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Little Brown Creek – the Great Mount Antero Experience

August 20, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Little Brown Creek – The Great Mount Antero Experience

I met a young couple at the intersection of the Colorado Trail and the Browns Creek Trail in the southern Sawatch Range.  They had full packs and were taking a short rest at the end of their first trail segment. While talking briefly, like hikers do, we discovered we both had made the same choice for the same reasons about our destination for the weekend.  Instantly and simultaneously we realized we were part of a small fraternity of people who possess wondrous and wise decision making powers... well, at least in regard to how we spend our weekends. Below is the backstory of what occurred in those early seconds of this brief encounter. 

Mount Antero, at 14,269 feet in elevation, boasts the claim of having the highest gem fields in North America. In that this is an active mining area, there are rough 4WD roads on nearly every summit in the area, including Antero. The road up the west ridge of the mountain is the standard hiking route.  Road walking, in the opinion of the young couple and this author, is a regretful and avoidable experience while in pursuit of Colorado wilderness hiking.  Humbly speaking, those who choose a route other than the road are among a great order of those who know and pursue all that is good about this place.

What is so precious in these hills that one would seek a mining claim? Aquamarine crystals and the associated smoky quartz, colorless quartz, sherry and orange topaz, and even the rare beryllium mineral bertrandite have all been collected from here.  In the picture here is a matrix specimen of beryl, aquamarine, and smoky quartz.

Pretty nice, but enough of the rock talk, we’re on an adventure here.

After a hasty retreat from the work-a-day life I was at the Brown Creek trailhead at 4pm Friday afternoon and eager to set up camp somewhere along Little Brown Creek.  From reading the maps and a few trip reports from previous hikers I had intended to reach 11,000 feet or more on this evening.  That kind of elevation would be at least two hours on the trail for me, not leaving a whole lot of daylight to select a campsite, set up camp and cook up a meal before settling in for the night.

The trail starts as the Browns Creek Trail and intersects with the Colorado Trail for a short distance before actually reaching the trailhead of the Little Brown Creek Trail.  

This trail essentially follows the creek up the mountain to the point of its headwaters, a marshy area just below the saddle between White Mountain and Antero.  This is not a super-highway like many other trails to 14ers have become.  The trail is faint at times as it blends with the forest. I like this type of trail.  It’s established enough to find the way and not too faint as to get lost.  Although, one should pay close attention.

I found a nice place to hang my hammock near the creek at 11,400 ft around 7pm and at the foot of the north face of Mount White.  A 2600 foot gain with a full backpack after a day at work and a three-hour drive is enough for this guy.  I didn’t want to go much further, even if I felt I could, because the weather report suggested there could be a dusting of snow above 12,000 feet during the night.  As there were rumblings of thunder and a few short bursts of rain on the way up, I became convinced the weather predictions just might be true.  It turned out there was no fresh snow fall, but the conditions were favorable.

I don’t know if it was the altitude, the exhaustion from a long day, or some combination of elements that made me lose my appetite, but tonight I ate only half my meal before turning in.  

On Saturday morning I was in no hurry to get up, but by 6am I was fixing breakfast and watching the morning sun stretch across the granite peak.

After prepping camp to keep the critters from chewing on things while I was away and filling my water bottles, I was on the trail again by 7am, this time with a much lighter pack.

It’s not often I get to wake up above the clouds, but it’s gorgeous when I do.

The trail continues to follow the creek.  Tree line isn’t very far away.  Soon the saddle is near and the trail dissipates.  At this point it’s best just to make a line for the road.  Some routes are steeper but shorter.  Choose whichever is more appealing. 

Yes, there is some road walking but only a mile or less, switchbacking up the final stretch of this dreadful path.  For me it was barely tolerable, but soon the final pitch is in sight.  Antero awaits.

Just as I was beginning the final pitch, a couple of descending hikers had stirred up a small band of mountain goats that crossed maybe 50 feet from me on the trail I was about to enter.  What a treat!

Fun mountain goat facts:

  • Mountain goats are not really goats; they are actually members of the antelope family.
  • The males, known as a billies, are slightly larger than the females, called nannies. Baby mountain goats are called kids.
  • Billie goats rank the lowest in the goat social order.  Nannies rule.
  • A group of mountain goats is called a band.
  • Goat horns grow continuously and are never shed, unlike antlers.
  • Seasonal rings form on a goat's horns each year. The horns of a mountain goat will have one less ring than its age. The larger the horns the older the goat.
  • Goats have two layers of fur.  The base layer is insulation and the long thick outer hair, called guard hairs, protects against wind, rain, and snow. This is how a goat can handle the bitter cold mountain weather.  As the weather warms they shed their winter fur.
  • A goat's lifespan is about 11 years.

Conditions near the summit of Antero are not unlike many other 14ers with loose talus and a barely decipherable trail marked by an occasional cairn.   

And, of course, the summit views are amazing.  Close by peaks include Shavano, Tabeguache, Carbonate, Grizzly, Cronin, and White to the south;  Chrysolite, Mamma, and Boulder to the west; Princeton and the rest of the northern Sawatch to the north; and to the east is the Arkansas River Valley.

I didn’t stay long on the summit, just long enough to eat a quick snack and take a few pictures.  Then I set off for the final half of my weekend adventure.  

I love how the sun and the opposite direction presents photo opportunities that didn’t exist on the ascent. It’s like a whole new trail. Here are a few pics of the descent view:  

There is no replacement for a great experience.  The couple I met toward the end of my adventure understood this before we met, and our common experience confirmed what we believe to be true.  Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the mountains of Colorado.  But my advice to everyone, no matter your place in life: go have a great experience!

Here are my stats for this trip:

Traveled: 15.1 miles

Altitude Gain: 5,429 ft

Minimum Altitude: 8,858

Maximum Altitude: 14,269

 

 


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