Cold Weather Hiking Tips

Hiking doesn’t have to stop in winter! 

My trail name is Wild Wanderer. I’m a mountaineer, and I have Raynaud’s. I’ve summited over 500 peaks above 13,000’, many of them in winter conditions.  With the cold weather approaching (or already here!) I’ve been asked to put together some tips on how I successfully mountaineer in the winter and manage my Raynaud’s.  I believe these tips can help all cold weather hikers and adventurers. 

Disclaimer:  These tips in no way all-inclusive or a substitute for the education you should receive before entering the backcountry in winter.  Please consider taking classes in alpinism, orienteering, avalanche awareness, and wilderness first aid before entering the backcountry, especially in winter.

Raynaud’s causes some areas of your body — such as your fingers and toes — to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress. In Raynaud’s disease, smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin become narrow, limiting blood flow to affected areas (vasospasm).  This can happen even in warm weather.  The picture below was taken of my fingers while camping on a 70-degree day.

And these are my feet having an attack while I was at work, sitting at my desk

During an attack of Raynaud’s, affected areas of your skin usually first turn white. Then, they often turn blue and feel cold and numb. As you warm and your circulation improves, the affected areas may turn red, throb, tingle or swell.  This can be a very painful experience.  Many people mistake it for frostbite.  This time I’d earned my blue toes, as I’d been snow-shoeing without the proper gear

Winter hiking is a wonderful experience.  There’s a special reverence and tranquility to a winter mountain landscape.  The trails are less crowded, the views are amazing, the wildlife easier to spot, and with this comes a unique sense of achievement to summiting a mountain covered in snow and ice.  However, the cold and wind can be a barrier to this sport.  I’ve been a mountaineer for 6 years now, and I’ve learned quite a few tips and tricks to keeping myself (and my digits) warm and attack free.  It all comes down to prevention and preparedness.

What to Wear

I usually wear the same outfit every time I mountaineer, emphasizing moisture wicking layers and fleece.  It’s kind of boring and predictable, but it keeps me warm.  

Here’s what I wear, from head to toe (scroll down for detailed information):

  • Knit/Wool Hat
  • Balaclava
  • Sunglasses / Snow Goggles
  • Sports Bra
  • Moisture wicking tank
  • Moisture wicking jacket
  • Puffy Jacket
  • Jacket Shell
  • Yoga Pants
  • Snowboarding Pants
  • Wool Socks
  • Mountaineering Boots
  • Gloves
  • Bandana

Extra Gear (depending on weather/conditions)

  • Snowshoes
  • Microspikes
  • Ice Axe
  • Crampons
  • Solar Powered Battery Charger
  • Surveyors Tape

Note: Do not wear Cotton:

Knit/Wool Hat: 

Balaclava:  If it’s windy you’re going to want one of these.  Make sure it covers your whole face and nose, is made out of a breathable fabric (polyester works) and covers your neck and is long enough to be tucked underneath your inner layers.

Sunglasses / Snow Goggles:  The snow can be blinding, and you’d be surprised how a good pair of goggles cuts down on the cold the wind can bring.  I put my sunglasses in my jacket pocket before setting out, so they’re easily accessible.  I like sunglasses over goggles because they don’t fog up.

Upper Layers:  I rarely take layers off during a hike, as I’d rather be too hot than too cold. With Raynaud’s it’s easy to cool off when hot, but difficult to warm up once cold.  I wear a moisture wicking sports bra, tank, and jacket all the time, no matter what.  On top of that I have a puffy and a shell (the shell doubles as a rain jacket).  The shell has a hood, which I have prepped to fit my head if needed to block out the wind.

Bottom Layers:  To prevent chaffing, I like to wear form fitting yoga pants (polyester/spandex) under fleece lined snowboarding pants.  These snowboarding pants will get torn up from crampons, microspikes and snowshoes, so I reserve a pair primarily for mountaineering.  NOTE:  Ski bibs are a terrible idea, as you need to take off unnecessary layers to use the restroom.  Make sure your pants are just that:  pants. 

Wool Socks:  Not cotton.  Not too snug.  You want your feet to be able to breathe and circulation to flow. Also, this is an instance where two is not better than one:  only wear one pair of socks. 

Mountaineering Boots:  This is going to be a highly personal choice.  I go through 4 pairs of boots a year, but to be fair I put a lot of miles in a year – around 2500 and over a million feet of elevation gain.  What’s important here is to buy a pair a size larger than you’d normally wear, and, unless you have extremely narrow feet, get them in a wide size.  This is because your feet will swell above treeline and you want them to have room to do so freely.  A constricted foot is a cold foot. You don’t want to wear anything too constricting on your hands or feet.  The footwear should also be waterproof, have a good tread, be flexible, and feel comfortable.  Go to an outdoor recreation store and try on a few pair to see what works best for you before buying. If you plan on carrying more than 30 pounds of gear, you’ll want the added ankle support.

Gloves: Unfortunately, hand warmers have never worked for me (not the chemical ones, the battery-operated ones, or the ones that use fuel).  Note:  If you have Raynaud’s you can never take off all your gloves while winter hiking. Never.  The cold will zap the heat out of your hands instantly, and regaining that heat is difficult.

I bring along 3 pairs of gloves:  I wear two at a time, and have the third in reserve in case I loose one I’m wearing:  The wind above treeline can be ferocious, and I’ve seen gloves blow away in the wind.  If you have Raynaud’s and you lose a glove above treeline it’s quite possible you’ll be losing fingers with it.  I buy all gloves one size bigger than I normally wear.  This allows for my hands to swell at altitude and makes them easier to put on/take off as needed. 

The first pair I wear is made of a 95% polyester, breathable, wicking, quick drying fabric with 300-weight fleece and a 100 weight fleece liner. I always have a glove with fingers as the base layer so I can move my fingers to perform tasks that require dexterity with a layer still on, protecting my hands from the elements.   I never take these gloves off.  Ever.  (See stylus information below).

The second pair I wear is a shell.  They’re waterproof, breathable, windproof, wicking, fully seam-taped with a water-resistant leather palm.  These do a great job keeping out the wind, and are easy to take on and off.  It’s important the outer layer are mittens and not gloves because my fingers and hands stay warmer in a mitten. 

My reserve pair is also a pair of mittens.  They’re fleece lined and come with the outer mitts.  I keep these as a back-up in case I lose one of my other gloves.

Bandana:  This is very important!  I tie one to a carabineer and put it on the side of my pack so I have easy access to blow my nose.  My nose drips like a faucet above treeline, and it’s nice to have something readily available to wipe my nose.  (Yes, learning how to clog one nostril and blow is helpful, but not practical with large mountaineering gloves).  The bandana should be made of polyester so it dries out fast. If you buy a cotton one it will freeze faster, get stiff, and be unusable until it melts.  It becomes frozen snot.

Snowshoes:  When it comes to snowshoes, you most likely won’t be putting these on at the trailhead, but later in your hike.  Thus, ease of use is very important:  you want to be able to put them on without taking off your inner glove.  The three things I look for in a snowshoe are that they’re made of steel (not aluminum), have heel risers, and ratchet bindings.  Ratchet bindings are the most important feature:  I climbed all of Colorado’s 58 peaks over 14,000’ in a cheap pair of snowshoes, but I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this if they hadn’t had the ratchet bindings. 

Microspikes:  Don’t spend a lot of money on these, as a good pair is $10.  I use them year-round (they work great on scree for stability).  My advice here is if there’s any ice at the trailhead to put them on while you’re still in your vehicle, keeping your hands warm while doing so.  I’ve worn microspikes for miles when they weren’t needed, and it didn’t damage them.  It did however keep my fingers from getting needlessly cold by taking them off.  (Remember, when it comes to the cold, prevention is key).  Microspikes can also be worn with snowshoes:  There’s no need to take microspikes off to put snowshoes on.

Ice Axe:  These are usually made of stainless steel/aluminum, which gets cold.  I have an ice axe with a rubber grip (which is moderately warmer) and a leash.  The leash goes around my wrist, under my outer glove but on top of my shell. I try to hold the ice axe by the leash when it’s not necessary to hold the shaft for safety purposes.  Another way to avoid the cold here is to put a bandana around the shaft while gripping it.

Crampons:  Make sure they’re made of steel and not aluminum (aluminum bends) and have front facing spikes for traction.  Learn how to use these before trying them in the elements for the first time, as they can be tricky to put on correctly, especially while wearing gloves.

Solar Powered Battery Charger:  Never worry about your phone losing battery again!  I clip one of these onto the outside of my pack, and allow it to charge all day. Most double as a flashlight as well.  Just make sure you remember to bring a cord for your device.

Surveyors Tape:  I use surveyors’ tape as a way to self-rescue if I think I’m lost.  I have a roll I bought at home depot, in a bright color so I can see it, like yellow or orange. I precut about a dozen or so strips about 12 inches long, put them in ziplock bag, and bring the roll with me as well.  If I feel like I’m lost, I stop where I am, and create a ‘home base’.  I get out my compass, and point it in the direction I think I should be going.  Let’s just say that’s north.   Then I mark a tree, rock, etc with a piece of the tape, and follow my compass north, adding strips as needed as I go. If I don’t find my way back on route, I follow the strips back to where I started, collecting them on my way.  Then I try another direction, like east, and do this over and over until I find my way back on route.  Surveyors’’ tape can also be used to mark and entry or exit point, or to signal danger.  It’s inexpensive and lightweight and worth having in your pack

Keep Your Pack Packed

Unfortunately, those of us with Raynaud’s don’t have the luxury of packing light:  we need to be prepared for all types of weather, and due to the possibility some of our gear might fail/get lost, we need backups.  I like to keep all my gear in my backpack when not in use.  When I get back from a hike, I usually wash my bandana, refill my water bottle, wash my sunscreen compact, and put them all back in my pack.  I don’t forget important gear at home, as it’s always in my pack.  In addition to the 10 essentials, I carry the following items (scroll down for detailed information):

  • Carabiners
  • Jetboil
  • 16oz water bottle (in addition to my regular water bottle)
  • Stylus
  • Vaseline
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera
  • Collapsible trekking pole
  • Shovel

Carabiners:  Carabiners are your friend!  The larger the better, so they’re easier to manipulate while wearing gloves.  I use them to attach my water bottle to my pack, as well as my ice axe, bandana, and any other gear I want easily accessible. 

Jetboil and 16oz Water Bottle:  Jetboils are a useful tool, as they are relatively lightweight and can boil water very, very quickly.  I have one in my pack during the winter, along with a 16oz Nalgene.  Before the hike I warm up water, put it in the Nalgene, and keep this smaller water bottle close to my skin as I hike (sometimes in a pocket, or the waist of my pants, etc.)  This helps keep me warm.  I also start my hike with warm water in my drinking water bottle to help prevent it from freezing.  Keeping the water bottle close to my body (and not in my pack) helps to keep the water from becoming frozen during the hike. The Jetboil comes along with me, and if needed I can warm up the water again, or, if the water is frozen, I can quickly heat up snow. 

Stylus:  These are so helpful to people suffering from Raynaud’s!  Our fingers don’t register well on touch screen devices, including ATMs, gas station machines, phones, and tablets.  A stylus is cheap (I bought 12 in a pack from Amazon for $4) and solves the problem of using our fingers on screens.  A stylus while hiking has the added benefit of reducing the need to take off your gloves to use your phone or GPS device to take pictures or find direction. I keep a stylus attached to all my devices that require touch to operate. 

Vaseline:  I’m in love with Vaseline/Petroleum Jelly.  Movie stars have sworn by its beauty effects (wear it to bed to keep skin soft and younger looking), it helps wounds heal faster, restores moisture after wind burn, and when you’re a mountaineer, it keeps your nose from freezing.  Before hitting the trailhead I slather a generous layer of Vaseline on my nose to keep my nose warm.  It works wonders!

Sunscreen:  OK, so it’s cold above treeline, but due to the reflection of the sun on the snow sunscreen is still needed.  This can be problematic because a tube of sunscreen freezes in the winter above treeline. Using an aerosol spray isn’t practical for obvious reasons (wind) and the sunscreen that comes in a deodorant-like stick doesn’t apply evenly/melt when frozen.   To combat this, I went to the dollar store and bought a compact, took out the powder, cleaned the compact out, and filled it with my favorite sunscreen.  Then I placed a new compact sponge over it (30 sponges for $1 at the dollar store) and let the sponge absorb the sunscreen. 

I keep the compact in my pocket as I’m hiking (inside of a plastic ziplock bag) and when the sun comes up, I take out the compact and apply the sunscreen.  The first time I did this I was surprised at how well it worked:  The sunscreen doesn’t freeze this way, and is easy to apply.  The only downside is the set-up needs to be washed/replaced every time you use it.

Camera:  Of course, you’ll want to bring a camera, and the specific kind is up to you.    Did you know cameras get cold too?  The batteries freeze and they stop working. To combat this, I put my camera on a strap around my neck, and in between snapping photos keep the camera between my puffy and outer layer.  This keeps the battery from freezing. 

Collapsible Trekking Pole:  These are indispensable for a variety of reasons at all times of the year.   In the winter they are used for probing the snow to measure snow depth, determining the stability of ice at frozen stream/river crossings, and to whack snow off trees bent over with snow and blocking the trail.  Make sure the handle is made of cork or plastic (not metal/aluminum) and easy to manipulate while wearing gloves.  When not in use because you’re using your ice axe, collapse and attach to your pack with a carabiner.  Also, a trekking pole is your first line of defense against 2 and 4 legged animals.

Shovel: Two different types, one for digging out of avalanches, one to dig your vehicle out of the snow.

Trail Tips and Tricks:

Use a water bottle, not a water bladder:  The hoses in water bladders freeze in the winter, making them inoperable.  I like a water bottle with a large opening, as it takes longer to freeze.  I like to start with warm water, and if it’s very cold out, place it close to my body so it doesn’t freeze as quickly.  Warm water in a water bottle is also a great way to warm up your hands.

Keep your toenails cut short: This will help prevent excess rubbing, discomfort, and blisters.

Get dressed in your vehicle:  It’s cumbersome to drive to the trailhead wearing all my winter gear, so when I arrive at a trailhead I tend to get dressed in the car.  I do so with the heat on high, and put all my gear on without opening the car door (this includes snowshoes).  It takes a little maneuvering, but I start the hike warm.

Start Early: Just like in summer, when you want to start early so you can be down below treeline before the noon storms,in the winter you want to start early so you can be down before the worst avalanche danger I’ve found the trailheads in Colorado fill up fast!  Many of them before 7am. A side note with popular trailheads, don’t keep valuables in your vehicle, as thieves frequent these sites

Tie your hair back:  Here I believe a picture is worth 1000 words.  I now braid my hair before a climb.

Don’t Wear Cotton:  Cotton is heavy, takes a long time to dry, adds to rapid body heat loss, and absorbs too much moisture.  That means you stay wet/cold for a long time.  This includes jeans and that cool ‘It’s another half-mile or so’ t-shirt.  Instead, pick a synthetic fiber such as polyester, nylon, fleece, or merino wool. 

Add string to your zippers:  Yes, wearing lobster-claw gloves is great for keeping your hands warm, but it makes manipulating your fingers and doing ordinary tasks, such as unzipping a zipper, difficult.   I’ve added string to my zippers so they’re easier to grab while wearing bulky gloves.  Note:  don’t make the string too long, as it will flap in the wind and hurt when it hits you in the face at high speeds.  6 inches of string is best.

Pee Before Treeline:  Wind intensifies at treeline, and stripping off layers in these conditions is not a good idea.  If you’ll need to use the facilities (always assume you will), do so under the cover and protection of the trees. 

Never Leave Gear Stashed:  It’s tempting to leave your snowshoes stashed somewhere when no longer needed to pick up on your way back, but I’ve learned it’s important to carry all gear you’ll need to get down the mountain for your entire hike.  I’ve had gear taken (either stolen or someone brought it down to the trailhead, thinking I’d lost it) and it’s easy to forget where you’ve placed the items.  If you needed the gear to climb up the mountain, keep it with you so you’ll absolutely have it to get back down.

Keep Moving:  There are times when rest is necessary, but resting can quickly lead to frigid body temperatures.  Never allow your feet to stop moving, as this is when they cool down.  If you’re taking a sip of water or rearranging gear, keep your feet engaged, moving them up and down (marching in place) as you do so.  This will help prevent cold toes.  Pump your fingers back and forth inside your gloves to keep the circulation going.  

Become a Hobby Meteorologist:  In winter the days are shorter, so daylight hiking time is less than in summer.   Always check the forecast, but remember forecasts are often wrong and change during the day.  Learn how to read weather forecasts and know how they relate to timing, topo maps, and geographic features.  I’d recommend spending time learning how to navigate the NOAA weather forecasting site, particularly as it pertains to hourly weather forecasts for specific regions/peaks.  You’ll gain information such as temperature, wind speeds, wind gusts, sky cover, potential precipitation, lightning, etc. in an hourly forecast.  What you see may look daunting at first, but a few minutes studying and it’s mostly self-explanatory picture of the day’s conditions, letting you know the best times to climb, or if you should climb at all.

Windy Weather:  When reading forecasts, know wind speeds/gusts are often much more important than how cold it is outside.  Hiking in 20 degree weather is actually quite nice when prepared in proper gear and the sun out, but add in windchill and it can quickly become hazardous. I’ve mountaineered in winds up to 80mph, and from personal experience, if the wind predicted to be above 20mph I choose a different area or stay below treeline. 

Learn how to read the forecasts to see which way the wind is coming from, and then you can plan your route to avoid ridges where there will be more wind, or at minimum design a route that avoids the brunt of the wind for as long as possible by staying below treeline for a longer period or in the shelter of the side of the mountain with less wind.

For example, in the picture below, if the normal route is in red, but there are winds coming from the north or west that day, you could avoid most of the wind by taking the black route instead, limiting your exposure time on the ridge. 

The summit is only halfway:  Know your limits, and realize when to turn back.  People with Raynaud’s experience cold much more intensely than other people, with quicker and more drastic effects.  Summiting is optional, making it back to the trailhead is mandatory.  Preferably with all your digits intact. Know when to turn back.  Also know when to celebrate. While a lot of people like to down a beer or a shot of whiskey at the summit, this is a dangerous practice, as often times the route down is more difficult than the route up.  You want full use of all your senses.

Prevention is key:  A Raynaud’s attack, once triggered, is very painful and can take a while to recover from, even after the affected area has been re-warmed.  Doing as much as you can to prevent an attack is never wasted:  Dress warmly, wear a wind barrier (outer shell), never take off your inner gloves, keep all your gear easily accessible, and bring along warm water.  Start with short winter hikes and work your way up to longer, more technical climbs. 

I hope this article has been helpful for those of you with Raynaud’s, as well as those of you who may not have Raynaud’s but are interested in staying warm while winter hiking.  I’d love to hear from you!  Do you have any advice for winter hiking?  Comments?  Questions?  Is there a topic you’d like me to discuss?  Contact Wild Wanderer here.

PT 13656

RT Length: 16 miles

Elevation Gain: 4031’

Please note, my stats are off.  This summit took some route finding, and additional miles/elevation gain.  Your numbers should be lower.

I’ve been going crazy for about a month. It was May 21, while we were getting 2 feet of snow during a spring storm, when I went online to check some summits for an upcoming trip.  It was then I noticed I no longer had 200 bicentennials, but 199.  I panicked!  And of course, did some research. It was then I noticed we now had a new bicentennial, PT 13656.  I’d summited what I’d thought were all the Bicentennials last September, and spent the next 7 months writing a book about my journey, which was published May 8th.  I knew my completion date still stood because I’d completed the Bicentennials as listed at the time, but it didn’t feel right marketing my book so soon after the change without completing this peak as well.  So I didn’t.  Instead, I planned. 

I couldn’t find much information about this peak, so I pulled up my previous trip reports from other peaks in the area, and came up with 3 possibilities of summit options from the Upper Huerfano/Lily Lake trailhead, and upper Lily Lake:

1: Take a line in south to the ridge, which looked like it ‘went’ (It didn’t)

2: Take the gully

3: Summit 13577 and take the ridge to 13656 (I’m glad I didn’t end up needing to do this, as the ridge looked rotten).

I was in Minnesota, hiking its highest point, Eagle Mountain.  (Side note: If you’ve ever wanted to experience mosquito swarms of biblical plague proportions, along with questionable foot bridges through swamps teeming with water snakes, this hike is for you!)  I was only there because of Charles Mound, the highest point in Illinois.  For those of you who know about state high pointing, you know the highest point of Illinois is located on private property, and only open a few days a year.  Long story short, I decided to hit this high point instead of PT 13656 because of accessibility issues, but, when I was in Minnesota I checked the weather and did the math, and realized if I drove with a purpose, I’d be able to make it to the Upper Huerfano/Lily Lake trailhead the next day, and could attempt a summit.

I made it to the trailhead at 4:15am, parking a little lower than necessary because I’d heard there were blowdowns across the road.  There were, so this was a great idea.  I parked at about 10,200’.

I was on the trail at 4:30am, and followed the 4WD road to the Lily Lake Trailhead.  Crews have done a great job clearing downed trees, but there were very few places to pass other vehicles, and honestly, there are still a lot of trees to be cleared.

It was about 2.3 miles from where I parked to the trailhead.  The parking area as littered with branches, but once the downed trees along the way are cleared, it should be good to go.  I signed the trail register, which is in need of more paper, and was on my way.

Did I mention the blowdowns?  There were quite a few alone the trail as well.  They weren’t difficult to navigate around, just a bit annoying.  You can see a few here at the beginning

And here are a few more…

I followed the class 1 (minus the downed trees) trail to the Lily Lake cutoff, and turned right (the path to the left, that goes towards Lindsey, was blocked by a downed tree).  This junction was 1.25 miles from the upper trailhead.

I then followed the trail to another junction, .2 miles away, which is where I made my first mistake of the day.  The sign showed the Lily Lake trail as going straight, so that’s what I did, I continued hiking straight. But I should have turned off the trail and headed north at this point.  You’d think, because I’ve been on this trail, I would have remembered this, but… I didn’t.  I ended up hiking along a path that paralleled the Huerfano river for way too long before noticing my mistake.  Here’s some advice:  If you see yellow surveyors tape and are heading through avalanche debris but you’re on a trail… you’re on the wrong trail. The good news is they parallel each other, so if you head west, you’ll eventually connect with the correct trail. Here’s the junction and the way you should go:

This trail is easy to follow, and will lead you to Lily Lake

Here’s the final push.  There is a trail here, it’s just overgrown.

After 4.1 miles of hiking from the upper trailhead I was at Lily Lake, where the trail ended.

Here’s the info you need.  This is the route you want to take.  Trust me. 

Here are some pictures on the way to the upper lake.  The rocks aren’t stable, and a lot of them roll, so make sure you watch your step while rock hopping.

Here’s where I made another mistake.  I tried to take a route to the left first, by following a dry couloir and what looked like a line filled with tundra/dirt. This was a bad idea.  It started out as class 3, then sustained class 4 (for about 300’).  I quickly felt out of my depth as it increased to class 5.  I had a helmet, but seriously felt I needed a rope.  I got to a place where it was decision time, and decided to descend those 300’ and try a different route. I knew I was close to the ridge, but could not justify the exposure and class difficulty.  I reminded myself I had 3 potential routes for this peak, and an event I was speaking at tomorrow talking about managing risk and being a positive mentor to Girl Scouts.  I did not feel I could continue on and still remain truthful tomorrow, so I backtracked.  Climbing down was much more difficult than climbing up: I had to face the mountain and take it one step at a time.  This entire side was sketchy.  Please don’t use this route, especially since the gully can be kept at 2+.   Here are some pictures of the route you SHOULD NOT TAKE

Instead, here’s what you want to do:

Take the gully!  It’s slippery due to the scree, but with microspikes, manageable

I aimed for the 13654/13656 saddle.  Once again, slippery scree, but manageable

Here’s a view of that line I was trying to take earlier in the day.  The red circle is where I retreated.  Once again, don’t take this line!!!

I kept working my way towards the saddle

Here’s a view of PT 13656

Once at the saddle I turned and followed the ridge southeast.  This was all class 3 scrambling.  I was able to stick to the ridge the entire time.  Here are some pictures of the ridge

I summited PT 13656 at 10:15am. 

I spent a lot of time on that summit, making sure the true summit wasn’t further to the southeast.  I pulled up Peakbagger (not yet updated), CalTopo, my Compass (which read 13660) and several other sites. In the end, I determined this was the true peak, and left a summit register.

PT 13656:

The route back was now very straightforward.  I worked my back down the ridge towards the saddle

Oh, and the route up to 13654 looks sketchy…

And then scree surfed back to Lily Lake. Once again, this is very loose scree, and I wore microspikes.  I consistently had 6 inches of scree sliding beneath me, and as long as I kept up with it, I kept a good pace.

Here’s my route back to the lake

This is where I picked back up with the trail

Following the route back was easy, except for all those blowdowns. 

I made it back to my truck at 2:30pm, making this a 16 mile hike with 4031’ of elevation gain and a ton of route finding in 10 hours.  I hope this trip report was helpful, and I’m sure you can do this route faster!  It felt so good to check this one off the list!!! 

On to the next trailhead!

Mt Oso – 13,689

RT Length:  33.61 miles

Elevation Gain: 9833’

This trip changed so many times before it even began.  I have an actual job, with responsibilities, meetings, etc.  I drove down to Durango Wednesday night, slept in the cab of my truck at a Walmart (the topper is still on order), got “the knock” at 10:30pm, moved, then woke up and worked/had meetings in my truck the next day. Then I drove to Hunchback Pass through Silverton (my favorite way to get to Hunchback pass).  It started raining as soon as I hit the dirt road, and didn’t stop.  There was a 60% chance of rain today, but I was still hoping to find a window and hike either 5 or 10 miles to a camping spot (depending on when it got dark, weather, etc.). 

The road over Stony Pass was sketchy in the rain.  Miles did great, but there were a few times I was worried the mud was too deep to get through.  I was a bit worried about the river crossings too, but Miles once again had no trouble.  

I’ve been to this area 3 or 4 times, and know the perfect place to park:  It’s a pullout at 11230’, just before you hit the trees (again), and before getting to Beartown.  My truck can make it further, but from past experience I know it’s going to get Colorado pinstripes from the willows and I have the opportunity to scrape the frame a couple of times as well. I love my truck, so I parked here, about 1.3 miles from the trailhead, in a flat spot with a campfire ring at 11235’.

I parked and waited for the rain to stop.  The rain turned to graupel, then rain again, then hail.  I could see the clouds coming over Hunchback Pass, and they weren’t getting any prettier.  Wave after wave of new sets of clouds kept cycling in.  After waiting for a few hours, I decided to just get some sleep.  I know many of you would start out in the rain, but with my Raynaud’s I can’t risk it:  If I get wet/cold that’s it for me, as I cannot warm up.  I woke up every hour to check on the weather. The rain didn’t stop/clouds didn’t clear until 4:30am.  That was a 15 hour rain delay that was seriously messing with my summiting plans.

I put on my rain gear to ward off water on the trail dripping from plants, and was on the trail before 5am. 

Day 1 went like this: 

  • Gained 1275’ over 2.8 miles (to Hunchback Pass)
  • Lost 2350’ over 5 miles (to Rock Creek Junction)
  • Gained 2503’ over 6.4 miles (to pass over Rock Lake)
  • Lost 500’ over .5 miles (From pass across basin)
  • Gained 1150’ over 1 mile (from basin to Oso/Soso saddle/to Oso Summit)
  • Woot! Summit!
  • Lost 1150’ over 1 mile (back to basin)
  • Gained 500’ over .5 miles (back to saddle)
  • Made it back to Rock Lake (losing about 600’ more)

Ok, so, let’s start from the beginning:  From my parking space at 11235’, it was an easy hike to the trailhead, passing through Beartown. There were two other 4WD vehicles parked here, a 4Runner and a Tacoma like mine, unmodified, so you know it’s doable (choose wisely). 

Once at the trailhead (813) I followed the Vallecito Trail up to Hunchback Pass

And then I headed south through the basin, following the trail down for 5 miles as it lost 2350’ in elevation

There were willows here, and I was glad to have on my rain pants.  There were a few stream crossings, all easily crossable.

I saw evidence of someone’s fire getting out of control: looks like they lost their pack in the process.   I wonder how they put it out?  In case you’re wondering, yes, the ground was cold and the fire was out (I’m sure the 15 hours of rain last night had helped).

After hiking for a total of 7.8 miles (from where I parked) I made it to the Rock Creek Junction, and followed that trail southeast for another 5 miles up to Rock Lake. This trail was also class 1, and easy to follow.

Just before making it to Rock Lake I passed through a basin

In this basin was a bull moose.  I didn’t worry too much about him, because he was hundreds of yards away from me, on the opposite side of the basin.  I continued on the trail, but once he noticed me, he raced towards me and stopped a few yards away. He charged me (it was a bluff). I knew not to make eye contact with him, which was what he wanted. I could actually feel him willing me to look at him.  I kept my head straight and walked the trail with a purpose, ignoring him.  He continued snorting and pawing at the ground and shifting his head from side to side. Then he paralleled me for about 50 yards, walking about 5 yards to the west of me. When he was done, he trotted away and took in a view of the mountains.

As he trotted away I breathed a sigh of relief, and continued on the trail, exiting the basin and making my way to Rock Lake.

I arrived at the lake at 11am and decided to set up my campsite for the night.  I didn’t see anyone else here.

It was still early in the day, so after a quick snack I left my heavier gear and just brought the essentials:  I planned to summit Mt Oso today. To do that, I skirted Rock Lake to the east and ascended the rocks

As I made it to the rocky area, I came across a cairned trail, and followed that trail southwest.  Note, I took the solid line up, the dotted line down. The dotted line was easier, but both ‘went’.  You can’t tell from below, but there’s a grassy area by the dotted line that helped me avoid the willows (pictures on my way down).

Here’s the cairned route, with the ‘exit cairns’ circled in red

Here’s where I left the trail.  If you continue following the cairns, you’ll go down to Half Moon Lake. I was headed towards Mt Oso, so I left the cairns and continued heading up (west).

Time for more elevation loss, and gain.  I was headed for the Mt Soso/Mt Oso saddle. This required me to lose 500’ through this basin, and then ascend the gully.

The basin was easy to cross. There were small streams and some willows to navigate, but the route was obvious (and choose your own adventure:  just keep heading towards the gully/saddle). The gully was a mix of large, loose boulders, smaller loose rocks, and scree. 

Once at the top of the gully/saddle, it was once again time to lose elevation.  Being here also gave me a great view of Mt Irving.  I descended the gully to the northwest, staying on the scree at the base of the rock outcroppings, rounding them, and losing 175’ in elevation.

Stay low here.  You’re going to want to stay high, but you’re aiming for a green rock band to cross.  It’s lower than you’d like it to be (around 12600’)

There’s a little bit of scrambling to get over the rock band. I was able to keep it as easy class 3 by taking this route

Once across the green rock outcropping, it was time to gain the ridge.  I turned and headed north.  The rocks here were large and loose, with some scree mixed in.

I went low just before ascending the ridge, following a scree/game trail

And then followed the ridge to the summit

Summit of Mt Oso

Mt Oso: 

There was a large, military grade summit register, with a moving dedication inside, as well as some ceramic bowls (I’m sure that’s not what they actually are, ad that they have a purpose?).

I looked over at Irving and North Irving.  I did the math in my head, and there was no way I had time to loose the 1500’ of elevation, then regain 1300’ to summit Irving, plus hike back with all those ups and downs to Rock Lake before sunset.  It’s important I’m in my sleeping bag before the sun goes down, which limits my hiking time. Oh well, just one peak for this trip.

So, I turned and headed back towards the Oso/Soso saddle

Back at the saddle I retraced my steps down the gully, back across the basin, and up to the next ridge, finding a grassy bank to ascend

The route looks much different heading back, so be sure to study it on the way in.  Stay just below this cliff band

And now to head back down to the trail

You know you’re back on trail when you see cairns

Back down to Rock Lake. Here’s an overall view of the route I took down, and check it out:  another camper!  I walked by his tent, and apologized for doing so, but told him he was camped in the only area without willows…

There are lots of cairns here to guide you back down.

I made it back to my campsite as the wind started picking up.  I was glad I’d made the decision to head back.  I jotted down some notes, and looked at my tracker:  I’d done 18 miles today, with almost 7500’ of elevation. I sat in my tent for a while, glad I’d decided to bring a tent, listening to the wind howl outside.  I eventually fell asleep, and woke up to frost inside my tent. Lovely.  I quicky broke camp and headed back down into the basin.  Everything was covered in a thinl layer of frost.

Oh, did I mention the trails were mucky? It was from all of that rain yesterday.  The entire way in, and out, I was walking on water/mud/avoiding puddles, glad I was wearing new hiking boots that were still waterproof. 

On my way out of the basin I decided not to take any chances, and wore my helmet. Towards the end of the basin I spotted the moose again. This time he had a friend, and didn’t seem to care I was there. I’ve seen over 20 moose in Colorado while hiking, and this was the first aggressive one I’ve come across. It’s interesting today he had no interest in me, while yesterday he was overly intrigued/agitated I was there.

I followed the Rock Creek Trail back down to the Vallecito Trail

Then took the Vallecito Trail back up to Hunchback Pass

And then back to the trailhead, the road, and my truck

When I made it back to my truck, my tracker told me I’d hiked 33.61 miles with 9833’ of elevation gain. 

Now, for the hour and a half drive back to Silverton! Oh, also, side note:  If you’re driving these back roads, make sure you know where you’re going!  It’s easy to get lost back here.  I met a man in a jeep as I was hiking back to my truck who was totally turned around.  He wanted to know how much further down the 4WD road to the ‘real’ road.  I had to tell him he wasn’t going in the right direction (this road is a dead end) and that Silverton was many, many miles away.  An easy way to not get lost out there without cell service is to load your track onto CalTopo, then add a line and trace the roads you wish to take, then use that track your drive. 

Just for fun, here are some pictures of the road out…

Sleeping Sexton – 13,460

RT Length:  12.7 miles

Elevation Gain:  5156’

This was actually my second attempt on Sleeping Sexton:  I was here last week but got turned around at the false summit due to getting ‘buzzed’.  I figured it was for the best however, because I had done some serious route finding that morning and now I could provide a clear and useful GPX file for the route, instead of one with a lot of attempts that didn’t lead anywhere.

I made it to the Maroon Bells welcome station, and this time the attendant recognized me.  We chatted for a bit, as he was interested in some of the summits I was doing.  Then he referred me to talk with someone at their offices in town, and we’re basically best friends now.

It was raining when I arrived, but people were walking around Maroon Lake anyway. 

I was on the trail at 2:15am. 

From the parking area, here’s an overview of the route above treeline to the false summit

The trail starts by skirting Maroon Lake, then taking the Crater Lake trail southwest.

There was a full moon out, so I didn’t need my flashlight.

At the junction for Crater Lake I continued following trail 1975 northwest. This is the trail you take if you’re doing the Northeast route for North Maroon Peak.  There are camping spots just before the next junction.

The trail continues to be a well defined, class 1 trail.  At about 10775’ there’s another junction.  If you’ve hiked North Maroon Peak before, you’ll recognize this trail.  I turned left here and crossed the creek, following the North Maroon Peak Trail (still class 1)

Here’s an overview of the trek to the false summit (or ‘the crown’) from the creek crossing.  I followed the North Maroon Peak’s Northeast Ridge Route until I made it to tundra, at about 11,600’.  I then left the trail and headed northwest, behind this outcropping, to the base of the white gully. I then trekked up the ridge and followed the white gully until it ended. Here’s a basic overview.

Here are some step by step photos of the way I accessed the white gully:  I followed the North Maroon Trail to treeline

At 11,600’ I left the North Maroon Trail and headed northwest

Here you can see the base of the white gully.  I didn’t want to climb straight up the gully, as it was very steep.  Instead, I accessed the ridge, and followed the ridge to the white gully.  (I did this after spending a lot of time last week trying to see if the smaller gullies ‘went’ to access the white gully, and turned back every time because I didn’t have rope.  I believe it’s much easier to access the ridge first and then head up).

Here’s exactly where I entered and exited the ridge.  I found this to be class 2 and direct access.  Now’s a great time to put on your helmet if you haven’t already done so.

Once on the ridge I followed it west, staying in-between the ridge and the white gully (to the right of the gully, but left of the ridge).  If you look for them, you’ll find game trails here (you may have to duck under some branches to use them though).

Once near the white gully, I found the terrain to the right to be more stable than the white gully itself, especially on my way down.

Topping out of the white gully felt class 3

From here it became ‘choose your own adventure’ as I followed the ridge southwest. I started out rounding the ridge’s north side, and then went back and forth between north and south sides of the ridge a few times.  There are cairns here, and nothing is more difficult than class 4.  In fact, if you’re extra careful/spend a lot of time route finding, you can probably keep this at mostly class 3. Here’s the route I took:

From the top of the white gully I rounded the corner and made my way back to the ridge.  It had rained the night before, so I had to be extra careful with every foot placement (wet = slippery)

Once back on the ridge I followed it for a ways

Before hitting a bit of a shelf and crossing over to the south side of the ridge

I followed the ridge to the false summit / ‘the crown’

From the false summit you can see the true summit of Sleeping Sexton

And now, the fun route finding begins!  I descended the false summit 125’ and crossed a gully.  There were cairns here to help in the crossing (circled in red). These are steep and go at class 3/4

After crossing the first gully I descended once again, another 160’

I was now at 13,130’, and parallel with the saddle between Sleeping Sexton and the false summit.  I followed the contour of the mountain to the ‘secret ledge’. Here’s what that looks like heading in

I crossed the ledge to the ‘saddle’, then skirted the side of the mountain and headed up to the summit

The ledge is not as bad as it looks.  There’s a cairn here (circled in red) DO NOT DESCEND HERE.  Instead, use it as a reference point and stay level with it (especially on your way back) and continue following the ledge. If you do this, it stays class 2 to the saddle.

From there it was an easy trek to the summit, first skirting the mountainside

And then ascending the ridge

I summited Sleeping Sexton at 6:45am, just as the weather started rolling in

Sleeping Sexton: 

Since the weather wasn’t cooperating I didn’t stay long.  I turned and headed back the way I’d hiked in.  Here’s looking back at the false summit / ‘the crown’

And a view making it back to the ledge

Here are some more images of that ledge, looking back.  Remember to look for the cairn, and stay level with it.

For reference, here’s the size of the route.  The route can clearly be seen over my shoulder (to the left)

I rounded the corner, and ascended the gully, aiming for the cairns

Crossed the next gully

And gained the ridge to the false summit / ‘the crown’

I actually stayed here for a bit because I had cell service.  I let my family know I was ok, and downloaded the weather forecast for the next day.  However, eventually the clouds told me to get going.

Clouds rolling in: 

Here are some pictures of my way back to the white gully

Back down the white gully to the ridge

And from the ridge back to the trail

Once back on the trail it was an easy, class 1 hike back to the parking area.

I made it back to my truck at 11:30am, making this a 12.7 mile hike with 5156’ of elevation gain in 9 hours, 15 minutes. 

It was still early in the day, so I ate lunch by Maroon Lake, read for a bit, looked at topo maps for tomorrow, and jotted down notes in my journal before making it an early night.  Oh, I forgot to mention the goats:  They were the same two goats I saw last week, and if for no other reason than them, wear your helmet until you make it back onto the class 1 trail:  They were kicking rocks down the gullies the entire time I was there. 

Homestake Peak – 13,209

RT Length: 13.33 miles

Elevation Gain: 3363’

The road was nicely plowed from the Crane Park area to the trailhead, so I continued driving up the road and parked at the beginning of Trail 100.

I was the only vehicle in the lot, and it was supposed to snow this afternoon, so I didn’t anticipate a lot of people on the trail today.  I put on my snowshoes and started out.  The trail starts by heading northeast for a third of a mile before turning onto the trail that leads you to the 10th Mountain Division Hut.  I took the winter route.

I followed the trail for about a mile to a junction, losing elevation as I went.

When I made it to this junction it was dark and I misread the sign.  I ended up continuing straight and it wasn’t until I crossed the second bridge I thought to myself “I don’t remember crossing any bridges when I did this trail last time” and realized I should have turned right at the junction, instead of continuing to follow the Colorado Trail.  This mistake cost me a mile of hiking.  So, long story short, turn right here and follow the 10th Mountain Division hut signs, and if you come to any bridge, you’ve gone too far.

This put me on a 4WD road that took me to a marshy area, covered in fox prints.  Here the snowmobile tracks ended and I’d be trenching the rest of the hike.

From the marshy area I followed the blue arrows to the 10th Mountain Division hut.  The arrows are conveniently placed along the trail every 20 yards or so.  When the trail is covered in snow and just when you aren’t sure which way to go, you find another blue marker.  These were extremely helpful, as I was trenching at this point (and for the rest of the hike).  There were tons of rabbit tracks in the area on the recent snow.

Just as I made it to the 10th Mountain Division Hut I came across what looked to be a recent ski trench.  Even though it was earlier than I’d planned on heading west I turned left and followed the trench (I was getting tired of trenching).  This trench led me to a bunch of skis standing in the snow. 

I didn’t see anyone with the skis, and I knew I’d hiked too far following the trench (hopeful it turned and headed to Homestake’s ridge, which it didn’t), so I backtracked and found a low rib to hike up and follow northwest to the upper basin.

At this point I was frustrated: I was in a bad mental attitude I had to kick myself out of.   Due to a recent conditions report I expected there to be a trench to treeline, and there wasn’t.  I was having trouble finding any semblance of a trail, and the trenching was getting tiresome.  I kept trudging along and backtracking, telling myself I’d only stop if the snow became more than I could handle (usually for me this means postholing past my waist).  Also, this was my second attempt at this peak, as the last time I was here the snow was too soft to trench.  I didn’t want to come back a third time if I could help it.  I knew I was off the typical trail, but I also knew I was headed in the right direction, and I had the added benefit of being able to follow my tracks on my way out.

Once in the upper basin I turned left and followed a rib to the ridge. 

Here’s the access point to the ridge at treeline

And a picture of the beginning of the ridge

Once on the ridge I turned right and followed it northwest to the summit.  This looks like a great place to do some skiing!  Here’s the overall route

This ridge was about a mile of steady elevation gain.  The snow was firm but the wind was picking up.  Here are some pictures of the hike to the summit

Towards the top everything was windblown and the snow became sugary.  I was slipping and sliding a bit, but other than my snowshoes, no other equipment was needed.

I summited Homestake Peak at 9am (there’s a benchmark at the summit)

Homestake Peak:

The wind kept picking up, bringing in the Albuquerque Low we’re expecting tonight and through the weekend. I was cold, so after leaving a summit register I hurried back down the ridge.

Check out the wind

Here’s a look down the access point to the ridge and my trek down.

The wind had blown some of my tracks in, but I was able to still follow them back to the ski trench

I took the ski trench back to the hut, and then followed my tracks back to the marshy area

Once back in the marsh, just before the 4WD road I could smell a fox (they have a strong scent too, similar to a skunks, just more mild).  I looked around and saw one prancing about 100 feet away. She was a magnificent red fox, quite large and all fluffed up due to the cold, making her look even bigger.  She stopped only briefly to glance my way, and then carried on.  I watched as she pranced through the willows and disappeared into the trees.  No pictures:  I just decided to enjoy the experience, as I knew pictures wouldn’t turn out anyway from this distance.  All those tracks must have been hers.

At the end of the marshy area I came to the snowmobile tracks that led me back to the junction to the trailhead

I turned left at the trail indicating Crane Park and followed the trail to the trailhead.  This was actually the most difficult part of the hike, as my thighs were tired from trenching earlier, and at this point every step I took included 5 pounds of snow sticking to the bottom of each snowshoe.  I trudged here slowly, using my trekking pole to knock off excess ice and snow every few feet.

I could hear the wind screaming through the trees.  Yep, the storm was coming in. I made it back to the road, and followed it to my truck

I made it back to my truck at 11:45am, making this a 13.33 mile hike with 3363’ of elevation gain in 6 hours, 45 minutes.  Note, as you’ll see from my topo map, I made a few wrong turns and did some backtracking.  I’d still recommend this overall route however (minus the wrong turns and backtracking).

Blodgett Peak – 9423’

RT Length: 5.67 miles

Elevation Gain:  2565’

Today I just needed a quick hike to clear my head. 

I’ve hiked Blodgett Peak before from the Air Force Academy, but since I no longer have a base pass, I thought it would be fun to hike Blodgett Peak from the Woodmen Side. 

I made it to the small trailhead at 6:45am.  There’s enough room for about 10 vehicles, and there’s a porta potty in the lot.  I gathered my gear and was on the trail at 7am. 

The trail is easy to follow, as it starts out as a 2WD dirt road.  Here’s an overall view of the route to the summit from the parking lot.

The road serpentines, and there are a lot of side paths.  I took the road too far, and ended up at the water plant.  From here there are a lot of ‘closed trail’ and ‘no trespassing’ signs, so I turned around.  If you make it here, you’ve gone too far.

Instead, measure from the parking lot.  When you’ve hiked .7 miles you’ll see the entrance for the Hummingbird Trail to your left.  Take that trail.

I stayed on this trail for another .7 miles, until it came to a dead end and the trail stopped. 

When the trail stopped it forked into 3 faint trails.  The one to the far right goes to the Air Force Academy.  I took the trail in the middle.

Funny thing:  on my way up I saw a pink flag around a tree saying “Escape Route”.  These flags were not there on my way back down, and I didn’t see anyone out there all day.  I can only assume they were there for Air Force Academy purposes

From this point on there are many trails to the saddle.  They all go, but they’re all a bit sketchy too (scree).  I’d advise wearing microspikes for traction, even in summer. Here are some pictures as I made my way up the ravine. 

There was some ice on the trail (another reason to wear microspikes)

Then more up.  This part was slippery

At the top of the slippery scree turn left.  If you see this sign, you’ve gone to far.  The sign doesn’t have anything written on it.

From here on out the trail is much easier to follow

It passes through some of the Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar, and there are downed trees littering the trail here.

When you come to an obvious saddle turn right and follow the trail northeast to the rocky summit.

I summited at 8:30am.  It only took me an hour and a half to get there.

There was a rather robust summit register at the top. It was windy and cold, so I didn’t open it.

I turned and headed back down to the saddle

And picked up the trail back down the gully.  Here are some photos of my way back down.

One back on the dirt road I followed it back to the trailhead.

I made it back to the trailhead at 9:45am, making this a 5.67 mile hike with 2565’ of elevation gain in 2 hours, 45 minutes

Uncompahgre in Winter – 14,309

RT Length: 16.42 miles

Elevation Gain: 5068’

This was a last-minute decision.  I left the house at 10:30pm and made it to the trailhead by 4am, after a rather tricky/slick/whiteout conditions drive over Monarch Pass (note to self:  check the weather along the route, not just for the peak you’re climbing).  I also had a gas station mishap in Gunnison (long story) so my truck smelled like gasoline when I parked.  I was pleasantly surprised to find CR 20 nicely plowed from Lake City.  There was 1 other vehicle at the trailhead, and only room for 2.

The other vehicle looked outfitted for sleeping, and there were window coverings on the windows, so I wasn’t sure if there was someone sleeping inside.  I tried to be quiet as I hit the trail at 4:30am.  This is the lower trailhead, so I followed the 4WD dirt road (now packed with snow) for 4 miles to the upper trailhead.

There was some ice on the trail, but it was mostly an easy road to follow

And here’s a look at the stream crossings.  There were snow bridges over the water, and you could hear water flowing under the snow.

I was still hiking in the dark when I saw a flashlight behaving erratically up ahead.  As I got closer, I realized it was a skier.  My flashlight was acting funky, so I couldn’t see him clearly, which was good, because he told me he was changing his pants (putting on warmer ones).  His name was Paul and he sounded like he was in his 20s.  He said he’d “see me up there” and I continued on. 

From this point it was clear he’d been trenching with his skis, but even so, I didn’t need to put on snowshoes until I made it to treeline.  I continued hiking along the road

I made it to the upper trailhead and the bathroom (I didn’t check to see if it was open, but it looked like there were game trails leading up to the door)

This is where the trail got ‘iffy’.  There was no longer a trench, but if I strayed from the old trench I’d sink up to my waist in snow.  I put on my snowshoes and only postholed every 30 steps or so.   Here’s the upper trailhead

From the upper trailhead the trail heads northwest to treeline and then through willows.

Once at the willows I had to gain this small ridge.  This was easier to do in the morning than in the afternoon (pics of my glissade route later).  Here’s my path

Just as I made it up this ridge the sun began to rise.  I had a great view of the sunrise over Uncompahgre

And looking back

There was no trench here, nor any sign of a previous one, so I got to make my own.  Here’s my basic path

And step by step.  Lots of trenching, but pretty straightforward.  Your goal is to gain the ridge.

You’re aiming for this sign on the ridge.  There are a lot of these signs in the area, all saying to be careful of vegetation, so make sure you aim for the one obviously on the ridge.

Once on the ridge, I turned right and followed a faint trail northwest.  The snow on the switchbacks was a bit sketchy.

I gained the ridge again and traversed a short distance along the backside, looking for a short gully to climb

I took off my snowshoes at the gully and climbed up, carrying them (bad idea)

At the top of the gully I found cairns and a trail that wound back to the east side of the mountain to the summit, so I stashed my snowshoes and kept going.

I walked back and forth all along the summit to make sure I hit the actual summit. The summit is towards the middle… the pictures were better towards the west though.  Also, usually when there’s a lot of snow I can see herds of animals, or at least their tracks in the basins below or on the ridges.  No tracks today, so they’re all probably below treeline now.

It was a long drive back home, so I turned and retraced my steps

I made my way back to the gully and found my stashed snowshoes.  I seriously wished I’d stashed them below the gully, but because I wasn’t sure of the conditions above I’d brought them with me.  I carried them gingerly in my left hand as I headed down

At the bottom of the gully I put my snowshoes back on and kept them on for the remainder of the hike.  I turned left and followed my tracks back to the ridge.

Once in the ridge I had some switchbacks to go down before following the ridge proper.  It had only been about an hour or so, but the tracks I’d made on my way in were already gone, so I got to make new ones.

Once down the switchbacks most of my tracks were still there, so I followed them back down the basin.  Side note:  From here I could see the skiers tracks, and the skier still in the basin below.  He’d chosen a different route to gain the ridge, and seemed to be stopping for lunch.  Since he was on skis I expected him to pass me on the way down.

This is where I ran into a little bit of trouble… The skier had gone over my tracks on his way in, and in doing so made them slippery as the sun warmed.  They’d turned into ice, and my snowshoes couldn’t grab onto my tracks.  The snow was too soft to make new tracks.  I tried to retrace my steps down, lost footing on the ice, and glissaded into the willows. The slipping wasn’t calculated, but the glissading was:  Once I’d started I quickly assessed the risks and just decided to keep going.

Here’s a look back on that short glissade

And now, to hike out.  The trench was still in place, so it was relatively easy.  Here are some pics.

I made it back to my truck at 1:30pm, making this a 16.42 mile hike with 5069’ of elevation gain in 9 hours.  I never did see the skier.  Here’s a topo map of my route

Also, on the way out there’s ice climbing!!!

Mt Pittsburg – 8197’ and PT 8220’

RT Length:  6.63 miles

Elevation Gain:  2214’


I went back and forth on whether or not to post this, but I pride myself on posting honestly and openly, and I think this information can help others.  I believe in respecting private property, and am always on the lookout for signage.  I’ve turned back on several hikes when I’ve seen a sign indicating I shouldn’t be there.  Also know I took direction from others who’ve already done this route, albeit it quite a few years ago.  It is no longer a good idea to summit these peaks this way.  It seems a lot has changed in this area in the past few years:  I encountered roads not on topo maps, so there is most likely an easier way to summit.

I drove slowly the last 2 miles to where I parked, following a large, industrial truck.  The roads were icy from the overnight storm, so I didn’t mind going slow.  I kept looking for a good place to park, and maybe it was the recent snow, but there just wasn’t one along the entire drive in.  Finally, just before reaching the quarry, I saw a place I could park.  I pulled over, backing up a few times to make a nice parking space in the snow, and looked around.  I didn’t see any ‘no parking’ or ‘no trespassing’ signs, so I sat there for 15 minutes, putting on my gear.  Here’s where I parked, just in front of an open gate, near a mailbox

As I did so, several large trucks passed me.  I assumed they were workers going to work for the day.  I waved.  I got out of my truck and proceeded up the road a few yards, then turned right and headed east up the ridge.  The entire time I was in sight of the quarry office.  I never crossed a fence or a ‘no trespassing’ or a ‘private property’ sign. 

This hike was full of bushwhacking.  There were no established trails, so I took game trails where available.  The game here didn’t seem to get taller than my waist.

From the ridge, here’s looking at the quarry office.  I would like to note I had a red bandana and was quite visible due to the fresh snow.  No one tried to tell me I wasn’t supposed to be there or follow my obvious tracks in the snow to talk with me about my intentions.  I’m sure they have bullhorns at facilities like this, right?  Surely I was within range of bullhorn communication if I was doing something wrong.  But no,  I was simply enjoying my hike, and at this time thought nothing amiss.  

Once on the ridge I followed it north, until I came to a…. road?!?!?!?

I followed this road, which I eventually found was called Henry Ride Heights.  When it crossed with Phantom Canyon View I turned left and continued following the road to the towers.  There were loud, barking dogs here.

Once at the towers the road ended, so I followed the ridge as it wound north

This ridge goes up and down and up and down.  The scrub oak is particularly unsettling, but on a positive note it was mostly dead and broke away when I hiked past. Here’s the summit of Mt Pittsburg

Here’s looking back at the route in

It doesn’t look like this summit gets a lot of hikers.  I placed a summit register and was on my way

My next goal was PT 8220.  I wasn’t sure where it was exactly from Mt Pittsburg, as the weather wasn’t cooperating.  For reference, this is the peak and my overall route

I started out by heading northeast down to the saddle. 

It should be noted the bushwhacking never got better for this entire hike.  In fact, it kept getting worse, so I’ll stop mentioning it.  I’d just like to point out if I were doing this any other time of the year I most likely would have come out with dozens of ticks.  Once at the saddle I then climbed the rib/ridge to PT 8220, making several ups and downs along the way

Here’s looking back on Mt Pittsburg

And some more pictures of the ridge hike to PT 8220

Here’s a look at the summit of PT 8220

I wasn’t sure where the exact summit was, so I walked all over, and yes, even sat on that ‘point’

I left a summit register, and turned to head west down the mountainside

I headed down, following a sort of steep gully, until it hit a ravine, and then I followed the ravine down to a road.  It took me 2.75 miles of hiking down this ravine from the summit of 8220 to make it to the road.  Here are some highlights:

I found an old structure along the way.  This truly was in the middle of nowhere:  very overgrown and not even game trails here.

I was so excited when I finally made it to the road!  I followed it south

I passed a generator and a fire extinguisherand thought that was odd?

Then I came upon tire tracks.  I was now elated, because I knew I’d soon be back to my truck

Well, elated, until I saw this:

Ugh!!!  My map told me I was to walk a road next to the Quarry, not THROUGH it!  I was probably 200 yards from my truck at this point, and by looking at my map I knew the only option I had was to continue walking along the road.  I briskly followed the side of the road, keeping my head pointed straight ahead. There weren’t any ‘no trespassing’ signs, but I did not feel comfortable. I wanted out of here right away, but I also knew my only option was to continue forward.   I felt a sigh of relief when I passed workers and they didn’t seem to care I was there.  Here’s a picture of the office (after I’d passed it).

My relief was short lived though:  About 20 yards away from my truck a man drove up from behind me and rolled down his window:

“We were looking for you earlier.  You’re not supposed to be out here without a hard hat”.

I thought that was a curious thing to say, but apologized just the same and he drove away.  Immediately afterwards another man pulled up behind me.  He was a little more upset, and told me he’d called the cops on my vehicle because he hadn’t known who it belonged to.  I was nice to him, and let him know I hadn’t intended on ending up in the middle of their operations and I just wanted out of there as fast as possible:  I’d looked for ‘private property’ and ‘no trespassing’ signs and hadn’t seen any this entire hike, including where I parked (OUTSIDE of the open gate, I might add).  It wasn’t until I made it back to the road near the quarry I began to think anything was amiss.  He said there was a sign located somewhere behind a sign (I never saw it). 

I apologized, and got a lecture on hiking alone and mountain lions (“You shouldn’t be out here alone, little lady”).  I refrained from saying anything, but I did grit my teeth on how he was lecturing me.  I got the feeling he was only doing it because I’m a woman. After all, I know of two other men who’ve taken this route, and when they passed the Quarry (described to me differently before this attempt:  I’d been under the impression the public road went NEXT to the Quarry, not through it) the men said the workers just waved them on as they hiked by.  I wanted to give him a lecture on proper signage and procedures that should have been taken BEFORE calling police, but I held my tongue.  Once again, I apologized and he let me be on my way.   

So, now I’m expecting the cops to show up at my house at any moment to talk to me about trespassing charges. 

Oh, and here’s a topo map of my route.  Also, I don’t’ recommend taking it.

Mt Yale in Winter – 14,196

RT Length:  9.58 miles

Elevation Gain: 4315’

The drive in was icy in spots, with about 3 inches of fresh snow on the road.  I could tell a vehicle had made it to the trailhead at least an hour earlier, because there was snow over the tracks and it hadn’t been snowing on my drive.  There were two other vehicles in the lot, which looked to be boondockers.  I backed my truck in and got out my gear.  The lot is huge, and since the road is closed for winter just past the trailhead there is a lot of room for vehicles carrying snowmobiles.  When I got back later in the day there were no less than 40 large vehicles with trailers for hauling snowmobiles in the parking lot and lining the road.

I was on the trail a little late today, around 6am.  I knew it was supposed to be cold and I didn’t want to start too early:  the sun is my friend when it’s cold out!  The trail starts at the north end of the parking area.  There are trail signs here.

It’s winter, but since it hasn’t snowed heavily for a few days there was a trench in place, making this a class 1 trail all the way to treeline. 

I followed the trail for 1.5 miles to a junction, then turned right, following the trail northeast towards Mt Yale.  

After the junction the elevation gain picked up and the trail became icy in areas

At treeline the elevation gain became more intense.  I kept heading northeast, rounding this hill

And coming to a larger hill to navigate.  Here I passed two male hikers in their early 20s.  I’m not sure when they started this morning, but they looked to be in good spirits and more than happy for me to start making tracks.  Here’s how I navigated this obstacle

I wasn’t yet into the upper basin however.  Here’s an overview of the rest of the route

And here’s step by step to the ridge.  The snow was actually a few feet deep in areas, and I postholed a bit.  No ice axe or snowshoes were necessary. I wore microspikes for the entire hike.

The weather was very nice today, but cold.  Temperatures ranged from -3 degrees to 13 degrees, before windchill.  I kept pumping my fingers back and forth to keep them warm, stopping every few feet to clap them together briskly. Strangely, my toes didn’t seem to get that cold.  Luckily for me, this is my 4th summit of Mt Yale, so I didn’t need a map:  I knew where I was going and just kept heading towards the saddle. Once on the saddle I turned right and followed the icy ridge southeast towards the summit. Here’s the overall route

It was frigid, and icy, and windy, and cold!  You can tell how cold by looking at the boulders

Here’s a look at the summit of Mt Yale

I summited Mt Yale at 11:05am.  I was upset to find the camera I’d placed in-between my jackets to stay warm had once again frozen, so I had to use my cell phone for pictures. 

It was very, very cold, so I didn’t stay long.  I turned and headed back down the ridge

A shadowselfie just for fun!

Here’s the route down from the saddle

After making it back to the saddle I turned left and followed my tracks back down

About halfway back to treeline I passed the two young hikers again.  They looked exhausted, but in good spirits.  It was their first winter 14er, and I wished them luck.  They were more than glad to be following my tracks. Here are my tracks back down to treeline.

Once back at treeline I followed the trench back to the trailhead.  This part was fun; due to the light snow that fell overnight the wind was causing the snow on the branches to lift into the air and swirl to the ground.  It was like it was snowing on a bluebird day.

I made it back to the trailhead at 12pm, making this a 9.58 mile hike with 4315’ of elevation gain in 6 hours.  There were TONS of snowmobilers in the parking lot:  more than I’ve ever seen at a trailhead before.  They were loud, and I was glad I was done with my hike. No wonder I hadn’t seen any animals today! 

Here’s a topo map of my route:

I usually wear sandals while driving home so my feet can dry out.  Today, after putting on my sandals, I accidentally stepped in snow with my left foot and it instantly triggered an attack.  My toes turned blue and stiffened.  As I’m writing this it’s been almost 24 hours, and I still don’t have feeling in the two smallest toes on my left foot. Luckily however, they are now a normal color. 

The Mt Yale Summit Sticker can be bought here

Humboldt Peak in Winter

RT Length:  14.02 miles

Elevation Gain: 5562’

This was my third time hiking Humboldt, but my first time in calendar winter.  The last time I was here there was a terrible wind that was causing the snow to become clouds, and I couldn’t see the summit when I arrived (or my own 2 feet). This time I was here for better pictures of the route, and to count it as an official snowflake.  I arrived at the South Colony Lakes lower trailhead and was the only one in the lot when I parked my truck.  I put on my gear, using only microspikes as my footwear, and was on the trail at 4:30am.  As usual in winter, the snow started just past the 2WD parking area.  I always find it amusing to see how far the tire tracks try to go up the road.  This time, they didn’t go far.

The snow on the road started right away, but there was a good trench. I followed the road for 2.3 miles to the junction with Rainbow Trail.  It was still dark out, and as I rounded the last corner of the trail where I could still ‘see’ the trailhead I noticed there was another car parked there.  It seems there would be hikers about a mile behind me today.  Also, my flashlight started flickering.  Time to change the batteries!

At Rainbow Trail the trench spiked, one side going towards Marble Mountain, the other towards Humboldt Peak’s East Ridge.  There weren’t any tracks headed further down the road to South Colony Lakes.  I turned right and followed Rainbow Trail for .5 miles. 

I quickly came to a bridge, then took the trail to the top of a slope

At the top of the slope I was thrilled to see there was a trench in place leading up the ridge.  Last time I did this hike I’d had to trench it myself, and it had taken quite a bit of work.  Today, I was going to poach someone else’s trench!  Woot!

And what a trench it was!  I followed it as it for 2 miles as it ascended the east side of the ridge, all the way to treeline.  Here’s an overview of the route up to Humboldt Peak

If you keep heading west and stick to the rib/ridge, it will take you to treeline.  I could hear the wind above the trees, and got a bit anxious for the above treeline part of the hike.

As I hit treeline the sun started to rise.   I took a few minutes to enjoy the view.  (side note: there were a lot of rabbit tracks here)

The trench ended near treeline.  I could see where it was supposed to go, so I kind of re-trenched it as best I could wearing just spikes.  

Here’s the general overview of my route up the ridge

The wind had been intense all morning, but once I was above treeline it became difficult at times to even stay upright.  So much for the forecased 11-17mph winds!  I’d started early to avoid the most intense winds that were supposed to start around 11am, but it seems they started a little early.  I had to hunker down at times and turn away from the wind, which turned the snowflakes into glass, and was side-stepping as I hiked just to stay in a straight line.  I tried to take pictures, but unfortunately, wind is invisible.  I kept my gloves on and was glad I’d put on my balaclava at the trailhead.  Here are some pictures of the ridge. 

Here I noticed some bighorn sheep in the distance.  They also noticed me and trotted off.

At the top of the ridge was another ridge, so this had been a false summit.  Here’s the actual summit of Humboldt Peak.  It’s a straightforward ridge hike to the summit, nothing above class 2.

Here are some pictures of the ridge.  There was some snow, but it was all firm enough not to need traction

On this part of the ridge the wind really picked up.  I had to hide behind rock structures to get out of the brunt of it, and the noise it made as it came up and over the rocks was creepy.  The balls of my feet were frozen at this point (due to Raynaud’s) and it felt like I was walking with large rocks in my shoes (I wasn’t, it was just the ball of my foot that had frozen).  Several times I hunkered down to maintain my balance, but it was still a straightforward ridge hike.

I knew I’d made it to the summit when I found the wind breaks.  I never saw a summit marker, but I don’t think there’s one here?

I’ve summited Humboldt Peak twice before, so I knew I was at the summit at the first wind break, but I walked further west for better pictures.

I summited Humboldt Peak at 9:45am

Humboldt Peak: 

The views of the Crestones/Sange de Cristo range were beautiful!

Time to head back down the ridge

The wind was still fierce, and I was worried I was getting a nasty windburn in all the areas my balaclava didn’t cover.  The wind speeds weren’t supposed to be this high, so I’d left my goggles at my truck.  Note to self:  next time, bring the goggles. On my way back down the ridge I saw the Bighorn Sheep again.  They quickly turned when they saw me and headed over the mountainside.  There was a big drop on the other side, and I was surprised I couldn’t see them again when I passed. 

This was a simple ridge stroll, or, it would have been, without the wind

Here’s looking at my route back down the ridge to treeline

Here I met some hikers heading up.  The wind had died down considerably by this point, so I figured they had the better weather of the day (I found out later it picked back up again, and they said their summit was just as windy as mine).  My feet started to de-thaw, and I had a minor Raynaud’s attack:  think insane pins and needles as the blood started flowing again.  It lasted about 30 minutes, and to combat it I just kept hiking.  On a positive note, I could feel my toes! Finding my tracks back to the trail was a bit of a challenge, but I came across them eventually.

Then I followed the trench back to Rainbow Trail.  I should have put on snowshoes here, as I postholed ever 30 feet or so, but I really didn’t want to stop.  I was just glad I’d started early enough in the day not to need snowshoes (spikes worked just fine).  Anyone heading back down later than me would need snowshoes. 

Once back at the trail I followed it a half mile to South Colony Lakes Road

Once on the road I hiked the 2.3 miles back to the trailhead, noticing a lot of dog tracks along the way. As I neared the trailhead I saw a couple walking with two beautiful dogs.  It seems they were out on a day hike, and I thought this was a great idea, as it was a beautiful day below treeline.

Here’s a look at the trailhead on my way back. Easily 2WD accessible.

I made it back to my truck at 1pm, making this a 14.02 mile hike with 5563’ of elevation gain in 8.5 hours. 

Unfortunately, when I made it back to my truck I could hear the conversation the couple with the dogs were having. The man kept cussing at his female companion, and the dogs, over simple things like an overturned water bowl.  To me there’s no need for vulgar words, and he was using multiple ones in each sentence he uttered.  I felt the urge to say something, but no one else in his party seemed to mind his behavior, so I kept it to myself.  I’m not sure why women allow themselves to be treated that way?

The Humboldt Peak Summit Sticker can be bought here