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On Walkabout On: Sentinel Point, Colorado

Basic Information

  • Name: Sentinel Point
  • Where: Horsethief Park, Colorado
  • Elevation: 12,527 feet
  • Distance: 9.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,373 feet
  • Time: 7 hours
  • Difficulty: EasyModerateHardDifficult
  • More Information: SummitPost.org

Sentinel Point Route

Sentinel Point Route

Topographic Map of the Trail

Sentinel Point Topo Map

Elevation Map of Sentinel Point

Sentinel Point Elevation Graph

Narrative

I have had May 17, 2014 marked down for quite some time as the day that I would hike up the 12,527 foot Sentinel Point.  This mountain is the second highest peak in the region behind of course the 14,115 foot Pikes Peak.  Sentinel Point is easily spotted on the drive to Cripple Creek to where it is easy to understand how it got its name since it stands out from the rest of the Pikes Peak massif like a giant watchtower.  Here is a picture of the Pikes Peak massif as seen from Mueller State Park where Sentinel Point is the pointy peak on the right side of the photograph:

This hike was going to be my warm up hike for the upcoming summertime 14er season.  Last year I hiked up the 12,367 foot Almagre Mountain for my warm up hike and that turned out to be a good work out to prepare for hiking Colorado’s famous 14-thousand foot peaks.  Considering the heavy snow the Pikes Peak region received last weekend I decided to get a early start on this peak before the temperatures got to warm and the snow turned into a postholing nightmare.  So I left Colorado Springs at 5AM in the morning and was welcomed by police cars all over the Fountain Boulevard area of town as they were responding to yet another shooting in the area.  This time a person was murdered near the infamous 7-11 at the corner of Fountain and Chelton.  I do not know what is causing all the gang violence, but the past few years Southeastern Colorado Springs has gone way down hill.  My vehicle must not have matched the description of the vehicle involved in the shooting because the police let me through with no issues.  From there I drove up Highway 24 to the small village of Divide and took a left on to Highway 67 towards Cripple Creek:

Here is an early morning view of Sentinel Point on the far right of the photograph from Highway 67:

Pikes Peak and Sentinel Point

Here is another picture of Sentinel Point from Highway 67 just before the trailhead:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

The trailhead is located at the old Midland Railway tunnel:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

The railway that passed through this tunnel was the old Midland Terminal Railway that was one of three different railroads that competed to bring goods and passengers to and from the mining camps at Cripple Creek:

The train service operated between Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek between 1895 to 1949 before going out of business due to the decline in gold mining in Cripple Creek and the advent of the automobile that once used this tunnel after the railroad when out of business. For those that have not lived in the Springs area for a long time, I can remember many years ago when Highway 67 that runs to Cripple Creek used to pass through this old railway tunnel.  Once gambling became so popular in Cripple Creek this bottleneck that allowed only one car to pass at time was replaced with the current bypass around the tunnel.

Anyway it ended up taking me about an hour of driving from Springs to reach the trailhead by 6:00 AM.  By 6:15 AM I was geared up and ready to start the hike up Trail 704 into Horsethief Park:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

The area is called Horsethief Park because supposedly back during Cripple Creek’s gold rush era back in the 1890’s outlaws used to hide out in this area and rob people traveling to the goldfields of their horses and money.  As I started up the trail I had a nice view of a early morning fog bank that was engulfing the lower valleys to the West:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

From the start the trail begins a steady ascent up the hillside.  I was on the lookout for the Ring the Peak Trail that would direct me to a trail on the left.  As I walked up the trail I saw a Ring the Peak Trail sign that pointed me further up the trail.  As I would later find out this sign was the actual left turn I was supposed to make, but the left hand arrow if you can believe it was on the back of the sign.  Here is a picture I took on the way back that shows on the back of the sign the arrow pointing to the proper trail:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Since I missed the trail intersection I continued further into Horsethief Park and then came upon this Ring the Peak Trail sign that pointed to the right towards the Pancake Rocks Trail:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I hiked up to Pancake Rocks back in November which was a fun hike to see the unusual rock formations there.  Since I did not see a sign pointing to the left I then decided to walk off to the left and see if I could spot the trail.  To the left side of the main trail there is a large marsh that provides a great view of Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I also spotted a trail through the marsh that even had its own little bridge:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I continued to follow the trail which I found was heading in the right direction, so I figured this must have been the correct trail:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

The trail followed a creek for a while just like my map indicated, but it then disappeared in all the snow and trees:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

After stopping and really studying my map I determined that I had taken the wrong trail.  So instead of backtracking I hiked over a ridgeline that would take me to another creek where I believed the real trail was located.  As I crossed over the ridgeline I saw the Ring the Peak Trail in front me.  However, to reach the trail I had to cross a marsh which fortunately was still largely frozen this early in the morning which meant I had no issues crossing it.  Here was the view from the marsh looking back towards Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Where I found the trail was actually the intersection I was looking for where the Ring the Peak Trail continues towards the Crags Campground and the spur trail heads towards Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

My missed turn I estimated cost me about 30-45 minutes which considering I had started so early in the morning was not that big of a deal.  The spur trail I was now on continued to follow the marsh towards the steeper ground that lied ahead of me:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

The marsh located here was formed due to a high concentration of beaver dams in the area.  It was a really scenic sight to take in:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

As I approached treeline the trail became covered with snow:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Here was the last view of Sentinel Point that I had before I entered into the thick forest:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

As I entered the forest the trail became impossible to follow due to the deep snow:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I stopped to put on my snowshoes and studied my map.  According to my map I had to find a creek that would be the path up to the ridgeline that leads to Sentinel Point.  So with my snowshoes on I made quick work crossing the snow now.  As I crossed through the forest I came upon this huge boulder that some how had large icicles form in front of it:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

It began to feel like I had walked too far and right before I decided to turn around I came upon a creek:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I figured this must have been the correct creek especially since there was the outline of a trail possibly along its banks.  So I began to follow the creek up the hillside when I came to a large rock outcropping.  I took my snowshoes off and climbed up the rocks.  On top of the rocks I had an unobscured view to the West of the Sawatch Range:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I could also see Sentinel Point off to the South:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Studying my map and looking at the surrounding terrain I found that I was off the trail again!  I had some how missed the creek I was supposed to follow.  I assume it was so buried in snow that I did not even notice that I passed over a creek.  After climbing down from the rock outcropping I put my snowshoes back on and continued to ascend in a Southeasterly direction towards Sentinel Point.  I figured that if I did not find the real trail that by ascending I would eventually get above treeline and be able to terrain associate myself towards Sentinel Point.  After about 20 minutes of hiking I then came upon a cairn that designated the real trail:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

It was the only cairn I saw and there was no trail to speak of due to all the snow, but I knew if I just continued to ascend up the hillside that I would be going in the right direction.  I estimated that I lost probably over an hour of hiking time due to going off course again.  It was now 8:30 AM so I still had plenty of time to summit this peak before any inclement weather in the afternoon rolled in.   Besides the cairn something else I spotted was the creek that I missed earlier.  As I had guessed the creek lower down on the mountain was not very noticeable due to all the snow.  As I ascended higher up the mountain the creek was actually more noticeable due to the thinning tree cover exposing it more to sunlight:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

As I approached treeline I was able to spot Sentinel Point again rising up the distance:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I then came upon a large rock gully where up ahead I could see the ridgeline that led to Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

This gully was filled with deep snow that was exposed to sunlight.  Even with my snowshoes on I was postholing up to my knees at first.  I made slow progress through the gully due to the snow conditions, but at least I had some great views of the surrounding cliffs to take in:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

As the gully became steeper the deeper the snow became.  I was now struggling through snow up to my waist.  Try to imagine doing the Manitou Incline with snow that was initially knee deep and then after the false summit was waist deep.  That is what I was dealing with.  I actually thought about calling it a day because of how exhausted I was struggling through all of this snow, but up ahead I could see the top of the ridgeline where the wind had appeared to have blown away a lot of the snow:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I kept telling myself that I had to keep pushing through all this snow and get to that ridgeline.  If the top of the ridgeline was still a postholing nightmare then I would turn around.  So I continued on pushing through the snow.  What I would have given to have a snow shovel at this point!  What I ended up doing was using my trekking poles as an improvised shovel as I tried to clear a path through the snow and then take a step up the hillside.  It was very slow going, but I made it to the ridgeline where the snow was not that deep.  The alpine grass might as well have been Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road to me considering how happy I was to follow it up the ridgeline towards Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

In total it took me 1.5 hours to get up that gully and I was quite tired for the effort.  In preparation for the upcoming summertime 14er season I have been running the Manitiou Incline once a week starting last month and I think that training really helped me pushed through all the snow in the gully. Here is the view from the ridgeline looking towards Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

From the ridgeline I had some nice views of the area.  To the North I could see this prominent rock formation that looked like a mini-Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Here is a closer look at this rock formation which I remember seeing from when I hiked up Pikes Peak from the Crags Trailhead, but it definitely looked more impressive from this angle:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Here is the view looking down from the direction I came from where I had a bird’s eye view of the Crags rock formation down below on the right:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I had actually spent the prior weekend hiking around the Crags so it was cool to be able to see these impressive rocks from this perspective as well.  As walked across the ridgeline towards Sentinel Point I also had a nice view to the South of the 12,347 foot Greenhorn Mountain:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Here is a closer look at Greenhorn Mountain which is another mountain that I hiked up two years ago:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

You can read more about my prior hike up Greenhorn Mountain at the below link:

To the East I had my first views from the hike of the 14,115 Pikes Peak:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

From this perspective Pikes Peak looks so different than its much more rugged Eastern side.  From this perspective the mountain looks more like something that would belong in the Mosquito Range (ie: Mt. Sherman) instead of the Front Range.  The most impressive site though was the 12,527 foot summit of Sentinel Point looming right in front of me:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Here is a panorama photo I took using my iPhone 5S that shows the gully I came up on the left, the Pikes Peak massive in the center, and Sentinel Point on the right:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

As I walked towards Sentinel Point the snow was actually quite deep, but due to the colder temperatures and how the wind had packed down the snow, I had no issues walking across it with my snowshoes:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Once I came to the rocky base of Sentinel Point I had to take my snowshoes off and begin to climb up to its summit:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

The trip reports I read online about Sentinel Point described reaching its summit as a Class 3 rock scramble.  I agree with this assessment if you follow the correct path.  I saw no cairns and had no footprints of prior hikers to follow to reach the summit.  So I stayed to the left and slowly worked my way up the rocks:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

However, I came to a point that would require a dangerous rock climb to get up to the summit.  So I figured this could not be the right way and descended a little ways back down and then tried to find another route to the summit:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I eventually did find it and topped out on the summit of Sentinel Point around 11:00 AM:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

It took me nearly 5 hours to reach the summit which would have been probably 1.5 hours shorter if I had not made route finding mistakes.  Additionally if the gully was not so filled with snow I could have reached the summit even quicker.  I think a summertime ascent of Sentinel Point in 3 hours is probably reasonable. The summit is actually quite large with its high point marked by this small wooden pole:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I was also able to spot the US Geological Survey marker as well:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Despite my route finding mistakes I was still glad I had reached the summit of Sentinel Point.  It was a lot of work to get up there in the snowy conditions, but the views from the summit were worth it.  Here is the view looking Southwest where the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine can be seen in the foreground while the Sangre de Cristo Range was visible in the background:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Here is a closer look at the Sangre de Cristo Range with the gold mine pictured on the far left:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Down below me I could see the Pancake Rocks:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Looking to the West and directly below me I could see where I began this hike at Horsethief Park:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Looking further out to the West I could see the many high peaks of the Sawatch Range:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

One peak that was easily noticeable was the 14,197 foot Mt. Princeton which is on my shortlist to hike this summer:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Another peak that was easily recognizable was the 14,269 foot Mt. Antero:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

A couple of other prominent peaks that could be seen was the 14,073 foot Mt. Columbia and the 14,420 foot Mt. Harvard:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

To the Northwest I could see the Tarryal Mountains in the foreground which were backdropped by the snow capped peaks of the Mosquito Range:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Here is a closer look at the Mosquito Range:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

The Mosquito Range has five 14-thousand foot peaks which I have all climbed.  You can read about my hikes up these mountains at the below links:

Looking to the North and below me I could once again see the Crags:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Even further to the North I could see the 14,060 foot Mt. Bierstadt and the 14,264 foot Mt. Evans:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

These are two other mountains that I have climbed that you can read about at the below link:

To the East I had a stunning view of the Western Face of Pikes Peak:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Here is a closer look at this great mountain:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Pikes Peak looked so close that I felt like walking over there and eating some donuts at the Summit House.  It is actually not that far as the crow flies from Sentinel Point to Pikes Peak.  On Google Maps I was able to determine that the distance is only 3 miles.  However, two different valleys have to be crossed before the final summit push which would make this quite an epic hike from Sentinel Point.

Here is a really cool panorama photo I took looking East towards Pikes Peak from the summit of Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Here is another panorama photo I took looking towards the West from the summit of Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

After spending about 20 minutes on the summit I then decided to descend off the mountain.  So I carefully climbed my way down the rocks back to the lower snow filled basin.  From there I decided to make this a loop hike by descending the southern face of Sentinel Point back down into Horsethief Park.  So I hiked the southern ridgeline from Sentinel Point until I saw this gap in the rocks:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I hiked through the gap and began to descend down the southern face of Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Here is view looking back up towards Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

As I descended I was amazed by how little snow was on this side of the mountain.  It would have been a much easier hike up the mountain if I would have ascended from this direction.  As I descended down the mountain I centered myself on a large rock formation I could see below:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

As I walked down towards this rock formation I decided to name it “Sentinel Phallus” for obvious reasons:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

During my descent I continued to enjoy views of the mighty Sangre de Cristo Range to the South:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

As well as the Sawatch Range to the West:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Before entering the trees here was my last view of Horsethief Park down below me:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Here was the view looking back up towards Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Here was my last view of the ridgeline from Sentinel Point that continues to the South:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

This ridgeline is easily spotted from Pancake Rocks and seems like would make for a great hike in and of itself.  It really is amazing how many great hikes both short, all-day, or multi-day can be found in the Pikes Peak region.  Something else that happened as I approached the trees was that it began to lightly snow though the sun was still shining.  This was because a storm cell to the West was having its snow blow over towards Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

So as I descended into the trees I could not find a good trail to follow so I broke a lot of brush to continue my descent.  I eventually came upon some deer poop and tracks:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I figured I would just follow the deer tracks and see if this deer knew the easiest path down the mountain.  Sure enough the deer tracks led me down a pretty good trail:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

The deer trail took me right to Sentinel Phallus:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Up close this rock is quite impressive and I wondered if anyone has ever tried to climb this thing?:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Just past Sentinel Phallus I came to a rock gully:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

The deer tracks I was following continued down this gully so I decided to continue to follow them:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

At this point the trail became quite slick due to the steepness of the terrain an the wetness of the snow in the warming temperatures.  I slipped and fell a few times during this part of the hike:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I eventually reached a point where the tree cover was thick enough that the snow did not melt as much and I found myself postholing instead:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

I was actually quite happy to be postholing since it meant I no longer had to worry about slipping and falling.  I then found myself at Horsethief Falls where the waterfall was still nearly completely frozen over despite the warming temperatures:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

From Horsethief Falls I initially followed a frozen trail back to the trailhead:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Along the way I passed this improvised shelter someone built in Horsethief Park:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

The last mile of the trail ended up turning into a total muddy mess:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Back at the marsh near the trail intersection with Pancake Rocks I took one last photo of Sentinel Point:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

From the marsh I was able to spot Sentinel Phallus which was dwarfed by the surrounding terrain:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

From the marsh it was an easy walk back to the trailhead at the railway tunnel where I found many more cars parked:

Picture from Sentinel Point, Colorado

Conclusion

It took me just over two hours to descend the mountain compared to the nearly 5 hours it took to get up it for a round-trip total of 7 hours of hiking. Over those seven hours I covered 9.2 miles and 3,373 feet of ascent. With better route finding the mileage should have been about 8.5 miles with 3,000 feet of ascent. However, despite my difficulties I had a great time during the hike which proved to be a great warm up for the upcoming summertime 14er season.  For those looking for a challenging hike with great views of the Pikes Peak region and surrounding mountain ranges, Sentinel Point is definitely worth checking out.

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