Peak(s):  Engelmann Peak  -  13,362 feet
Robeson Peak  -  13,140 feet
Bard Peak  -  13,641 feet
Mt. Parnassus  -  13,574 feet
Date Posted:  09/07/2021
Date Climbed:   08/28/2021
Author:  MaryinColorado
Additional Members:   RyGuy
 EngelRoBardAssus   

AND SO IT BEGINS...

This is my first trip report ever. Let's hope I didn't use up all of my creative juices on my username!

I'll start by sharing the name I gave this loop in my brain to help me remember the peak order: EngelRoBardAssus. (Other fun alternatives: "The Engelmann Humperdink" or "Parnassus Palooza".)

Before I get to the details, I want to tip my proverbial hat to daway8 for his August 2021 TR about this loop. (He had me at "w/o gullies".) RyGuy had been talking for a little while about doing these peaks as a loop, and I was resisting multi-peak days, but daway8's TR was well-timed and intrigued us both!

STATS

Total length of route: 9.3 miles
Total elevation gain: 4,537'

Elevation gain/mile splits may be helpful in understanding what you're getting yourself into. Here are my splits from start of route to Parnassus's summit:

Mile 1 = 646'
Mile 2 = 2,031'
Mile 3 = 358'
Mile 4 = 305'
Mile 5 = 794'
Mile 6 = 387'

Time to complete*: 9:09:22 car-to-car.

*Disclaimer: we all know time-related stats are to be taken with a grain of salt. Know your hiking pace, and give a lot of credence to what your pace is on very steep terrain since Engelmann's ascent is such a significant portion of the route. Then just do the math.

We had a perfect weather day, so there was no reason to push our speed. Significant snack breaks were taken, and I got really pause-every-20-steps chatty on the ascent of Bard mainly as an excuse to distract myself from my life choices. (Have I mentioned this was my first day ever doing more than 2 peaks??)

THE TRAILHEAD

Ruby Gulch Trailhead is very easy to get to and to find. It does give pause to feel like you're entering a private area and to encounter a sign that basically says, "You're entering a private area, do not park here." Fear not; at least at this point in time, Ruby Gulch Trailhead is established, and the small lot hard to miss. We were surprised to see a handful of other vehicles at 6 a.m. on a Saturday in August, but maybe it shouldn't be surprising. Ruby is a good alternate approach to Woods and/or Parnassus if one doesn't want to fight the Watrous crowds.

By the way. You will be parked across from one of the mine's processing facilities. When we arrived, the creepiest-sounding siren was blaring, and nary a soul was in sight at the facility. (Eventually, someone in an unmarked truck showed up.) Had it still been dark out, I'm not sure I would have left the car.

THE HIKE - PART 1 - ENGELMANN

The starting point is the gated road with the massive avalanche warning sign.

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If you somehow miss this, I'm afraid you have problems.

There is nothing noteworthy about the road other than it's a nice, casual start. You gain about 600' before you ditch it for real terrain.

"But where DO I ditch the road, Mary?"

If you were to overlay my GPX with daway8's from his TR, you'd find that our biggest deviation from his route is in our approach through the woods. RyGuy took a turn much closer to the drainage.

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Our route is highlighted in red.

Unsurprisingly, this is good for staying oriented and for avoiding some bushwhacking (not all). If you look at it on satellite, you see the areas directly along the drainage are more open. If I were to do this route again, I'd probably go even a little further, closer to the drainage, before making a hard left.

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RyGuy takes the lead, and into the woods, we go!

So, the forest part happens. You just work your way uphill, not too big of a deal finding your way. And gradually you will start to see Parnassus through the trees until, finally, it reveals itself in its entirety.

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The morning glow on Parnassus was lovely to watch.

"How steep is the terrain, Mary?"

It's "could-be-worse steep", i.e., you aren't steep on kitty litter scree begging for mercy or doing super intense bushwhacking. But ... it's still darn steep, yes.

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Eventually, Parnassus AND Woods AND the flanks of Robeson come into view, instilling great hope that the forest will soon end. And, just like that, it does. At this point, start angling a bit north-easterly to gain the ridge. The way to Engelmann is quite obvious above treeline.

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We're out of the trees!


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And after some uphilling, this is looking back down from whence we came.

Engelmann is mostly tundra above treeline, but if you like some rocky stuff, never fear; there is the occasional rocky patch to shake things up for a minute.

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RyGuy approaches the first "rocky interruption".

In the pic below, the first hump in the distance behind RyGuy is where an established trail mysteriously appears. (Maybe I'm the only one who thinks it's mysterious.) Also, this tundra section up to the "hump run" - and the hump run itself - is a wonderful reprieve from the steepness, so enjoy it! Just beyond it is the last push to Engelmann's summit which you can actually see in this picture, as well.

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Not going to lie, the change in slope angle was a really welcome sight!


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First "hump". The easy-to-follow mystery trail does, indeed, go precisely to where you want to be.

The "hump run" is such a nice reprieve from the uphill; you get to catch your breath, remind yourself why you're doing this, and the final push to Engelmann's summit won't seem bad. Once on summit, you'll get great views!

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Looking back toward the route


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Square Top: worst Hide-n-Seek player ever.

Now you can see the rest of the peaks, too, and Shakespeare, himself - err, Bard - makes a more prominent appearance.

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I forgot to take a picture looking over at Robeson full-on, so this teeny tiny view is all you get, sadly.

THE HIKE - PART 2 - ROBESON

Robeson looks super benign from Engelmann's summit, but then on descent from Engelmann, it starts looking a lot less benign. I had a fleeting thought about skipping it altogether since it's unranked, but it's right there. It was a little bit more of a push than I thought it would be, but not too bad. It's just a tundra trot.

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On Robeson's summit looking over toward Bard


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Looking back at Engelmann from Robeson's summit

THE HIKE - PART 3 - BARD

Robeson to the saddle with Bard marked the 2nd loss of elevation thus far, and Bard looming up in front of me gave me mental grumbles. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks!" wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet. How poetic since I was, indeed, protesting muchly within the confines of my mind.

The mental game was real. I had a similar struggle when I did Hoosier Ridge; repetitive gain/loss/gain/loss is soul-crushing to me. But why?! I don't flinch when I research a route that demands 4500' gain in a single push, but apparently when the gain is split among multiple summits, I'm convinced I have chosen poorly. I trust I will grow out of this the more multi-peak days I subject myself to. I digress.

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Looking at Bard from the low point on the saddle between it and Robeson

That said, it is noteworthy that Bard is the biggest push in elevation gain of the whole route after Engelmann. You drop from Robeson to 12,933' and are looking at a little over 700' steep gain in front of you to Bard's summit at 13,641'. And now the terrain gets a little more varied with some loose stuff and some rocky-ness.

Persist and summit! This is where you discover that Bard is selfishly hoarding not one but two geological survey markers. Fascinating! I didn't see a marker on any of the other summits. Hmm.

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One of Bard's two survey markers

Let's take a look back at Robeson and Engelmann, shall we?

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Looking from Bard's summit back at Robeson and Engelmann

By the way, we encountered a summit register on Bard. Didn't find one on the other summits, so Bard for the win, once again! Two geological markers and a summit register. Bard be hoardin'.

Before you know it, it's time to lose elevation again. [insert mental grumbles here]

THE HIKE - PART 3 - PARNASSUS

21341_04
Coming down from Bard, I highly recommend seeking the obvious social trail winding down; no need to unnecessarily erode other areas. The social trail takes you where you need to go and is only marginally better or worse than choosing your own way.

Parnassus was a repeat for me; I'd done it as a snowflake in 2020 from Watrous Gulch. Nice to explore coming at it from a different direction, though. The route between Bard and Parnassus proved to be a gentle roller coaster, and it was the least straightforward of the saddles, but don't mistake that for "not straightforward". It's easy to figure out where to go even in the couple of scramble sections, and there is a social trail to follow that's accurate.

As for the scrambles, as short as those sections are, they're a really nice distraction especially if you like that kind of terrain, which I do. They are difficult class 2/class 3 depending on what lines you choose. Also, beware the large marmot family dominating the first scramble. (I kid. They were super cute and checked us out up until we arrived, then they tucked themselves away to let us through.)

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Mary on the rocks: shaken, not stirred. Actually, not even shaken. Loved the little scramble sections! Forgot to take pictures of them, though.

Are we there yet? The last stretch to Parnassus's summit threatened to break me.

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But then we made it. Huzzah! My mental grumbles were instantaneously replaced with a great sense of joy and accomplishment and, as always, a sincere happiness to share even a difficult (for me) multi-peak venture with my better half.

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I don't know why I'm posed as if I'm walking the red carpet. I don't find awkwardness, it finds me! (That's a lie. It's both.)

You get some of these views along the way, not just on Parnassus. Sniktau, Cupid, the Grizz, Grays, Torreys, Kelso, Edwards... so many great peaks!

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Looking back on the three prior summits of the day and with a nice view of that steep slope up Engelmann!

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Anybody else see a shadow that looks like a giant frickin' bird??

THE HIKE - THE FINALE - OUR ESCAPE PLAN

Time to lose elevation for the last time! The descent to the Parnassus/Woods saddle is easy and non-problematic.

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Descending to the Parnassus/Woods saddle

And now we see our escape route. Huzzah! I highly recommend taking the social trail coming down from the saddle. Take it until you are at the point where you need to deviate sharp left to the Willows Avoidance Area.

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It's good to pause and survey your way out while you're looking down on it.

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, you certainly have. Even thrice. But not today, willows! Not today.

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EngelRoBardAssus in all its glory! And willows.

To be totally honest, I was pretty tuckered out by this point, so I didn't take route photos. But, time for another hat tip to daway8: his route to avoid the willows was spot on! You pick up trail fragments easily and need to maintain a deviation to the left in order to fully avoid willowing. And then, indeed, you eventually discover a clear trail.

Noteworthy: we ran into two hikers who followed the social trail off the Parnassus/Woods saddle and went straight into the heart of the willows. We said a small prayer for them, but they emerged before we did! ("What kind of sorcery is this?!" I exclaimed.) They said there's a faint path going straight through that caused them no issues, so if you're feeling adventurous, and it's "dry time" for the willows, that could be a viable, more direct option.

Admittedly, we were "in the zone" and missed a turn-off from our trail to the trail that would actually take us back to the road. (That is the ultimate goal: meet back up with the gated road.) The dead giveaway was that we started going a bit uphill again. We had only gone maybe 100 feet past the fork, so it was a non-problematic backtracking.

You'll have a number of small creek crossings that are no big deal. A couple of drain pipes over them, however, are questionable. I chose to rock-hop one of the crossings because, by that point, a couple prior pipes had caused trust issues.

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This redhead was super happy to see Red Mountain once again!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

  1. I would not want to be in the middle of this loop when weather hits. Pick a great weather window!
  2. If you want to ease your way into the elevation gain (i.e., not so soon in the hike), my humble opinion is that this route is totally reversible. The main downsides to that, however, are that you'd have some loose scree on the way up to the Parnassus/Woods saddle and then a lot of loose scree from the bottom of the Parnassus/Bard saddle up to Bard's summit. Lastly, the descent off Engelmann is such a long stretch of steep. If you don't do well on direct, steep descents or have concerns about stress on your knees, then I would not recommend reversing the loop.

BONUS CONTENT

Shakespeare was right when he wrote, "All that glitters is not gold." It's mica! You'll see beautiful chunks of mica here and there, though most that I noticed were on the way up Engelmann. As always, Leave No Trace. Take only pictures; leave the pretty mica chunks on the mountain.

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That's a wrap on my first TR! I definitely welcome feedback, and I also hope someone actually gets some measure of usefulness out of this. Happy 13ering!


My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 4 5 6 8 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 23 24 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36


Comments or Questions
daway8
User
Nicely done!
09/07/2021 13:09
I've been keeping my eyes open for updates from these peaks because I've still been debating whether or not to create a regular route description for this group since it seems odd that a peak like Bard has no defined route.

If I go ahead with that I may use some your feedback here to help tweak in the details, though I'm pondering whether I need to make a return visit to refine getting on/off the ridge - such as seeing how much using the drainage buys you for the accent and maybe checking out the social trail through the willows for the descent...


MaryinColorado
User
Whew!
09/07/2021 14:24
Thank you! Also, major thanks for your TR for this loop. It was so helpful and motivated me greatly in wanting to try these four as a loop instead of as two separate trips.

I would agree that there can be additional refinement to gaining the ridge especially in relation to the drainage. A couple things I left out of the TR because I don't think what we saw is enough to be a basis for "possibly rely on this" are:
1. We would occasionally come upon fragments of a social trail along/near the drainage. (Arguably, I say "social trail", but it's possible it's game trails.) They were a bit inconsistent, but some of the fragments were helpful. Either way, could be interesting to see if that actually starts where the drainage and the road meet, i.e., a little beyond where Ry and I left the road. These fragments were the first thing that made me think, "Maybe more people are hiking Engelmann than I would expect."
2. The second thing that made me think that was we came across two super random cairns. Granted, I'm not much of a cairn advocate whatsoever, but I can appreciate if a cairn at least appears to be thought out. These were more of "you are here, and so was I" cairns along one fragment of social trail. They didn't seem like helpful features. What it DID make me wonder, again, though, is if it's less cumbersome to turn off the road much closer to the drainage. I.e., maybe we missed an opportunity that exists.

As for the social trail from the P/W saddle, this has become more intriguing.
1. GAIA. If you use GAIA Pro, pull up your GPX and add the Public Tracks layer. You'll see a handful of tracks going straight through, and that seems to be on par with where we saw the two other hikers go.
2. AllTrails. Let me defend myself here. Ha! I sometimes use AllTrails to snoop on what the general public is putting out there as far as peak info. One of the telling things - and helps explain the social trails from the saddle, too - is that Parnassus and Woods are listed as a hike on AllTrails. I looked at the GPX of whatever route AllTrails chose to publish, and that GPX aligns well with the GAIA public track evidence, too. So, the "general public" will be following whatever's on AllTrails. (If you're interested, I can email you the GPX file and/or a PDF of the map.)

PS. I'd only be tempted to cut through the willows directly during dry season. Other than that, I think I would follow your avoidance route 100%.


E_A_Marcus_949
User
Great!
09/07/2021 15:14
Fun trip report and great route. Between you and daway's trip reports, I can't wait to get back out there again!


cheechaco
Nice report!!
09/09/2021 12:40
I actually did this loop 9/5/2021. I went on to Woods, though I really didn't feel like it. From the top of Woods I proceed north-northeast to the next little bump, skirting it just to the right. Staying on the same trajectory, I quickly spotted an old mining road. As soon as I spotted the mining road I went almost directly downhill past the old mine and even an old rusty wheelbarrow (it made for a great picture). Taking a slight right at the mine I quickly came upon at trail. The trail was super nice to see as I was wiped!! Took the trail back to the TH. I clocked 10.1 miles and 4,679 vertical. I was surprised at the vertical. When I plotted my course on Gaia it said I would get right around 5300. My usual hiking partner regularly get 3-400 more vertical than me. He uses Gaia as well, but has an iphone. He usually clocks more vertical so we usually go off his stats I was solo this day, so I'm stuck with 4,679, oh well! I'm glad I tagged Woods. Super nice loop, only saw people around Parnassus. Nice trip report by the way!!!!!


d_baker
Write more...
09/12/2021 13:19
reports! You have a fun writing style and sense of humor.


kwhit24
User
Thanks for the beta!
07/18/2022 16:16
Mainly used this for your route up Engelmann Peak. I agree with going a little further into the drainage but overall it seemed much easier to navigate than many other TRs I've seen. Thanks again


MaryinColorado
User
Huzzah
07/18/2022 20:46
Glad you found it to be helpful, and that's good to know that worked out to be closer to the drainage!


Gulf_Coast_Hiker
Thank You!
07/21/2022 21:31
This is a great report. I run the Devil on the Divide 50k each year and it basically circumnavigates this area. It starts at Henderson Mine, goes up to Jones Pass, onto the CDT, then down to the Herman Gulch trailhead, up Watrous Gulch, on to the Bard Creek trail, and ends in Empire. I've always wanted to hike the peaks above the race course and it's pretty cool to see that there is a route "up there" if I ever have the time to attempt!


NittanyLion14er
User
Thanks!
08/07/2022 14:25
To you and daway8 for the route. It was helpful on our 5er series day (EngRobBarParWoods). We did pretty much stay along the drainage to tree line and it was more "open" to navigate. Found cairns and other markers along the way up. Definitely the way to go, doing Woods/Parnassus first would wear your legs prior to that steep descent in the woods, plus having the road back to the mine made for easy trekking. Hope you have had more mutil-peak days!



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