RT Length: 7.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3781’
Today was Mothers day, and what better way to celebrate than to go on a solo hike above treeline and let my kids sleep in? Yep, that’s what I thought too, so I made plans to be out and back before my kids woke up (they’re 16 and 20… they’ll sleep until 3pm if I let them).
I couldn’t sleep, so around midnight I decided to just get up and go hiking, even if it was a few hours earlier than intended. I made it to what I thought was the Herman Gulch trailhead to a locked gate at 3:30am, got out my gear and began my hike, only to quickly discover I was not hiking the correct trail. It was immediately obvious and I knew my mistake, so I went back to my truck and re-parked it at the very accessible and open Herman Gulch Trailhead. There were bright orange signs warning me of avalanche danger.
The trail starts just behind the information sign, and follows the Herman Gulch trail west.
The trail was free of snow until I made it to the Herman Gulch / Waterous Gulch Junction. From here on out the trail contained continuous snow, but traction wasn’t necessary for a while. I turned right (east) at the junction.
As I rounded the ridge the snow immediately began to pick up, and in the dark I foolishly tried to walk up what turned out to be a path of solid ice. I immediately slipped and tried to catch myself, but ice is like glass and I cut up my right hand trying to brace myself against the impact and to latch onto something I could grab when I fell. It actually wasn’t that bad, but there was a lot of blood (it hadn’t been cold enough to put on my gloves yet, so my hands didn’t have any protection). I sat down, took off my pack and put my right hand in my mouth to clean up some of the blood while rummaging around my pack with my left hand, searching for my crampons. It looked like someone had taken a snowboard down the trail and smoothed it out, which is great for skiers and snowboarders but it made hiking up the path similar to hiking up an ice chute. Microspikes weren’t going to cut it this morning: I needed crampons. At 9000’.
I stuck my hand in the snow and it immediately froze and the bleeding stopped. I kept my crampons on for most of the hike, mainly because I was too lazy to take them off and they weren’t getting in the way. The trail through the trees was easy to follow as this must have been a popular hike yesterday.
There were several parallel ski lines, but all tracks led to the same area. There was also evidence of several avalanches in the area. Most looked to be many years old, but some looked recent.
After about 2 miles I crossed over to the Waterous/Bard trail junction. I could hear water flowing underneath me, so this might be a creek in the summertime but it was covered in several feet of solid snow this morning.
This is where the ‘trail’ stopped. I turned left and continued on the Waterous Gulch trail for about 1/3 of a mile along the east side of Waterous Gulch
My research told me to hike up the west slopes of Mt Parnassus to the summit, so I turned right (east) here and started up (in the dark, so I couldn’t tell just how steep these slopes were at the time). I needed my ice axe, especially just before treeline as this area was loaded with steep snow.
What awaited me was 2000’ of elevation gain in about a mile. I made it past treeline just as the sun was beginning to rise
The only downside? This is where the wind picked up, and I mean picked up! The forecast had called for 15mph winds today, but these were much higher, and sustained. The wind didn’t seem to care about one direction or another: it kind of swirled around as it blew past. I put on my balaclava and every time I saw a gust coming turned and braced myself against the mountain, waiting for it to pass. It was too early to put on my goggles, so shielding my eyes was especially important, as it felt like shards of glass were flying at my face.
Every time there was a break in the wind I’d look ahead, find a new landmark, and hike towards it. Here’s the route I took over the first hump
And second hump
And third hump (these sections are all much longer and steeper than pictures make them look)
Until I could finally see the summit!
That wind hadn’t let up so I didn’t stay too long on the summit.
I took a summit photo that didn’t turn out too well because of the wind and blowing snow
And waited for a lull to get a shadowselfie. Check out all that snow! Amazing for the middle of May!
Take a look over at Bard Peak. I’d really wanted to make this a double summit today, but those winds weren’t letting up. They’d been at it since I’d hit treeline and showed no sign of stopping. The wind was making clouds out of the snow on the ridge, continuously blowing it up into the air. This ridge looked spicy without the wind, and with it downright dangerous: Those cornices were made up of loose snow. I could tell because the wind was picking it up and throwing it around without too much trouble.
Well, that was a bummer. I guess I’d just head back the way I came. And then it hit me: Woods Mountain was just across the way, and while it isn’t a 13er it’s a respectable 12er (12,940’). I’d just head over there and get in a double summit that way. So I turned and headed northwest towards Woods Mountain (and away from the wind).
Almost immediately my crampons became cumbersome, so I took them off and exchanged them for snowshoes. Ahhhh! Much better! I turned to look up. Yep! That’s steep!
I made it down to the Woods/Parnassus saddle in no time and looked back at the way I’d come
And my way up Woods Mountain
This was going to be easy! The only downside? The saddle was a bit windy as well.
The slope up Woods Mountain was long and gentle and didn’t require any rest.
It didn’t feel like it took very much time to summit (and here the winds calmed down)
From the summit I looked back at Parnassus and the other 13ers I’d intended to hike today. I sighed: the wind was still at it. Oh well, this just means I’ll have to do the Engelmann-Robeson-Bard trek later.
I turned and looked at the way I was supposed to head down the mountain, behind Woods’ south slopes, and on to Point 12805, but it just didn’t look…. safe.
So I turned and looked back at the Woods/Parnassus saddle and studied the terrain.
I got out my topo map and concluded it was safe to head back to the saddle. I took the solid orange line back down to Waterous Gulch. The dotted orange line is the way I summited Parnassus.
Oh, and I could see a solo hiker taking the same route I had up Mt Parnassus. That meant someone else was out here today. Cool!
The wind started picking up again when I made it back down to the saddle.
I turned right (west) and headed down towards the gulch. Just before treeline I turned back around and looked at the way I’d come
Video from below saddle: Bard/Parnassus
I turned back towards the gulch and followed the drainage to a small gully
The bottom of this gully ended in Waterous Gulch, about 200 feet from where I’d turned to start my long trek up to the summit of Mt Parnassus. I quickly came to the realization it would have been much easier to just have used this small gully to gain the saddle between Woods and Parnassus to summit Mt Parnassus rather than to have climbed Parnassus’ west slopes. I’d recommend just taking the gully. The dotted line is the way I summited, but as you can see, the solid path works just as well (if not better).
Back in Waterous Gulch I picked up my earlier trail and followed it back to my truck, taking pictures in the daylight for future use. The snow had warmed up and the icy section from this morning now gave a little as I descended (so no slipping!). I made it back to my truck at 9:30am, making this a 7.5 mile with 3781’ elevation gain in 5.5 hours. I was a bit disappointed I hadn’t made it over to Bard Peak, and with that missing the added mileage and elevation (I wasn’t even tired…) but on the positive side I’d make it home before noon, and it was Mother’s Day, so I should wake up the girls and do something to celebrate.
Here’s the Relive: