A Lesson From the Schoolmarm on Schoolmarm and Rishaberger Mountains

21 May

Schoolmarm Mountain is the high peak in the center of this view from US 24 a couple of miles west of San Miguel Street. A little sun falls on Rishaberger Mountain, in front of Schoolmarm Mountain

Hike with Pete on April 23, 2007

Trailhead: 39°6’43”N, 105°37’8”W, 9,724 feet
Schoolmarm Mountain: 39°6’55”N, 105°35’38”W, 11,332 feet
Rishaberger Mountain: 39°06’14”N, 105°36’51”W, 10,418 feet

Hiking distance: 3.9 miles

From Jefferson, go south on Park County Road 77 (Tarryall Road), 17.6 miles to PCR 23 (Turner Gulch Road). A sign pointing to Turner Gulch Road, Packer Gulch, and Highway 24 shows the right-hand turn just past the Tarryall Dam spillway. Stay to the right at a fork in the road (don’t go to Packer Gulch). Turn left onto Forest Service Road 281, 28.75 miles from Jefferson. From US 24, just west of mile marker 248, turn north on San Miguel Street. Go 3.2 miles, and turn right (follow sign to Turner Gulch Road). At 3.7 miles from US 24, turn left (follow sign to Turner Gulch Road) (you are now on PCR 23, but no sign tells you that). At 6.2 miles from US 24, turn right on FSR 281.

Park County Road 23, or Turner Gulch Road, is my new favorite scenic road in Park County. From Tarryall Reservoir it heads north, then west over a ridge, and then swings south, just east of South Park and west of the Puma Hills. It’s a long, lonely road with big mountains in the distance, ranch land up close, and hills, meadows, trees and views all the way. At the south end, it starts down a valley through the hills. A number of Forest Service Roads leave the main road. We picked 281 pretty much at random, and it worked out well. It’s a four-wheel-drive road that goes up Sawdust Gulch. Our two-wheel-drive got us about a quarter mile before some rocks discouraged us from driving on.

The weatherman had predicted warm weather during the day, with storms likely in the evening. We found sunny skies, a breeze from the southwest, and good hiking temperature. The road up went through a mixed forest of aspen, fir, ponderosa and limber pine, and soon led us to a spring. An enterprising rancher had placed a stock tank there, and piped the spring water into and out of the tank. Algae had grown in the tank, but the water coming in was clean and pure.

I had a topographic map of the area, but had left it on the table at home. Our first goal was Rishaberger Mountain, but looking up from Sawdust Gulch, we weren’t sure which one it was. We had Pike National Forest map, which implied that she is a prominent peak, so we assumed the most prominent peak we saw to be her. From the top, we’d decide if we could continue on to Schoolmarm Mountain, a bit more than a mile northeast from Rishaberger.

The spring in Sawdust Gulch. The water from the spring is fed into the stock tank through a pipe, then another pipe drains the tank. Algae grows in the clear water in the tank.

Sawdust Gulch led up and up, steeper as she went to the northeast. The tracks in the road began as four-wheel-drive, but soon narrowed to ATV tracks. At nine-tenths of a mile from the car, we reached the end of the road and the gulch. Down the hill in front of us, there was snow in the trees. We turned right, and up toward the top of Rishaberger. From that vantage, we could see a ridge rising gracefully towards the southeast, tree-covered the whole way.

The hard part was getting to the top of the ridge. We turned east and went up a steep hill that got steeper. Luckily there was little downed timber to block our path, and few rocky outcroppings to dodge. The ponderosa pine and aspen didn’t come up the hill with us; they were replaced by mostly small and scraggly bristlecone pines, our companions for the rest of the day. A prospector long before us had dug a wide, foot-deep hole, but we saw no other human signs on the steep hill up.

Once up to the top of the ridge, we expected easy going. The forest was not thick on the ridge, but there were snow
piles, which at first were easy to dodge. Because of the trees, we had not seen the rocky backbone on the ridge. We took a circuitous path dodging piles of rocks and small cliffs. As we gained elevation, the snow grew thicker, pushing us to the southern side of the rocks, and often cutting off the easier routes. Eventually we reached a high rock from which we could see no higher rock farther on. We declared victory over Rishaberger Mountain. To the northeast we saw a nearby mountain we took to be Schoolmarm. It looked too far through too much snow to get to, so we took a few pictures
through the trees, and sat down for lunch and a rest.

After our break, we continued along the ridge in the same direction, looking for a good path down to the lower ridge that
we knew headed southwest. As we walked, the ridge started going back up. And up, eventually to another higher point, where we found a Geodetic Survey marker which said: Schoolmarm Mountain. Oops! I remember reading about a statement made by early 19th century trapper Jim Bridger. Someone asked hiif he’d ever gotten lost out in the Rockies with no maps and no one to guide him. He said he’d gotten turned around for a few weeks one time, but, no, he’d never been lost.

An isolated snowstorm slides over the top of Mount Princeton far to the west. The storms moved from north to south, so we weren’t worried about this one.

Now knowing where we were, it was obvious that the mountain northeast was Farnum Peak. We had a better view southwest, and could see the ridge going down, then back up to the top of the real Rishaberger Peak.

Meanwhile, the weather was slowly getting worse. Far to the west, we could see isolated storms, one in the Sawatch Range, and another in the Mosquitoes. The wind had picked up a bit, and the clouds were building. Still, the temperature hadn’t dropped, and the sun was warm when it peeked through the clouds. We headed down the ridge.

It was steep coming down off Schoolmarm Mountain, and there were lots of rocks to clamber over or walk around. Once off the steep slopes, the amount of fallen timber increased, and we came upon some pretty big snow drifts. Despite the mostly downhill path, our walk to Rishaberger Mountain was slow. Once there, we could see the county road and Sawdust Gulch below us. The remaining half mile, down the steep slope, was slower still, there being more fallen trees to evade. We found many stumps from cut trees, giving a hint at why the gulch was named Sawdust. It was a relief to find the car; snow began to fall before we got to it.

My GPS said our walk had been short of four miles, but it felt closer to six. There was a lot of steep ground to cover, and lots of rocks, trees and snow to dodge. Had we remembered to bring our topo homework, we probably would have followed the same path, but at least we would have known what mountain we were on. I suppose the Schoolmarm wasn’t pleased with us.

There it is! There’s Rishaberger Mountain, the high point on the end of the ridge southwest of Schoolmarm Mountain


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