A Mountain near Cottonwood Lake in the Sawatch Range, West of Buena Vista, Colorado
Sheep Mountain In Chaffee County, Colorado Sheep Mountain (elevation 11,933 feet) is a humble mountain among a
plethora of towering peaks in the Sawatch Range. Most notably, it
sits between Mt. Princeton and
Mt. Yale and acts
as a landmark to the town of Buena Vista, Colorado. On
a summer day in 2012, Sam and I took on the mountain by foot.
The common view of Sheep Mountain from Buena Vista.
Sheep Mountain comprises of both of the left and right point; the left point
is the taller one at 11,933 feet.
The day before our hike, I snapped this photo
from the Collegiate Peaks Overlook that I posted on www.mtprinceton.org.
Sheep Mountain is small compared to Mount Princeton,
but looks can be deceiving ...
... notice how large Sheep Mountain looks
as I stood on Main Street in Buena Vista on Christmas Day 2011.
July 22, 2012 - We parked at Cottonwood Lake and our hike began at the base of Porphyry Gulch. There is no trail.
Obviously if you decide to do this hike, you should have a
good topographical map with you. The entire area can be found on the map #129 (Buena Vista / Collegiate Peaks) made by
National Geographical Trails Illustrated.
It was long haul up the gulch. There was no real bushwacking,
but the climbing was rocky and steep.
There were plenty of dead trees to go over. Thorny plants were a constant concern.
We crossed many steep, pain-in-the-neck ditches with loose rocks that seemed
related to mining.
My suggestion is to hike as closely to the center of the gulch.
Walking in the creek bed or close to it is what I'd do again.
About halfway up, we reached a dirt road and soon saw a "no trespassing"
and "private property" sign. We went around the area, hiking into the woods on the right, and
then rejoined the gulch's main creek bed after more painful slogging up steep hills.
Once we were beside the creek bed, we were relieved.
The climb was still tough, but at least there was a social trail, perhaps made by
sheep and other wildlife, that made it feel like a normal hike.
Lastly, we rested frequently and among beautiful, tall aspens.
We hiked straight up Porphyry Gulch
to the ridge that is directly east of Point 11,642'. Then we headed toward
Sheep Mountain's main summit area.
We went through another miserable area -- through a steep, semi-rocky slope filled
with young aspens. The aspens were constantly scratching and knocking my head.
We bushwacked a bit and often grab branches to avoid sliding.
Having said all that, the views continued to improve. Adjacent is a photo looking
down Porphyry Gulch. We had gotten that far up! :)
SECOND: The summit of Mount Princeton left of center.
Our first solid view of Sheep Mountain. We aimed for the peak on the left.
Note that with few exceptions, much of this mountain is covered in trees.
On this hike, I came to appreciate mountains (that have no trail) above timberline.
At least you can see where you're going and have peace about your strategy.
It's tough when all you have to rely on is your map.
We got on the Sheep Mountain ridge. Lots of pointy overlooks like this one ...
... and we were done.
The summit was a few tenths of mile more on the ridge, but it didn't
seem worth it. Much of the summit was covered in trees, and with Sam not feeling well,
we stopped here. Usually I am a purist in
reaching a mountain's true summit, but it was a funny excursion.
We were fed up with all the trees and didn't care.
It was that kind of climb.
To make matters more frustrating, clouds were rolling.
The lighting was terrible for photographing the mountain scenery.
However, we did have a wonderful and unique view of Cottonwood Lake below. So pretty!
Looking down at the Cottonwood Lake campground.
I was hoping for a grand view of Buena Vista and
the Arkansas River Valley,
but as I said, the summit was mostly covered in trees.
It probably would have been a hassle to have hiked there and then
searched for a clearing. Many disappointments on Sheep Mountain.
We returned the way we came up,
but not before more miserable trudging through a thick field of young
aspens on the upper parts of Porphyry Gulch.
We avoided the mine and private property and returned to the road.
This time, we walked on the road for much of the way into the canyon.
This spot with bright green trees was pretty.
The next morning, I returned to capture a good photo of Porphyry Gulch.
Not a cloud in the sky!
At the bottom, Sam and I gazed at Porphyry Gulch
with a sense of awe and respect. Somehow, we did it.
This is one of those mountains where I knew I had to do it --
the mountain gods were calling. However, now that I've hiked it, I'm certain
I'll never do it again. My one thought is if I had to do it over,
perhaps I'd start from the Colorado Trail (near the Rainbow Lake Resort),
northeast of the mountain. It'd probably be another grunt up a gulch,
but it could be better than what we did.
Not the greatest video for my standards, but I loved the view of Cottonwood Lake.
Despite the terrible lighting, the view of Mount Yale (0:45) was nice.
The next morning, I returned to do a 360-degree view
of the mountain scenery in the canyon. Porphyry Gulch and the Cottonwood Lake Campground entrance are included.