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.

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).

Mt Princeton in Winter – 14,197 and Tigger Peak – 13,300

RT Length: 15.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 5615’

There was a fairly recent conditions report on this peak, I so I chose it figuring there’s be a trench to treeline.  I had some appointments I needed to be back home by 4pm for, and this seemed like a logical choice for today.

I arrived late, as I woke up to 6 inches of snow at home and had to shovel my driveway before leaving the house.  The roads were icy so I took the drive slow.  I pulled into the parking lot just before 5am and was surprised to find a fresh layer of snow on the ground.  The entire lot was covered, and there were no tracks from any other vehicles.  I parked near the entrance and put on my gear.  I was on the trail by 5am.

The trail starts at the west end of the parking area.  There’s a bathroom and plenty of parking and excellent signage.

I followed this road (Mt Princeton Road/322) as it switchbacked up the east side of the mountain.  I was the first one making tracks, and wore my microspikes the entire day (but lugged along snowshoes).

I continued following the road 3.3 miles to the communication towers

At the towers I turned left and followed trail/road 322A

This is where the snow started getting deep.  There wasn’t a visible trench, so I postholed a bit, but was stubborn and didn’t put on my snowshoes.

I was still following the road, but there was a lot of snow in this area.  The drop-offs were steep (better pictures later, just be aware of avy danger here).

I followed the road to treeline, and then gained the ridge to the right (continuing on this road will take you to the Lucky Mine, and another access point to summit Tigger, but I found the snow was too steep covering the road and decided against that route)

Once on the ridge it was windblown, and I could easily see the summer trail. 

At this point, what I should have done was gone straight up and over Tigger Peak. 

But the trail looked easily to follow, and the mountain looked windblown, so I continued to follow the summer route.  Here’s the overall summer route

As I said earlier, I was following the mostly bare trail.  I crossed a couple of slide areas without difficulty, and then came to one that gave me pause.  I could see remnants of old footprints/tracks in the snow further ahead, but I did not feel comfortable crossing this section this morning, even though I had my ice axe and gear. A slip would have been too costly, especially since I hike solo.

I decided instead to change direction immediately and head south to the ridge, rock hopping to the top.  Most of these rocks were large, and luckily, few of them moved.  The snow in-between the rocks was troublesome at times, and I postholed to my waist, but I felt more comfortable with this route.

Once on the ridge I followed it northwest to the summit.  There were several social trails here, but staying on the ridge proper, or going slightly east worked well.

I made it to the summit at 10:45am

Mt Princeton:

It was a gorgeous day above treeline!  However, I had plans and needed to bet back down.  I decided to head back over Tigger Peak.  Circled is the small slide area I wished to avoid

Here are some pictures of the ridge to Tigger Peak, complete with a few small false summits

From Tigger Peak, here’s looking at the descent point

I continued hiking the ridge, and then started the longest part of my day:  rock hopping back down to the trail.  I just had to head northeast, and I could see the trail in front of me, but a lot of these rocks moved and progress was painstakingly slow.  Here’s the route

From there I picked up the trail and followed it back to the road

And followed the road back down to the trailhead. 

Here are some better pictures of how steep some sections on the road were

Something cool:  I was the first to make prints on my way in, but on my way out I saw coyote prints following my tracks.  Some of the prints were directly in my footsteps.  Looks like I had a stalker.

The snow on the road became slushy as I descended. 

It was downright muddy by the time I made it back to my truck

I didn’t see another person the entire day, which was a shame because it was a perfect day to be above treeline!

I made it back to my truck at 2:45pm, much later than I’d originally anticipated.  Luckily, I had cell reception and could call my appointments and move them to 6pm.  This ended up being a 15.4 mile hike with 5615’ of elevation gain in 9 hours, 45 minutes.

You can buy the Mt Princeton summit sticker here

London Mountain – 13,194

RT Length:  10.63 miles

Elevation Gain: 2305’

I was looking for another quick summit this week, and was halfway to the trailhead before I remembered the road to Mosquito pass would most likely be snowed in, adding about 5 miles to the hike.  Oh well, I should still be able to make it an early day.  I made it to where the road for Mosquito Pass and 12 meet and due to previous experience with this road in winter decided to park at this junction.  I could have driven about a mile up Mosquito Pass road, but eventually the drifts would have made it necessary to find a place to park.  By parking below I’d be getting in some extra mileage (if not much elevation gain). 

I parked, gathered my gear, and headed up Mosquito Pass road at 6am.

I was excited to try out my new camera.  I tend to go through cameras quickly, as I put them through a ton of use in extreme conditions.  The last time I purchased a camera I bought one that was less expensive, reasoning since I buy them so often I’d like to spend less money.  I found out the hard way cameras that are point and shoot don’t operate well when it’s less than 30 degrees outside. 

The past few weeks I’ve been using a stylus with my iPhone, but I’ve found when it’s extremely cold out even the stylus doesn’t work (although warming the stylus up in my mouth sometimes helps).  After my climbing accident at Garden of the Gods last week where I not only came out road-rashed and bruised but also I crushed my stylus, I decided to just purchase another DSLR.  Yes, they’re heavy, but they withstand the cold.

I hiked along the dirt road for 2.5 miles.  The conditions were varying, and I was glad to have worn my microspikes.

About a mile in was the furthest anyone has been able to drive recently

I passed North London Mill

After passing North London Mill I turned left at the junction

It was here the sun began to rise and I started trying out my new camera

It was also here I started postholing more than I could stand.  I decided to put on my snowshoes, and wore them until I made it to the Mosquito/London saddle

I followed the road up to London Mine

At times the road was completely covered in drifts

The road was covered in snow as I got closer to the mine, so I just had to kind of wing it.

The moon was just going behind the ridge as I reached the mine

I continued past the mine, heading west

And followed the road to the saddle.  From a distance this road looks mild, but I’ve taken this route in winter before, and the drifts can get pretty steep and go down quite a ways into the drainage (the pictures don’t do the drop offs justice).  It’s a good idea to have traction and an ice axe for this part in winter

I made it to the London/Mosquito saddle and took off my snowshoes, turned left, and followed London’s ridge southeast.

This ridge goes for almost exactly a mile.  After initially skirting to the right, I was able to stick to the ridge proper the entire time, and only postholed a few times in the snow.  This is all class 2, with the snow making it an easy class 3 in just a few areas.  Also, I didn’t remember it until I got back home and looked at my pictures, but the one drawback of this camera are the sun spots when directly facing the sun.  I know what causes them, I just need to be more diligent in the future against preventing them.  Here’s the ridge route, with a bunch of false summits:

About halfway along the ridge I heard a loud buzzing, looked around, and saw a biplane flying very low.  I watched it go around the mountains and through the passes.  So cool!  I wanted to wave, but didn’t think they could see me, and also worried they might think I needed help if I did. 

Here’s the final trek to the summit

I summited London Mountain at 8:30am

London Mountain Summit

I had a good view of Monday’s summit:  Pennsylvania Mountain

Here’s the trek back down the ridge

Yes, this is all class 2/easy class 3 to avoid snow

And back towards the mine

Here I heard another loud buzzing and saw a helicopter fly overhead.  It didn’t look like a rescue helicopter.

Here’s the path the road takes back down

I made it back to where I’d put on my snowshoes, took them off, and turned right onto 12 and followed it back to my truck.  About halfway back my microspikes broke, both of them, so I guess it’s time to get out the needle nose pliers again.  I made echoing clanking sounds as the chains scraped the dirt as I walked the rest of the way back.

I made it back to my truck at 10:45am, making this a 10.63 mile hike with 2305’ of elevation gain in 4 hours, 45 minutes

Here’s a topo map of my route:

La Plata Peak in Winter – 14,336

RT Length: 10.93 miles

Elevation Gain: 4620’

Detailed La Plata in Winter Report  

I’ve already done a detailed trip report on this route, so I’m just adding pictures and some notes/a story for today’s hike.  Funny thing:  It’s been almost exactly 2 years since I’ve done this hike. The end of January seems to be a good week for La Plata in winter.

I was really, really tired on the drive in, so when I got to the trailhead I decided to take a 20 minute nap before starting.  I was also hoping someone else would arrive so we wouldn’t be the ones doing all the trenching:  no dice.  We started out at 6:30am, and were the only ones in the parking area, so we had no hopes of anyone trenching before us. 

I put on my snowshoes at the truck, knowing I’d eventually need them and not wanting to take off my gloves to put them on.  It was -2 degrees when we started hiking.  I kept the snowshoes on for the entire hike.  We started out following road 391 to the trailhead.  This was a well packed down road, but not in the beginning.  It looked like someone had tried to drive the snow packed road.  They made it across the bridge, then obviously backed up.  Funny:  that was probably the hardest part of the road.

Here’s the trailhead.  Note, there’s private property all around:  stick to the trail

The trail was trenched!  Woot!  We followed the trail a short ways, and check this out:  An old cabin!  This is my 5th time on this trail and I’d never see the cabin before.  On our way back we spent some time trying to figure out how old it was by looking at the boards, logs, chinking, etc. 

On we went, following the trench as it wound through the trees and across the log bridge/through the willows. From here, it’s all uphill. 

We were following the summer route, and I kept looking for a trench indicating the winter route, but we never came across one.  It’s my goal this year not to let a good trench go to waste, so we decided to follow the summer route to the basin and see if we’d be able to summit this way.  We hiked on some seriously steep slopes below treeline, where a slip off the trenched trail would send you sliding quite a ways into the drainage below.  The trench ended as soon as we made it to the basin, so we decided to make our own trench up the ridge to the headwall.  Here you can see our basic route

Also, I don’t recommend this route in winter:  there’s avy danger.  Today however we didn’t see enough snow to be worried.  I’d wanted to teach SkydiverHiker how to use his ice axe, and there didn’t seem to be enough snow/ice to make it relevant on the way up.  Here’s our route up the headwall.

I should also note it was really, really cold in the morning before the sun reached us.  Several times we considered turning back, but in the end we knew the sun was just over the ridge:  all we needed to do was make it up the headwall and we’d be fine.  This part was slow going and slippery.

Once we made it to the ridge and I felt the sun warm my face I was ecstatic!  Also, I screamed.  Raynaud’s attacks are no fun, and now that the sun was warming my fingers and toes the blood rush felt like I was picking up a hot pan I couldn’t let go of.   Not fun.  Luckily SkydiverHiker is used to this and let me scream as loud as I needed without judgement.

It’s a really long ridge hike to the summit of La Plata Peak.  My route says about 2.3 miles of ridge work.  I don’t have a lot of pictures of the hike in due to my frozen fingers, so all of these pictures are from the hike out.  Here’s a look at the ridge today

We trudged up this ridge, but it was such a nice day we didn’t mind much. 

I kept looking back to see if anyone was poaching our trench, but never saw anyone.  Such a shame!  There were some small cornices forming on the ridge. Nothing too dramatic, but we stayed away from them.

At one point we stopped to get a shadowselfie and a picture of Sayres Benchmark

We summited in bluebird conditions:  no wind, no clouds, just a nice, sunny day. There were some small cornices at the top.

Here’s a summit photo and video of the summit

NE La Plata

We actually stayed for a but at the summit because the weather was so nice.  The views were amazing, and demanded to be appreciated.  I should have put on sunscreen, but didn’t.  I have much better pictures of the route down because:  warmth.  Check out that ridge!  Here’s the overall route.

And some step by step to the headwall

Here’s looking down the headwall

I decided to go first to blaze a trail.  Here’s looking back up at SkydiverHiker, waiting patiently

I spent a long time gingerly making a nice trail for SkydiverHiker to scree surf down

SkydiverHiker decided to glissade down instead (smh).  This was his first real time, as I’ve had him practice before, but never where the run out was so long.  He learned first hand about hitting rocks, keeping his feet up, and how long it takes to stop once you place your ice axe. He may have rolled a few times (on purpose, of course).

The snow was getting dangerously soft:  we were booking it out of there, but I got a final shot of our paths down (lots of rollerballs).

We made it back to the trench and started our hike out

This part was pleasant, but my feet were thawing out, so every once in a while I’d get a sharp pain in my toes (note:  two days later, I’m still having pain.  Raynaud’s sucks).  We saw our first people of the day; snowshoers who were just following the trench as long as it went.  We let them know they had another 20 yards or so to go, and continued on our way.

We took some pictures of Lake Creek as we crossed

And made it back to my truck at 3:15pm, making this a 10.93 mile hike with 4620’ of elevation gain in 8 hours, 45 minutes.

Some final thoughts:  It was a shame we were the only ones on the summit today, as it was a beautiful day. Also, if possible, take the standard winter rout that goes up the ridge sooner:  our route had more avy danger than is recommended. 

Mt Columbia in Winter – 14,073

RT Length: 14.28 miles

Elevation Gain: 5498’

I’d already summited 3 peaks this week, but with my being so close to 100 14ers and winter weather moving in I really wanted to try to get in one more summit.  I did a lot of weather watching:  the storm kept changing areas, times, wind speeds, etc.  I finally settled on Mt Columbia because I haven’t done it yet in winter and someone said they’d trenched it earlier in the week (remember, my motto this year is not to let a trench go to waste).

I didn’t make it all the way to the Harvard Lakes Trailhead on the drive in. There was too much snow and I ended up backing my truck up for about half a mile to find a good parking space.  I parked here. There’s room for 2-3 vehicles if everyone parks nicely.

I gathered my gear and started hiking along the road. It’s about a mile from where I parked to the Harvard Lakes Trailhead along this road.  Alost as soon as I started hiking my flashlight stopped working, so I had to get out another.  When that one stopped working as well I walked for a bit in the dark, then sighed and got out my emergency charger/flashlight.  It was then I realized I’d missed the trailhead, so I had to backtrack a ways.  I was also very glad I’d decided to turn around/head back when I did on my drive in: the road isn’t driveable to the trailhead.

I made it to the proper trailhead, and followed the Colorado Trail as it switchbacked up the side of the mountain.

After hiking on the Colorado Trail for .8 miles I left the trail and followed the ridge.  Luckily, this part was (mostly) already trenched.

From here on out it was a ridge hike.  I followed the ridge to treeline (about 1.25 miles).  Some of the area below treeline was trenched, but there were many areas under several feet of snow.  I was stubborn and reused to put on snowshoes, postholing up to my waist several times. 

Also, it takes forever to get to treeline!

Finally, it became impossible to go any further without snowshoes, so I put them on, just before making it out of treeline. Here’s a good overall view of the route above treeline.  It’s important to note the true summit is still not visible (it’s behind that ridge, to the north).

Now this became a ridge hike, above treeline.  I could see the clouds moving in, and indeed, it was snowing off and on.  The wind was also picking up.  Taking off my snowshoes, I followed the ridge as it wound northeast.  First heading towards point 12042

Once there, I lost some elevation, and the ridge split.  I don’t think it matters which side of the ridge you take.  I went right, since there was less snow there. Here’s an overview of the route

My camera died here (due to the cold), so I started using my phone.  Here are some more close-up pictures

Around this point the wind became unbearable, and I could no longer take off my gloves to take pictures with my phone, so I don’t’ have any from this point on.  Also, as you can tell, the weather moved in and you wouldn’t have been able to tell much from the photos anyway. What you need to know about the rest of this hike is it’s further than it looks, it’s all class 2, the ridge goes on forever, and what you think is the summit… isn’t.  The summit is actually the northernmost point, not what looks like the summit from below (that’s PT 13544).  It’s a rocky summit, and I couldn’t find a summit marker (but I also didn’t look for one).

The wind didn’t let up, and I summited in whiteout conditions.  It seems the 50% chance of snow after 11am was happing at 9am.  I tagged the summit, turned around, and retraced my steps down that long ridge.  My fingers and toes were burning inside my socks and glvoes.  I had on ski goggles that kept fogging up, and I had to be careful of my footing since I couldn’t see much in front of me.  As I got further down the ridge the weather let up a bit, and I could see my way back (these pictures were actually taken from my way in).

I put my snowshoes back on and kept them on for the rest of the hike.  The snow started picking up again, especially as I made it back to treeline. 

I made it back to the Colorado Trail, and followed it back to the road

And now to follow the road back to my truck

Along the way I was passed by a cross country skier.  He seemed impressed I’d just hiked Mt Columbia, especially since it was now snowing quite a bit.  I’m not gonna lie, I was a little worried about my drive out.  I wished him well as I took off my snowshoes and kept trudging along the road. 

Just as I made it back to the trailhead I turned and saw a white dog running towards me, no owner in sight, clenching a deer leg in its mouth.

The skier said it was his dog, assembling a deer one piece at a time.  His wife soon followed after the dog, they packed up and were on their way. I made it back to my truck at 12pm, making this a 14.28 mile hike with 5498’ of elevation gain in 9 hours.

The snow was really falling, so I got out of there quickly. The roads weren’t as bad as I’d thought, and completely clear by the time I made it to town.

In the end, I was glad I’d hiked today, but will most likely do this one again to get better ridge pictures.  I should have picked a better weather day.

Mt Columbia Summit Sticker can be bought here

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!!!

Culebra Peak in Winter – 14,047

RT Length: 14.87 miles

Elevation Gain: 5337’

When someone asks you to climb Culebra Peak with them in winter, you say yes!  I really needed to get out hiking with friends, and when Bill asked me to hike Mt Princeton with him, of course I said yes!  But then, plans changed and he decided to hike Culebra instead.  The weather didn’t look too bad (only 20% chance of snow), so when he asked if I wanted to go along I said yes:  I mean, securing reservations is difficult in winter as you need a group, and he was putting together a group.

In any event, I made it to the trailhead an hour early.  They open the gates at 6, and close them at 6:15am, and I didn’t want to miss that window.  Everyone else got there early as well.  There were 5 of us hiking today (3 girls, 2 guys), and 4 vehicles:  3 4Runners, and my Tundra.  Toyotas seem to be popular among self-professed mountaineers. 

Here’s a picture of the gate:

Promptly at 6am the gates opened, we were checked in, and we drove to the Ranch office.  There was space for about 5 vehicles to park.  We all got out of our vehicles, were given instructions on how to let ourselves out of the gate, and shown where the trail started.  I was glad we all had 4WD vehicles, because while the dirt road in was clear of ice, the parking area wasn’t plowed. 

We gathered our gear and were off around 6:15am. The trail starts to the east of the parking area.  In fact, most of this hike heads east.

Here’s an overview of the entire hike, from the road in

We followed the 4WD jeep road for 5 miles, gaining 2600’ of elevation.  What was nice was they’d groomed the road until 4 way with snowmobiles, and after that there was a solid trench to treeline.

This part of the hike was very pleasant, as I talked with the guys (the girls weren’t as fast as we were at this point).  We had a great pace, and I learned about other hikes they’d done and some of their goals.  At one point I gave everyone a sticker, which got rave reviews.  They understood the color schemes and even gave me ideas for other stickers in the future.  I asked them to let me know how they hold up. 

Once at treeline we were a group again.  We donned our snowshoes and headed southeast up the side of the mountain.  We had to trench here, but a lot of the area had solid snow.  Here’s the path we took to the ridge

Once on the ridge everyone else took off their snowshoes, but I decided to keep mine on (mainly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get them on again once I took them off).  The weather started coming in, and it looked like that 20% chance of snow was going to materialize.

I was on my own from this point on, or, at least I thought I was, as I could no longer see anyone else and I was now in the lead.  I made it to the ridge, as evidenced by this large cairn.

At the cairn I turned right and followed the ridge until it ended, which felt like forever!  It’s a totally different hike when you have no visibility.  But there was a bonus to the lack of visibility:  it took a while for the bighorn sheep to notice me.  When they did, they were off, running down the mountainside

I continued to follow the ridge as it lost some elevation (a hundred feet or so) and then started climbing again.

There were several small ‘false summits’ on this hike, but they were probably mostly due to the lack of visibility.

As I neared the summit I looked back and noticed three of the other hikers closely behind me.  They’d taken off their snowshoes back on the ridge, and my snowshoes were slowing me down.  Let me tell you, snowshoes on rock is not a good combination.  We all ended up summiting around the same time, and took a group selfie.  I couldn’t help but be jealous of everyone else:  They didn’t need balaclavas and they were all taking off their gloves.  I on the other hand, was trying to keep from crying because my fingers were hurting so bad.  Also:  we were all wearing the same gear/gloves so I blame my Raynaud’s (funny how mountaineers tend to find out what works and everyone uses the same stuff). 

It was here I learned we’d lost one of our members on the ridge (he turned back early), and that everyone else was heading towards Red Mountain.  I wished them good luck, as I’ve already summited Red Mountain and wanted to get down to where the sun was shining.  We all had a group hug/high-five session, I turned and headed back the way I’d come, with little bits of sunlight peeking through the clouds when the wind made an opening.

Here’s that dip I was talking about earlier.  The cairn is circled in red

Once at the cairn I turned left and headed back down the ridge, which was tons of fun with little visibility!

I was glad when I made it down to around 12K and was now below the clouds.  Here’s a view of the hike out

This was great because I could just follow our tracks back.  Once below the clouds the weather was actually quite nice. I could see Little Bear, Blanca, and Lindsey on the hike out.   Also, the hike out seemed to take forever!  It was only 5 miles, but it kept going, and going, and going.  Wow!  Had I really hiked in all this way this morning?

I made it back to the Ranch Office, signed out, and drove to the gate. It was super muddy at the gate, and since I now have a topper on my truck, I couldn’t just toss my gear in the back.  Oh well!  I put my boots on top of my snowshoes and was on my way.

I made it back to my truck at 2pm, making this a 14.87 mile hike with 5337’ of elevation gain in under 8 hours.

The Culebra Peak summit sticker can be bought here

Mt Belford in Winter – 14,197

RT Length: 11.15.miles

Elevation Gain: 4764’

Note, this is the third time I’ve hiked Mt Belford, so this time I’ll just be giving a quick overview with a few pictures and thoughts.  A full trip report can be found here for Mt Belford via Elkhead Pass, and here for Mt Belford and Mt Oxford in winter conditions.

Also note:  whining ahead. 

The last 3 miles to the Missouri Gulch trailhead were terrible!  So bad I asked SkydiverHiker to drive.  We were sliding in the ruts and eventually found a turnout about .7 miles from the trailhead and stopped there.  This ended up being a fabulous idea, since the trailhead was too covered in snow to park.  It looked like someone had tried and it took them quite a while to get out.  This is the road to where we parked (easy until the plowing stopped)

Parking further away changed our plans a little, as it added an hour onto our trip.  We decided we’d probably just hike Mt Belford today, and leave Oxford for another day.  We were on the trail at 5:15am.  Here’s a look at the Missouri Gulch Trailhead Parking area

We crossed clear creek and started ascending the side of the mountain wearing microspikes.  We saw some elk tracks here, but luckily, no mountain lion tracks this time.

Once in the avalanche area the trench stopped.  We crossed the drainage on some sketchy, snow covered logs

Then stopped for a bit to put on our snowshoes.  These pictures were taken later in the day on our way back down, so you can see the trench.  We put that trench in!  I’ve done this hike several times, so I knew to aim for the trees, heading south

Once in the trees the trench picked up again until the cabin

Once past the cabin the trench stopped again.  The wind in the gulch is fierce and I’m sure blows away trenches nightly that are made during the day.  No worries though, we just headed through the gulch (still wearing our snowshoes) towards Mt Belford’s Northwest Ridge

As we were trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid the willows, I heard ptarmigans chirping, but couldn’t see them. Then, all of the sudden, a ptarmigan busted out from under the snow and walked away.  It was here I learned ptarmigans huddle near the willows and stay in their air pockets when it snows to stay warm.  They can do this for days, as their food source is under the snow as well.  It was so cool to hear them calling to each other throughout the day!

We continued through the basin, only taking our snowshoes off once we reached the ridge.  From here we followed the ridge to the summit.

I’m making this sound MUCH easier than it was.  This is probably one of my most difficult winter summits to date.  With my Raynaud’s I need to keep moving to stay warm, and while SkydiverHiker was doing an excellent job keeping up, we still stopped more than my body would have liked.  In fact, about halfway up the ridge I was seriously thinking about turning back:  my fingers and toes were burning and the wind was more intense than predicted.  With windchill it was at least -20 degrees.  We discussed turning back, and decided to continue on (Skydiver Hiker needed a ‘win’ today, and I wouldn’t let him go on without me).  SkydiverHiker dropped his and we continued on up the ridge.  I continued with my pack because I had an ice axe and essential gear.  This continuing on included a lot of intense feelings and emotions, and there was some crying involved and also some nausea.  Have you ever hurt so much you felt nauseous?  Both SkydiverHiker and I felt that way today.  But at least the pain told me I hadn’t lost anything to frostbite.  While mountaineering is certainly physical, it’s emotional and a mind game you play with yourself as well.  I felt as if I were dying every step of the way, not because I was tired, but because I felt my fingers and toes were on fire.  I was dry sobbing at times.

We trudged to the top, where my camera stopped working (I really need to find a better cold-weather camera) so the photos we have are SkydiverHikers from his phone.  About 20 yards from the summit SkydiverHiker laid down and didn’t want to get up.  I didn’t know this, but his back had been really, really hurting him.  This laying down right now was (of course) unacceptable, so I made him get up and lead the way to the summit.

We didn’t stay long, just long enough to get a photo of the summit marker, and then we were on our way back down.

Let me pause here to show you the great views of Missouri Mountain

The screaming and crying continued until we made it to where we were hiking in sunlight, near the base of the ridge.  It’s amazing how the warmth of the sun made me feel better, even when it was still well below freezing. Once at the base of the ridge we donned our snowshoes once again and headed back out of the gulch, following our morning trail.  

As we warmed up our spirits lifted and we were once again thrilled to be out here hiking.  This is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado to hike, and we had it all to ourselves.  Well, it was us and the chirping ptarmigans.  We hiked back past the cabin and through the avalanche area, took off our snowshoes, and continued back to the trailhead in better spirits.  Yes, this is a mental game.   

We made it back to the truck at 1:15pm, making this an 11.15 mile hike with 4764’ of elevation gain in 8 hours.

Summit Sticker can be bought here

Tincup Peak – 13,345′


RT Length: 14.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 3590′

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!

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