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#421 / 13,276' Whitney Peak

Range › Sawatch Range
Quadrangle › Mount of the Holy Cross
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 39° 25' 58.28", W 106° 28' 08.42" (Not Field Checked)
Neighboring Peaks › Peak Icon Holy Cross Ridge Peak Icon UN 13768

Peak Summary

Note: LoJ and Roach list the elevation as 13,276 ft.  G&M list the elevation as 13,271 ft. per the 1970 USGS map which suggests that the west end of the summit is the high point. The large boulder that marks the highest point on the summit and rated as a 5.6 move to scramble up may account for the difference, but see explanation on LoJ under this peak for how corrected elevation was arrived at. The true high point is likely that boulder on the east end of the summit. If in doubt. just walk & hit both points of the elongated summit. 

Breaking with "tradition" here, we are classifying Whitney Peak as an easy Class 2 walk-up summit that is probably the easiest to reach in the entire Holy Cross - Missouri Lakes group of summits. LoJ and others rate this summit as 5.6 for the single large summit boulder that requires a single, unexposed climbing move to surmount.  The remainder of the entire hike is only Class 2 and we don't want people to be misled by a 5.6 rating and exclude this otherwise excellent hike from their list of peaks to enjoy. The trailhead is accessible to passenger vehicles and the overall hike can be done in a morning and have you back to your vehicle for lunch if you can drive the diversion road. The ONLY problem to this summit is the high-point summit block. The boulder ascent is not exposed. This can also be a good earlier season hike if properly equipped. 

Whitney Peak South flank Route

Class 2
Medium Day // Take a Lunch
RT From Missouri Lakes - Fancy Lake TH: 3270 mi
  • Trailhead
    • Missouri Lakes - Fancy Lake TH

      The trailhead for Missouri Lakes/Fancy Lake is a shared trailhead with trails starting out in different directions from the same location. To access this trailhead, take the turnoff for FR703 located along CO24 between Leadville and Minturn. If coming from Leadville, turn onto CO24 just north of town from CO91. Drive to Tennesee Pass and the turnoff for Ski Cooper. Continue north on CO24 for another 10.9 miles to an "S" curve in the highway. The turnoff for FR703 and Homestake Reservoir will be on the west side (left) of the highway. 

      If coming from Minturn, you would have exited I-70 and driven south into Minturn. Continue driving south gaining elevation up to the old mining site of Gilman (some call this hill climb "Battle Mtn."), then drop down in elevation to the turnoff for Red Cliff. Continue driving south on CO24 from the turnoff and spectacular arch-span bridge and measure off another 2.9/3.0 miles. Turn west (right) onto FR703 at the fist curve of the "S" curve. 

      FR703 drops down losing some elevation on a couple of switchbacks. In .3 mile, there is an information kiosk. Across from the kiosk, there is a small, primitive camping site that can accommodate RV's, trailers, etc. Continue on FR703 for 6.7 miles to the Gold Park Campground, passing a dozen and a half primitive campsites along the road. At Gold Park CG, there are 12 sites suitable for trailers, RV's or tents. They have a vault toilet but no water. Fee as of 2019 was $21 per night for a single vehicle. 

      Continue past the campground for a total of another 3.0 miles to the trailhead. Along the way, do not turn off on the Holy Cross City 4WD road FR759. This is strictly 4WD. Continue on the main road to an intersection where you will turn right about a mile past the campground. The intersection is signed. Drive another 2.1 miles on FR704 to the trailhead. The first mile has several switchbacks. The entire drive in is passable to passenger cars of most all types. Some sections may tend to be wash-boarded. In the last mile, we counted at least 6 to 8 primitive campsites. 

      If only the Missouri Lakes trail is desired, then from the dual trailhead, you can drive south and SW, crossing Missouri Creek and follow the aqueduct road another .7 mile to a small parking area. From here, you may wade or attempt to drive across Missouri Creek and join the trail which continues as a road to a diversion pond at the wilderness boundary just a short distance from the park. This will save about 15 minutes of walking but only about 100 feet in elevation gain and will require a creek crossing with no bridge. This .7 mile drive will be on rougher road as well but most SUV's should be able to handle with no problem. 

      Be advised that as of summer, 2019, a large-scale avalanche from the previous winter left a quarter-mile wide swath of downed trees blocking the Missouri Lakes Trail at about 2 or 2.5 miles in on the hike to the lakes. The Forest Service plans to attempt to "clear" some of this damage in the fall, after all the snow and ice buried under the morass of shredded trees has melted off. In the mean time, a temporary use trail has evolved that gets hikers through the maze with little difficulty. When you come to the edge of the avalanche damage, look to the right for a fainter trail that heads uphill, then later begins a higher contour that skirts much of the damage. You'll still have to climb over or under a few fallen trees but you can easily get through it all with a backpack. Towards the end of the damage area, the trail drops back down losing most of the elevation it gained, in order to rejoin the original trail. As for the overall condition of this trail, it is a highly used path so it is well-worn, rocky with many exposed tree roots and not too kind to tired feet. It's a toe-stubbing challenge for tired hikers, backpackers and climbers. Two of the three stream crossing have good bridges. One last crossing closer to the lakes just has a cluster of loose logs to cross on. 


      Camping

      As mentioned above, at .3 miles along FR703, there is a primitive site that can accommodate RV's, trailers, etc. For the remaining 6.4 miles to the Gold Park campground, we counted at least 18 primitive sites. Then there is the Forest Service maintained Gold Park CG as described above. From the intersection for either Homestake Reservoir or the Missouri Lakes/Fancy Lake TH, we counted another 6 - 8 primitive sites along the road up to the trailhead, most of which were in the final mile. Once you arrive at the trailhead, you can also follow the aqueduct road NE and find other places where you can park along the road and at least car-camp. There is a vault toilet at the trailhead. 


      Campsite Locations

      Gold Park CG › N 39° 24' 22.54", W 106° 26' 06.03"
      Elevation 9,245 ft. Coordinates are for the turnoff to the campground from FR703.
    Peak Icon Route Map Photos

    Route Info Whitney Peak South flank

    Route Description

    Year Climbed: 2008

    Note: the mileage estimate for this hike is measuerd from the Missouri Lakes/Fancy Lake trailhead parking. You can eliminate almost 2 miles of hiking one-way if you drive the diversion road. Most better clearance vehicles can handle this with no problem. 

    From the trailhead parking, hike or drive northeast along the road that travels along part of the water diversion. This road basically contours and stays level. After a little less than 2 miles, we found an intersection that did not show on our maps. We chose the road that went left and gained some elevation on switchbacks. This road terminated a little below a small, man-made pond; part of the water diversion project. Parking nearby, we began hiking from the pond,  gaining some elevation above the pond on the north side and intersected the road that leads up to Holy Cross City and Hunky Dory Lakes (FR759). This is a rugged 4WD road. A nice bridge helped us across the swollen French Creek along the way.  You can also intersect this road a little earlier by a short leg that branches off the diversion road about where it makes a pronounced turn to the NW. Coordinates are: N 39° 24' 35.15"  W 106° 27' 20.22" 

    Once on the proper road, FR 759, walk about 1.5 miles to the base of Whitney Peak. You will see a shallow, broad gully on the east end of the mountain ascending from near the road almost all the way to the summit. It was filled with snow and not too steep of an angle when we went up in mid-June of 2008. Leave the road & aim for the gully a little below the 10,800 ft. contour. Hike through forest and then begin ascending steeper, forested slopes for about 600 vertical feet to treeline, joining the broad, southeast ridge, littered with many old stumps from an old forest fire. Follow the ridge all the way to the summit or cross west over to the broad gully and ascend it. Equipped with crampons and ice axe, we easily made our way up the still-hardened snow and made steady progress for quite a distance. Near the summit, the gully gives out and opens onto a broad summit area, covered with rocks and tundra. Walk over to the summit cairn and take a leisurely summit break after figuring out how to scramble up the large summit boulder and set your rear on it. (A partner assist here can be useful.) It took us no more than 3.5 hours from our car park. 

    As usual, enjoy the expansive view. Take some obligatory photos of the snow-covered terrain, and eat some food, even though it may be early for lunch. We traversed the entire summit area to make sure we had hit the true high point, but it's most obviously the boulder on the east end. From our summit break, we descended by the same basic route and intersected the jeep road close to our original departure point. The descent was a little steep at times for a glissade but with ice axe, we managed. Once back on the road, it is an easy stroll back to your vehicle and a short drive back to the trailhead area if you drove the first 1.5 mile. 


    Additional BETA

    Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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