Monday, April 12, 2010

Climbing Mt. Garfield

Mt. Garfield to the left and its steep approach trail to the rightThe skyline to the northeast of Grand Junction is dominated by Mt. Garfield, western Colorado's version of the Rock of Gibraltar. Anyone who has ever driven through the area on Interstate 70 is familiar with this imposing peak. I have driven past it hundreds of times myself and wondered how hard it would be to climb. Yesterday, I finally found out. (Click the photos for full-size views.)

Last week, my friend and neighbor, Rich, who had already climbed Mt. Garfield three times before, invited Nan, Scout and me to climb it with him. Nan declined because she knew her legs would be sore after a trail race she was scheduled to run on Saturday, but I was up for it and Scout is always up for anything.

Scout and Rich at the Mt. Garfield trailheadThe weather was perfect when we arrived at the trailhead, sunny and warm but with a cool breeze. Rich with his hiking poles and Scout with his doggie enthusiasm quickly pulled ahead going up the steep lower slopes. I splayed out my feet, leaned into the slope and grunted upwards until my calves and glutes were screaming. I stopped for a long pull off my CamelBak and looked up the trail to see how Rich and Scout were doing. They were already standing at the top of the first plateau, in the shade of a large hoodoo, waiting for me.

Beautiful meadow on Mt. Garfield with Grand Mesa in the backgroundFrom where I caught up to Rich and Scout, the trail flattened out somewhat as it wound up through large broken rocks. That stretch gave way to a beautiful meadow and then a long traverse across the face below the summit. When the trail turned right into a wide, deep gully for the final approach, the rocky climbing began again. At one point, we reached a place where Scout couldn't figure out how to get up a rocky ledge. He paced back and forth whining until I climbed back down and gave him a boost. Rich checking out the 2000-foot drop from Mt. GarfieldThe trail gradually leveled out and we found ourselves walking along the top of the sheer cliff that forms Mt. Garfield's distinctive summit. It was extremely windy, so we didn't risk getting close enough to be blown over the edge. Scout, with his ears blowing out like wings and his tongue flapping in the corner of his mouth, danced fearlessly along the edge until we called him back.

There is an old, bare flagpole that marks the summit. As windy as it is up there, a flag would be blown to shreds in a matter of days. We managed to find a calm spot and sat down to eat lunch. There wasn't any shade, so Scout hung out in my shadow to cool down. Rich and I shared our lunch with him, admired the views, took more photos and then headed back down the way we had come up, taking small to steps to avoid slipping on the grit that covered the dry slopes.

Scout using John's shadow for shade on Mt. GarfieldIt took about an hour and a half to get to the top and another hour to get down, not too bad for a climb that covers two thousand vertical feet in just two miles. If you get a chance to try it yourself, try to pick a cool, cloudy day and take plenty of water for you and your dog. The entire climb is up south-facing slopes that could turn into a reflector oven on hot days. It's also not a place you would want to be in a thunderstorm. Take care and have fun.

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