Mount Princeton (4327m) is the southernmost and most visible of the Collegiate fourteeners. It rises abruptly out of the Arkansas River Valley and it’s hard to ignore the peak when driving on US285. But it can be a real challenge to find the well-hidden trailhead…
I woke up 06:00 at the campsite in Buena Vista, and had a quick breakfast before I packed my stuff and left the campsite for good. From the centre of Buena Vista I drove approx 13 kilometres south on US285 and then turned right onto Chaffee County 162 (paved). Then I continued on this road for 7 kilometres (4,4 miles). Near Mount Princeton Hot Springs I turned right onto Chaffee County 321 (paved) and followed this road 2 kilometres (1,3 miles) before I turned left onto Chaffee County 322 (dirt). There were no signs whatsoever at this last junction, except from some private property postings. Thus I spent a lot of time looking for other possibilities, before I finally returned to the 321/322 junction. After 1-2 kilometres on Chaffee County 322 I ended up on a horse ranch. Here I had to ask a lady if I was on the right track, or if I by mistake had trespassed into private property. Don’t worry, she said, and pointed out the huge parking lot. The trailhead and the narrow and steep Mount Princeton Road started just behind this parking lot.
The guidebook said that if you value your vehicle, park here, and do not continue on the steep Mount Princeton Road. But it was already late in the morning and I had a 4WD vehicle, so I decided to continue up the Mount Princeton Road. The road is steep, it is difficult to pass vehicles going the opposite direction, difficult to turn around and difficult to park. Still I managed to drive 5 kilometres, without any incidents, to reach some radio towers. I parked here, it was simply too risky to drive my expensive Jeep Grand Cherokee any further on the terrible road. The elevation here was 3300 metres.
Mount Princeton (4327m)
I started to walk 08:15 along the increasingly rougher road. I left the road as it started to head south toward Bristlecone Park. This junction of trail and road is not marked and is easy to miss. But if you first find the trail you can’t miss it as it climbs diagonally up talus to Princeton’s southeast ridge. Then I continued on the easy ridge (class 2) and passed 4-5 people before I finally reached the summit at 10:15.
There were few people on the summit (less than 5). I rested for 20 minutes and did not make any effort to communicate with the others. On my way down I met a 60-year old couple and they asked me where I came from. Norway, I told them, and suddenly they started to smile. They replied in Norwegian language: “Do you speak Norwegian?” Immediately I understood that they were Norwegians. They moved from Norway in 1965 and settled down in Leadville. I learned that they frequently travel back to Norway, but nowadays they consider home to be Leadville, Colorado. This was their 10th peak above 14000 feet, and the lady quickly added “….and probably the last”.
Further down from the summit I stopped up next to a memorial. A young woman died here in 1995 after being struck by lightning. Electric storms are always a serious hazard in Colorado during the summer months, and in average it kills 1-2 hikers/climbers every year. She was one of those ill-fated persons to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Descending via Tigger Peak (4045)
I continued down to the saddle between Princeton and its satellite peak Tigger Peak (4045m). Then I continued my scramble to the latter peak, and I measured it to rise slightly more than 60 metres above the saddle, which is not high enough to give it a hard rank by Colorado standards. Tigger is a child’s paraphrase of the Princeton mascot, the tiger. I had no desire to return to the saddle to descend the normal route, thus I continued down the southeast ridge (class 2) to reach the upper part of the Mount Princeton road.
When I walked down the road I suddenly stopped next to a Jeep that had a Norwegian flag. Surely this was the Leadville couple’s vehicle.
It was unbearable hot when I continued to walk down to my car, and I was glad to finally step into the car, fire up the engine and turn on the air-condition. Fortunately I did not meet any vehicles when I drove down the narrow Mount Princeton Road, and I was relieved to get onto paved roads further down. According to the rental agreement for this vehicle, it was prohibited to drive off of paved roads. Thus my assumption was that any damage or loss caused to the vehicle while I’m on a dirt road would not be covered by the insurance.
My leg and knee were significantly better during this day. Yesterday on Mount Yale I was barely able to walk. I still had some pains, but the stiffness in my left leg had almost entirely disappeared. The best medicine in my case was apparently to “walk off” my injury.