Staying Safe Solo

For those of you who couldn’t be there last night, here’s the live stream. It’s my first time talking on this topic so I was a little rusty.

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Mt Sherman – 14,036, in Winter

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RT Length: 8 miles

Elevation Gain: 3070’

Out of the 12 peaks on my short list to hike today Mt Sherman had the best weather, coming in at 12* with 15-20mph winds, and 30mph gusts. This was by far the best weather for wind gusts (most other peaks forecasted 50+mph winds) so it was a no brainer as to which peak to pick.  Unfortunately (as you’ll read later) I made this decision at 9pm the night before and didn’t do much (ok, any) research on hiking Mt Sherman in winter because I’d seen some FB posts there was minimal avy danger that was easily avoidable and read the trailhead was clear.  And hey, I’ve done this peak before and I knew what I was getting into.  Right?

I was more nervous on the drive in to this trailhead than I’ve ever been. The last conditions report hinted it wouldn’t be difficult to make it to the Leavick site, and possibly further in a 4WD.  However, about 4 miles before the Leavick site the normally 2WD road became a sketchy, drift and rut filled one way snow fest.  This was a ‘both hands on the wheel’ kind of experience that required skill to stay in the lane and not drift into the deep snow on either side of the vehicle.  I didn’t feel stellar about continuing on, but there was no place to turn around and in the dark I couldn’t see to back up so I just kept driving onward, bolstered by the fact others had obviously succeeded on this road yesterday.

I made it to the Leavick site at 5am in one piece (woohoo!) but there was no safe place to park my truck without it getting stuck in a snowbank. The wind had drifted snow all over the area, so I set about using my trucks tires as snowplows and drove it back and forth, up and down, flattening out an area big enough to park.  This took a lot more time than anticipated as the snow was soft and kept sinking and squishing up on the sides as I drove over it.  I had no idea how deep the snow actually was and the more I drove over it the more it pushed up the snow around it to make new walls.  I got out my snow shovel and started scooping up some of the bigger areas of snow to make more room.  Just as I was doing this another truck arrived and I let out a sigh of relief:  The more vehicles to drive up the road and stomp down the snow the better! It looked like he was going to continue on, but then suddenly he backed up…. right into a drift.  Ouch.  I lent him my shovel and went back to work trying to make a suitable parking area.  Once I felt I’d made enough room for my truck to safely park and about 2 others I went over to help the man with the stuck truck.  We tried shoveling away all the snow, putting dirt and then rocks under the tires, and him gunning it while I pushed.  No dice.  That vehicle was stuck.

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I was now an hour behind schedule and that truck wasn’t going anywhere. The man told me he had a few friends meeting him soon so I offered him the further use of my shovel and began my hike at 6am.

The Leavick area is 2.5 miles below the trailhead, but an easy hike on a 2WD dirt road (well, 2WD in the summertime). I put my snowshoes on in the truck and was grateful for them as I made my way up the road.  It was windy but I’d anticipated the wind and was grateful for my balaclava, mittens, and hat.

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At this point I started seeing footprints and even though I knew the road curved around to the left I decided to follow the footprints that led in the general direction of the basin, knowing they’d all connect when I made it further up. I made it to about here and stopped

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The snow just didn’t feel right. I knew if I continued on I’d make it to the basin, but it felt like I was walking on a thin crust of ice with spongy layers below.  It didn’t feel or sound right and the slope was getting steeper.  I decided to just backtrack to the road.  (Later I learned this was indeed the winter route, and others made it up said route that day, so I was most likely being over cautious, but no regrets).

I made it back to the road fairly quickly. There was plenty of snow blocking the gate

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The sun started to rise just as I walked up to the Dauntless Mine area. I silently wished I’d started just a bit earlier so I could fully enjoy the alpenglow.

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The wind was still present. Every once in a while a gust would hit me full force and I had to turn around and put my back to the wind, but this meant I was facing the sun

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I was now in the basin. I looked at the summer route (or what I could see of it at the time) and got a little nervous:  that was more snow than I’d anticipated and no ‘quick, easy way around’.

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There are several routes (trails/roads?) around the hilltop mine. They were all covered in various degrees of snow, and some were too steep for my liking.

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Here’s the route I took:

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OK, so now I was in the basin and it was obvious the standard route was a no-go due to avy and cornice danger

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I looked at the mountain and decided I had some options. I saw what looked like a viable path up the face and through a gully, and another that went off to the right, up a ramp, and then left to the summit.  I knew from previous experience the ramp was a way down from White Ridge, and I was considering doing that peak as well today, so I decided to go up the gully (solid) and down the ramp (dotted).

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By now the wind had died down and I was starting to get warm. This was fantastic!  The gully had snow, but now very much.  It was just enough to provide the necessary traction on the scree (which would have been nasty without the snow).

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And boy was it steep!

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From about halfway up I had a good view of my intended route down

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The route kept getting steeper and steeper but I just kept to the areas where there was snow. Towards the end I got out my ice axe for support/stability.

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I gained the ridge and looked back on what was the standard route. Yep, it had been an excellent choice to avoid the area altogether.

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From the ridge I took a look back at the basin: yes, I could have just gone the way I’d started out, but I was where I wanted to be, so this was good too.

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I turned north as the wind picked up a bit. Obviously others had been here recently.  This didn’t look too bad

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I gained one small ridge and saw what looked like more fun than I’d remembered last time I’d summited Sherman. Woot!

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This was easy to cross, and as I was making my way I looked over to Gemini (another peak I was considering after Sherman)and debating if I should summit White Ridge or Gemini first?

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Sherman has a very long ridge to the actual summit. Here’s more proof

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I stopped for a second and looked over at White Ridge. It looked like it was getting some wind!

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I continued on to the summit, with the wind increasing as I went. As I stood on the summit I turned around to get out my camera and was immediately knocked over by a gust of wind.  Wow!  That hadn’t been expected!  I got to my knees and stood up again. Wham!  I was knocked down again. Ugh!  So I got out my trekking pole and used it as leverage, struggling to stand and the wind continued full force.  It wasn’t happening.  The wind was too strong!  Ok I thought, I’ll just wait this gust out.  But it didn’t stop.  It became a sustained wind that didn’t seem like it was giving up anytime soon.  There was no way this was the forecasted 30mph gusts.  I’m not sure the speed, but it had to be pretty significant if I couldn’t stand. There was no way I was going to attempt Gemini or White Ridge in these conditions.  It looked like I was heading back the way I’d come.

I couldn’t stand so I got out my ice axe and crawled back towards the ridge. This was a good and bad idea:  I was making progress towards the ridge, but holding the ice axe was brutal on my hand.  Note to self:  bring something to wrap around my ice axe to work as a barrier for warmth between my glove and the axe, as gloves (mittens) don’t cut it.  I noticed I couldn’t feel my fingers.  This happens to me a lot, but this was the worse it’s ever been, and I got scared.  Really scared.  I was breathing fast and my breath froze my balaclava stiff.  This meant I was now having a hard time breathing in and out of it due to the barrier.  Wind chill is no joke.

I had to get out of this, and fast. I kept crawling down the ridge, hoping the wind would let up.  It didn’t.  Me being me, all I could think about was not getting a picture on the summit.  I told myself there was no way I’d have been able to because the wind would have blown my camera away, but I still wanted one.  I made my way to a rocky area that provided some shelter from the wind and took a selfie (kind of).  I wasn’t on the summit at this time, but I was close, and it was the best I was going to get.

25 Mt Sherman

The camera wouldn’t focus due to the wind, and I thought it weird there was so much blowing snow on White Ridge but none on Sherman. The wind was insane but it wasn’t blowing any snow.  I actually would have preferred blowing snow in a way because then I could have seen the wind coming towards me and anticipated the blast.

I put my camera away and while the wind was still brutal I was able to stand up. My fingers were seriously bothering me.  I’d been trying to pump them back and forth but I wasn’t sure if it was working because I couldn’t feel them, and there was no way I was taking off my glove to check them out.  Just before making it to the end of the ridge my fingers started burning intensely, as if I were touching a hot stove and not pulling my fingers away from the heat.  The pain was extreme but I was relieved because this meant the blood was starting to flow through them and it also told me I hadn’t done any permanent damage.

I trudged back to the gully and started my way back down, pulsing my fingers the entire way. The initial descent from the ridge through the gully is very steep. I faced the mountain and used my ice axe.  About 50 feet from the ridge the wind finally stopped and never started again.  By now the sun had warmed up the snow in the gully, making it not quite slushy but still slippery.

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Once I’d made it back to the basin I headed towards the hilltop mine.

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And then followed my snowshoe tracks back down the mountain

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By now my hands were sweating in my gloves, but I still didn’t want to take them off: the tips of my fingers hurt in a way they never had before and I wanted to keep them covered for as long as possible.  I kept pulsing them and thinking to myself: now I know where my limit is.  I can do cold to a certain point, but I cannot do wind chill.  When I got home I looked it up, and if it were 10* on the summit (the forecast high had been 12*), after 40mph the wind chill stays constant at -39* up to 60mph winds. I learned today that’s too much for my body.  From now on I cannot go hiking above treeline if the winds are forecasted over 25mph.  I just can’t, and I need to hold myself to that.  Also, I’m pretty sure the forecast had been wrong in this case, and if I’m honest I kind of knew this going in since Sherman’s forecast was so much better than every other mountain in the area.  It had been too good to be true, and if it seems too good to be, it probably is.

Back to the trip report. The Dauntless Mine takes on a whole new quality with snow

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I followed the road back to my truck, meeting a few hikers along the way. At one point it looked like someone had tried to drive further up the road past Leavick and had second thoughts.  Instead of turning around it looked like they’d backed up down the road.

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As I was walking the 2WD road back I was so warm I took off my balaclava and gloves about half a mile from my truck. My hands were swollen and sweaty and red and sore, but no blisters!  It was warm and there wasn’t any wind so I kept my gloves off to let my hands dry out.  I made it back to my truck at 10:15am, making this an 8 mile hike in just over 4 hours.

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When I made it back the white truck was still stuck and there was one other vehicle in the area.

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They’re still building a structure at the Leavick site. I’ve been told it’s a home but that sounds questionable to me.  And creepy:  the old structure creaks and groans with the wind continuously at night.

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OK, let’s talk about the drive out. I wasn’t looking forward to driving those first 4 miles, but I was looking forward to them being over.  After about a mile I came across a Jeep heading up the trail.  Ugh!  One of us was going to have to back up, but then the driver did something I hadn’t expected:   He did what I’d done this morning to make a parking space, and drove up and down and up and down about a dozen times to make a spot for him to park and me to drive around.  I slid around him with less than an inch to spare (and I mean this in more ways than one as despite being on my A-game I wasn’t 100% in control of the vehicle the whole time).  I took a deep breath.  That had been very, very close.  I couldn’t believe I hadn’t hit him or gotten stuck on the side trying to pass, and I wasn’t entirely sure he could make it out of his ‘parking spot’.

Almost immediately after passing the Jeep I saw another vehicle coming towards me and thought “Oh no! Not again!”  But this guy did something unexpected as well:  He started backing up, quite efficiently, and didn’t stop for 2 miles!  Even though I’d had the right of way he’d done the backing up. I was so grateful (and told him so when I was finally able to pass him).  Once again, THANK YOU!  You kept us both from potentially getting stuck.  As a side note, whenever possible I used my truck to make the ruts in the road wider because it can do that kind of thing.  Have I mentioned I love my truck?

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Ok, let’s talk damage to my hands (and feet). I had indeed pushed them to their limit, but they aren’t permanently damaged.  The tips of my fingers feel very raw, similar to how the little red sores you get on your feet feel after being in the pool for too long and rubbing your toes along the side.  The tops are all red, and there are small blisters and lines under the tops of my fingernails (kind of like when you bend your nail backwards below the nail plate.  Last night it felt like I had blisters all over the tips of my fingers (but no actual blisters present).  My left pinky toe once again took the brunt of the hike:  It’s swollen to twice its size, a fun purple/black color in the middle (not frostbite, but pretty bad chilblains, which are a consequence of Raynaud’s meeting cold) and very, very tender to the touch.   I couldn’t get a shoe on today.  Here’s a positive note:  I teach wilderness first aid and we use aloe to treat frostnip (NOT frostbite).  Since my chilblains have similar symptoms I put aloe on them, and it instantly felt the same relief as if I were cooling a sunburn.  Woot!  What’s even better is it’s not medicine so I can apply it as often as I’d like!

Democrat – 14,148, Cameron – 14,238, Lincoln – 14,286, Bross – 14,172, South Bross – 14,020

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RT Length: 16 miles

Elevation Gain: 4987’

OK, I know this looks like an excuse to say I’ve hit my goal of summiting 5 winter 14ers for the year by just doing them all at once, but I’m only counting this as 1 winter 14er hike (putting me at 3 for this season… 2 more to go!).

Luckily the Kite Lake Trailhead is only 2 hours from my house so I made it there by 4:30am. Well, almost there. From turning west on Buckskin I was able to drive 2.5 miles on a bare dirt road and got my hopes up I’d be able to drive to the winter closure. No such luck. Almost immediately at 2.5 miles I ran into snow and stopped. Quite suddenly in fact.

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It looked like someone had attempted to drive further and decided to back up, so I parked my truck and took a look. I was fairly certain I’d be able to drive my truck through what I could immediately see, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to drive back out after the sun warmed up the snow later in the day. I decided to play it safe and stay parked near the Paris Mill site. This ended up being a fantastic idea.

I put on my snowshoes and other gear and was on the trail by 4:45am. The dirt road in ranged from bare dirt to covered in 3-4 feet of snow. Yes, tt had been a good idea to park where I had. The jury was still out on whether or not wearing my snowshoes had been a good idea (necessary in some places, and not in a lot). I could tell no one had been on this particular trail for a few days (probably since the weekend).

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The first mile and a half to the gate went by quickly

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It was still dark, and here the wind picked up. It felt like I was in a wind tunnel, and the drifts on the road got deeper. I wasn’t able to see the road most of the way but I knew where Kite Lake was so I just headed in that general direction. It was still dark when I made it to Kite Lake.

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From here there was no visible trail: everything was covered in snow and the wind had swept any trace of tracks away long ago. I stayed to the right and came upon a sign. Woot! Last time I was here it was summer, but I remembered there were signs indicating where the trail was. I snowshoed over to the sign hoping to see it read “trail”. Nope, it just said “no camping”. Well, at least this meant I was on some sort of trail and not on the lake. I pointed my flashlight in the general direction I was supposed to go and saw another sign. Maybe this one would say ‘trail’? Nope, ‘no camping’ again. Then I saw another sign (this one ended up saying ‘trail’).   You can probably guess what I did from here: I just went from sign to sign until I was out of the basin (by the collapsed mine). Unfortunately most of the signs I encountered said ‘Trail Closed for Restoration’, but this was encouraging because I knew I was going in the correct general direction (and I wasn’t worried I was damaging the trail because I was on top of several feet of snow). Some of the time the signs actually said ‘trail’. Here’s the route I took:

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Remember however, it was still dark, so here’s what I was looking at as I was hiking

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I made it past the mine and the route started getting very steep. Yes, snowshoes had been a good idea. I got really excited when I ran across a cairn (I haven’t seen one of those in ages!)

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Here’s looking back at the slope from my way down later in the day

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Now all I had to do was hike up the slope to the Democrat/Cameron Saddle

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Luckily from here most of the mountain was windblown. I only ran into one or two tricky spots covered in snow. Here’s the view from above the saddle looking left at the hike up Mt Democrat. I just stuck to the ridge.

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Yes, there’s a false summit on this one. Here’s the last bit of the trek to the summit

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There was more snow than anticipated on this summit

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Here’s my summit photo

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I turned and looked back at the ridge and the route up Cameron

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Here’s the route I took

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From the saddle it looks steeper. The actual trail goes left and right, but I was able to just stay on the ridge (and snow)

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For the final push to the summit you can clearly see the trail to the left outlined in snow.

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When I gained this ridge it was like I was transported to the moon: The snow was gone and there were small rocks everywhere

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I took a quick summit photo

22 Cameron

And looked over towards Lincoln

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I was debating taking off my snowshoes for the rest of the hike. It looked like everything on this side of the mountain was pretty much windswept, so I took them off, walked about 20 yards, and looked down to this:

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I should have kept the snowshoes on just for this last little bit, but I found a way around the stuff causing me to posthole. The path up Lincoln is obvious. About halfway up to the summit I ended up putting on my snowshoes again because the snow was deeper than it looked from Cameron.

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This one had a bit of a false summit as well

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Summiting Lincoln was much easier than I remembered it from last time: Maybe it was the snow? Or maybe it was because the wind this time was nonexistent. In any event, I summited

27 Lincoln

There were two summit markers on this peak

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So far my day had been pretty easy. I looked across at the route past Cameron and over to Bross, debating if I needed my snowshoes or not. There was only one area that gave me pause

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I made it to the Lincoln/Cameron saddle, rook off my snowshoes, and hiked south. When I got to the slab of snow I put on my snowshoes and carefully began crossing the snow. This is much steeper than it looks, but with crampons on my snowshoes I felt secure

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Here’s a look at the rest of the route up Bross

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I didn’t think I’d be needing my snowshoes anymore so I took them off once again. I’m not a fan of taking them off and putting them back on again, but I’m even less of a fan of holding them (they’re too big to fit into my pack, and don’t fit nicely on the sides either). Also, it felt really warm. I’m not sure if it actually was warm outside or if it was due to the lack of wind, but I was actually starting to sweat. My hands were almost too warm in my gloves. I could get used to this!

It was a very quiet day. I hadn’t seen anyone else and the wind was silent, so imagine my surprise when I rounded the corner and saw this

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Hm. Someone else must be up here today. I wonder why I hadn’t heard them drive up? No matter, now I as on the lookout for people. Until I got closer and realized the vehicle had been abandoned. It looked like someone had tried to fix a flat and gave up.

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What was even more curious was they left the windows open and keys in the ignition.

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I’m not sure how long the truck has been here, but with the roads the way they are it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

I turned around to look at the way I’d come and decided I didn’t want to traverse that snow slab later in the day: on my way back I was just going to trudge straight up the hill to the summit of Cameron.

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Since this is a mining area there are multiple roads to the summit of Bross. I just kept aiming towards the top and followed one after the other.

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This felt like an easy summit

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Here’s a look back at the route from the summit of Bross

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The summit of Bross was very similar to the summit of Cameron: barren except for rocks. It was also very large and flat

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The last time I’d taken this hike I hadn’t known there was a “South Bross” and today I intended to make my way over there. There isn’t much of a trail, but the route’s obvious

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I was losing elevation, and it wasn’t lost on me I’d need to regain about 150 feet in elevation on my way back (just for Bross, with more for Cameron) but the short .6 of a mile trek was worth it.

42 South Bross

Here’s a look back on the entire route

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I turned around and headed back to Bross. From the summit of Bross I pondered my options. I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to make this a loop and head down the west side of Bross or re-summit Cameron and head back the way I’d come. The only reason hiking down Bross sounded like an ok choice was because it was shorter. However, I’ve experienced that screet before and it wasn’t something I ever wanted to experience again, either hiking up or down. Cameron had its drawbacks too: it meant an extra 300 feet of elevation gain in a short distance, and it added a couple of miles onto the trip. However, it also meant I’d get photos of the way I’d come. That was it, I was re-summiting Cameron, and not by way of the Cameron-Lincoln saddle. I was just hiking straight up the slope.

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Yes, there was some snow, and it was steep, but very navigable

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Here’s a look back at Bross and South Bross

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Once I made it to the summit of Cameron (again) I had a great view of Democrat

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Here’s a look at the route back. You can see Kite Lake is completely covered in ice and snow. Once again, the sections of snow below the Democrat/Cameron saddle were steep.

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Here’s the route from Kite Lake

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The 3 miles back to my truck from Kite Lake took a while, but I wasn’t bothered: I had all the time I needed today, and it was such a lovely day I didn’t mind the hike. Another plus was the lack of people. It was obvious I’d been the only one on this trail today. In the light of the afternoon sun I was once again glad I’d decided not to drive my truck any further on this road: it would have gotten stuck. In fact, just as I could see my parked truck I heard a noise and saw a truck smaller than mine come plowing down the road. I tried to wave my arms at them to indicate they shouldn’t drive further but it was no use. They continued on and got stuck.

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They weren’t too happy about the situation either, and rudely refused my help when offered as if it were my fault they’d gotten stuck. I made it back to my truck at about 3 pm, making this a 16 mile hike in just over 10 hours.

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Just for fun, here’s my Relive of the hike: https://www.relive.cc/view/2117888145

Shameless plug for my daughter’s cookie site: If you just donate cookies to the military the shipping’s free. Otherwise it’s excessive. The link will be active until March 10: https://DigitalCookie.GirlScouts.org/scout/emily349826

La Plata – 14,366 (Northwest Ridge – Winter Route)

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RT Length: 9 miles

Elevation Gain: 4524’

I have a goal of completing 5 winter 14ers this season, but that’s going to be more difficult to accomplish than it sounds. The weather hasn’t been cooperating on my hiking days, so I’ve been highpointing and sticking close to home the past couple of weeks (Manitou Incline over and over again & summiting the 9K mountains behind).  I’ve only done one other winter 14er (Quandary) and my time is about to get seriously limited.  This happened on Friday:

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I volunteer as a cookie cupboard from mid-January through mid-March. This means Girl Scout Troop leaders come to my house to get cookies for their girls to sell.  I have 2 semi trucks full of cookies delivered to my house twice a week, and those cookies are all gone by the next delivery date.  (Think 20,000 cases of cookies, twice a week, in my living room, that have to be unloaded, sorted, and then loaded again when Troops come to pick them up).  It’s intense, insane, and a full time job on top of my already full time job:  I love it!  Oh, and my house smells amazing right now!  The only downside is it seriously limits the time I can allot to hiking.  I had to give up my Friday hike for a delivery but the weather looked good for Sunday so I just switched days.  I’m hoping to get in one more hike before sales start on February 3 (crossing my fingers).

OK, back to business. I arrived at the trailhead at 5:30am, a little later than expected.  The drive in on Colorado 82 was a bit icy but manageable with no one else on the road.

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La Plata Trailhead was full when I arrived. I’m pretty sure I got the last spot.  It looked like several groups had slept at the trailhead overnight and were just now getting ready to hike (brave, brave souls to sleep at a trailhead in this 10* weather).

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I was on the trail by 5:45am. The trail follows FSR 391 over a bridge and to the left.  The bridge was covered in at least 2 feet of snow, making the railings irrelevant.

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I passed an abandoned utility truck along the way and thought “that’s unfortunate”. I’m not sure if it was left here on purpose but it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  I’m fairly certain several rodents and small animals have taken up residence under the vehicle.

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I continued on until I came to the trailhead on the left.

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If you see these signs, you’ve gone too far

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It was still dark, but knowing exactly where the trailhead was made finding it so much easier this time. The last time I took this route I’d missed the trailhead and ended up hiking at least a mile in the wrong direction.   The trailhead was also easier to find now because of the fabulous trench already in place.  This trench went from the parking lot just about to the summit, and made route-finding very, very easy.

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I crossed another snow-filled bridge

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And shortly thereafter a snow covered log bridge. I remember this was very difficult to find in the early summer when it was overgrown and filled with new leaves.  No problem this time!

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From here I never saw the log/stone steps as they were most likely covered in snow. I followed a trench that went straight up the ridge.  About halfway up the slope I smelled smoke and got a bit nervous (forest fire?) until I ran into two hikers taking a smoke break (no comment).  The sun started to rise just as I was exiting the trees, but I wasn’t yet high enough on the mountain to enjoy the alpenglow.

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The trench up this part of the hillside was a bit sketchy at times because it was on a steep portion of the mountain, but it did lead me here

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From here I had to gain the ridge. I hadn’t expected a gully?  This wasn’t too terribly difficult, but it had been unanticipated.  Here’s the route up

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The gully was much steeper than these pictures make it look. Here there was no trench, but instead a mixture of scree, snow, and unstable rocks that didn’t provide much traction.  Wearing my snowshoes helped.

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Here’s a look back down from the top

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And my view as the sun continued to rise

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The sun never fully rose today, as it stayed behind La Plata and the ridge for hours after sunrise and then hid behind clouds. From the top of the gully the ridge was just beginning.  Here’s the first obstacle

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And from there the rest of the ridge

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Here’s the route

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This ridge is much longer than it looks, with a few ups and downs along the way. Besides the trench there wasn’t a visible trail, but luckily it is very straightforward and all you need to do is follow the top of the ridge.

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I came upon some spots where my ice axe and the crampons on my snowshoes were helpful (side note, the straps my snowshoes are still a major pain).

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At about this point the wind started picking up. I wasn’t physically tired but I was having trouble breathing.  Because my balaclava was covering my mouth I wasn’t getting a full breath of air, making each breath only half as effective as it normally would have been.

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I kept trudging on, knowing I wasn’t in a hurry today so I could take as much time as I wanted. When I reached this cairn I turned left and wondered if the hill to the right had any significance?

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From this point the wind really kicked into high gear. I was having difficulty standing up at times but wasn’t worried about falling (there was no real danger of falling anywhere that would send me very far)

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I headed up this small rocky stretch

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And came to a flat(ish) summit area

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I’m not sure what time I summited because I’m doing this new winter hiking thing where I don’t take out my phone unless it’s an emergency, but it was most likely between 9-10am.

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I’d thought about summiting East La Plata today but once I got a good view of the way there and considered the current wind conditions I thought twice about my intended second summit. It’ll have to wait for another time.

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The views from the summit of La Plata were breathtaking

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Because of the wind I didn’t stay too long at the summit. It also looked like snow was coming in:  Not on La Plata, but the surrounding mountains.  Here’s a view from the summit of the ridge

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OK, time to head back

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Just for fun I decided to climb the little hill before heading back down the ridge

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Here’s a look at the summit of La Plata from that hill

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Here’s a better look at the ridge and my way back

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The sun never quite made it out all the way: it kept hiding behind thin clouds.  It was about here I caught up with the two hikers (now a party of 4) I’d seen taking a break on my way up.  They only had on microspikes but seemed to be doing just fine (my snowshoes were most likely overkill on the ridge).  A little bit further down I saw where they’d stashed their snowshoes.

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As I kept descending I started running into more hikers. I thought this was a cool pic of a young man starting his trek up to the summit

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The rest of the way back was fairly straightforward. The ridge had a great trench by this point and I could tell where those who’d ditched their snowshoes or hadn’t worn them had post-holed up to their waist on several occasions. The short descent down the gully made me wish I’d brought a helmet, as now bowling ball sized rocks were set loose both above and below me as I made my way down.  I breathed a sigh of relief when that was over and I followed the trench back to my truck.

Once I made it to treeline the sun stayed behind the clouds and I could tell it was snowing on nearby peaks. Despite the summit wind it had been a very nice and quiet hike.  I didn’t see any animals or very many animal tracks in the snow. I made it back down to my truck at 1pm, making this a 9 mile hike in just over 7 hours.  Oh, and total bonus for today:  My hands didn’t freeze!  They didn’t even get cold.  In fact, they were sweating in my mittens when I made it back to my truck.  Two of my toes were blue, but nevertheless I’m considering today a huge success in the ‘cold’ department!

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2 winter 14ers down for the year, 3 to go!

Just because they’re fun… here’s my Relive (I thought it was interesting this says my elevation was at 14,338 when La Plata’s elevation is 14,336): https://www.relive.cc/view/2107811469

The views from winter 14ers never disappoint

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Manitou Incline x 2 & Mt Manitou 9460

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RT Length: 11.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 4865’

The weather was absolutely perfect today for a hike, but the avalanche danger was high above treeline so I decided to play it safe and stay local. I set my alarm for 3am, decided when it went off that was way too early considering I didn’t need to drive far, and set it again for 4:20am.  The cats woke me up around 6am, wondering why I was still asleep.  I jumped out of bed, silently cursed my alarm for not going off a second time, realized it was user error on my part, and decided to head out hiking anyway as the sun wasn’t yet up.

There was a man attending the incline parking lot when I got there. He informed me today was the last day they were allowing parking at this lot, as they were going to use the lot as a storage area for equipment needed to fix the cog railway.  This was interesting information, and means I’ll have to either park at the shuttle lot (gasp!) or find other parking downtown if I want to hike the incline for the next two years. I made it to the trailhead at 6:40am and was on the trail by 6:50am.

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I usually hike for time when I hike the incline, but today I’d planned on just taking it slow and steady as I planned to hike it more than once. The steps were either completely dry or completely covered in snow/ice.  I was glad I’d brought my microspikes.

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Just before 7am the sun started to rise. There were clouds in the sky so I never got a true view of the sunrise, but it was still beautiful

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There weren’t many people on the trail this early in the morning (there’d only been one other vehicle in the lot) so the trail was nice and quiet. I only saw about 5 or 6 people on my way up.  I summited the incline around 7:30am.

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The 2.5 miles down the Barr trail was icy most of the way to the parking lot. Once again I was glad I’d brought microspikes.

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OK, time to start this again. Once again I continued up the stairs, slow and steady.  It was warmer now but microspikes were still needed.  There were also many more people on the trail.  I felt overloaded in my knit hat, snow jacket, and with my pack full of gear while everyone else was in shorts and only carrying a water bottle, but I didn’t intend to stop at the top this time.  I summited the second time at 9:30am

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I’d had enough of people (there were dozens on the trail now) and decided to try to find the summit of Mt Manitou. I had a trail map that gave me the general direction of where the mountain was, but knew there wasn’t an established trail so I’d have to get creative to find the summit. I also couldn’t find any trip reports online, so I didn’t have more than my topo map to go by. I headed up the dirt road behind the incline towards the Barr Trail.  Here I found a trail that paralleled the 4WD road and decided to take it instead

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It led me to a cave

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And then brought me back to the Barr Trail where it intersects with the experimental forest.

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I’ve hiked in this general area dozens of times and I’ve seen the sign for the experimental forest every time, yet I’ve never taken that route. Today was my day!  I knew this trail would get me close to Mt Manitou, so I followed it and quickly came to the old experimental forest area.

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I continued to follow the dirt road covered in snow up and around past the experimental forest. When I was sure I was close I got out my phone and pulled up my Peakbagger app. It showed Mt Manitou as being NWN from where I was, so I aimed my compass in that direction and started hiking off trail.  This is where I really could have used snowshoes.

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I was sinking up to my shins in show but the good news was there wasn’t any wind so it would be easy to find my way back just following my tracks. I could tell I was getting close to the summit when the snow lessened.

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Still no trail, I kept hiking upwards, and soon I was at the ‘summit’. This was a treed summit with a lot of rocks.  One of them held a cairn and that was my only indication of a summit (that and it was the highest point around)

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I climbed up on the rock both to make sure I was on the highest point

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And to get a picture

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And a video:

Mt Manitou Summit:

From the summit I could also see Cameron’s Cone, Almagre, and Pikes Peak

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Ok, time to head back down. This was super easy as I just followed my earlier tracks back to the 4WD road and the 3.5 miles back down to the parking lot. This time the Barr trail was slushy and I was kicking up rooster tails of dirt onto the back of my pants.  I made it back to my truck at 12pm, making this a solid 4865’ of elevation gain 11.5 mile hike in under 6 hours.

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The relive on this one is kind of fun

Relive:

https://www.relive.cc/view/2092516509

Black Mesa – 4973’ Oklahoma Highpoint

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RT Length: 8.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 734’

Once again the weather in Colorado was terrible, but at least I had a few days’ notice to make other hiking plans. I have backup plans for when the weather isn’t swell in the high country, and today’s plan was to drive to Oklahoma to do some highpointing.

The highest point in Oklahoma is (not surprisingly) close to the Colorado border. I left the house at 2:30am and quite enjoyed my commute until I turned off the main road and onto a dirt road with 26 miles left to the drive.  Also, I completely lost cell service.  This wasn’t a big deal as I knew my GPS would get me to the trailhead, but I was worried about finding my way back to the paved road on my return.  It was quite dark and I couldn’t see any landmarks to guide me back.  There were 6 or 7 turns, and I mentally thanked myself for printing out directions and bringing them with me.   The dirt road was littered with cow patties and I could see cow eyes glowing at me in the dark.

The last bit of road took me down a one way dirt path with 2 foot tall grass growing between the tire ruts and then through a stream crossing I was sure was over a foot deep, but I made it without a hiccup.  I arrived at the trailhead at 7:30am (after crossing a time zone, so it was 6:30am to me), gathered my gear, and was on the trail.  It was still dark out.

My vehicle was the only one in the medium sized parking lot. There was a bathroom that was open and a wheelchair accessible parking space.

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The trailhead started behind a gate that ensured only foot traffic proceeded. I signed my name in the trail register and was on my way.

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It was still dark when I started and I was a bit worried about forecasted wind and the potential for rain later in the day. Route finding ended up being no problem at all.  The trail follows an old 4WD road with signs every quarter mile or so marking the way.

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So even though it was dark it would have been difficult to get lost

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At mile 1, 2, and 3 there were benches where you could potentially sit and rest, but since this was a fairly level hike I just took pictures and kept on

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After mile 3 the trail took a sharp turn towards the mesa and up what the instructions called switchbacks but the route never really switched back: instead it was a trail that circled up the hill.

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The trail up to the top of the mesa was washed out but it was still easy to follow.

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In no time at all I’d reached the top of the hill

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From here there was another mile or so to trek, but it was across the flat mesa

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Once again, the path was clear and easy to follow. I made it to the summit at 8am after 1.5 hours of hiking.

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The summit was… flat. It didn’t feel like a summit at all.  I was surprised to find a summit register and elevation marker.

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Summit 1 :

Summit 2:

The obelisk at the summit was rather detailed and contained information on how far the different states were away from this point as well as a few other state facts

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Ok, now it was time to head back down. I enjoyed the views on the mesa

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Here’s the route back to the trailhead

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I made it back to the trailhead at 9:15am, making this an 8.6 mile hike in 2 hours 45 min. Back at the trailhead I saw a bench I’d missed in the dark, dedicated to an avid highpointer

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This hike was very easy. There was minimal elevation gain, and you could probably push a stroller on this hike and get it to the summit without too much difficulty. I didn’t see another person all day, but I did see dozens of cows.

Cows:

Oh, and in the light of day there weren’t any landmarks to guide me on the dirt road back home either. Once again, I was very glad I’d pre printed out directions to assist me on the way back.

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I made it back to the paved highway without making a wrong turn, and just in the nick of time too because it started raining violently. The weather back home was much worse, as the snow anticipated for 4pm came roaring in with a vengeance around 10am and closed the freeway north of my house.  I’d made the correct choice today to head south and go highpointing instead of into the mountains near home.

Here’s the track of my route and stats for the day

Relive:  https://www.relive.cc/view/2087219413

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