Route: SE ridge to Loveland Mountain, traverse over to Buckskin, descent to near Kite Lake Mileage: ~4 miles Elevation gain: 3,000 ft
Since I did not want to spend the “prime” summer hiking season on anything less than Class 3, some Centennials got relegated to mid-season – i.e. October or November. The Sunday forecast looked pretty good –
"A 20 percent chance of snow before noon. Partly sunny, with a high near 40. West northwest wind 11 to 14 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph."
However, this was a day after the first big storm, which was supposed to deposit up to a foot of snow in the upper elevations.
Jason and I opted for a later start, allowing for the remnants of the storm to pass. Still, as we approached Alma and the alpenglow of the Mosquito range came into view, it became obvious that the clouds were still sitting on the summits. We chose to stop for a quick breakfast and coffee at Alma Coffee House (highly recommended) to bid more time.
Finally, around 8 am we were approaching the location of “Buckskin Creek TH” as described in the Roach 13ers book. Instead, we found a shack and a sign for “keep off private property”. Luckily, we saw a car and a tent about 0.25 miles down the road, so we returned and parked there.
Is this a TH or just a pullout? - all photos below are by Jason.
We were on the snow from step one. First, there was a straightforward creek crossing and then we followed some snow-covered tracks for a while, angling right. The bushwack was relatively easy – we were just looking for a path of least resistance and were steadily gaining elevation.
Initial bushwack through the forest
The weather was perfect – sunny and warm and the views were unfolding. We wiggled our way through the willows (with minimal bushwack) and fairly soon found ourselves on the steep talus slope near the ruins of an old cabin. Upon hearing some noise we turned around and noticed two moose running at top speed (in my prior encounters with moose they would always stay in one spot chewing on some bushes or grass, but in this case they were running). Jason tried to snap a few shots but it was really difficult with gloves on and moose running.
Cutting through the willows. The old gray shack is seen by the road down below.
First look at the basin. DeCaLiBron summits are still shrouded in clouds
From the mining cabin ruins, we picked the path of least resistance and continued to steadily gain elevation. Near 12,000 feet, winds really started to pick up. I did not fight it long before putting on a windbreaker and a facemask. We were hoping the winds would abate, but it was quite on the contrary.
Even more winds
Bross has never looked so good
After we crested the ridge at 13,000 ft, the winds really picked up. From there to the summit of Loveland Mtn (13,690 feet) we had to fight for each step. The wind sounded like a freight train and it was blowing in our faces (direction: north to south). This was a problem, since our next goal was to traverse over to Buckskin going from south to north. What I thought were strong and tiresome winds became really “interesting” as soon as we hit the summit ridge of Loveland Mountain. I dropped on the snow-covered ground below the summit bump and waited for Jason as he went to explore another summit cairn.
Summit of Loveland Mtn (13,692 ft)
Watching him being pushed around by the wind on his return was “interesting” – winds were probably reaching close to 50 mph or higher at that point. As soon as he dropped on the snow near me he vocalized my concerns: the ridge traverse of 0.8 miles to Buckskin in such windy conditions would be unthinkable. I agreed but somehow convinced Jason to give it a shot. If it stays like this, we will turn around. After putting on more layers and a quick snack, we were all bundled up and ready to brace the winds - at least for a little bit longer. Descending 50 feet from Loveland summit required every bit of our remaining determination. Every step was a struggle. Soon we spotted a snow-covered trail on the left (West) side of the ridge. Once on the trail, to our great relief, we noticed that the winds became more manageable, as likely we were spared from the worst by the ridge. While Jason stopped for a quick bathroom break (I shuddered at the thought of having any exposed skin at that point), I discovered a problem of my own – my fingers were frozen. It was not that cold, but it was so windy, that all it took was a minute descending that 50 feet from the summit. Luckily, with little wind and a sun the fingers became to thaw.
The ridge to Buckskin
Looking back at the descent from Loveland Mtn
Grass turned to "snow grass" on the ridge
Jason on the ridge en route to Buckskin. He is smart - he brought warm gloves
Another look at the ridge. It is actually not that windy at this point
On we went. The ridge was a true Class 2 and very manageable with the snow. I kept wondering if we got a temporary respite from the winds or they died down for good. It turned out to be the latter! The summit of Buckskin was devoid of clouds and had nary a gust over 20 mph as we approached it, providing for great views of the snow-capped DeCaLiBron (Bross has never looked so good), Sawatch and Sangres ranges. We were thrilled that the winds turned our way.
Jason on the summit of Buckskin
Democrat and Lincoln, still in clouds
After the short break on the summit, we dropped directly east, aiming for Kite Lake TH as our next goal. With all the fresh snow, we could not locate the trail, and did a little of bolder hopping until we saw the first small snowfield, which turned out to be perfect for the first glissade of the season. It led to another one and another one. I had probably 5 or 6 short glissades that allowed for a speedy descent to 13,000 feet when the angle mellowed.
Descending - snow fields ahead
First glissade of the season!
Below that point, as the angle mellowed out even more, we stayed on the snow-covered grass, which was very gentle on the knees. We thought we were out of the woods when Buckskin decided to throw a curve ball our way – a steep rocky gully. Here comes out the ice ax (first time in the season), although Jason managed to descend with just the poles – and quick 300 feet later we were on the flat ground.
Overview of the steep rocky gully that we descended (center)
Jason with Buckskin - Democrat ridge behind him
Almost back at the road
After that point we angled more to the right, bypassing the Kite Lake trailhead and again, after very minimal bushwacking merged with the road. I was not looking forward to a 2-mile road walk back to the car, but thought it was a necessary evil. However, Jason thought otherwise, took matters into his own hands and flagged down the first truck that was leaving the Kite Lake TH. Thank you the kind people in the red truck who gave us a ride (they hiked Democrat and also encountered brutal winds)! Fifteen minutes later we were enjoying the comfort of my car. What a great day and a great challenge! Glad to have such a strong partner for this one.
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