Finnigans

I grew up living under the shadow of a ‘Mountain’. Not a big mountain by any stretch, but when young imaginations are at work, proximity trumps magnitude every time. Hangman Hill hangs over the quiet cove of Combe Martin; its hard to go a couple of minutes without looking up and seeing the top.

Finnigans is the Edwards, Colorado equivalent. Finnigans isn’t even really called Finnigans, at least not according to whoever drew the map; its mere 12,704 feet is not worthy of naming in comparison to its surrounding towering monuments. Its position is whats special, jutting northwards from the New York mountains, and snuggled into the backend of the Holy Cross Wilderness. It’s peak is one of the few visible from the Eagle valley, and certainly the only one visible from Christa’s house. It’s their Hangman; the view from the kitchen window is dominated by its presence. There is no escaping it. Although towering over Edwards, and the map suggesting it’s a mere amble to the top, we decided to double check exactly where its peak lies.

No matter how good your intentions, it sometimes seems like a physical impossibility to leave the house earlier than 10am. We left the trailhead when the sun had just crested the trees, but the mercury refused to rise, and we started walking with layers firmly wrapped.

The first hour or so didn’t give us much confidence in reaching our end goal. After a disconcerting drop in altitude from the trailhead, we slowly gained height through the falling leaves of ancient aspen groves. Meandering in a series of steep and steeper grades, we eventually reached the sign telling us the we were now officially in the Holy Cross Wilderness. I know Bryan had been daydreaming of riding the magnificent singletrack, too, so we put an end to our delusions and kept on trucking upwards.

The path only broke out the trees briefly, giving us the smallest of glimpse of where we were heading. New York Mountain, at 12,400 feet could be seen across the valley from our goal, and I began to calculate that we’d perhaps underestimated the size of our challenge. The massive valleys spread onwards for miles, and only up close can you really tell the distance and time it takes to cover the ground. After two successive pitches of thigh burning climbing, the trail levelled itself along a ridgeline. Finally, after two hours of hiking, we could see more than the other side of the valley. The Gore Range peaked its head out, revealing its entire crest of 13,000 peaks.

The best thing about hiking where no one else hikes is knowing the path won’t be easy going. Deadfall is everywhere in Colorado, and as Bryan and Katie commented, the merest breeze sets the canopy creaking, and the heart racing as you watch to see which snags will tumble this time.

From here on up, not much changed. The two hour deadline we’d set ourselves to get to the top came and went, and we seemed no closer from breaking out the top of the trees. We dipped down into a saddle and began the final climb up to the ridgeline. Eventually, blue sky appeared ahead. Normally, the trees indicate your position in their gradual decline in size; slowly they diminish to mere scrub on the hill before petering out entirely. Here, the line was sudden due to the change in aspect at 11,300 feet; the protected saddle sheltered full size trees all the way to the timberline. The sudden break from timber gave us an amazing overlook of the Middle Creek valley.

Above treeline, a successive run of false summits kept us guessing on when we’d finally top out. The valley stretching below us was stunning in its pristine beauty, but we had no idea what was waiting for us at the top. Finnigans is in a circle of twelve thousand foot peaks, its extra couple hundred feet on those surroundings it meant that only the last push to the summit revealed the true beauty of our surrounding. As we scrambled the last few metres, and calmed our breathing to look up, we had a 360 degree view radiating from central Colorado.

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Looking south, over the New York Mountains to the Maroon Bells, lying between Aspen and Crested Butte:

Mount Jackson, at just over 13k feet, is another insignificant peak in the chain. This one completes the cirque basin which makes up the New Yorks:

A view stretching from the Front Range to the Maroon bells was more than I had hoped for. Its a little bit like walking up the slopes of Hangman Hill in Combe Martin, and then getting to the top and realising you can see two countries and a huge swathe of countryside. Its fantastic when an adventure turns into more than the sum of its parts.