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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Crescent Mountain

Crescent Mountain is located in the Front Range foothills near Denver. It is off Hwy 72, which is just North of Golden and South of Eldorado Canyon State Park.

How Crescent looks from the junction of 93 and 72 on a rainy afternoon in June




As a result of its unique geology, this is probably one of the least visited of all the foothills. Depending on your tastes you will either love it or hate it. With no set trails, there are a myraid of different routes you can choose, with it being pretty much impossible to climb the mountain the same way twice. But however you choose to go, you're looking at a pretty solid class three climb for ~ 2,000 feet straight up out of the parking lot. From the road (see above pic) the abrupt elevation and spare foliage gives a sheer cliff like appearance to the mountain. But unlike the neighboring Flatirons, the uplift here resulted in a series of scraggly boulder outcrops, like giant steps, going all the way up. There is some foliage in between each clump of granite, and when you get to the top it actually becomes sub-alpine with denser pine, aspens, moss, wildflowers and ptarmigans.



The mountain isn't a far drive from Denver, it isn't crowded, and you're not gasping for air from the minute you leave the parking lot. In addition to being an enjoyable climb in its own right, Crescent provides convenient conditioning for some of the state's higher and more technical peaks. Before you consider that final move on the Whetterhorn, or sliding across Kelso Ridge or Capital peak, you might want to get more familiar with your own abilities and limits somewhere a little closer to home, and where the consequences are a lot less grave (Crescent's many gullies allow for pretty easy non-technical descents from any elevation- just watch out for the poison ivy near the parking lot).

The view up from the parking lot:



Two pictures of the unique geology:





Closer up at each position you can choose from a series off different "steps" to ascend the next rock. Or if you don't like the way any of them look, you can usually go around them either left or right.







That last picture is a good example of the sort of lessons this mountain teaches. The liberal abundance of hand and footholds on that outcrop suggest that one could probably ascend it. However, there's a pretty good amount of exposure from the top. So, would it be "worth it" to give this section a try? In the case of the above picture, I decided that "no", it wasn't, so I went around. Still, I do like to carry a rope with me on this mountain, just in case I find that I've got myself into a place that might be a little tricky to get out of.

Being a relatively high foothill (8,945 Ft), there's a nice view from its top.

Here's one panorama, click for a larger image:



The view East towards the plains



On the particular afternoon that I took this picture, the weather had decided to take a turn for the worse. See the storm forming over the Front Range and blowing my way?





The cloud got closer and began to thunder and hail... when this happens you want to get off the summit and crouch down under a rock or a ledge by the tree line, so as to avoid the lightning.

The cloud passes



And the rain is incredibly localized. Look how it just avoids downtown Denver



On the way down from that particular trip I spooked a deer, and then got to see one of these



So... Crescent mountain is a fun mountain. The technical and endurance challenges your body will face there are equal to the mental ones your mind will encounter while route finding. I have done that climb four times. Twice I've given up before the top because I either found myself far up a route that was getting a little too exposed, or because the weather turned bad... and I have never tried it without backing off a certain rock face and trying to find a new way around it at least three or so times.

To get there, take 72 West from its intersection with 93. Pass the road for the private ranch, and immediately afterwords at a bend in the road there will be an area to pull over to the right (north). Cross the creek with the two logs placed there on the upstream side of the parking lot and follow the climbers' trails to the base of the mountain. These trails disappear within 100 yards and then you are on your own. When you are done with the climb, was your shoes off in the creek to get ride of any poison ivy oil you might have encountered in the drainages.

Handy tip: Put a piece of strong duck tape over the toes of each of your hiking boots to protect them from rubbing up against the rock too much.

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