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Mount Copeland

Started: 2015-01-11 12:03:02

Submitted: 2015-01-11 13:35:02

Visibility: World-readable

20 September 2014: In which the intrepid narrator climbs Mount Copeland on a brilliant fall day

In 2009 I got the bright idea to take the top ten highest summits in my local protected wilderness areas and set a goal of climbing them. In July I climbed Mummy Mountain and Hagues Peak, finishing the top ten summits in Rocky Mountain National Park. I'm still working on Indian Peaks Wilderness, with one ranked summit, Ogalalla Peak, still on my list.

All of the highest summits in Boulder County are in either Rocky Mountain National Park or Indian Peaks Wilderness, so some summits count twice, but the geography of the boundaries mean that the top-ten lists don't entirely overlap.

I have mixed feelings about lists. I have no particular interest in climbing all of Colorado's fourteeners; many of them are boring slogs up a poorly-defined trail. I'd rather climb an aesthetic class 2 or 3 route on a peak that, through an accident of geology, happened to be a few hundred feet below an arbitrary round number. (Perhaps I should instead aspire to climb the fourteeners with class 3 or class 2 routes identified as "classic" by climber and guidebook author Gerry Roach.) But I rarely regret the opportunity to go out in the wilderness, and my list of peaks has the habit of taking me into new and interesting places I've never been before, feeding my climbing neophilia.

So with those caveats and complaints, I've climbed the top ten ranked, accessible summits in Boulder County:

  1. 14,259 feet: Longs Peak, August 2009 (and also in August 2008 and 2001)
  2. 13,911 feet: Mount Meeker, August 2009
  3. 13,579 feet: Chiefs Head Peak, October 2010
  4. 13,502 feet: North Arapaho Peak, September 2010
  5. 13,497 feet: Pagoda Mountain, July 2013
  6. 13,441 feet: Apache Peak, July 2010
  7. 13,409 feet: Navajo Peak, August 2010
  8. 13,310 feet: Mount Alice, August 2009
  9. 13,276 feet: Kiowa Peak
  10. 13,223 feet: Mount Audubon, June 2012 (also in August 2009 and September 2006)
  11. 13,176 feet: Mount Copeland, September 2014

Kiowa Peak is located entirely within the City of Boulder's notorious protected watershed, rendering it unreachable to me. So for my list I've decided to skip Kiowa and count the top ten accessible summits -- leading me to extend the list to the eleventh-ranked summit in Boulder County, Mount Copeland.

Mount Copeland
Mount Copeland

I set out to climb Mount Copeland on Saturday morning, 20 September. The day was clear and bright; fall had come to the mountains and the aspen leaves were changing colors, but no snow had yet fallen. I drove to Wild Basin and hiked up the trail past Calypso Cascades. I ran into some trouble at Ouzel Falls, where the bridge had been washed out by the flood a year ago; I had to scramble across the creek on foot.

Fall colors in Wild Basin
Fall colors in Wild Basin

I hiked to Ouzel Lake and left the trail to circle around the lake to the south, then headed into the woods to climb towards Mount Copeland. I spotted a scattered cairn or two and followed a series of game trails through the forest, which eventually took me to the base of a gully that looked like it had been carved by an avalanche. I climbed the gully, skirting a series of cliffs on the north side of the mountain, and reached treeline on the mountain's broad east slope.

From treeline I had no more obstacles between me and the mountain's summit, only two thousand vertical feet of gentle talus between me and the summit. I climbed along and between and around the boulders, focused mostly on the rock in front of me, but occasionally stopped to survey my surroundings. Mount Copeland climbs sharply in the middle of Wild Basin; I could see Longs Peak to the north, and the broad ridge separating Rocky Mountain National Park from Indian Peaks Wilderness to the south.

Jaeger on the summit of Copeland Mountain
Jaeger on the summit of Copeland Mountain

At length I reached the summit, a broad flat expanse of rock with a small pile of rocks in a crude wind shelter. From the summit I could see the elusive mountains hidden to the south: Ogalalla Peak and Elk Tooth, and further beyond into the wilderness.

Ogalala Peak from Mount Copeland
Ogalala Peak from Mount Copeland

I retraced my route back down the mountain, down the gully, and on the game trails through the forest back to Ouzel Lake. I saw one other group of two or three people halfway down the slope, who seemed to be stopped where they were, barely above treeline. I took an alternate trail back to the trailhead to skip the missing bridge and returned to my car and civilization without further incident, having successfully climbed another new mountain in my local national park.