RT Length: 8 miles
Elevation Gain 3115’
Time: 5.5 hours
As seems to always be the case, my plans changed last minute. The weather’s been so cold and windy lately I’ve been highpointing closer to home, sticking mainly to 9K and 10K peaks with less snow and warmer temperatures. I’m helping someone learn how to route find, but he has a minor heel injury. Instead of hiking today closer to home he wanted to rest it for next week. So I did a quick search and the best forecast I could find for a peak on my list showed 0-6 degree low/high temperature with 30mph gustss at the summit. This would put wind chill in the negative 20s. I debated back and forth and finally just decided to go for it: I could always turn back, but there would be trenching involved, so at least I’d get in a good workout.
I’d wanted to be on the trail by 5:30am but I drove to the wrong trailhead. Actually, Google didn’t take me to a trailhead at all, and when I checked my map realized I was about a quarter mile away but needed to drive for a bit to make it to the correct place. No worries though, because it was still dark outside and snowing, and I was hoping the snow would let up before I started.
When I made it to the French Gulch Trailhead it was still snowing, and a balmy 9 degrees outside. The road to the trailhead was plowed and packed down. I decided against putting on my snowshoes right away and attached them to my pack instead. I did put on my microspikes.
At 6:15am I started to the left of the trailhead sign, following the 4WD road past the closed gate.
It was snowing lightly and I could see the full moon through the clouds. It was a cool, quiet morning. I followed the road until I came to the turnoff for Little French Gulch. Here I turned left and donned my snowshoes: I was going to need them!
While the road had been pretty packed down the previous trench on the Little French Gulch trail had been filled with several inches of fresh snow. In most areas I could tell where the trail went, but the entire time I had to re-trench the trail. I tried to see how deep the snow here was by probing it with my trekking pole, but the pole went all the way down and never hit dirt, so I’m guessing there was at least 5 feet of snow on the ground.
Last night, while looking at a topo map, I’d planned to leave the trail and head straight up the ridge just after the Little French Gulch turnoff. I realized this morning there was no way that was going to happen: the snow was deeper here than it looks, and the first step I took I sank up to my waist in snow while wearing my snowshoes. Nope.
So instead I followed the trail to just below treeline, where I turned right (west) and headed up to the ridge, switchbacking as I went. (Side note: I took many of these pictures on my way back down. The snow was sugary and often times I’d trench up to my waist and my camera would get covered in snow. It was so cold I was unable to get the snow off the lens, so the pictures are a little blurry).
To avoid any avalanche danger I tried to stick to the trees, close to the ski area
It stopped snowing just as I made it to the ridge. I turned left (south) and followed the ridge. Here the snow was rather deep and sugary, and the wind picked up dramatically.
Once on the ridge the summit was obscured with clouds. Here the snow ranged from bare ground to several feet deep. I kept on my snowshoes.
Instead of going over the bump I skirted it to the left (it’s a false summit that would be more obvious without the clouds)
There were several snow covered ‘trails’. I chose one of the higher ones.
Looking back down the ridge
And at the rest of the route to the summit
While the snow had stopped and the clouds had lifted, snow was being blown from Bard Peak, turning into clouds, and blowing over Mount Guyot.
The wind was intense and I couldn’t see very far ahead of me due to ice crystals in the air. I considered turning back several times more than I’d like to admit, but I wasn’t beyond cold (yet) and I decided to keep going. My toes still felt fine, and my fingers were holding up. The ridge to the summit was mostly windswept, with a few areas of deep snow. I kept my snowshoes on because I didn’t have the dexterity in my fingers to take them off, and I knew if I did I wouldn’t be able to put them back on again. This meant my final push to the summit ridge was slow, as I was basically carefully rock-hopping in snowshoes, trying not to twist an ankle. Cold doesn’t begin to describe the weather: I thought to myself how I was glad I was solo today: everyone else I know would have turned back, and if I were with someone I would have had to turn back as well (with my Raynaud’s I have to keep moving and not take breaks, especially in the cold/wind). I went straight up the ridge, sticking to the snow when possible to avoid the rocks.
At the top of the ridge I turned left (east) and carefully made my way to the summit
This area was fraught with cornices. In my snowshoes I tried to stick to the area of snow closest to the rocks, walking on the rocks when necessary to avoid the cornices. It was cloudy when I made it to the summit, and I was cold. Frigid even. I kept pumping my fingers back and forth. I could feel the ice on my face, in my eyelashes, and on my hair. Yes, frigid was a good way to describe the weather. I had sunglasses and ski goggles but couldn’t put them on because I had no dexterity in my fingers and told myself the sun wasn’t that bright anyway. In no way was I risking taking off my gloves to get a photo of myself and I wanted out of this weather as soon as possible so I tried to take a selfie with my camera by just turning it around. For some reason, I got a video instead (still not sure how this happens: I should spend more time learning how to use my camera)
I was finally able to get a picture (with my gloves in the way). I wasn’t about to try and get another photo.
There weren’t great summit views today.
I turned and headed back across the ridge. Check out those cornices!
Looking down the ridge
Most of my tracks were gone on my way back down.
I didn’t think it was possible, but the wind picked up even more on the way back down the ridge. 30mph winds seemed a low estimate for what I was experiencing now. Brrrr!
I was so excited when I made it back to treeline and out of the wind! Well, excited until I found the wind had covered most of my tracks and I had to re-trench them on the way back down. The snow was soft and I frequently postholed up to my waist, causing me to twist and turn to get up, covering my snowshoes, clothes, etc. (and camera) with snow in the process.
After a few dozen yards the trail was once again easy to follow back down to the gulch
I’d honestly thought it would warm up when I made it back below treeline, but it didn’t. I’m kind of digging the frosted eyelash look…
I continued on the trail and came across some backcountry skiers with their dog. They thanked me for trenching the trail, and did a great job of smoothing it down with their skis. I wished them luck, thanked them for smoothing my tracks down, and was on my way. They gave me an odd look: I smiled back, but I’m sure I looked a mess!
Back on the road I kept my snowshoes on just because I didn’t want to take off my gloves. It was still so cold out! There were now several cars in the parking area
I made it back to my truck at 11:45am, making this an 8 mile hike with 3115 feet of elevation gain in 5 hours, 30 minutes.
I was really glad I’d decided to hike above treeline today. I’d been a little put off due to the forecast, and I’d had to seriously push myself during the hike, but it had been worth the experience. It reminded me again when I have the option to go hiking or not, the answer is to at least give it a try.
When I made it back to my truck I took off my snowshoes and hopped into the cab and turned on the heater to warm up. The temperature outside read 12 degrees. Slowly, I re-warmed my hands and once my fingers were moving normally again I took off my shoes, socks, and outer jackets/layers. I was happy to see my toes looked ‘normal’! The ice in my hair was the worst: it dripped onto my neck/shoulders as it gradually warmed and melted. I put on sandals and started my drive home. About 10 minutes later my foot started throbbing. I pulled over and drat! My toes were blue! I turned over my foot and the entire pad was blue as well. So much for “operation no blue toes” this year. I was so frustrated! They’d seemed fine when I got back to my truck, why were they hurting and blue now? After about 30 minutes they were back to ‘normal’ again, going from blue to a waxy red and eventually back to white. No permanent damage, just a Raynaud’s attack (they only last about 30 minutes or so, and can happen in any weather, just most likely when cold). One way to prevent them is to stop hiking in the winter, and that’s not going to happen, so I’m going to have to learn to live with the attacks or suck it up and take the medication (I’m not a fan of drugs, so this isn’t likely to happen either). At least they’re not affected while I’m hiking.