Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mt. Royal Winter (2/5/11)

Route Name: Mt. Royal trail
Start Time: 1:38pm
Duration: 3 hrs 14 mins
Distance: 2.85 mi.
Start Elevation: 9,080 ft.
High Elevation: 10,465 ft.
Elevation Gain: 1,385 ft.


Talk about a spur of the moment summit ... well Royal was it for us. As we came down from our Hoosier Pass snowshoeing expedition we knew we had the afternoon free and wanted another challenging hike to make the most of our time. The thought of Mt. Royal came up and it was an instant draw. So we made the snowy drive from Hoosier Pass on down to Frisco. We grabbed some lunch and decided to head for the big parking lot at the end of 2nd avenue that we had seen last summer. Along the way we were amazed how much snow had fallen in Frisco. As we neared the end of 2nd we found that the parking lot gets closed off for the winter, so we parked along the street and geared up.
We found that the regional bike path gets great use in the winter and it was a well-packed trail even with all the new snow. We headed past it and a great meadow of snow lay before us below Mt. Royal. We hiked towards the south end of it to some signs and found one that pointed northwest and said "Mt. Royal TH 0.2 miles". We hiked a short ways NW through the meadow to what we thought was a clear trail up the slope. So we ventured on.
We hiked along what seemed like a trail for almost 2/10 of a mile til we saw that this trail kept going in a direction that led away from Royal. At this point we started relying heavily on my Nokia GPS as I had our track from last July loaded into it. We could tell that the standard route (which we picked up from the main trailhead) from last year was some hundred feet above us. So we found some old tracks in the snow and headed upwards on the slope. We ascended 150 feet and found what looked like a clear trail again. It was still about 75 feet below last year's track but we wondered if that was just GPS error. We followed this for a 1/10 of a mile and again found it was not taking us in the right direction (up). At this point I could see that the standard route was starting to ascend rapidly and we'd quickly losing it if we kept doing what we were doing. So we spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out our options. Ascending straight up the slope from where we were at was less than desirable as it was roughly a 40 degree slope in 2-3 foot snow. We finally decided upon trying to switchback our way upwards and to the northeast to make sure we'd catch the true trail, if it was up there. This proved to be an enduring ascent trying to climb through thick snow (sliding back with every step) and hoping and praying to find a trail at some point. We did finally, and met up with last year's route perfectly.
After joining the real trail it wasn't long til we found the meadow with the mining tailings (covered with snow of course) that we could remember from last year. From this point on route-finding became a non-issue finally. Our challenge was cutting trail into the deep snow. Matt and I took turns switching off at the lead for the duration of the ascent. It was quite a physical push (especially after the morning's 3-mile hike and yesterday's 14er ascent). As we began to near Royal's summit we even had to set a turn-around time of 4pm knowing we wouldn't want to be caught in the dark for long. We gained the summit ridge at 10,417 at around 3:40pm. We did try to reach the true summit and went northeast for several hundred feet to a high point on the ridge. We took several minutes to enjoy the top and take a few shots, as well as refueling, and then headed down.
The descent of Royal was such a blast compared to the ascent. Our trail was well-packed from the three of us and we could almost literally fly down trail. No concerns of falling with 2 feet of powder to fall into, and the snowshoes provided just the right traction for quick movement. As we neared the tailings meadow we ran into another hiker with a snowboard and a dog. He was a local and explained to us how close we were on our ascent to getting it right. He invited us to follow his path on the descent and so we started in that path. His path was not on the track from last year, he left the meadow above the true path and we quickly disliked this as the postholing, even with snowshoes, was bad. We backtracked to the main trail and began to descend it as originally planned. We had plans to follow this all the way to the main trailhead and the bike path if necessary. We were fortunate to find the "proper" path to where we had ascended. At about 9375 on the slope we found an intersection with clear cut trails and we realized that when we found one of the false trails on the ascent and went left, if we had turned right for about 100 feet we would have found the trail. Well we used this knowledge to get back to our earlier ascent route and were able to descend the remainder of the slope back to the snowy meadow at the bottom. We were amazed how quickly our descent went and were back to the car by dark.


I took tracks of this hike for both our ascent route and our descent route. Since we ended up bushwhacking on the ascent this makes for an interesting comparison between the two routes. Here is a KML of the entire hike for download:

My Track


Hoosier Pass Ridge West (2/5/11)

Start Time: 9:57am
Duration: 2 hrs 4 mins
Distance: 2.74 mi.
Start Elevation: 11531 ft.
High Elevation: 12103 ft.


This was the day we were supposed to hike Humboldt Peak down in the Sangre de Cristo range. Yesterday we had hiked Mt. Sherman and had a fantastic day on it, despite the cold and the wind. Factors played against us though and after waking up at 3:30am to get ready for the drive we made the decision to bail on Humboldt. We spent the better part of an hour trying to find a good alternative to do on the snowshoes that would still provide us a challenge. At that point in the morning it was not meant to be; we went back to bed.
At 7:30am we woke up and gave the planning another shot. Finally the answer came to us: Hoosier Pass. Despite the lacking of snow around our home base near Trout Creek Pass we figured Hoosier Pass would be doing well. We also knew the snowshoeing from there would be challenging as we could climb up ridges either to the east or the west. I found a track from someone who had done the east ridge up a thousand feet and then looped home and this enticed us. Then I realized that to the west was North Star Mountain, a prominent 13er. We decided to head west to enjoy it, and if conditions worked out, perhaps even make an attempt on North Star
We made it up to Hoosier Pass just before 10am and boy we were surprised to find it snowing hard with plenty of snow already on the ground. Snowshoes need? Check. While the snow conditions were fantastic with almost a foot of new powder, the cloud deck was low and it was full making visibility to nearby peaks and beautiful vistas non-existent.
Out of the parking lot at Hoosier Pass we used the MyTopo maps on my Droid to find the old mining road heading west. Out of the parking lot it was quite evident from the clearing of the trees where to head. We were immediately impressed with the amount of snow. As the road veered south around the tip of the ridge the drifts were even deeper. The road began to wind along the south side of the ridge and in here the amounts of snow began to vary greatly. In the beginning mile or so the snow was roughly a foot or more deep. As we ascended higher, and the winds grew stronger, the outer part of the road was often wind-blown of snow while the inner portion still held a foot with a hard surface. We had several moments of near white-out as the winds blew the snow so hard into our faces. All the while we were desperately wishing the weather would clear up to give us the beautiful views we knew were about us. There was also a subtle hope in the back of my mind that if the weather improved we could make a run at North Star but this was not meant to be.
We followed the road to the "pass" at 12100 where the road essentially meets the ridge. The road would continue for another half mile or so past this until it ends at an old mine (The Magnolia Mine) on the south side of North Star. It was here we decided to turn around to get us back in time for some lunch and also to give us enough time for another hiking option. As we descended we ran into a group of 8 snowshoers who told us they were headed to the pass as well. What we didn't realize, was if you descend from the north side of the pass there is a trail that heads down to a lake and then meets another old road that traverses the north side of the ridge back to Hoosier Pass. A great trail for another day. Our descent took us back to Hoosier Pass at a total of roughly 2 hours on trail.


I have tracks of our ascent and descent routes on this hike included in a KML file.

My Track


Friday, February 4, 2011

Mt. Sherman Winter (2/4/11)

Route Name: South Slopes (snow route)
Start Elevation: 11,305 ft. (Leavick)
Summit Elevation: 14,036 ft.
Elevation Gain: 2731 ft.
Round-trip Mileage: 6.39 mi


The last time I was up Mt. Sherman was August 3, 1992. That happened to be only my second 14er hike and being so young and so new at this, it was a rough one for me. The one thing that really stuck in my head from Sherman was how windy it was. I can recall hitting the Sherman-Sheridan saddle and the wind was just awful the whole summit ridge.
Fast forward 19 years and we are looking for a great option at our 2nd attempted winter ascent. After having summited Quandary Peak last March and fallen in love with the winter hiking, we decided another attempt was in order. We found a short window here in February 2011 to make this happen (2 hiking days to be precise) and settled upon Sherman for our first. The earliest weather reports had this day pegged at a high in the 20s with mostly sunny skies. As the days grew nearer to the hike the weather began to deteriorate. Last we checked, the forecast was for highs around 10 with wind chills and a low in the -15 range. Winds would be in the 20-30mph range and a 30% chance of snow with clouds. Well, with a window such as we had, we would find a way to endure the cold, just praying for no white-out conditions.
We arrived at the trailhead right around 7am. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the road had been plowed all the way up to the Leavick mining site.

We had read that often the winter closure for the road was a mile before this. That knocked 2 miles off the hike before we even were started. We donned all our gear including snowshoes and were on our way around 7:11am. The initial hiking was fantastic as the skies were blue and the wind was almost non-existent.

Pano of Peerless, Sheridan, Sherman, White Ridge

As we hiked closer to Sherman though, the winds began to pick up. About 3/4 mile in on the road we decided to take off the snowshoes and mount them on our packs. The road was in just that good of condition that you were on rocks or hard snow almost the whole time. About a half mile later, at around 11700, the winds were really beginning to howl at us and so another stop was in order to put on goggles and balaclava. I was starting to wonder if my nose was going to fall off.

The turn-off where the South Slopes winter route comes was at 1.71 miles from Leavick by my GPS's reckoning. At this point we were an hour and a half in and about 743 feet up in elevation. It was here we put the snowshoes back on as it was clear almost all the next 2000 feet were snow covered. The turn-off is very easy to spot as the road makes a hard left here and then a quick hard right around a corner after that. From the turn-off you head almost due north and will ascend 100+ feet up a good 30% slope to gain a small ridge. The snow was hard on the slope so the traction from the snowshoes was welcomed.

At the top of this slope you will get your first look at a big bowl in front of you. It was quite snow filled and relatively steep in the middle so we decided to avoid that on the ascent. We traversed around the western side of the bowl gaining the top of it around 12400. On the top we found it to be wind-scoured with mostly rocks to be seen. It was here I made yet another snowshoe conversion and went to boots again. We hiked northeast from here angling for the small gully that is found at the base of White Ridge. It appeared from there you could take your picks as to how to approach Sherman.

We hit the gully at the base of White Ridge at about 2.2 miles in and 12500 in elevation. We ascended towards the right side of the gully trying to stick near the rocks as much as possible since we were in boots. There was some minor postholing going on at times (3-6 inches). We again paused around 12,700 to put the ole snowshoes back on as we wanted the great flotation and we were also to the point where the traction on the steeper slopes was also helpful. It was about 13000 and 2.5 miles in that we got our first good look at the point where you turn due north and make a bee-line for the summit. By our reckoning this point was at 2.68 miles in and 13200 in elevation. The hiking of the gully to that point was a work-out but still enjoyable.

After 13200 the slope begins to get much steeper. It was also at that point we had a great trail debate as to whether to ascend the rocks to our northeast to gain the saddle or basically "run the ball up the middle" and stick to the snow headed straight for the summit. Liking our snowshoes we decided "up the middle". This began nicely but at around 13450 the slope angle hit 40 degrees and didn't let up. The surface snow was also mostly soft which meant with each step we took we could lose half of it from slippage. About 100 feet into this we could spy what looked like the flatter portions of the saddle and we started veering northeast to hit these quicker.

We finally leveled out at 13,900 and were hoping to find the summit was right there. Well, I guess we were close. What was most disheartening was the winds were now at their worst (gusts around 50 we think) and the temp was awful. Bundled in our layers we still felt warm enough, but taking hands out for camera work or to change gear was awful. We also had nearing white-out conditions with the clouds and the blowing snow. Visibility was at 100-200 feet. Thankfully, as the visibility went up and down we could catch a clear sight of the summit and the snowy path leading to it. We decided to keep the snowshoes the whole way for the traction and proceeded on. From that spot it was a .13 hike up 150 feet to the northwest for the summit. The wind-blow snow formations along the way were awesome. The slope angles were moderate.

We spent all of about 5 minutes on the summit as the wind and cold were awful. Snapped a few photos, passed on the summit register for fear of frost-bitten fingers, and started to head down. We descended about 20 feet to the east side and found an area with considerably less wind. We grabbed our energy-refuels there and took a few more minutes to enjoy the "almost-top".
As we descended, starting around 13900 we started contouring to the east hoping to gain the flatter saddle sooner. We were also still contemplating a descent on the rocks. About 60 feet into this contour I decided I liked the look of the slope and just headed straight down.

I was impressed how well the snowshoes gripped and I had ice ax in hand in case of any big falls. This took us down to the saddle at 13720. Here we contoured due southwest aiming for these white poles we saw sticking up. We weren't sure if someone had placed them to mark a route, but they seemed to take us where we wanted to go. This got us down to 13470 when we started heading almost straight down again. We contoured so far southwest in the hopes of avoiding the very steep slopes we hit on the way up between 13300 and 13500. Right at 13300 we decided it was time to give glissading a try. We had a nice open slope with no dangers in the runout. I went first and was able to slide (off and on) from about 13290 to 13090. I had pretty slick pants which helped. We would learn here that the snow was a little too soft and the slope not quite steep enough for a *great* glissade, but was still fun. Denny and Matt each tried there as well but with not much luck.

For the next several hundred feet of the descent we were moving quickly down the snow and were looking for new slopes to glissade upon, but never had much luck. We could get started for a few feet but would then sink into softer snow. Right around 12400 we found a good 50 foot slope to try and had decent luck.

Our last hope was the bowl we had skipped to the west side on the way up. Running it right down the middle held promise for us. This started around 12330 and I had a great 100 foot run gaining great speed through there. Even tried out my ice ax in self arrest position on the way down. After that great run we hit our only hazard on the descent and that was massive postholing in a meadow. We had mounted our snowshoes and so we postholed 2-3 feet trying to make our way out. And next thing we knew we were back to the road. The descent was such a joy with the safe glissading attempts and the self arrest practice. We made quick work of the road back to the car and finished at 2:35pm. All totaled, the day was 7 hours, 21 minutes.


I have two tracks taken from this hike. One is of the ascent route and one of the descent route. It is rather interesting actually to compare the two as our route varied somewhat between. On the descent we tried to avoid some of the steeper sections near the top and we also had some variations in search for a good glissade slope. Here is the KML download:

My Track


If you would like to see all my photos from this hike you can click the photo below and it links to my Google Photos Album:

Popular Posts