RT Length: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1948’
Note: My successful summit of this peak can be found here.
I never should have attempted this hike today, but the weather was clear and my beta told me the mountains in this area were snow free. There are so many 13ers in the San Juans I wanted to knock another one out before the snow sets in again. As I was leaving the house around midnight my daughter asked me if I’d take her to the school musical that night at 7pm. I did some mental math and figured I’d have plenty of time to climb this 7.5 mile peak and be back in time to take her to see the musical.
I drove in the dark to the Grizzly Gulch trailhead, a little surprised to see so much ice on the 2WD dirt road in
There was one other vehicle in the lot when I arrived. I’m guessing they were headed to Redcloud/Sunshine today. Last time I was here I’d had a porcupine visit me in the middle of the night, making noise in the gravel below my truck as he tried to get up inside.
It was getting light as I put on my gear. From the parking lot it didn’t look like I’d need microspikes or snowshoes, but I decided to bring them anyway. I was on the trail at 6:30am. The trail starts at the west end of the parking lot and then crosses a bridge and heads southwest on a well defined trail.
Well, it would have been a well defined trail if there hadn’t been so much snow! Not enough in the beginning to put on spikes/snowshoes, but way more than I’d anticipated.
It was immediately obvious no one had been on this trail since the last snow, which had to have been over a week ago. What was curious was how soft and sugary the snow was after sitting for so long. There were also tons of animal tracks visible in the snow, mostly fox and moose, and they’d been here recently by the signs of urine and scat on top of the snow.
Last time I was here I’d seen a moose, so even though I never ended up seeing one I was extra vigilant today. I went in and out of the trees several times and noticed much less snow in areas without trees. This gave me hope for the rest of the trail above treeline. Of course, most of the snow in these areas was only on the trail itself.
When I made it to treeline I was disappointed to find quite a bit of snow. It wasn’t the snow that bothered me, it was the type of snow: all sugary with very few areas that were consolidated. The drifts were the worst! 4+ feet of sugary snow that didn’t respond to snowshoes made for difficult traversing. I put on my microspikes. Here’s the path I took to the middle of the basin
There was a stream that needed crossing. It was partially covered in snow/ice and I couldn’t tell how wide or deep it was. It took me several minutes to find a good area to cross where I wasn’t worried about falling in.
After crossing the creek I located a faint trail on the side of the mountain and worked my way towards it. The trail was only visible because it was covered in snow. The walk to the trail took a long time because I was postholing with every step.
Climbing up the hill should have been easy, but the snow was still sugary and the talus below unstable. Rocks rolled with every step I took, so I took them slowly
There were several large areas of snow directly on the trail that were not passable. I tried making a bridge in the snow but it wasn’t consolidated enough to hold my weight. Stomping it down did not create a trail so I had to descend on the talus to find a stable route.
Oh, and I met a few ptarmigans
Here’s another view of the ascent
All of this careful footwork meant I was going slowly. I was really excited when I made it to the top of the headwall, as I knew I’d have a view of the rest of the route to the ridge and I was hoping to find it snow free.
It wasn’t. Here’s the route up to the ridge
I continued for about 20 yards, trudging through sugary snow that went up to my thighs and mentally did the math. This hike had taken me about twice as long as it should have to this point, mainly due to the condition of the snow. I had 1.5 hours left before my turnaround time and looking ahead of me the snow in the gully areas looked similar to the snow I’d already had to avoid to get this far. Unfortunately, there was no way to avoid the snow ahead of me. There was a small lake out there I couldn’t see and I was worried I’d break through the snow and ice and fall into the lake. I grudgingly made the decision to turn around and head back home. That would give me time to make dinner and shower before the musical tonight. I was super bummed because it was a 6 hour drive out here and the day felt wasted, but I also knew I’d had bad beta and couldn’t have anticipated these conditions. The snow needs to consolidate before it’s safe to hike here. Here’s the path I took back:
Postholing the entire way…
In this picture you can see moose tracks and the trail I needed to make my way back to
I followed the trail where possible
Aiming for the creek and the trail out
Here’s looking back at my tracks
Getting through the willows is the hardest part, especially in sugary snow
Isn’t it fun when the only snow is directly on the trail?
The creek was almost frozen
I made it back to the trailhead at 10:30am, surprised to see another vehicle in the lot. This hike ended up being a little over 5 miles with 1948’ of elevation gain, done in 4 hours. I’d been hiking at close to 1 mile per hour this morning, which is considerably slow considering I average 2+mph normally. The good news is I made it back home in plenty of time for the musical. I’ll be back either in spring or summer, when the snow’s either consolidated or gone. Here’s a look at my route: