I knew it was supposed to be windy today, but the past few weeks the wind hasn’t materialized in the Sangres as predicted, so I decided to take a chance. I arrived at the Duckett Creek Trailhead, the only vehicle there.
I actually started out taking the Rainbow Trail, which is located at the north end of the parking area.
The Rainbow Trail is wide enough to fit an ATV, and it looks like a lot of people take advantage of this. There weren’t any footprints on this part of the trail, but there were a lot of tire tracks. I lost a little elevation here, but nothing too dramatic. I followed the Rainbow Trail northeast, as it passed through a burn area and crossed South Lake Creek Drainage (which was half frozen).
There was a nice bridge over North Lake Creek
After hiking for 1.35 miles, I came to a junction with 4WD road 198. I turned left, and started following FDR 198.
I followed this road as it crossed a section of North Lake Creek, skirted the Balman Reservoir, and passed several nice dispersed camping sites.
I hiked 2.9 miles from the trailhead to 9800’ of elevation, and a curve in the road. This is where I left 198 and bushwhacked to treeline.
It was just under 2 miles and 2000’ of elevation gain to treeline from where I left the road. The trek was interesting without any visuals: the pine trees obstructed any view. I was however, able to hear the wind. I followed the ridge proper southwest
Just before treeline I got a glimpse of Eagle Peak, before heading into the trees again
At this point, I came across what kind of looked like a trail, but it fizzled out
Once at treeline, you’ll be tempted to cut through the trees and head straight for the ridge.
Today, the area with trees had snow, so I skirted the trees to the right on tundra. I’d recommend this, as there weren’t any obstacles.
The hike towards the peak is obvious, and completed on 90% tundra. The slope angle is low: This would have been an easy summit, if it weren’t for today’s wind.
Tundra stopped at rocks. I just went directly up the face. This is a false summit.
Today this was tricky to navigate, as the wind was intense: it never stopped. I’m guessing there were sustained winds of 35mph, which are tolerable, but the unexpected gusts of 50+mph made things tricky. I’d have to lean into the wind to remain upright as the winds were a constant 35mph, but every once in a while a gust came from the opposite direction and knocked me back (or pushed me forward). It was added fun when this happened on the rocks that rolled and I skipped a few steps with my feet and flailed my arms in the air to regain balance, hoping not to fall. I sat and laughed more than once as I waited for a gust to pass after falling down. Also, during one of the cross-directional gusts I hit my knee (again) on a rock in the same place for the third time this week. I jumped up and down to relieve the pain and made up a few words in the process.
Back to the rocks. These are microwave size, and some roll, especially the smaller ones. Choose your own adventure.
At the top of the rock pile you can see the rest of the route to the summit
I just followed the ridge to the summit, hunkering down when the gusts of wind came. This ridge is class 2
I summited Eagle Peak at 8:45am. Yes, this is the best picture I got: the wind kept knocking over my DSLR camera, and it was cold, so I didn’t make many attempts. I didn’t even attempt to take off my backpack for the photo: I figured if the wind could knock me down while wearing my pack, I’d most likely lose my pack if I took it off. I could picture it tumbling in the wind down the side of the mountain. I probably wouldn’t stay standing long without my pack either.
I didn’t stay long at the summit, as I wanted to get out of that wind asap. This was an out and back hike, so I re-traced my steps back over the ridge
More ridge pictures:
Following the ridge back to treeline was easy. I aimed for the tundra to the left of the bristlecone pine trees.
Here’s a quick video of the wind near treeline, once it started to die down. I wish I’d captured a video of the wind gusts, but they weren’t predictable.
The hardest part of this hike was navigating back down the ridge, because I didn’t have any visuals. I relied heavily on my compass, heading northeast back towards the road
I made it back to the 4WD road, and took it back to the Rainbow Trail
I then took the Rainbow Trail back to the Duckett Creek Trailhead
I made it back to my truck at 12pm, making this a 12.14 mile hike with 4691’ of elevation gain in 7.5 hours.
And now, to drive home and wake up my daughter. She’s home on college break, and will most likely still be sleeping at 2pm when I get home. Since it’s just the two of us this year, we decided to have an early Thanksgiving dinner so we can have all week to eat the leftovers before we leave.
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
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
This trip started out as a summit attempt on Homestake Peak, but it ended with an unexpected trip to the 10th Mountain Hut.
Weather all over the state either had high avalanche danger or high winds, so I settled on hiking Homestake Peak today, with a frigid forecast but only 5-10mph winds and no cloud cover. Or, so I thought. I arrived at the trailhead and put on my gear, including snowshoes, inside my truck.
There were some cool signs in the area
I was on the trail when it was still dark, and noticed tracks coming towards me, presumably made earlier in the night. I’m guessing they’re coyote
I followed the well-marked trail, using the blue diamond route
And then following the route to the 10th Mountain Hut (still blue diamond/arrows).
Here I was following the Colorado Trail. It was just a for a short time, but still kind of cool to be back on the trail for a bit.
The trail was easy to follow until I came to a meadow. I was supposed to take the route outlined below, but the snow was too soft in the willows.
I ended up zig zagging back and forth, trying my best to follow deer/elk tracks. I kept falling into invisible streams covered in several feet of snow. At one point my phone froze and I was unable to unlock the screen to see where I should have been going. My stylus wasn’t working in the cold either. Several times I sank up to my chest in snow, and after the third time getting my snowshoe caught in debris that immobilized me I decided to call it and head back to the trail. I wanted to try to find another way to summit: the conditions in the marshy area were just not safe. I could see myself twisting an ankle or breaking a leg on this route. Here’s my route out of the willows.
I didn’t want my day to be over, so I decided to follow the tracks to see where they led. They continued to follow the blue diamonds.
Right about now the sun was beginning to rise, and I could see it wasn’t going to be a cloudless day. The clouds made for a beautiful sunrise though!
As the sun rose the wind picked up. I could see snow swirling all around me, which was pretty cool. I also knew I needed to be more to the southwest if I wanted to attempt Homestake Peak today, but every time I tried to cross the snow and head southwest I sank up to my chest in the snow. That snow was seriously deep, and sugary. I’d need skis to attempt a safe crossing (I don’t own skis).
I could also tell the clouds were increasing, and by looking at how fast they were moving, they weren’t going 5-10 mph (more like 40mph or so). Here the well trenched trail ended, but I could see a faint line of where it had been a few days ago and decided to re-trench the trail to see where it went.
I came to a small sign, stating no snowmobiles were allowed past this point, and continued heading northwest.
Just after the sign I came to the 10th Mountain Hut! So cool!
I wanted to take a look around, but as I got closer I could see people moving about inside and decided to leave them be. They looked like they were packing up to head back out. They must have trenched in on Friday, and I’m sure they’d be excited when they noticed I’d re-trenched their way out.
Heading back was easy, as I just followed my tracks
I made it back to my truck at 9:15am, making this a 9.06 mile hike with 1456’ of elevation gain in 4 hours
Here you can see my intended route (bottom) and the route I actually took (top)
As I drove home the winds became more intense. There were semis parked on the side of I70, waiting out the wind. Yes, it had been a good idea to switch directions today. While any day out hiking is a great day, I wasn’t happy with today’s stats, so after making it home I hopped on the treadmill.
We’ve had this trip for months, and in October had to re-scheduled it due to COVID concerns. I was a bit worried we were attempting some of these peaks too late in the year, and, unfortunately, ended up being right about that. Many roads we encountered were closed, even though their status showed as ‘open’. No matter though, we still had a great, whirlwind weekend where we were able to get in 5 Highpoints. Originally, we’d planned on 8 (and called them the ‘bowtie 8’ because our drive would go in a bowtie pattern). The weather had other plans.
We flew into ATL, arriving around 11am. The flight had been uneventful, the airport was crowded, and it seemed to take forever to make it to ground transportation (several trains were involved). When we arrived there was an hour wait at the Enterprise counter to get our vehicle (they wouldn’t let me use the kiosk because I was paying with a debit card instead of a credit card). On a positive note, we received an upgrade on our vehicle, and we were able to choose any vehicle in the row. We ended up picking a Nissan SUV so we could sleep in the back, which ended up being much more comfortable than our last trip, where we slept in the front seats.
We were on our way around 1pm. First stop: Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s Highpoint. It rained the entire way there, and when we arrived, the parking area was shrouded in clouds.
I wasn’t even sure we were in the right place, but after getting out my directions I realized it was a half mile walk up a closed (but paved) road. We paid the $3 per person entry fee and parked.
The weather was miserable, so I put on my hat, jacket, and heavy-duty gloves and we were on our way, walking up the road.
The walk up this road was easy, but in today’s conditions, miserable. It wasn’t quite snowing yet, so we were getting soaked from the rain. It was bitterly cold. Water was running down my gloves and I had to pull my jacket hood so tight I could only see a few feet in front of me. I much prefer snow to rain.
At the top of the hill was a plaque and a sitting area
And beyond that, the visitor’s center (closed)
It was no surprise we were the only ones here today, as the weather was brutal. The wind picked up as we took a look around, searching for the summit marker (side note, there isn’t one. The rangers keep it locked up inside so no one steals it). We found the Highpointers bench, and then climbed the stairs to the tower. Unfortunately, the tower was closed due to COVID.
The wind picked up and it started snowing, so we decided to head back down. We rushed to the car and headed towards our second highpoint of the day: Clingman’s Dome, TN. Unfortunately, the road was closed 6.5 miles from the summit, and it was still raining, so we decided to skip this Highpoint too and instead headed to Kentucky.
We got lost driving (this happens a lot when we highpoint, the intense 4WD road should have tipped us off) and arrived late at night, walking the short distance to the summit in snow. This highpoint is on private property, so we kept our waivers on us as we looked walked around the summit.
This summit had a tower as well, but we didn’t climb it (too clod)
We made a mental note next time to add GPS coordinates to highpoints for our next trip, so we wouldn’t have such difficulties finding them, headed back to the car and drove to the summit we hoped to hike in the morning: Mt Rogers, VA. Passing through Gaitlinburg we noticed they were having some sort of parade/celebration, as the city was all done up in lights and there were tons of people milling about. This looked like a fun town. Maybe next time we’ll stay here when we come back for the highpoints we weren’t able to get this trip. We stopped at a grocery store for some cheese, crackers, and meat (side note: garlic ritz are the bomb) and were on our way, listening to a Harry Potter book on tape.
We arrived at 4am to the trailhead. The snow, which was supposed to stop around midnight, showed no signs of stopping. We decided to get a few hours rest and start out at first light. The wind howled and blew snow around us as we slept, or rather, tried to sleep, as we were slightly afraid the car would tip over in the wind. We were comfortable sleeping in the back with our sleeping bags and heated blanket, but the noise from the wind kept us awake. At 6am we turned on the heater, and at 7am we called it. The wind and snow were just too much for an attempt today.
On to the next highpoint!
We crossed into North Carolina, and attempted to take the Blue Ridge Parkway to the summit of Mt Mitchell, but it waws closed. We then tried to take a back route, and got pretty close. The weather was nice and there wasn’t any snow on the ground, but we encountered a winter closure gate. Hmmmm. They should really publicize things. There are a lot of great dispersed camping spots here.
No worries though: on to the next highpoint!
We were on our way to South Carolina. Sassafras Mountain was my favorite highpoint of the trip. Not only does it have a cool name, but the road was open to the top and it was a beautiful day! There’s a short hike to the summit area just beyond the closed gate.
We walked up the gravel road to a very nicely done highpoint.
The summit marker, bench, and plaques were easy to find
We walked up the stairs to the observation area, and realized we were on the NC/SC state line! So cool! So, of course we took photos.
Check out the view from the observation area
It was still early in the day, so we decided to drive over to visit the Alabama State Highpoint as well (Cheaha Mountain). We ended up starting out the wrong way and heading back into South Carolina
But we quickly noticed our mistake and turned around. After arriving at the State Park (which had people camping but no open bathrooms) we paid the entrance fee (the girl who took our money wasn’t wearing a COVID mask, and was a little rude) and drove to the observation area. This was another nice observation area.
We were the only ones there, so we went inside and climbed the stairs
The stairs looked pretty cool on the way back down.
After doing some calculations we realized we had time to drive all the way to the beach and visit Florida’s highpoint tomorrow. We stopped to get gas and noticed Alabama doesn’t have a COVID mask mandate in place. The town we drove through was sketchy, and I got some very negative looks from the locals when I wore a mask while getting gas. The people giving me the looks looked to be members of street gangs, so we didn’t stay long. We drove all the way to Chocktaw Beach and parked on the side of the road, backing the SUV in. We were right next to the water, and I was excited to wake up to the sunrise the next morning. We ate our dinner (drive thru taco-bell) and I jotted some notes down in my journal. How cool was it we were sleeping on the beach tonight? Sorry, no pictures of this, as it was dark. In the end the sunrise wasn’t that spectacular and we forgot to take pictures, but it’s a memory I’ll never forget.
It was an hour from the beach to Britton Hill, Florida’s highest point. At 345’ it’s not much of a highpoint. In fact, it’s not even a valid peak. The park was nice though (not the bathrooms, as they were quite filthy, but the park itself, Lakewood Park, was nice).
And now for the 5 hour drive back to ATL. There was considerably less traffic as we made it back to Georgia
There was a lot of Christmas cheer in the form of holiday light displays
We passed no less than 500 Baptist churches
We saw a lot of deer
They close Blue Ridge Parkway in winter, even though they say they don’t
The cops in Alabama only have blue lights on their patrol cars
We didn’t see any wildlife except for deer (I was kind of expecting to see armadillos in FL)
This was my third attempt going for Bard Peak. The first time I made it as far as Parnassus, but the wind and cold temperatures (and Raynaud’s) prevented me from going any further. My second attempt was from the Berthoud Falls area, and the snow just wasn’t cooperating. Imagine my surprise when I found out today this is actually an easy trail when not in full winter conditions!
I parked at the Herman Gulch trailhead and was on the trail by 4:30am. This trailhead has tons of parking, but beware: it fills up fast. There was a full moon and I could see by looking at the mountains I wouldn’t be needing snowshoes today, so I left them in my truck.
The trail starts in the middle of the parking area. I took the Herman Gulch trail to begin, which is just behind the information signs.
After hiking .2 miles I turned right (east) at this junction to follow the Waterous Gulch Trail.
This trail is an easy, class 1 trail all the way to the basin. Last time I was here the area was covered in snow and I had no idea there was a trail that went that far. Today the hike was easy! No real route finding below treeline.
After hiking for about 1.5 miles I came to a creek crossing in Waterous Gulch, crossed the creek on an icy log by sitting down, straddling the log, and shimmying across (due to the ice I would definitely have slipped if I’d tried to cross standing up). I turned left and headed north through the gulch on a great trail (still the Waterous Gulch Trail).
Starting here there was snow on the trail, but just enough to be annoying: I could still figure out where the trail went
I crossed a small stream and continued on the trail. Note: You can also choose to go right and not cross the stream here and take a parallel trail that leads you to the exact same place as the Waterous Gulch trail. I stayed straight here and continued to the end of the gulch on the way in and took the parallel trail on the way out. They were similar, but the one that follows the gulch also follows the stream, which was nice.
I followed the class 1 trail to the end of the gulch, and after 2.2 miles of hiking turned right and continued following the trail up to the saddle of Woods/Parnassus. There are a lot of ways to gain the summit of Parnassus. Last time I hiked further south, avoiding the saddle, and I would not recommend that route. Instead, take the easy gully and aim for the saddle and go as far as you can before turning right and heading southeast towards the summit. This is where the intense wind started and didn’t stop. Forecasted winds were 17-24mph, but those winds don’t knock you over. For the rest of this hike I was using my trekking pole for stability, hiking sideways into the wind.
The trail stopped here somewhere under the snow. I paralleled the snow to the saddle
At the saddle I turned right and headed southeast towards the summit of Mt Parnassus. This is an easy hike on tundra.
The terrain gets a bit rockier near the top.
The summit is relatively flat. I summited Mt Parnassus at 6:40am, after just over 3.5 miles and 2 hours of hiking. Since this is my second summit of Mt Parnassus I’ll spare you the selfie and let you watch the summit video instead.
Bard Peak is just over a mile east of Mt Parnassus.
There’s a bit of a trail from Parnassus to Bard. I followed it where I could. It was faint, so sometimes I lost it, but mostly followed the ridge. It’s important to follow the ridge when snow is present. This ridge is easy class 2 ‘scrambling’. Just watch for loose rocks. I could see a faint trail go to the right of the ridge (south), but it became covered in snow and would have been difficult to cross. Here’s an overview of my route
And some close-ups in order:
When I got to this section I did not feel comfortable traversing without crampons and my ice axe (luckily I had both). I sat down, strapped on my crampons, and crossed the snow. The snow was slippery at this time in the morning (not mushy, more like icy). You could probably traverse this section with just microspikes if you were here at the right time of the day.
Because I could I kept the crampons on until the last of the snow.
Here’s looking back on the section you want to avoid, and the reason I stuck to the ridge. You can also see a slip here would take you a ways.
After taking off my crampons and putting them away I headed up to the summit of Bard Peak, keeping close to the ridge
I summited Bard Peak at 7:50am, after 4.7 miles of hiking.
There was a broken summit register and a benchmark on the summit
Now to head back to Mt Parnassus. I backtracked down to the saddle, put on my crampons again, got out my ice axe, and crossed the snow.
It was easy to avoid the snow on the rest of the way back to Parnassus
From the summit of Mt Parnassus I descended the way I’d summited, back down to the Woods/Parnassus saddle
When I made it to the saddle I still wasn’t tired so I decided to summit 12er Woods Mountain as well. This summit doesn’t require much guidance: it’s an easy tundra stroll to the top. This added 460’ of elevation gain to the hike. This is where the wind became the most intense (yes, it was still blowing). It was so windy I was hiking sideways with each step, and had to over-compensate each step to stay in a straight line, crisscrossing my steps as I went.
I reached the summit of Woods Mountain at 9:40am. I’ll spare you the selfie of this one as well, since I’ve already summited this peak. Here’s the summit register and a video
This wind was insane! Time to head back down to the saddle and back down to the gulch
I followed the trail back down the gulch, over the log bridge, and back to the trailhead. This is where I started seeing a lot of other hikers. When I made it to the trailhead the large parking area was completely full.
I made it back to my truck at 11am, making this a 10.25 mile hike with 4965’ of elevation gain in 6.5 hours. Here’s a topo map of the route:
I felt really good about the hike today: The weather had been warm, no clouds, not much route finding, and when I made it back to my truck I wasn’t even tired yet. The only thing that could have been better was the wind. It’s amazing how good conditions can change the outcome of a hike!
I feel like I was just here. Well, actually, last week I climbed Cottonwood Peak which is 2 miles away, so it stands to reason.
I got a picture of the shoes on the drive in this time… easy 2WD dirt road to the trailhead.
This time I got to spend the night. I arrived at the trailhead early (around 2pm) after my failed attempt at 13,636.
I was excited to discover I had cell service, and the first thing I did was order a new water bottle (I’d lost mine on my last hike). So, what to do with all this extra time? I really wanted to sleep, but I just…. Couldn’t. It was too hot outside. I know, right? Too hot, in the first week of May? But there you have it, I was roasting in the back of my truck, so I kept the windows open. The view was great. I’d parked near a copse of scrub oak.
I decided to write down some trip notes from the day and text a few people (since I had service). There was a nice breeze outside. I heard a loud buzzing noise, and had a hummingbird fly into my truck and back out again. So cool! Someone drove in with a rather large horse trailer and I thought I may have neighbors for the night, but they lived adjacent to the trailhead and just drove through.
Oh, I should eat. But I wasn’t hungry. I forced myself to eat some tuna and a handful of pistachios. And I had 3 shots of whiskey. There, that should make me tired. But nope, I still couldn’t fall asleep.
So I set up everything for tomorrow and walked around a bit. When I got back to my truck a car was parked in front of mine, and I saw an older woman walking around. I said hi, and that I hadn’t heard her drive up. But that wasn’t her car. She lived across the street and was just checking the trail register. A man had signed it, saying he was headed towards Major Creek and should be back by 5. Well, now I wouldn’t be able to sleep until after 5. He didn’t show up by 5:30, and I decided to was exhausted by that time, so I fell asleep.
I only woke up once during the night, around 10:30pm, to barking. The barking didn’t stop all night, and I assumed it belonged to the lady I’d seen earlier in the day (ok, her dog). My alarm went off and I snoozed it for an hour (the dog was still barking), but eventually I left my warm bed and got ready for the day. I was on the trail by 3am, armed with 2 16oz bottles of water. The dog was still barking.
To expedite things I’d signed the trail register the night before, so today I was able to start hiking right away. The trail starts to the right (southeast) and hugs the mountainside.
Then the trail switchbacks down to Major Creek.
I must admit, this caught me off guard. Not the part about crossing Major Creek, but the part about losing 300’ of elevation to do so. In fact, I got out my map and compass several times to check that I was going the correct way. Unfortunately my compass wasn’t working correctly. It must have been the location, because I could clearly see the town lights to my right yet my compass was telling me I was headed in the wrong direction. In any event, yes, the trail does switchback all the way to Major Creek, and then quickly crosses it twice. I was easily able to rock hop across without getting wet.
The trail winded through brush and chaparral
Before entering Aspen groves
Here’s a look at the route
After a mile of hiking I could no longer hear the dog barking, and I started seeing discarded deer legs on the trail (and hanging in the trees) from hunters last fall. I even saw a dead mouse in the middle of the trail. Oh, how I was regretting binge watching Stranger Things last month! After hiking about 3 miles I heard a loud “Woof!”. I stood still for 3 seconds, trying to figure out if I’d really heard what I’d heard when I heard two more quick barks: “Woof! Woof!”. I thought to myself “What wild animal barks? Coyotes yip and howl and so do wolves”. I concluded it must have been a dog (a large dog) and continued hiking. Weird since I was the only one for miles…
There was one annoying aspect to this hike (besides all the horse poop): So far I wasn’t gaining any elevation. I’d lost 300’ going down to Major Creek, and from then on I kept hiking up and down small hills. I’d think I was gaining in elevation only to lose it again and head back down to the creek.
At 4.8 miles (10100’) I came across measurable snow on the trail, and at 5 miles I crossed a small creek and came to a camp.
It was obviously a horse camp and I figured the guy who lived adjacent to the trailhead spent a lot of time here (in the summer).
The trail had been nice up until this point. A few downed aspens here and there, but nothing major. However, it was obvious not many people used the trail after the camp area.
I just kept heading northeast, and every now and again I’d find the trail. And then the snow began. Around 10,900’ snowshoes became mandatory.
At 11,000’ I turned right (east) and rounded a boulder field. I put some surveyors tape on a tree so I could remember where I exited. I only barely skirted the boulder field, and then continued southeast through some trees and into a meadow.
There was a lot of evidence of elk and moose in the meadow. I think they may bed down here at certain times of the year. At the end of the meadow there were cairns and I turned left (northeast) and followed a much better trail up the mountainside.
At times this trail was covered in several feet of snow, and at times it was bare, but it was always easy to follow. Postholing wasn’t fun, so I put on my snowshoes for a bit, and kept them on until the snow subsided.
Making it to the saddle was easy
From here I chose to do Electric Peak first, mainly because it was the taller of the two ranked peaks, and a little longer of a hike. I turned right (southeast) at the saddle, and followed the saddle towards the peak. This is much easier than it looks.
However, this is not the peak
As with Cottonwood Peak just a few miles away, Electric Peak A has a hidden summit
Luckily it was an easy ridge walk, first starting out with tundra, and then moving to larger rocks (all pretty stable)
I summited at 9:15am
Electric Peak A
There was a summit register. I don’t normally sign these things, but since it was apparent I was the first person to summit since October of last year and it was warm enough for me to take off my gloves, I signed it.
And turned to head back. I was a little worried about where the true summit to Lakes Peak was, considering all the false summits in this area. Originally I’d thought it was the peak to the left of the saddle, but now I was worried it was the peak behind that peak. I decided to get out my altimeter when I made it to the top of the false summit and do the math. Here’s a look at the ridge back
When I made it to just above the saddle I was very pleased to find out the peak before me was indeed Lakes Peak. I headed down to the saddle, and then up the ridge, being careful to stay just to the left of the snow
There was still a lot of snow in the basin to the east, but not much to the west. While hiking down I saw a boulder the size of a microwave break off and roll down the hillside, coming to rest in the basin. It was neat to see the trail it left behind.
The trek up Lakes Peak was full of very loose rock. I felt that at any minute I was going to cause a rockslide, so I placed my footing accordingly. By this time I was quite tired, so it was slow going.
I summited Lakes Peak at 11:10am
There was a summit register here too, but I couldn’t open it so I didn’t sign it. Also, the clouds were moving in quickly and I wanted to get below treeline. I turned to head back down the ridge
When I got to the saddle I stopped to fill one of my water bottles with snow. It was a hot day and I wanted to be prepared in case I needed more water: It was still 7 miles back.
From the saddle, here’s the route back (after you make it to the basin)
The snow at treeline to about 11,000’ was awful: Mushy stuff that I sank in with every step (with snowshoes on) for about 2 miles.
I made it back to the basin, found the cairn, and headed back over the boulder field, found the yellow surveyors tape I’d left, and headed southwest back down to Major Creek
No, it was not a fun trail to follow, even in the daylight
I passed the horse camp, and an old abandoned cabin at 9780’
The entire way back there were hundreds (thousands?) of dead trees littering the sides of the trail. It looked like an avalanche had come through, or the trees had all been killed off and the wind had blown them over. Speaking of wind! It didn’t stop! It kept getting stronger and stronger, and I feared one of the dead trees would fall over on me as I was hiking. I heard lots of creaking and swaying.
I’d been worried about the last 300’ of elevation gain climb from Major Creek up to the trailhead, but it ended up being easier than I’d thought, mostly because of the great cloud cover and wind cooling things off. I just took it slow and kept putting one foot in front of the other. The cactus blossoms were nice.
I made it back to the trailhead at 3:45pm, making this a 19 mile hike with 6661’ of elevation gain in 12 hours, 45 minutes.
OK, I’ll do my whining here: I bought a new pair of winter climbing boots last week and wore them for the first time yesterday. I didn’t think much of it, and my feet did well. Today however, not so much: my feet did fine on the way up, but on the way back I was limping. The new boots were just too tight around my shins and when I took off my shoes at my truck noticed large bruises (3 inches in diameter) and blisters on my ankles both inside and outside. I really, really like these shoes, as they kept my feet warm, but I’m worried they’re going to take a lot of breaking in. Tonight I’m going to put them by the fire and hit them with a hammer for a while, trying to loosen them up, after soaking my feet in a salt bath.
I absolutely needed to get above treeline today: the past few weeks has been a whirlwind cookie season, limiting my availability to hike, and the weather hasn’t been cooperating on the days I’ve had available so I’ve been highpointing instead closer to home. Also, today is a leap day and I’ve never had a leap day summit. So I did what I always do and checked the weather forecast for about 10 peaks and chose the one with the best forecast.
The road to St Elmo is mostly dirt and (thankfully) well plowed. A 2WD vehicle could easily have made it to the trailhead.
I arrived around 4:30am and drove through town looking for a parking space. No luck. The streets were plowed but because of the snow there was nowhere to park, so I ended up turning around (twice) and parking near the east end of town in a lot that looked reserved for trucks pulling trailers. I was the only vehicle in the lot when I arrived.
I gathered my gear and was on the road by 5am, turned and headed back to make sure I’d turned off the dome light in my truck, and started off again. Almost immediately a Bobcat ran across my path, doing it’s best to run away from me as fast as it could. I considered it a good omen. It was a bit eerie walking through a ghost town at night, and with all the snow you could tell which houses were occupied and which ones had residents who went somewhere else for the winter. Every building had a sercurity system flashing a red light every few seconds or so.
At the end of town I turned right onto 162E and then left after the bridge and followed the signs towards Tincup pass. It’s 6miles from here to the pass.
The road was nicely groomed and looked like it had a lot of snowmobile activity. I spent my time hiking fantasizing about the new truck set up I’m working on for Spring/Summer (same truck, new setup). Embarassingly I jumped a few times at noises in the night, just to realize it was the sound of an invisible (snow-covered) creek or a tree about ready to fall. My original intent was to leave the trail and summit Point 13,050 and traverse the ridge over to Tincup Peak, but it quickly became obvious that wasn’t going to happen today: the snow wasn’t going to cooperate. There were several sections where I could tell snowmobiles had gotten stuck in the snow and had to be pulled out after leaving the road to head north (the way towards 13,050). So instead I followed the road slightly southwest for 4 miles, until I came to a trail junction. I could also tell the weather wasn’t going to be as sunny/calm as originally forecasted. The winds were only supposed to be 5-10mph here today, yet I could tell by the sounds the trees were making the wind was much more intense. Several times I heard wind that scared me into thinking I was hearing an avalanche. Tons of fun!
I continued straight (northwest) and followed the trail until I made it out of the trees.
From here I followed orange poles to Tincup Pass. Here’s the basic route:
At about this time I couldn’t feel my toes/feet anymore, and it felt like I had two half-dollar sized rocks under the balls of my feet. I wasn’t cold, I was just having a Raynauds attack and decided to just keep pushing on: they usually only last about half an hour or so, and as long as I keep moving everything ends up fine. Here’s the last section up to Tincup Pass
It’s steeper than it looks but honestly short and not too bad. Tincup pass is located at 12,154′
I turned right (east) and headed up the side of Tincup Peak. Here’s the route I took, doing my best to avoid the areas covered in snow (after postholing too many times to count):
About a quart of the way up the wind picked up fiercely. I hadn’t put on a balaclava this morning because it hadn’t been windy when I’d started, and now the wind was so intense I couldn’t get it on (well, I might have been able to, if I took off my gloves). The winds were forecastd at 5mph, but there were several times when I had to turn my back to the wind and brace myself to remain standing. Not for the first time I told myself that when the forecast looks too good to be true, it probably is. I made it to the top and took a look around what I thought was the summit: there were cairns and a windbreak.
The wind was extremely intense here. I still couldn’t feel my feet but I wasn’t cold, and I knew taking off my gloves would be a terrible idea in all this wind, but my face was starting to hurt from the constant abrasion of the wind. I crouched down behind the windbreak and clumsily put on my balaclava wearing just my glove liners, and then hastily put my gloves back on. It was here I noticed I was not at the summit of Tincup Peak. The sumit was actually to the north about another half mile or so.
Ugh! It didn’t look like to difficult a trek, but that wind was insane! And I still couldn’t feel my feet. I did a mental calculation and decided I wanted to go for it, so I headed north. The wind only knocked me down twice. From the small saddle here’s looking back at the way I came
and at the peak before me (spoiler alert: another false summit)
The snow on the last part here was soft enough to twist an ankle, so I tried to stick to the rocks where possible.
At the top of this hill I was disappointed to find I still wasn’t at the true summit, but determined to press on: I was too close NOT to summit at this point. So I kept going.
This last little stretch was still windy, but luckily not technical in the least. I also had a great view of PT 13,050 and the connecting ridge that I filed away for next time. I was so glad I’d decided against taking that route up today!
I summited and tried to take a summit photo but the wind kept knocking the camera (and me) over. I was finally able to get one shot while bracing myself against the wind
It was a quick decision not to attempt Emma Burr Mountain today: That wind was just too much and I still couldn’t feel my feet (I was getting worried now). I told myself I’d be back to get PT 13,050 and Emma Burr together another time. Here’s looking at Emma Burr Mountain
Time to head back
Here’s the path back to Tincup Pass
It was easy to avoid the cornices
And straightforward to Tincup Pass
The wind didn’t die down until I was in the same place where it had started. I made it to Tincup Pass and decided to take a selfie (my son took one here a few years ago when he was here with his Boy Scout Troop and I wanted a similar one to show him).
Here’s the trek out of the basin. I was surprised I hadn’t see anyone all day, considering it was a Saturday. The basin was empty: There were tons of fresh snowmobile tracks, but they were all from yesterday.
The wind died down as I made it back into the trees, and I was finally able to feel where my feet were. There was about half an hour of intense pain as the blood started to flow again, but I kept walking, knowing stopping to take off my shoes (etc) was a terrible idea.
The 6 miles back to St Elmo seemed long, but as I was just walking on a groomed road not to terribly difficult. Snowmobiles started passing me at alarming speeds, and a few times I had to jump out of the way and into a snowbank to avoid getting run over.
St Elmo was beautiful with the snow, and just as wonderful as in the summertime, except of ourse the chipmunks were now hibernating.
I made it back to my truck at 12:30pm, making this a 14.5 mile hike with 3590′ of elevation gain in 7.5 hours. There were several trucks hauling snowmobiles when I got to the parking area, and it looked like there were a ton of people about to snowmobile into the basin. I counted dozens of snowmobiles and just as many people walking around the town. I totally needed my time above treeline today: I felt energetic and excited and not the least bit tired. Being in the mountains seems to rejuvenate me. Time to head home and pass out come more cookies!
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.
The weather always wins. The day before this hike instead of getting 1-3” of snow we got more like 8” and I’d spent quite a bit of time shoveling my driveway. This extra snow occurred all over the state and the peak I’d intended to climb now wouldn’t have a reachable trailhead. So I did the easy thing and just switched my plans to hike a peak with a 2WD trailhead. Admittingly, I didn’t do much research and just left the house with a topo map and a vague idea of where I was headed. Luckily this is one of those peaks you can do that with.
I’d never been to Berthoud Pass before and was surprised at how large the parking lot was. It was 12* when I arrived around 5am and I decided to put on all my gear while sitting in my truck. Then I waited for a little bit of light before heading out. It had snowed here quite a bit yesterday as well and there were several feet of fresh, sugary powder on the ground. Since there were no tracks I wasn’t sure where the road/trail was so I just headed up the mountain (dotted line). This was more difficult than I‘d expected, as I kept sinking up to my waist in the snow. Snowshoes weren’t helping. Eventually I made my way to a road (solid line) and realized where it went all the way down to the parking lot (whoops!) and took it all the way up to Colorado Mines Peak. The road is located at the south end of the parking lot and without snow should be easy to find. In the afternoon there were several tracks made to the road by others who’d known what they were doing.
The road was easy to follow because there were poles placed every 50 feet or so along the trail. I was postholing here as well, and my legs were getting quite a workout.
As soon as I was out of the trees the wind picked up and never stopped. It wasn’t more than 20mph, but it just wouldn’t let up.
There wasn’t much route finding on this part of the trek, as the road was easy to follow all the way to the top of Colorado Mines Peak. At the top there were radio towers and buildings, etc.
I wasn’t sure where the summit was, so I just walked all around, taking pictures of the various structures. They’re larger than they look.
It was windy and cold and I didn’t feel like setting up my camera so I just got a quick selfie
I didn’t see an established trail from the top of Colorado Mines Peak to Mt Flora, but I could see a trail heading up the ridge of Mt Flora so I headed northeast down the side of Colorado Mines Peak towards the saddle
The wind was still blowing, forming a cornice along the ridge
The trail from the saddle up was easy to see. Snowshoes weren’t needed here, but due to the wind and cold temperatures I didn’t want to take off my gloves to take off my snowshoes, so I left them on.
Did I mention the wind? At about this time it was getting really annoying. I kept thinking every time I went around a corner or over a hill that the wind would die down, but it didn’t seem to matter which side of the mountain I was on: I was getting pounded by the wind (and ice)
This was all very frustrating because this was a relatively easy hike, yet I was starting to get a headache from the constant wind
After winding around the mountain for what seemed like a long while I could see the last bit to the summit. Here the sastrugi was beautiful and in most places solid, making it easy to cross
There were several large cairns indicating the path to the summit
The summit was large and relatively flat, with cairns, signs, and windbreaks full of snow
I’m not sure what time I summited, but it still felt like early morning.
It was still early in the day when I summited and I wasn’t tired at all, yet I was starting to feel nauseous. This wind was really getting to me. My balaclava had frozen to my face and I was worried I was getting frostnip on my nose (I was). I walked around the summit and looked at some of the other peaks I’d wanted to hike today
This should have been such an easy hike (and it was) but I decided here not to continue on. Yes, I’d wanted to summit a few other peaks today, but the forecast called for increased winds in the afternoon and I’d already had enough. This wind was making the morning miserable. Looking ahead at an added 6 miles of wind sounded like torture, and that’s not why I hike. I told myself I’d come back and do this hike again when the conditions were better (less wind). So I turned and headed back towards Colorado Mines Peak
As the wind increased and I became ever more nauseous I celebrated my decision to head back and enjoyed the views
Instead of going back up and over Colorado Mines Peak I decided to follow the trail that went around the mountain. Until the trail was obscured by snow and I couldn’t follow it anymore. Then I just made my way around the mountain until I found the road again.
The snow here was thicker and I was glad I’d kept on my snowshoes
Here’s a look back at my tracks to the road
Once on the road again I noticed all of the tracks I’d made this morning were gone
Here the wind let up and I took a minute to take some ibuprofen. Almost immediately I began to feel better. I could see the parking lot was full of vehicles and if I had skis I’d just slide my way down there. The snow was all powder and the skiers seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely.
About halfway down the mountain I came across plenty of new tracks and two trenches on either side of the road. Needless to say, hiking down with a trench is a lot easier than trenching on the way up. I was thankful for everyone who came after me and made a solid trench.
I was also thankful to be out of the wind. The trees were lined with fresh snow and made for a beautiful trek out.
I made it back to my truck around 11am and was surprised to find people tailgating in the parking lot. I guess that’s a skiing thing? The parking lot was buzzing with activity, too many vehicles, people and pets, and I had to be careful not to run anyone over in the parking lot on my way out. I looked at my nose in the mirror. Yep, I’d definitely gotten a little bit of frostnip. I wish I could find a way to keep my balaclava from freezing? Hmmmm. Maybe I just need to try a different brand.
I started this hike around 6am and finished just before 11am, making this a 7.75 mile hike with 2334’ in elevation gain in 5 hours. I was a little disappointed I hadn’t done more today, but felt trenching in powder had given me a good workout just the same. Any day above treeline is a win. I’ll be back to complete this hike soon.
Surprised they hadn’t yet closed Guanella Pass for the season, and with the only above treeline forecast for peaks I want to climb that didn’t have forecasted “blowing snow and blustery winds” I decided to try to get in this bicentennial before they closed the road. The drive up was icy so I took it slow, arriving at the Guanella Pass trailhead at 6am.
It was windy and cold and windy. Did I mention it was windy? I got ready in my truck, put on my snowshoes, and sat in the front seat, willing the wind to stop blowing my truck back and forth. It didn’t, so I decided as soon as it was light enough where I didn’t need a flashlight I’d be on my way. Today’s hike was short and I wasn’t too worried about time.
I started from the south end of the parking lot at 6:40am
Here’s an overview of my route
I followed the well trenched Bierstadt trail through the willows until I came to post #11
The wind stopped as soon as I descended into the basin, which was a welcome surprise. At post #11the trail continued to Bierstadt, but ended for me. I turned left and angled northeast through the basin, doing my best to avoid the willows and creeks.
Avoiding the willows wasn’t too difficult, but avoiding the small tributaries and creeks was a challenge. It seemed as if there were offshoots of water everywhere. They were covered in a thin layer of ice and several inches of snow. Since they hadn’t yet frozen over completely they were a hazard. It would look as if I was walking along a section of grass, and then I’d hear cracking and gurgling beneath me. I had to take care not to plunge step into a small creek but wasn’t too worried as they weren’t very deep. As I made it to the middle of the basin I noticed a herd of elk moving ahead of me. They’d obviously seen me first and were doing their best to put some distance between us. Luckily for me I noticed they were traveling in the same direction I wanted to go, so I decided to just follow their tracks.
Following the elk had its advantages: they’re heavier than I am and I can see where they posthole and whether or not they break through ice. I didn’t take the conventional way up this slope, but I felt more secure in my footing following animal tracks.
I followed game trails through the willows and trees
to a small plateau. Still following the elk tracks I gained the side of the mountain
And found a cairn! Woot! It seems I was on the right track. The elk had gone left and I wanted to go straight so I stopped following their prints and headed east through the willows and then followed the drainage up the basin, keeping the drainage to my right.
The beginning this part of the hike wasn’t too bad. I just kept following the drainage towards Gray Wolf Mountain
Just as I made it to the base of the peak the wind started picking up intensely. I made the decision not to ascend Gray Wolf Mountain via the ridge because I was worried the winds would be too much for me (dotted line). Instead I followed the basin until I felt I was parallel with the summit and gained the ridge that way, thus being able to make it to the top without the intense wind (solid line)
Winds were forecasted at 20-25mph, but they far exceeded those numbers. The winds never slowed down and they never stopped. It’s difficult to get a picture of wind…
Eventually I hit an ice patch and decided it was time to start climbing Gray Wolf Mountain
I turned left (north) and ascended the ridge
The higher I climbed the lower the wind speeds became. The snow here was either hard packed or soft and unconsolidated, making route finding challenging. I had to go slower than I would have liked to avoid twisting an ankle in the snow hollows between larger rocks.
The further up the mountain I went the more snow I encountered
Until I made it to the ridge and saw it was mostly windblown. Here’s the path to the summit
And looking back, you can see a better view of the dropoff between Gray Wolf Mountain and Mt Spalding and the wind that went with it
As I got closer and closer to the summit of Gray Wolf Mountain the winds increased again. I had to keep my head down and body angled forward to avoid getting blown over
When I made it to the summit I took off my backpack to set it down and it was blown by the wind, tumbling 10 feet away from me. I hobbled back and forth in my snowshoes to retrieve it before it was blown off the mountain altogether. Wow, those were some strong winds! I set up my camera between two rocks on the summit cairn to get a picture of myself on the summit. I got one before the camera was blown over. This is me stoically struggling against the wind to remain upright in the wind. Also, I’m cold.
I didn’t even bother looking to see if the picture was good: The wind wasn’t stopping and I had to get out of there. These were sustained winds that I’m guessing exceeded 60mph. I bent down to retrieve my backpack to put it on. I was able to get one arm through one of the straps, but tried over and over again unsuccessfully to get the other arm through. The wind kept blowing the pack away. Frustrated, I half laughed/screamed “STOP!!!!” to the wind. It didn’t listen and it wasn’t going to listen so I had to get creative. I propped my backpack up against the cairn, turned around, sat down and put the pack on. At this point the wind was blowing me against the cairn and I couldn’t stand up from a sitting position. I rolled onto my side and used my trekking pole to hoist myself up. I made the decision right there not to attempt Mt Spalding today: If the wind was this bad at 13,600’ I could just imagine what it was like at 13,800’.
I trudged against the wind back the way I’d come
When I made it back to the ridge the wind lessened as I descended out of its path. I followed my tracks back to the plateau
Here you can see how each step varied: sometimes the snow was firm, and other times I’d sink
I followed the drainage back down, keeping the drainage to my left. The wind was again strong here, but nothing like it had been on the summit
I aimed for this bump in the ridge
Found the cairn
And headed back down the hillside and into the basin. Here you can see my tracks, along with a bunch of elk prints
The wind hadn’t been present here, so I was easily able to follow my tracks back to the trail
I only ran into an issue once, when an area I’d crossed earlier had warmed up and I stepped through the ice. I’d known water was here and traversed the area slowly. In my snowshoes my foot didn’t even get wet, but this picture shows a break in the ice
I love following animal tracks!
There were tons of moose tracks near the boardwalks in the willows that hadn’t been there when I’d hiked in, but I didn’t see any moose. There was one other vehicle in the parking lot when I left. I didn’t see anyone else all day so I’m assuming they hiked Bierstadt.
I made it back to my truck at noon, making this a 9.5 mile hike with 2300’ of elevation gain in 5 hours, 20 minutes. When I went to stop my tracker it had shut off about an hour or so into the hike (I’m assuming due to cold) so for mileage I’m going by my iPhone’s tally and for elevation gain I’m just using topo estimates. Red is what Strava recorded, orange is the rest of my route, hand drawn. If there hadn’t been any wind this would have been a really easy day. I was kind of bummed I hadn’t had been able to try Mt Spalding, but there are numerous ways I can hit it next time.
Also, apparently my balaclava hadn’t been entirely covering my face. It had frozen in the wind and I’d thought everything was covered but when I looked in the mirror I had a dime sized sunburn on the tip of my nose. Very cute.