Hike with Pete, Lucy, Cheryl, Ginni, the goddess Diana, and Sunday T. Dog on August 2, 2009
Trailhead: 39º10’37”N, 105º35’19”W, 9,849 feet
Lunch: 39º9’56”N, 105º34’8”W, 11,339 feet
Summit: 39º10’0”N, 105º33’36”W, 11,377 feet
Hiking Distance: 4.2 miles
There’s something attractive about climbing the highest peak, whether it be the highest in the world, or the highest on the continent, or the highest in the state. It turns out that Farnum Peak is the highest named peak in the Puma Hills. “Named” is a necessary qualification; two peaks in the Puma Hills with no names are taller than Farnum Peak. Those two will continue to languish in obscurity while Farnum is in the spotlight.
From mile marker 199 on U.S. 285 in Jefferson, we turned south on Tarryall Road (Park County Road 77), went 17.6 miles, and turned right onto Turner Gulch Road (PCR23) just past the Tarryall Reservoir dam. 1.8 miles from PCR77, we turned left onto Packer Gulch Road, or Forest Service Road 144, took the left fork at every opportunity, and drove until we ran out of meadow. We parked 4.4 miles from PCR23 where we found a good place to turn around and park off the road.
The road continued on past our trailhead, going up into the conifer forest. We went into the trees to follow the stream up the mountainside, a more direct route than following the switchbacks of the road, and more enjoyable than dodging the occasional ATV or dirt bike whizzing up the road. This seemed like a great plan for 50 yards or so, before we ran into a swampy morass of aspen and bushes near the creek. Moving up the slope into the conifers didn’t improve things much, as the hillside was steep and rocky. It wasn’t long, though, before the valley widened, and the rocks and bushes were behind us.
The stream we chose to follow led us east, rather than south toward Farnum Peak. While this might have made for a slightly longer trip, it brought us to a meadow, from which we could see a ridge, still to our east, that led to the peak just west of Farnum. Ridges are good if you are hiking in the forest, and if they lead to your objective as this one did. So we merry band set out across the meadow for this one. Diana, no doubt named for the Roman goddess of the moon and the hunt, naturally took the lead. We mere mortals followed, roamin’ through the meadow, on the hunt for the peak and, of course, a nice place for lunch.
It was steep up to the ridgetop, but not too far; we went up at an angle to make the trip easier. There are ridges for reasons, and usually the reason is they are underlain with a pile of rock. Along the top of the ridge, the rock broke out from the forest and thin soil in many places, forcing us over if we wanted to stay on the ridge, or to the sometimes steep slopes to the side, if the rocks were to difficult to scramble over. Still, as ridges go, this one wasn’t much trouble. The weather was warm, the bristlecone forest was fairly thin and easy to walk, and we were treated with occasional views across South Park toward Buffalo Peaks.
From a vantage point where we could see ahead, we plotted our course. We would continue on the ridge to the mountain ahead, and traverse around the mountain to the east, or left, when the slope became steep. This would take us to the saddle between this mountain and Farnum Peak. From the saddle, we would plan our next steps.
The conifers were a mix of limber and bristlecone pine, with aspen thrown in here and there. The rocks split the forest and gave us views to the west and northwest, over the lower ridge on the west side of Packer Gulch and across South Park. The forest is wetter than usual, thanks to the rains this summer, and that accounts for the abundant undergrowth and forest floor litter. We found a number of mushrooms, and two varieties of “funny fungi,” one I had seen before and one I hadn’t. Poor Sunday suffers with a lot of undergrowth, as she’s low to the ground and furry. Small twigs off the pines cause the worst problems for her, as her hair seems to grab the bark and drag the twigs along. Many twigs get moved back as the dog moves forward, and she ends up dragging several sticks behind, until we stop her and disentangle her “butt sticks.”
Our plan worked as proposed, and we found ourselves on the saddle leading to Farnum Peak. We also found a good spot for lunch, with views to the southeast, toward South Tarryall Peak. Below the peak I could pick out Lizard Rock when the sun shined there, and Hankins Pass to the north of the peak. We also had a good view of Farnum Peak, and the rocky top there, which doubtless would give us good views in several directions. Our continued course, we decided would take us across the saddle, dropping about 200 feet, and climbing only slightly more than that to summit the peak. (It would have been a shorter hike to the peak west of us, which is one of the two higher unnamed peaks).
The path down was the rough half, as there were rocks and downed trees to dodge. Going up the other side of the saddle, we found a thinner forest and fewer rocks, until we got to those at the summit. Once there, we found it occupied, with a ladybug convention. Many hundreds of the little orange beetles were gathered on the rocks and bushes. It was tough walking around without causing a wholesale slaughter. From the summit of Farnum Peak, we had views east to the Tarryall Mountains; south along the rest of the Puma Hills; north across South Park to the South Park and Mosquito Mountain Ranges.
For our return, we went back on the saddle to the west, but left it near the bottom, and continued down, traversing the mountain side at an angle, heading straight for our trailhead. The upper part of the mountain was steep, with much down timber to dodge, but the forest grew thinner and the hillside less steep as we descended. Perhaps two-thirds of the way down, we found signs of logging done long ago: There were stumps of trees larger than those standing, and narrow roads, long overgrown with vegetation, used to take the lumber out.
Down lower, the smell of the forest changed from that of deep conifer woods, as the breeze at our face brought the scent of aspen to us. We found the aspen and bushes again, but got through easier than before.
It seems a little silly to head for a highest peak that isn’t one, but the destination isn’t always the objective. A goal set and obtained is rewarding, but the few minutes at the summit never match the walk there and back. The goddess of the hunt blessed our trek, and we enjoyed it all. The higher, unnamed Puma Hills will wait patiently for us to visit them, too.