Colorado, Colorado 13ers, Colorado Summits

Colorado 13ers: Father Dyer Peak

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.

Water crossings

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.

Walking the 4WD road
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.

Off trail now and looking up at the east ridge of Father Dyer Peak
Getting closer to the ridge
Looking back the way we came
Made it to the ridge! Looking down at Lower Crystal Lake

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.

Father Dyer east ridge
Photo by Chelsea
Looking back at Lower Crystal Lake from the east ridge

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.)

First glimpse of Upper Crystal Lake
The closest peak, just right of center, is the summit of Father Dyer
Photo by Chelsea

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.

Looking back across the summit ridge
Quandary Peak (left) and some peaks in the Mosquito Range to the south
Upper Crystal Lake from the summit
Four of the Mohawk Lakes from the summit

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.

Photo by Chelsea
One more view of Crystal Lake from the ridge

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

35 thoughts on “Colorado 13ers: Father Dyer Peak”

  1. Very brave I would say! Some of your photo’s scrambling over rocks made my hands all sweaty! And totally agree with going down being sometimes more dangerous – it’s normally here where one’s concentration slips for a moment 👀. Glad you made it safely up and down – well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, the views are absolutely gorgeous! It makes me miss nature so much, living here in the city! For sure the hike there seemed quite hard, and I can’t imagine having food poisoning in the middle of it! What an awful timing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! Stunning scenery 😍 I can see what you mean though about that ridge being mentally exhausting. I also find going down can be trickier than going up, and I’ve had my share of slips on descents (on one, the clump of grass I was standing on suddenly dislodged itself and started sliding down the hillside… I was wishing I had the balance of a mountain goat at that point!).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow… I was stressed out just reading this. The photos, while beautiful, definitely convey how dangerous the terrain is and I 100% agree that coming back down is harder. I really struggle with that. Glad y’all made it safely and your friend was ok. Sounds like a memorable day for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well done! Class three! Your post gave me flashbacks of climbing Mount Snowdon in Wales. Slow and treacherous! Just more proof that climbing 14ers isn’t the only worthy challenge in Colorado. Those 13ers can kick your butt (so I’ve heard)!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I could never get enough of those sweeping Colorado mountain views, Diana! What a fantastic place to explore on foot. And I have to say from my own experience, going down a mountain is often far more difficult than climbing it. You start to understand the mountain. You’re no longer looking up at the summit, but retracing your steps with greater care and attention than you gave them on your way up. Thanks for sharing and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for sharing! I have a question! I guess I could look it up, but I’d rather interact! I was wondering exactly where this was and then you mentioned the road…I have been on that trail, but this sure doesn’t look like it at all! Is this a different trail than the one that goes to Mohawk? Ugh. I didn’t get to Colorado this year for the first time in a while!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No worries at all, I enjoy the interaction! It is a different trail. The parking lot for this hike is the same as for Mohawk… Spruce Creek Trailhead. To get to Mohawk, you then take Spruce Creek Trail which heads off to the left. We went up Crystal Lake Road to the right, which took us up the next valley over from Mohawk.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This looks like a challenging hike with all those jagged rocks and the fact that there is no clearly defined path. Poor Chelsea. I have no idea how she managed to complete this trail with food poisoning mid-way through! That’s rough!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It reminds me a bit of the views we get here in the English Lake District with the lakes and rocky views. I totally agree about coming down, it’s always the worst bit and I feel like my knees won’t work for a week. And your friend is amazing for doing this with food poisoning!! Look forward to your backpacking trip 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Gosh, that jagged ridge looks treacherous! I would be scared out of my mind and nope out of there; it’s courageous you managed to make it through (and your friend, with food poisoning, of all things)! All of you are the hard-core hikers, that’s for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

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