| Rinker, Twin Pks, Ervin & Blaurock (Central Sawatch)
Rinker Peak (13,783)
Twin Peaks B (13,333) unranked
From Willis Gulch TH: 10.4 mi, 5300 ft
After only a few hours of sleep, four of us convened in Leadville at 6am for an attempt at Rinker Peak. Rinker peak is a bicentennial 13er about 5.5 miles south of Mt. Elbert (across highway 82). The weather forecasts were somewhat discouraging but we hoped our route would keep us out of the most brutal winds for the majority of the day. The Willis Gulch TH near Twin Lakes was our starting point.
It was quite cold when we began hiking around 7. We got off to a rough start, failing to locate the proper trail to get us into Willis Gulch. Instead, we tried to follow a fading trail east and ended up having to climb south up a rather steep slope to get back on track. We ditched our snowshoes early on since it looked like we wouldn't be needing them. The trail up Willis Gulch was easy to follow once we found it. The snow never got quite deep enough to regret leaving our snowshoes behind. Near treeline we started experiencing the wind we'd heard howling above us but it was tolerable since the sun was shining down on us. At around 11,500 ft we left the trail and climbed northwest up steep, dry slopes to the Rinker – Twin Peaks saddle. This steep 1600 ft grunt over the course of half of a mile was in stark contrast to the gentle Willis Gulch trail, but was very efficient. Luckily, we were mostly out of the wind for this section. When we reached the saddle and started west along the ridge to Rinker Peak, there was no longer anywhere to hide, nothing to block the chilling wind. We each climbed the last 700 ft more or less at our own pace, trying to cope with it. Near the summit, the wind became atrocious and what I would classify as intolerable. It was already 12:30 but there would be no nice break here! After fighting to stand upright to snap a few photos, we quickly retreated back down the ridge.
Once back at the saddle, we took cover on the northwest side of the ridge for our "summit break". It was decision time. Should be return the way we'd come or should we climb unranked Twin Peaks and descend its northeast ridge? The wind was bearable again and the sun was out so we decided to go for it. The ridge was fairly easy to follow, although there were a few sections of mild scrambling. Along with the so-called Twin Peaks, there were several other ridge bumps to climb along the way. We had great views of Twin Lakes from here. After the major ridge bumps ceased, the going was slow as we negotiated snow covered talus of the ankle breaking type. This darn talus persisted for pretty much the entire length of the ridge, even below treeline. There was lots of slipping going on and the descent seemed to take forever!
We found our stashed snowshoes without incident less than a mile away from the trailhead. From there it was an easy walk back. We finished the hike around 5 as it was just starting to get dark out. It turned out to be a great hike and we were lucky that we only had to deal with the full force of the wind for a short time. This was a fairly easy hike that anyone in decent shape could do. Cutting out Twin Peaks and descending back down Willis Gulch would make it a bit less demanding.
Rinker & Twin Peaks pics:
Ervin Peak (13,531)
Mount Blaurock (13,616)
From 1 mile west of Winfield: 5.5 mi, 3600 ft
Weather forecasts were looking even more discouraging for Sunday. Ninety percent chance of 8-10 inches in the Sawatch for Saturday night, snow continuing until very late Sunday morning. My friend and I were already in the area from our hike of Rinker Peak and had solid plans to stay in Buena Vista that night so we decided to just play it by ear in the morning. Ervin Peak and Mount Blaurock lie about 4.5 miles north of Mt. Huron. We had a backup hike planned if things looked too nasty. We, along with our superhuman, legendary mountaineer companion who we'd stayed with in Buena Vista were heading toward Winfield by 5:30am. No snow in Buena Vista – a good sign. As we drove north up 24 it began snowing. Things were no longer looking good. It was snowing fairly hard as we drove up the dirt road toward Winfield. Were we crazy to start hiking in this sort of weather? At Winfield we took the right fork in the road and continued on the 4WD road for another mile or so. This was our "trailhead".
Miraculously, the snow had nearly stopped when we began hiking around 7. We hiked northeast up the gentle ridge on the east side of Grey Cooper Creek. The going was fairly easy as the trees were not too dense. We took a break at treeline to gear up for the ferocious wind above and then continued along this ridge over talus to meet up with the west ridge of Ervin Peak. The weather was changing continuously all day from windy to windy with blowing snow to sunny to snowing, etc. It was for some interesting scenery.
Once we topped out on Ervin's west ridge, we were only a quarter of a mile from our first objective, but the fun had only begun. I'm not sure what this ridge is rated when it is dry, but it is definitely interesting with snow. There was some scrambling over icy, snowy towers and places where we had to get off the ridge proper and make our way through the deep snow along the sides. For me it was a ton of fun! One thing that made it tricky was that loose rocks were frozen in place, giving way only when I put my full weight on them. We topped out on the summit around 10:15 and stayed for a short break.
Mt. Blaurock, our second objective for the day, was only a mile away. Piece of cake, right? Not really – the traverse took 2:45! Traversing back along Ervin's west ridge to the Ervin – Blaurock saddle didn't seem too bad. Although the ridge to Mt. Blaurock looked easy from afar, it was similar to the ridge we'd traversed to Ervin, just not quite as extreme. What it lacked in difficulty was compensated for by its length. Again, there were several towers to negotiate, although we could pretty much stay on the ridge proper the entire way. After considerably more effort than expected, we reached our second summit of the day.
For our descent, we continued northwest along the ridge from Ervin's summit for a short time and then headed directly south along the east side of Blackbear Creek. We got in a couple of decent glissades even though the snow was rather shallow. At around 11,200 ft we crossed to the creek's west side to avoid some nasty bushwhacking. From there it was an easy jaunt back to the "trailhead". Total hike time was about 8 hours. This was a very interesting hike but in my opinion its not for everyone. Although its rather short, make sure you're comfortable on snowy 3rd class terrain before attempting this one.
Ervin & Blaurock pics: