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Golden Bear Peak - 13,010' & Hagar Mountain - 13,220'
My original goal: Golden Bear, Hagar, exploration of Coon Hill via an atypical southwesterly ridge run My revised goal after being battered incessantly by cold wind: "How soon can I get back to the car?"
Successfully arriving to the trailhead in the dark requires some heroics.
Step 1: Rid yourself of vehicles immediately behind you before you exit Eisenhower Tunnel. (Legally. No 007 rear-firing rockets required.) Step 2: Take a deep breath. Grip the wheel properly at 10 and 2. Step 3: Exit tunnel and careen to the right in a very controlled manner. This is Mario Kart, 13ering style. Step 4: Question where you are because it looks anything BUT like a trailhead for two delightful 13ers.
Enough of my dramatics...
This route begins from just outside the west-bound exit of the Eisenhower Tunnel. As the following picture illustrates, you have to know ahead of time to be prepared for an immediate exit. At the time of this trek, the area was full of cement barricades and construction equipment. I was very confused about where to park and how to park; I was the first one there, too. When I got back to my car after the trek, I discovered myself to be the moron who parked parallel while everybody who arrived after faced in. Sorry, everybody!
To obtain the trail, hike the little road that goes back in the direction of the tunnel. You’ll pass a couple of service buildings. You’ll eventually come to an intersection, fully paved. Take the pavement that curves to the left. The pavement will eventually end, and the trail will pick up from there.
The gain/mile splits tell the story nicely: other than the short-lived steepness of Hagar’s headwall, the gain is pretty spread out and pleasant. Here's a quick look at the full profile.
Be on the lookout for moose in the willows. I came across moose that watched me very closely, and there are no trees to dive behind. I made gentle but swift work to mosey along and leave them to their banquet of tasty willows.
Just after 11,800’, you’ll come to a trail junction. You are welcome to keep going straight if you want to start with Hagar, but if you prefer to start with Golden Bear, then you’ll turn right.
It was a crisp fall morning; I was absolutely loving the weather and watching light begin to cascade across peaks in the distance.
The trail very gently winds up the slope of Golden Bear in a southerly direction. Gentle trekking, nice views; not a bad morning. Right around 12,400’, you may wish to choose to begin your cut up to the ridge. That would be more direct. I, however, gained another 80’ – 100’ and curved gently onto the ridge heading northbound.
Now you’ll have views of the ski lifts, and you have a pretty good idea of how straightforward it is to get to Golden Bear’s summit. It was a beautiful day, but because the wind was already upon me and I knew the ridge would be a bit lengthy, I opted to stay a bit left of the ridge, a little lower, and just made my way up through the “valley”. Nothing eventful; still easy trekking!
But then it was time to emerge from the valley and be on ridge proper in the wind. I followed evidence of various stuck-in-the-ground artifacts. Not entirely sure what all those objects are; maybe they serve a purpose of some kind or are remnants of something. Views are really lovely all around! And eventually you see the actual Golden Bear summit. It’s easy and straightforward getting there just following the ridge. You’ll even eventually encounter a social trail.
By the time I got to the summit, the super cold wind had been consistently consistent. Late September isn’t too early to be packing winter stuff especially if you run cold, so I was sporting my winter mittens and loving it!
Summit of Golden Bear had an intact register. I laughed to see the following entry from 2011. Good job, “Old Farts”! I secretly wonder who, exactly, they were; so if you’re reading this, and you were one of the Old Farts, drop a comment below.
And yes, I’m a dork. I know. We all know. I thought it would be cute to bring my childhood bear because he’s literally a golden bear, and you never know what your nieces and nephews may find to be amusing. (she says, pretending this wasn't just for her own sake) His name is Pockets. Similar to my .com username, it’s super creative! He enjoyed the summit and the fact that he had to do no work to get there.
From Golden Bear, keep following the ridge. It's straightforward. You lose some elevation through some delightful rocky terrain. I continued to get absolutely battered by the cold wind. Stronger gusts – which were frequent – threw me off-kilter just enough to be really annoying. But, overall, it was a beautiful weather day, AND I even got buzzed by two fighter jets!
I loved the views of Hagar and nearby 13er “The Citadel” (easily in my top 3 favorite 13ers so far). As I got closer to Hagar, I encountered another person. Until then, I'd had the whole place to myself.
You'll eventually encounter another stretch of social trail. I should clarify, I keep saying "social trail", but there's so much game in the area that I'm sure some of the random "social trails" that appear are really game trails. Either way, they go the direction you need to go, so you may as well use them.
Hagar’s headwall looks intimidating but isn’t terrible unless you make it terrible. Which I did. I picked a line further to the right that I thought looked more amiable than heading up the middle or more to the left, and it was crappy as heck, but I was committed (and it was safe, not treacherous). I donned my helmet as a precaution, though. When I came back down later and re-surveyed the headwall, I decided middle or even slightly to the left – places through chunky rock – is probably better. So that’s what I’ll try next time.
Cool summit block, indeed! The brief stint of class 3 is fun for a change of pace and easily navigable. The summit itself I found to be unique for its narrowness and prevalence of jagged rocks. It made for an interesting summit structure and geometry.
I was a little confused about which hump constituted the true summit. I determined that the farthest hump was not as high, so it was either the first hump or the middle hump. I topped out on both, just in case. On the first hump, I found remnants of a summit register. Never found an intact register.
Loved the views! Not too far in the recent past, I had done Citadel and Pettingell, so it was really neat to see those peaks and feel like I'd made a decent amount of peak progress in that particular area. And I’d definitely consider doing Citadel again but traversing from Hagar. That looks like a fun terrain day.
As you may have guessed by my frequent mentioning of being battered by cold wind, by the time I was back at the bottom of the headwall, I had given up on the Coon Hill connecting ridge exploration idea. Maybe some other time.
Descent: backtrack on the ridge for a while and pass over two humps. They all looked the same to me, so I didn’t really pay close attention on the way to Hagar as to which hump was the indicator to make a downhill turn. I just found that Coon Hill and its associated ridge was a great way to stay oriented. Additionally, the county map layer in GAIA can help because essentially where Grand, Clear Creek, and Summit Counties all converge, that’s where you’ll drop southwesterly for your ridge descent. I have circled the tri-county intersection on the following screenshot of the map. I didn’t gain the hump before I made my turn, just side-hilled down yonder.
The little green lake below Coon Hill is lovely. I have looked on multiple maps and don’t see that it has a name; therefore, it is now O’Malley Lake after my surname. (It probably has a name. One of you will let me know, I’m sure.)
You will eventually make your turn off the ridge and onto an obvious trail. If you recall earlier in the TR, I mentioned if you wanted to start with Hagar, you would keep going straight on the trail far down below instead of turning. This is the spot on the ridge where you would end up and where that trail ends.It is at approximately 12,240’.
"Front Range gem" sums up how I feel about this trek, and the gain not being huge and also being so spread out makes for rather enjoyable trekking where my lungs weren't constantly fighting for their lives. Given that each peak is separately and easily accessible since it's a loop, I also like that if I don't have time for 8.5 miles of trekking, I could choose to do just one or the other.
Happy and safe 13ering to you all!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
I think during winter Loveland runs ropes between all those poles to mark the ski area boundaries, but then takes the rope down in summer. I could be wrong but that was my guess!
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