RT Length: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 3775’
I picked Bull Hill because I needed something easy for today so I could be home by noon to meet a friend. The weather forecast was perfect (no wind, 50s at the summit) and I was tired from Friday’s climb but didn’t want to waste a great opportunity to get out and hike.
This was my third attempt at Bull Hill this year. The first time I got turned around before making it to the trailhead due to unexpected heavy falling snow and a road closure. The second time I had no problem making it to the trailhead, but even after a hard freeze I was postholing up to my waist and couldn’t find the trail. I ended up turning around shortly after the creek crossing. Today I learned what a great choice that had been!
The trailhead is easy to get to but difficult to find. It’s located at exactly 12.5 miles down the 82 from Granite. Turn right and there’s a small parking lot that will hold 4 cars if you all play nice.
I started at 4am. From here walk about 10 yards and turn north on an unmarked trail.
This trail is super easy to follow, as it’s an old 4WD road. There’s quickly a stream to cross that gave me some pause in the dark. I couldn’t tell how deep it was and it seemed to be flowing pretty fast. I walked up and down a bit, looking for a better area to cross, but this was it.
I decided I was wasting too much time on this: I had on winter climbing boots, so I decided to just walk across the stream. I started out the hike with wet feet but they quickly dried. The trail followed the stream, and here was where the “fun” began
And by fun I mean postholing. This was by far the worst experience I’ve ever had postholing. Every step I took on snow for about 2.5 miles I postholed. Over and over and over again. I knew this was a possibility going into this hike (it had happened to me last time, even with a hard freeze) and I just gritted my teeth and continued on, sinking to my knees with every step. Yes, I was wearing snowshoes, which helped, but they weren’t needed 100% of the time.
They were needed just enough to make taking them off not worth it
I followed the ill defined (due to the snow) trail to a gully, and took switchbacks up the south ridge. The switchbacks seemed unnecessary.
OK, so postholing isn’t fun, and I was getting tired of it. I came to an unexpected avalanche (although this year they seem to be the norm) and considered what to do?
It looked like this area went straight up the slope, but I wasn’t entirely sure the path was safe, so I continued on for another few switchbacks, the snow getting deeper and the postholing getting more aggressive as I went.
I switchbacked over to the gully once again and took another look.
This time it looked like it went all the way to the mine, and the snow in the gully was very consolidated. It didn’t take me long to pick consolidated-snow-gully over postholing-switchbacks. Yes, this was the way to go! I turned to look back over my shoulder and thought this was a cool view of La Plata and Ellingwood Ridge
I took the gully until it met up again with the road below the mine. The road here was covered in snow, but not a lot of the surrounding terrain had snow.
I stopped for a bit at the mine to rest. My quads were killing me! That type of postholing had been the 4 letter word type of postholing. I was not looking forward to a repeat of that on my way down. After applying sunscreen (yes, I did get sunburned on Friday’s climb of Thunder Pyramid) I took a look at my next step: To gain the ridge in front of me. I decided it was best to keep my snowshoes on and looked for a line that would get me to the ridge
There was just one rocky area to climb over
And by looking left I could see the rest of the route before me
This was by far the easiest part of the entire day. The slope was gentle and had enough snow for me to keep my snowshoes on.
The only downside was a false summit that took me by surprise, but it was close to the actual summit so I didn’t mind too much.
I summited at 7:45am
I was amazed at how calm everything was! There wasn’t any wind, which was amazing. This is the first summit this year I haven’t needed to wear snow clothes to hike, but where there was still a ton of snow!
I turned to head back down, making sure to stay right (the ridge to the left goes the wrong way and has a massive cornice, but they look similar, so stay right)
Halfway down the slope I made a new friend! Ptarmigans have great camouflage.
From the ridge here’s a look back down at the mine and the route I took back to the gully
There was a busy marmot running to and from its den
I decided to have a little fun at the Last Chance Mine, just because I could and I knew I had postholing to look forward to (ok, I was stalling)
Doesn’t it look like a lot of fun?
I again followed the snow covered road back to the gully
And hiked back down to where I’d entered the gully earlier
I briefly considered taking the gully all the way back down to the stream, but wasn’t sure if it went the entire way. I found out it didn’t, so if you plan on taking the gully instead of the switchbacks you need to wait until the last set (see map)
The postholing was actually a little better on the way down because I could re-step in my previously made postholes, which meant more stability. The creek crossing wasn’t too bad in the daylight. My feet got wet again but I was close to my truck and warm socks so I didn’t mind.
I made it back to my truck at 9:30am, making this a 7 mile hike in 5.5 hours: I blame it on the excessive postholing and the Last Change Mine. You should be able to complete this hike in much faster time.