I wanted to get in one more good workout at elevation before the adventure begins on Saturday so I drove out 550 to hike Pass Creek Trail up to Engineer Mountain. The trail covers just over a couple of miles, gains over 1,400 feet, and meets up with the Engineer Mountain Trail somewhere around 11,500 feet. My goal was a relaxed hike to 12,000.
The concentration of oxygen at sea level is about 21% and the barometric pressure averages 760 mmHg. As altitude increases, the concentration remains the same but the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced. At 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) the barometric pressure is only 483 mmHg, so there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath. – The OA Guide to High Altitude
I was the second person at the trail head. The weather didn’t look great, it was damp and cloudy, but wasn’t especially threatening. I expected light rain, possibly even hail, but didn’t see either during the hike. The trail itself was pretty muddy from showers the night before but that didn’t present any real problems until the final 400 or so feet.
I moved quickly through the initial switchbacks. This is an amazing beautiful trail through alpine forest, small streams and waterfalls, and small lakes. I had the trail completely to myself until I reached the highpoint. Traveling solo in this kind of territory is new experience for me but I loved every minute of it.
I didn’t really notice the altitude until 11,300 but even then it didn’t give me too many problems. I had a little less power but felt great. Very few breaks were required throughout the hike and when I did stop to catch my breath I noticed that my recovery time was much improved. The few breaks that I did take lasted no longer than a few seconds. It felt good to keep pushing up.
Somewhere around 11,400 or 11,500 you leave the treeline and Engineer Mountain comes into view. The scene is stunning and well worth the hike. My camera phone doesn’t do it justice.
First View of Engineer Mountain from Pass Creek Trail
A couple hundred yards up the meadow and you run into intersecting trails at the “T”. I was feeling strong so I took the steep rocky, and today quite muddy, path directly up Engineer. What followed was a bit of a struggle but fun. Slipping was a constant threat but my trekking poles and careful foot placement kept me moving up despite the mud. I had to occasionally move off trail a few feet but eventually made it to an awesome bit of rock that allowed amazing views of the valley and rock glacier to my left.
View from 12,050 Feet on Engineer Mountain
Back toward Pass Creek Trail
It had taken me less than two hours to reach this point. That’s not record time but I’m happy with the way my body responded to the altitude. I even briefly considered moving further up to around 12,500 or so but decided that I didn’t want to tackle the even steeper muddy trail above.
I hung out at 12,100 for a while. A trio of college girls (or recent graduates) caught up with me and said they were going to the summit. I wished them luck before tackling the steep muddy descent. The descent turned out to be easier and faster than anticipated – largely because I moved a few feet to the right of the trail, into a rocky gully, and avoided the mud. Once I was back to the intersecting trails heading down was predictably easy and fast. I moved quickly and only stopped to chat with hikers on their way up.
This hike was worth the trip in itself but my main goal was to test myself and get some altitude prior to our 14er attempts. That adventure starts Saturday morning with a 6 mile hike 3,000 feet up to about 11,200. I’m a little more confident (just a little) after this morning’s hike.