Distance: 20 km
Elevation gain: 1180 m View map Download GPS track
This past week I did nothing but sit at a desk, wrestling with and writing policy, and so when the weekend arrived I was more than eager to get out. Thankfully the weather was great and with the snow rapidly melting I actually had lots of choice as to where to go. Eventually I decided on Mount Howard, a peak in the middle of nowhere and most easily accessed via Powderface Trail (the road). To avoid the heat of the day and the crowds, I woke up at 5:00 am and was hiking by 7:00 am.
I parked in the small pullout area where Canyon Creek crosses Powderface Trail and hiked up along the dry Canyon Creek flats, initially quite fast to warm up in the cool morning, but then at a more relaxed pace. I’d expected this section to be quite dull and monotonous, but the scenery along the creek bed was surprisingly nice, especially the colorful rock and sheer cliffs of Mount Bryant to the north.
After five kilometers of hiking along the creek bed, equally split between pleasant hiking on old vegetated river flat and river rubble from the 2013 flood, I arrived at the obvious ascent ridge and started up. A reasonably good trail led the way through the forest, and for the utterly inept who find themselves on this hike, some fool has blazed the trees along the start of the trail to help you out. It certainly isn’t necessary; the route would be dead obvious even without a trail.
The slope steepened significantly at treeline, but remained a simple hike, and a light breeze and a hat filled with snow kept me cool. This is definitely a hike to do in decent weather and with tolerable wind as it’s over 4 km of hiking along a ridge from treeline to the summit. The ridge had several highpoints, but the descent off each was always much less than it seemed from a distance, and while I did sidehill around one of the highpoints it likely wasn’t an energy or timesaver.
The final highpoint before the summit had a good bypass trail that I followed, and then I was faced with my first real route choice: Do I cross a somewhat steep snow slope, or ascend along the snow-free ridge? I decided on the latter for no particular reason, but higher up regretted my decision as I encountered ugly and unstable rubble.
Once I was past the messy rubble the easy ridgewalk resumed and I quickly reached the base of the summit bump. The final ascent was easy until I encountered an icy snowpatch just below the summit. I’d expected it to be soft and easy to ascend like the rest of the snow I’d encountered, but it was frozen solid and not safe to walk on without crampons, which I didn’t have. Instead I scrambled up some snow-free bedrock; a moderate scramble for sure.
The view from the summit was spectacular and far nicer than I’d expected for a front range hike. The snow remaining on the surrounding mountains and in the valleys was beautiful and the green forest, grey slate, orange scree, and blue sky complemented the whole scene. The wind was a bit gusty, but it was warm in the sun and by sheltering behind a few rocks I was able to spend 45 minutes on the summit resting and eating my lunch.
On the way down from the summit I found a very easy route around the bedrock I’d scrambled up earlier, then crossed the snow slopes I’d avoided earlier in the trip. They were soft and easy, of course, and had I wanted to exit via Nihahi Creek (and hitchhike back to my truck) I could’ve glissaded a vertical 400 - 500 m to the valley bottom on either of them. Instead I continued east along a ridge leading towards Compression Ridge before descending on a ridge heading north and following a minor creek bed back to Canyon Creek. Wetting my clothes and hat in the creek kept me cool for the hike out and I arrived back at the truck a leisurely 8 hours after having started out. Another wonderful day in the mountains!