditions indeed. We met a few other hikers, but they all seemed to turn back long before the summit. We made an entry in the trail register, it was now completely full and needs to be replaced.