Tigger Peak (13,300′) | Sawatch Range | CO Rank: Unranked
Mt. Princeton Road | San Isabel National Forest | Buena Vista, CO
07/07/19 | 4.96 miles | 2,194′ gain | Class 2
To be quite honest with you, we had intended on summiting not only Tigger Peak, but it’s more prominent neighbor, Mount Princeton (14,197′). They are commonly done together for not much extra effort, so I thought we could easily snag both. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t meant to be, and the summit of Mount Princeton eluded us.
Kyle and I drove up the day before, intending to camp along the Mount Princeton 4×4 road so we could get an early start in the morning. The drive went by fast enough, and we buzzed along the highway to Buena Vista. Kyle wanted to pick up a Colorado Trail (CT) thru hiker if we saw any trying to hitch a ride, but Kenosha Pass (where the CT crosses the highway) was totally empty. Darn! We drove down the pass and into South Park, where we saw a thumb out in the small town of Jefferson. We would get to “pay it forward” after all! (When we attempted the CT in 2017, we received rides from numerous people, and none ever accepted any sort of compensation.) We picked up two Brazilians who needed a ride to the hotel in Fairplay. That was on our way anyways, so it was super quick and easy.
We snagged some dinner at the Subway in Fairplay, right next door to the hotel, and then set out for the last leg of the journey. After we drove through Buena Vista, we arrived at the 4×4 road that we would take up Mount Princeton. It wasn’t terrible at the start, but gradually got narrower…and narrower…and narrower. Not very pleasant in a full sized pickup truck! There were very few pull-offs wide enough for two vehicles to pass, and luckily we only crossed paths with one vehicle on our way up.
The main parking area near the radio towers was full of campers so we continued on, fingers crossed that there would be an open spot up higher. It was nerve wracking, to say the least. The road climbed higher and became more rocky and narrow. What are we getting ourselves into?
We finally came to a switchback with plenty of room for our truck and tent. Our anxiety inducing ride made us both a little queasy so we were thankful to park and get set up for the night. Once our stomachs settled, we realized just how beautiful our camping spot really was, and I spent some time taking pictures and watching the sun set. We crawled into our tent relatively early as we knew the 4:30 am alarm would come very quickly.
Neither of us slept very well. I really don’t like camping and nighttime noises kept me on high alert all night. Kyle’s new fuel tank made loud popping noises a few times as the temperature cooled down, and the air pressure in the tank changed. Since our heads were right by the tank, it sounded like a gunshot and I about had a heart attack. Thankfully Kyle knew exactly what it was so no nighttime investigations were necessary.
We heard a few people walking up the road early, and one vehicle. In hindsight, we should probably have gotten up and going as early as they did. Our alarm went off at 4:30 am and we slowly made our way up and out of the tent. We intended on packing up camp quickly and just tossing everything in the truck so we could start hiking by 5:00 am.
Shortly before 5:00 am, a man came and talked to us. Strangely, he was coming down the road, and not going up like most people this time of day. We asked him what was going on and he said he’d gotten his Jeep stuck in the snow higher up the road. One tire was off the side of the road, hanging over a cliff, and he needed some help getting back on the road. (So that’s the vehicle we heard this morning!) Kyle asked him if he thought our truck would make it up there and the guy thought that it could. He was right above a switchback pull-off where we could pull in and back up to him to pull him out. Sweet. So we finished packing up and drove up the road. He was two switchbacks above us.
We got to the first switchback and there was a vehicle parked right in the middle of the turn, instead of back in the parking area. What the heck!? The guy in his Jeep was small enough to make the turn, but there was no way we could make it in a full sized pickup. I got out and directed Kyle to turn around to go back down the road. There was just enough room to make a multi-point turn in that direction, thankfully! There was no way we wanted to back down a rugged road on the side of a mountain in daylight, much less at 5:00 am. Luckily no one had taken our original parking spot, so we reparked, repacked, and set out about 30 minutes later than intended. We made it up to the guy and he was indeed stuck. We apologized that we couldn’t pull him out, but Kyle was able to offer some suggestions on things he could do to try to get himself out if he couldn’t find someone to pull him out. I’m not sure what happened, but later on, we did see that he was able to get out, yay! (Side note: Don’t be like Jeep guy and drive on a 4×4 road in the dark in a stock Jeep with bald road tires and no supplies to get you unstuck. You will, in fact, become stuck.)
After passing Jeep guy, we passed a guy on the road coming down. He said he couldn’t find the turnoff for the trail and ended up traversing a sketchy snowfield in the dark where he took a short fall and was spooked enough that he wanted to go home. I mentioned I’d read that someone had put sticks in the road to mark the trail turn off, but didn’t see anything about crossing a snowfield on the road. He said he’d seen the sticks but there was no trail, it was just a steep slope. Confused, we continued on, ready for anything at this point. I had my map pulled up on my phone, so I was hoping we’d be able to find the trail. We hadn’t even gotten off the road yet, and we’d had quite a crazy trip!
Shortly after, we reached the sticks in the road. I was envisioning a single, small stick that maybe wouldn’t be obvious but there was an abundance of sticks, rocks, and logs that very clearly marked the turn off. There was even a “trail” sign nailed to one of the posts across the road. And we could see the trail heading up from here. Again confused, we headed up the trail. How could this have been missed? What is going on today!?
In hindsight, we probably should have noped right out of there. Everyone else was having terrible luck, so why wouldn’t we? But we continued on. A few people passed us (I’m pretty slow) and soon after we saw their microspikes laying in the trail. We picked them up and yelled to them but they couldn’t hear us. Kyle tried to catch up to them when they took a breather, but they ignored him and kept moving. We couldn’t reach them, so we placed their spikes on a rock where they’d hopefully see them on their way back. They were following the main trail, and we were about to cut off to head to Tigger Peak, so it was unlikely we’d encounter them anytime soon in order to get them their spikes.
After following the trail for a short while, we cut off to head up Tigger’s talus slope. There was no trail at this point so we slowly picked our way up. I learned that I’m even slower at climbing talus than I am at walking. It seemed really steep, but I was surprised that I was never really scared. Most of the rock was stable, and the few loose bits were easy to skip over.
It took forever, and what seemed like 100 false summits, but we did eventually make it to the top of Tigger. Yes! My second 13er of the year! Even though it’s not ranked and doesn’t really “count”, I still count it for my own purposes so I will call it a win. I also found it to be really good practice for traversing talus!
There was a large summit cairn but it looked to be on the shorter of the two summit bumps, so we hit both just to be safe. The views from the summit of Tigger were so cool. Tigger is my first Sawatch peak so I’d never seen these views before!
After a few minutes taking pictures, we started descending Tigger the few hundred feet to the Princeton/Tigger saddle. From there we’d link up with the main trail and follow it to the summit of Princeton. I was surprised to find a faint trail off Tigger and we followed that all the way to the saddle.
From the saddle, we headed up the ridge to Mount Princeton. After a few minutes, I became discouraged and checked the time. It was already getting late. There were storms coming in around noon and there is no way I’d want to descend all of this rock when it’s wet. I knew it wasn’t possible for me to summit and descend in just three hours, so we made the difficult decision to turn around. With how slow I am, I should have started much earlier.
I was nervous about crossing the steep snowfields along the main trail. I’d heard they weren’t too bad, but I am terrified of heights, so how bad would they be for me? I stopped a few guys coming up to ask. They said they really weren’t that bad so I confidently hiked on.
My heart dropped as soon as I reached the first snowfield. If I had encountered this on the way up, I would have turned around. From this point on, I didn’t get any pictures as my camera was safely put away and I was too worked up to even think about photographing anything. But you can see great photos here of the snowfields and other parts of the route that I missed in my photos.
I nearly had a full blown panic attack as I crossed the first snowfield, the steepest and sketchiest, in my opinion. I jammed my trekking pole into the snow above the path and used that as a handle so I could move my feet. (I freeze when I get scared, and I just couldn’t have that happen here.) I crossed painfully slowly, thankful to hit stable rock on the other side. I remembered reading about just a few snowfields so I did expect another one or two, but not five or six. Every time I saw a new one, my heart sank. Most people were fine, but stuff like that is just too much for me! Thankfully, they did become easier as I went on. Shorter, grippier, etc. I have never experienced so much relief as I did when I finally got off this stupid mountain.
After traversing the snowfields, we still had to walk down the trail, back down the road to the truck, and then drive down the road, hoping that no one was coming up. More anxiety to be had! Yayy….
My nerves didn’t fully calm down until we neared the paved road at the end of the 4×4 road. Finally, the end is in sight! We passed two Ford Focuses heading up the 4×4 road, thankfully right near a pull-off. Can confirm, a Ford Focus isn’t going to make it up this road. I have NO idea what they were thinking!
Kyle hit the accelerator as soon as we hit pavement. While he may not have as readily admitted it as I did, he was ready to get off this mountain too. And then he asked me when I wanted to come back and tag Princeton. Um yeah, give me a while to forget about this trip first!