| Land of Generals, Miners, and the Snowshoe Itinerant.
Distance: 8.25 Miles
Time: 8 Hours
"Maybe snow just doesn't come to Colorado anymore..." - Benners
Back to back dry seasons in Colorado can bring out the dramatics in all of us, but this was the overwhelming sentiment as Ben, Brian, and I left the Woolly Mammoth lot early on Saturday morning. Just like last year, no new snow has come to our state in weeks, and the future is not any better. Ski prospects have been terrible and it has been tough to get motivated to get out to the resorts, let alone the back country. However, the one positive in all this is opportunities for some good winter climbing.
Looking for an easier and more relaxed day, we kicked around a few options before eventually settling on Sherman and it's neighboring 13ers: Dyer, Gemini, and Sheridan. This group offered a chance to do a straightforward and easy route, while still throwing in some interesting variations along the way. Originally we considered the idea of skinning in via Iowa Gulch (and potentially even skiing off of Dyer), but a few shots of bare coverage on the peak, and a report of the summer TH being open on the other side led us to take the standard option. Leaving the sticks at home, we enjoyed the early morning ride up to Fourmile Creek as Brian regaled us with tales of climbing, cat fishing, and the complete and utter ineptitude of DISH network.
No new snow, bare rock, Mt. Sherman, disappointment...lordhelmut's gaze accurately sums up the feelings of the past few seasons. (Benners)
*I ramble on a bit here (ok, a lot) about the history of the area. Fair warning if you'd like to just jump ahead to info on our climb below.
Let's face it - relatively speaking, Sherman and company are pretty boring peaks. Any group of mountains that can be climbed by no less that eight parties (some wearing little more than approach shoes...) from a TH of 12,000 feet on a winter Saturday is not exactly the zenith of the mountaineering experience. These are easy snowflakes. But as aesthetically challenged as these mountains may be, it does not mean there is not a whole lot of interesting things to know about them. After learning a bit more about the history of Mt. Silverheels on my last climb, I was pretty interested to read up on this area as well before heading out.
I love history. Always have. I cannot exactly put my finger on why, but there is just something about the past that is very appealing to me. I love hearing the old stories, learning from the past, and understanding how it shapes who we are today. I hope it remains a hobby of mine for the rest of my life. Anyways, what Sherman/Dyer and co. lack in beauty or challenge, they certainly make up for in history. Like I said, I spent some time researching the names, backgrounds, and stories of these peaks and thought I would share. Hopefully someone else finds it as interesting as I do.
As has been told many times, the whole Mosquito Range has a rich mining past. But I didn't ever fully realize just how much gold and silver was taken out of Sherman and nearby California Gulch in the late 1800s. Climbing past all of the mining ruins in Fourmile Creek and Iowa gulch, I gained a whole new perspective when I realized that: "The Sherman mine, located in upper Iowa Gulch at and above 12, 200 ft. on the west flank of Mt. Sherman, produced over 10 million ounces of silver, mostly between 1868 and 1882, with a value of over $300 million at 2010 prices." (source)Bill has more interesting info about the mining past of Sherman on this site.
Another interesting thing I learned was about the Gores and how they tie into that time period. It seems that while the Gores were formed from nearly identical geologic processes as the Mosquito range, they are not as mineralogically rich because they don't sit atop the Colorado Mineral Belt. Couple that with their relative ruggedness compared to the Mosquito, and it is no wonder why the Mosquito/Ten Mile has such a rich mining history and the Gores have essentially none - relatively unexplored and undeveloped even to the modern day. (source)
The Colorado mineral belt - an interesting map when applied to the modern mountaineering pursuits of climbers today.
As for the names of these mountains, both Sherman and Sheridan were named after Union generals from the civil war. Mt. Sherman, after William Techumseh Sherman, infamous for his "scorched earth" campaign across Georgia which played a major role in ending the war. Revered by the Union as one of its top generals, to this day he is neither forgotten nor forgiven in the South due to his actions. He coined the phrase "War is hell." Mt. Sheridan is the namesake of Union general Philip Sheridan. He served under Sherman in the war and was integral in forcing Lee's surrender at Appomatox. After the war was over, he participated in the Indian Wars of the great plains, and also helped establish Yellowstone as a national park.
However, most interesting of all is the namesake of Dyer Mountain. The peak was named after John Lewis Dyer - a Methodist minister from Minnesota and one of the 15 "Founders of Colorado." It seems what drew him to Colorado was a life-long dream to see Pikes Peak. After doing so, he established a residence near Leadville and became famous for his many, many forays and crossings of the Mosquito Range as part of his ministry. He was apparently quite the mountaineer and - unlike some of the members of our party - it seemed Father Dyer loved snowshoes. His story is worth recounting in full:
"John Lewis Dyer was a Methodist minister from Minnesota. As a young man, he fought in the Black Hawk Wars and worked as a lead miner in Wisconsin. He was "called by God" in middle age to preach, and began his career in Minnesota. Originally coming to Colorado in 1861 to see Pikes Peak, he decided to stay and preach to the settlers and miners of the region. Settling in the town of Buckskin Joe, Father Dyer established himself over the next 29 years and became a frontier legend. Carrying the word of God over the mountains, he crossed 13,000 foot Mosquito Pass several times per week in all weather conditions. He fashioned long ski-like foot covers for the long winters and called them "snowshoes." He preached against many of the favorite activities of miners - gambling, drinking, and prostitution. He married, attended the sick, and gained a reputation as a truly selfless individual. When he needed money, he carried mail to and from the mining camps on preaching trips. A rugged, sturdy man, he wasn't above giving a miner a good thrashing when he was heckled. Father Dyer has become part of Colorado legend. He is immortalized in the Colorado State Capitol building in a stained-glass likeness along with 15 other founders of Colorado. There are two mountains in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range named for him - Dyer Mountain and Father Dyer Peak." (source and source)
Father John Dyer - the The Snowshoe Itinerant. He also happens to be a full inductee in the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame.
However, as interesting as John's story is, the story of his son's death takes the cake IMHO. Apparently, Dyer's son was a judge who was murdered by vigilantes who hated one of his rulings. His tombstone in Granite Colorado reads: “Elias F Dyer. Born: Oct 8, 1836. Died: July 3, 1875. A victim of the murderous mob ruling in Lake County. I trust in God and his mercy. At 8 o'clock I sit in court. The mob have me under guard. I die for law, order and principle.”
Needless to say, learning all that before heading out certainly gave us a new appreciation for the area and added something unique to an otherwise straightforward group of mountains.
All history aside, we were shocked to find the excellent road conditions driving up Fourmile Creek. A few small drifts covering half of the road was all that stood between us and the Summer trailhead - easily passable by just about any 4WD vehicle. A mere 200 yards before the gate we were finally stymied by a thick sheet of ice across the road. But no complaints from us as a 12,000 foot start with virtually no approach is not a bad way to begin any climb. After inadvertently waking a few slumbering climbers in their parked cars (apparently Saturday was the Summit Post gathering on Sherman...) our gear was all set and we hit the road.
Starting just before dawn, we had worries about high wind forecasts and cold temps for the day. In classic NOAA fashion, the forecast was as confusing as could be, calling for highs of 25 degrees with wind gusts of 15-20 MPH, and the temps dropping down to as low as -25. Those numbers of course, make absolutely no sense when you add it up.... Suffice it to say, the wind was calm as the sun broke. We crossed our fingers hoping for a nice day.
The ghosts of the past welcome us to Sherman.
Rolling into the upper basin, we saw just how dry and straightforward this day was going to be. We had musings of taking of the south slopes snow route, but upon seeing the lack of coverage, it just seemed easier to follow the standard route up to the saddle. We did so with relative ease on what was turning out to be a very nice day.
Hilltop Mine from afar.
Reaching the mine - time for a breather and breakfast!
Sitting beneath the old ruins, my thoughts were once again drawn to the past. What an amazing feat to haul that much raw material all the way up to nearly 13,000 feet. We come and go from these areas in a matter of a day; I can only imagine what it must have been like to live up here for weeks on end toying inside the mountain. Plenty here to ponder and think about...
Moving along on the route, we chose our line up to the ridge. The cornice on the Sherman-Sheridan saddle is all but non-existant and the snow underneath looked stable enough. However, there are some pretty decently angled slopes near the top, and we had little desire to venture out onto the slab. This didn't stop numerous parties later in the day from using it, and I'm sure it would pretty tough to trigger anything at the moment. Nonetheless, we figured it better to be safe than sorry, ascending climber's right on rocks to gain the ridge a bit above the saddle.
I guess I missed the orange memo.
Gaining the upper ridge. The route is in about as good of condition as you could ever ask for - a clear shot all the way to the summit.
We topped out 2.5 hours after starting - about as stress free as it gets in winter. A mild breeze blew in from the North keeping it chilly, but other than this it was about as perfect as we could have hoped for. Standing on Sherman also gave us our first views down into Iowa Gulch and over to Dyer. Evaluating our decision to avoid this approach, we figured we made a good choice. The road would have needed to be skinned, adding a few miles. Also, while the coverage on Dyer was more than we had anticipated, it still was just out of reach for an enjoyable ski descent. It's almost there, but not quite yet.
Benners taking exception to the graffiti on the summit.
Over to Dyer - a long way away from Sherman's summit.
The traverse over to dyer is a pretty cool route all things considered. The terrain is fairly relaxed and the North shoulder off of Sherman is one huge alpine football field of rocks. Gemini peak sits on the North end of this boulder field offering little more than two minute scramble to its summit. Dropping past this point, the route descends a shallow wind-blown gully for a few hundred vertical feet before finally reaching the ridge crest proper. I thoroughly enjoyed this ridge run as it follows the amphitheater above Iowa Gulch. The mellow angle and openness offers some fantastic views of the Front Range to the East, the Gores to the North, and most impressive of all, the entire length of the Sawatch to the West. This vantage point also gives a good perspective on just how big Elbert and Massive truly are.
Just a trio of gapers on the ridge. (Benners)
Gemini Peak - the only abberation in what is otherwise a very nice hike. This peak is quite possibly the most unphotogenic and uninteresting pile of rocks in the entire state. Our working theory is that it was formed by hikers needing to take a dump on the way over to Dyer.
Ben & Brian on the ridge past Gemini
Dyer looms. (Benners)
The mining ruins of yesterday left far behind, mankind has found new ways to leave his mark on the mountains.
The final 400 feet or so on Dyer really makes you earn it. But like all mountains, it eventually came to an end. Topping out on this peak felt great. The weather was good, the route rewarding, and the views were million dollar in just about every direction. I remembered to give a quick thought to Father Dyer as I gazed north to nearby Mosquito Pass, and West Dyer Peak. I wonder if he ever summited any of the peaks which now bear his name...
Final approach as Pikes looks on. (lordhelmut)
Freezing the hand for the sake of a panorama. (lordhelmut)
Said panorama - looking back to Sherman & Sheridan with the Sawatch beyond.
I have said it many, many times, but I'll say it once more: there is no substitute for good partners in the hills, and these two guys are some of the best around. Encouraged by the good day thus far and wanting just a bit more, everyone was in to hit Sheridan on our way back home. The jaunt back over Sherman seemed to go by quicker than when we came, and we soon found ourselves back at the base of Sheridan ready for one last vertical push. At this point, Ben and I were not exactly sure what got into Brian. Maybe he was hopped up on Pringles. Maybe it was the desire to run away from the other parties on the route. Or maybe it was just a pent up aggression at the lack of snow this winter. Whatever it was, he decided to kick it into full on beast-mode for the last 600 feet up Sheridan. Ben and I were only too happy to slog it up and get our a$$es kicked to the top.
Derping for the camera.
Leaving us huffing and puffing far below.
Final look back on the accomplishments of day.
Choosing the grundled-out south face of Sheridan for our descent, I think we all felt great about how the day had turned out. For only 8 miles, this one gives you quite a bit of bang for your buck: almost 4,000 vert, a 14er, a centennial, a bi, and one unsightly pile of choss isn't too bad for 8 hours in the winter. Add in some great friends, good conversation, a history lesson, and a safe trip home and what else can you ask for? Thanks for getting out there fellas. Until next time, happy climbing!
"There is a man today that has a life long dream to see Pikes. His name is Father Gaper. He holds a residence in Leadville, the site of his meth lab and he spends his free time taking his Rubicon over Mosquito Pass after polishing off a 5th of Jack. Oh, how the times have changed......." - The one, the only, lordhelmut