Route: Centennial Elks Traverse (CO)

Submitted by andrewhamilton on Thu, 10/01/2020 - 08:51pm
Colorado, US
60 mi
Vertical Gain
30,000 ft

After I completed Holy Nolans in 2018, Andrea Sansone and I wanted to try something something really big that surprisingly hadn't ever been done before (as far as we could tell). Over the years I have dreamed of setting a Centennial peaks record in Colorado, and in scouting for that record I have found that a really cool subset of routes is traversing entire ranges in Colorado and climbing all of not just the 14ers in the range, but the Centennial 13ers.  

So this led us to pioneer a route in the Elks that we call the Centennial Elks Traverse.  It is a variation of the Elks Traverse, which you already have an FKT page for.  However, adding in the Centennial 13ers takes this to pretty epic status, probably one of the best sets of 10 peaks you can put together in Colorado.  It is like Nolans in that you are basically trying to link up these peaks as quickly and efficiently as possible, on terrain that in some cases uses existing trails but in many cases requires remote off trail travel.  What sets this route apart though is the classic nature of the traverses that are required.  So unlike Nolans where virtually all of the terrain is class 1 and 2, the Centennial Elks requires lots of travel in continuous class 3 and 4 terrain. 

The route begins near the town of Ashcroft at the trailhead for Cathedral peak.  Cathedral is a Centennial 13er with a pretty nice trail that will get you to the top.  From there the adventure begins as you traverse around towers and sheer drops and make your way to the unofficial 14er Conundrum.  By itself this is a classic traverse, but only the beginning of this adventure.  From Conundrum you follow the now easy ridge to Castle, the highest peak in the Elks.  

From Castle you drop a few thousand feet and pass by Conundrum Hotsprings on your way up and over Triangle and Copper passes on your way to East Maroon Creek.  This creek is on the East side of Pyramid (as opposed to the more popular West Maroon Creek that is the standard route for Pyramid and the Maroon Bells).  You descend following this creek for many miles, and figure out how to get across a couple of gnarly stream crossings (if you are there in early summer).  At this point you have some strategic decisions on how to approach Pyramid and Thunder Pyramid, we found a nice route up the east side of Lightning Pyramid (a bicentennial 13er) that we followed that allowed us to climb Thunder Pyramind.  From Thunder Pyramid you follow the classic Pyramid traverse to the 14er Pyramid peak.  This traverse definitely has some challenges to overcome to keep the difficulty at class 4.

From Pyramid we figured that the fastest way to get to the Bells was to drop straight off the west side of Pyramid...but in the end we decided against climbing South Maroons standard route and opted to take the standard route off Pyramid to descend and get to the standard route up North Maroon.  On North Maroon we left our packs and did the Bells Traverse twice as we went to South Maroon and then had to return back to North Maroon.

From North Maroon the rest of the route looks daunting.  It looks like a long ways to Hagerman, Snowmass, and Capitol.  We followed the Northwest ridge of North Maroon, a tricky route with many potential dead end cliffs to the Gunsight Couloir.  This couloir provided a good way to descend to the west to broad grassy slopes that slowly ascend towards Trailrider pass (part of the popular 4 pass loop).  From Trailrider pass we dropped south and contoured west until we found the standard class 2 route up Hagerman peak.  

The top of Hagerman peak abruptly drops off in ledges and cliffs and traversing to Snowmass Mountain from here was one of the most intimidating parts of the route.  It requires lots of cliff route finding, all of which was on the west side of the Hagerman Snowmass connecting ridge.  From Snowmass we dropped to the West to about 12000 feet, then contoured north until we reached the low point on the Snowmass-Capitol connecting ridge.  The ridge between Snowmass and Capitol is known as Satan's ridge and is so loose and rotten that we did not try that traverse.  From the low point on the ridge we dropped into Pierre Lakes Basin, then ascended to the Standard route on Capitol via a luckily placed class 3 couloir known as the Wandering Dutchman Couloir.  From there we climbed Capitol, and then dropped down to Capitol Lake.  At this point we decided to complete our traverse of the Elks by continuing on to Mt. Sopris (Sopris is not quite a 13er but surprisingly has the most vertical gain from the base to summit of any mountain in Colorado), however this would not be required for a Centennial Elks Traverse (I would compare that to adding Holy Cross onto Nolans to make it Holy Nolans).  I figure a good start/stop point would be Capitol Lake, or I guess you could go with the 3000 foot rule?)

I really can't think of many range traverses in Colorado that would be more spectacular than this one, so I really think you should add this variation on the Elks traverse to your site. If you do accept this one I would then submit our tracker data for our FKT for the Centennial Elks traverse.

GPS Track


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