Mount Parnassus 13,574'

Mount Parnassus from the east.  Photo: Rob Writz

Mount Parnassus is a highly accessible Front Range 13er. Interstate 70 borders the mountain on the south and Woods Creek Road on the north. Herman Gulch Trailhead, accessed directly from Interstate 70, provides a rapid entry point into Watrous Gulch and the west side of Mount Parnassus. Woods Creek on the north is a launching point for several peaks in the Woods Creek drainage. 

This mountain has multiple ski and snowboard mountaineering lines on the North and Northeast Face that provide runs with significant vertical. The Northeast Face is a straightforward approach, but has a complicated climb due to the cornice that rims the majority of the face. The North Face holds multiple lines including the Drainpipe, a curvy couloir that drains the bowl located just west of the north face proper.

Colorado’s Mount Parnassus is named after the Mount Parnassus located in central Greece. The mountain was sacred to the god Dionysus. Dionysus was the god of grapes, wine, and parties. 


Shared Approach to 11,400’

From the trailhead, walk just up the road to the gate leading into Ruby Gulch. This gate warns of “Extreme Avalanche Danger”. Go up hill and follow the road into Ruby Gulch. At approximately 1 mile from the trailhead the road joins Ruby Creek. Continue south another quarter of a mile, following the creek to a clearing at 11,230’. Break right through the trees and another half mile into a large open area below the North Face of Mount Parnassus (about 1.5 miles from the trailhead).

1 – Northeast Face

  • Rating: II D8
  • Season: Spring
  • Exposure: Northeast
  • Vertical: 1,400’
  • Approach Elevations: 10,255’ - 13,574’
  • Approach Distance: From Ruby Gulch TH: 3 Miles
  • Top of Route Waypoint: 39.7219, -105.8235

Follow the shared approach up Ruby Gulch to 11,400’ below the North Face. Go back into the forest and follow a path to the southeast and around the North Face to the edge of tree line in the basin below the Northeast Face. It is about another mile from 11,400’ to the base of the Northeast Face at 12,400’. Alternatively, you can avoid going to the view of the North Face and keep following Ruby Creek up the basin to the Northeast Face.

At the base of the Northeast Face you will see two prominent chutes. The chute to the right blends into the face that descends directly from the summit. The chute on the left is parallel to the chute descending from the summit face, but it terminates in a series of cliffs below Mount Parnassus’ East Ridge. Climb this left chute and pick your line to the East Ridge. The cornice leading from the rocks and small cliffs to the summit gets bigger as it climbs. There is a lower angle line to the windswept saddle that is climber’s left of the rocks. Gain the East Ridge and follow it to the summit.

The Northeast Face is guarded by a long cornice that descends along the East Ridge. If you are not willing to drop the cornice from just below the summit and into the Northeast Face, you can descend the East Ridge to find a minor break in the cornice. This spot allows you to enter sans cornice, but you are still above several small cliffs so tread carefully. However you get into the Northeast Face, have fun and bank big turns!

2 – North Face Drainpipe

  • Rating: II D7
  • Season: Spring
  • Exposure: North
  • Vertical: 1,600’
  • Approach Elevations: 10,255’ - 13,400’
  • Approach Distance: From the Ruby Gulch TH: 2.5 Miles
  • Top of Route Waypoint: 39.7219, -105.8235

Follow the shared approach up Ruby Gulch to 11,400’ that is described above. At this point you are looking straight up at the North Face and the Drainpipe. Continue straight ahead and climb the Drainpipe and then into the bowl leading to the summit. The top of the bowl is at 13,400’ and about 0.9 miles from the basin at 11,400’. The true summit lies just to the south and at the top of gentler terrain.

The Drainpipe itself is the curvy couloir in the center of the face. It drains the North Face’s bowl that is pointed slightly to the northwest. The climber’s left side of this bowl is windswept throughout the winter, and there is a short window in the spring when the upslope storms coat this line. The climber’s right side is lined with large cornices, but this leeward side holds snow longer than the left. If you time your arrival right you may find other lines to chose from on either side of the Drainpipe including the North Face proper.


Ruby Gulch Trailhead (10,255’)

If you are coming from Interstate 70, leave the highway at Exit 232 for Winter Park and Highway 40. Drive slowly through the town of Empire as the town strictly enforces the 35 mph speed limit. From the Interstate 70 exit, drive 7.2 miles to the first major switchback on Berthoud Pass. Turn left on Henderson Mine Road towards Jones Pass. Drive 0.56 miles to a left turn for Urad Mine. Drive another 1.3 miles past the Urad facility to the "Danger Extreme Avalanche" at Ruby Gulch. Drive slow and watch out for the boreal toad crossing. There is a pull off about 75 yards before the "Danger Extreme Avalanche" gate. [39.7547, -105.8243]


Below we have included a link to a Google interactive map and a curated list of photos of the mountain.

Clicking on map above will open interactive Google map website

Clicking on map above will open interactive Google map website