Hiking Mount Ethel
Pilot & Today columnist Tom Ross doesn't know where Mount Ethel got her name, but he sure does love her views.
Tom Ross' column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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There's a new mystery woman in my life. Her name is Ethel. We had a little rendezvous Sunday.
Go ahead - you can tell my wife. I walked about 24 miles out of my way during the weekend to introduce the two of them. It wasn't easy, but in the end, it was well worth it.
If you haven't met Mount Ethel, chances are you've admired her from a distance. She's plainly visible gazing north from Storm Peak. However, you can get a better view of the 11,924-foot summit by driving to the top of Buffalo Pass and hiking about three-quarters of a mile north on the Continental Divide Trail.
What I want to know is, "How did Ethel get her name?"
I've been wanting to take Judy up the Rainbow Lake Trail (1130) to climb Mount Ethel for a little more than a year. It was August 2008 when a couple of fishing buddies and I contemplated putting down our fly rods long enough to climb the landmark peak. However, an unexpected late-summer snowstorm rendered the peak invisible, and we figured there was little reason to risk getting lost in a vain effort to stumble up to the socked-in summit.
So, on Saturday morning Judy and I loaded our packs into the car and drove over Rabbit Ears Pass to make a two-day roundtrip to Ethel's peak via Rainbow and Slide lakes.
Although there were some strangely dark clouds midday Saturday, the trip was full of waterfalls, glacial erratic boulders perched on top of white granite capstone, alpine tarns ringed by permanent snow banks and late-summer wildflowers. In one marshy spot near timberline we found the seldom-seen hot pink blossoms of Perry's primrose.
The Mount Ethel escarpment is daunting from the northeast, but like other mountains I've walked up in the region (Medicine Bow Peak west of Laramie, Wyo., is a great example), there's an easier way up.
We had a nice cool breeze for our walk to the summit Sunday, and although the hike was rigorous, there was nothing technical about it.
Trail 1130 climbs to Upper Slide Lake before gaining serious elevation to a junction with the Continental Divide Trail, Wyoming Trail 1101. For hikers taking this route to Ethel, it's a little frustrating that the 1130 leads north, away from the peak, before reaching the junction. From there, it's about two miles to the mountain.
Once you get to Mount Ethel, most of the work is done. The last stretch up to the high point is a strangely ill-defined patch of tundra. However, the views are dramatic for their 360-degree glimpses at local landmarks.
From this vantage point, the Continental Divide really does resemble the backbone of the nation.
Standing in one spot one can see Mount Zirkel, Big Agnes, Hahn's Peak, Meaden Peak and Steamboat Lake, Sand Mountain, the Mad Creek Lakes, Sleeping Giant, Flat Top Mountain, Agua Fria Lake, and Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.
After meeting Mount Ethel up close, I'm still in the dark about how the peak was named. I searched a couple of books devoted to historical Colorado landmarks and place names to no avail. I thought I might strike gold in "The Historical Guide to Routt County."
The Historical Guide tells us, for example, that Meaden Peak was named for March M. Meaden, the Bears Ears District Routt Forest ranger from 1916 to 1918. Meaden was killed in World War I. However, Ethel's name is missing from those pages.
At one point Monday, I was convinced the mountain was named after a historical Colorado figure named Ethel Pluton. Pluton, it turns out, is a term used to describe a geological area dominated by igneous rock created from the consolidation of magma.
What's that got to do with my mystery woman?
A trio of professors from the University of Iowa - M.F. Barinek, C.T. Foster and P.P. Chaplinsky - wrote a decade ago that the Mount Ethel pluton "is an elliptical body of granodiorite to quartz monzonite surrounded by Lower Proterozoic rocks in the Park Range, northeast of Steamboat Springs."
Not just yet. If you have the answer, I'd love to hear from you.
- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org