On so many occasions since moving to Colorado, Pat and I have been sitting at a lake gazing up at the surrounding mountains, pointed, and said “whoa look, there’s a person up there!”
Well… this time I was the person up there, gazing down on half a dozen lakes from a 13,596 foot (4144 m) summit in the Tenmile Range.
Located in Summit County in central Colorado, the Tenmile Range is not actually 10 miles (16 km) long. Within the range are ten adjacent peaks, beginning with Peak One and ending with Peak Ten, which are each approximately one mile apart… which is where the name comes from. But there are other mountains in the range as well, including 14er Quandary Peak and a bunch of 13ers. On a Saturday in mid-August, Chelsea and I set out to climb one of these 13ers: Father Dyer Peak.
Father Dyer Peak is named for Father John Lewis Dyer, a Methodist minister who traveled around the Midwest to perform duties as needed. He ended up in central Colorado where he visited the mining camps to preach to the miners. His travels included numerous ascents up and over the Tenmile Range. Considered one of the founders of the state of Colorado, there are numerous items in the state named for him, including Father Dyer Peak in the heart of the mountain range he crossed so many times.
The main route up Father Dyer Peak begins from the Spruce Creek Trailhead lower parking area. If you have clearance, 4WD, skid plates, and the skill to navigate a steep rocky mountain road with a giant hole in it, you could make it all the way up to Lower Crystal Lake and begin your hike there. We didn’t, so we started at the lower trailhead.
The first portion of this hike was easy to navigate as we simply walked up the road to Lower Crystal Lake. It was steep, though, gaining about 1600 feet (490 m) in 2.7 miles (4.3 km). There were a couple of water crossings that were still fairly deep, but we were mostly able to step from rock to rock without getting our feet too wet.
As we were approaching tree line, we startled a moose… who then came dashing out of the trees about 25 feet (8 m) away, startling us. Fortunately, he wanted nothing to do with us and he and his moose friend made their way across the trail and up a hill on the other side. We didn’t see them again, but we made sure to make our presence known as we passed through the area.
Not long after, we found ourselves at Lower Crystal Lake.
The 4WD road dead ends here. There were a couple people fishing in the lake and one group had backpacked in. A couple guys ahead of us were headed to Upper Crystal Lake and Crystal Peak. We, however, headed the other direction toward Father Dyer Peak. Beyond the lake, the rest of our hike was off-trail. We curved around to the west and began ascending through the grass to the ridge. It was steep, but the path was fairly intuitive.
We reached the ridge and spotted a mama and baby mountain goat casually perched on the side of the cliff. Oh, how easy mountain climbing would be if we were as agile and sure-footed as mountain goats. But we’re not, making the remainder of the hike quite a challenge for us. In fact, it was the most technically challenging mountain I’d ever climbed.
The route follows the east ridge all the way to the summit, and while parts of it are just a walk across some rocky terrain, much of it is class 2 and a few parts are rated class 3. These ratings are part of the Yosemite Decimal System used by mountaineers to rate the difficulty of a route. Ratings span from a basic hike on a trail (class 1) to technical climbing with ropes and gear (class 5). Class 2 is defined as easy scrambling while class 3 is scrambling that requires the use of hands for forward progress (source).
It’s slow going on terrain like this, requiring constant route-finding and careful placement of hands and feet. There were a couple spots in particular that were very exposed and required a lot of caution. By the end of this hike, my exhaustion was much more mental than physical. We were moving so slowly that we never really got out of breath. It was the constant concentration that was taxing.
But after the slowest mile of my life (it took close to an hour and a half), we made it!
(Unfortunately, Chelsea came down with a very poorly timed case of food poisoning about halfway through our hike. Not that there’s a good time to come down with food poisoning. But while navigating class 3 terrain is definitely on the ‘really bad timing’ end of the spectrum. In what I can only assume was sheer strength of will, she made it up and down the mountain in one piece.)
I hadn’t been high in the Tenmile Range since Pat and I summited Quandary Peak nearly 3 years prior, and I’d forgotten how jagged the mountains are. We were surrounded by rugged ridgelines and numerous other high peaks that I can’t wait to summit someday soon. And down below was an array of colorful lakes, including Upper Crystal and four of the Mohawk Lakes, which Pat and I had hiked to a few months earlier. They’d been frozen when we were there, so it was really neat to see them from above in all their colorful glory.
Obviously, on all out-and-back hikes the destination is only the halfway point; you still have to make it back to the car. Never was that more true than on a hike like this. The ridge was just as challenging to hike back down as it was to hike up. In a couple spots, I found the maneuvers to be even more difficult on the descent. Not to mention, staying focused when I was getting tired was a challenge. But we made it down off the ridge and back to the trail, and Chelsea was feeling a little better at this point as well so it was a pretty straightforward hike back to the car.
Chelsea likes to summit things and I’m all about lakes, so a summit hike with lots of lakes to see along the way was the perfect hike for us to do together. We’ve already talked about returning to the Tenmile Range to summit more of the 13ers (with lots of lakes en route)… more to come on that at some future date. But next: a backpacking trip with Pat and a lengthy alpine day hike with some friends. Stay tuned!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: the Spruce Creek/Crystal Lake trailhead is located 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Breckenridge; follow CO Hwy 9 out of town, turn onto Spruce Creek Road, and follow it to the end
- Fees and passes: none
- Hiking: roundtrip distance from the main 2WD trailhead was approximately 7.5 miles (12 km) with 3415 feet (1040 m) of elevation gain, though this may vary slightly depending on the route you take once you leave the trail at Lower Crystal Lake
- Where to stay: this can be done as a day hike from Denver, although it’s a very long day; for closer lodging, stay in Breckenridge or Frisco, or find a legal place to camp in the surrounding national forest
- Other: this hike requires route finding, off-trail navigation, and traveling through class 2/3 terrain… prepare by researching the route in advance and save photos or other trip reports to your phone so you can reference them as you climb. Also, beware that hiking over class 2/3 terrain is much more time consuming than a class 1 hike… we were above tree line for many hours. Keep a close eye on the weather and if storms begin to form, turn around right away to allow adequate time to safely descend back into the trees