Winter is back! The forecast for Saturday isn't that appealing with a wind chill value around -40 and a predicted temperature just cracking the positive side of things. But it's not like I can pass on climbing the first day of winter….can I?
After a snowy drive early Saturday morning, I arrive at Montgomery Reservoir around 7:30am…..and man does it feel like winter already! The wind is whipping snow across Lincoln's upper slopes and hissing across the dashboard of my Subaru while I was gearing up for the climb. My car's thermometer reads -4 degrees. Happy days, this isn't going to pleasant!
Winter winds doing their usual number on Lincoln
At 8am, it's time for battle, goggles, hand warmers and balaclava go on immediately. A few minutes down the trail, drifts make snowshoes a smart decision. Time to settle in for the long plod ahead.
First view up the drainage
The familiar Wheeler Trail shows the way up the Middle Fork of the South Platte River Drainage. Fairly soon, Clinton, McNamee and Traver jump out during a breather in the wind down low. Wow, they're gorgeous!
Traver, McNamee and Clinton through a break in the wind lower down
The wind is back….Breaks didn‘t last long.
Clinton through the wind
Treeline hits just below the turnoff for Wheeler Lake. Oh goody, let's find a spot to ditch the snowshoes around the crest! At the crest, bad news is revealed in the form of a substantial snow-covered area surrounding Wheeler Lake; leave them on, they aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Crossing the basin west of Wheeler Lake, the snow deepens. What is this? I thought treeline was supposed to equal freedom from trench work, not making it worse! Oh well, no one said this would come easy.
Snowshoe track across Wheeler Lake basin
At the north end of Wheeler Lake, I head towards the small cliffs blocking the upper bowl below Clinton, McNamee and Traver. This looks like a good route, hopefully these snowshoes can go soon! Around the corner holds no such luck, looks like these suckers are coming along for the whole show.
The frustrating postholing continues as I climb higher towards the east bowl. Atleast the steady postholing has allowed me to develop a rhythm and focus on something besides this unrelentless wind. Views of plumes dancing along the ridges are a most unwelcomed site. There's going to be a battle royal up there.
Traver peeking out as the upper basin nears
Around 12,900', enough scree is showing to allow me to remove the snowshoes. The large rocks provide enough shelter from the wind to allow a moment of food and water; it's time to change the hand warmers also.
Scree intermixes with snow patches as the next couple of bumps go by. Clinton's east face is loaded, no safe route there.
Clinton‘s loaded East Face with recent avalanche activity
Fortunately, McNamee's east face has a scree patch all the way up, I'll take that.
McNamee‘s path through the avalanche hazards
My speed increases as the snow patches disappear and the scree takes me to McNamee's summit at 2:30pm. The wind is here too, and it's not handing over my main objective without one more serious fight.
One glance at the ridge to Clinton brings a mixed bag of feelings. My energy is fairly zapped right now and that looks pretty far, but the scree and what looks like wind-compacted snow makes me feel good.
The ridge to Clinton(13,857‘), my primary objective
From the start of things, the wind blows harder yet the snow allows me to make swift progress. The first bump holds a mini-cornice which has to be negotiated on the west side. After that, it's back to the snow and…..thud, waist-deep snow, joy.
Travel slows to a grinding halt as scree travel isn't reasonable in this spot and bottomless snow eats my legs with each step. The wind seems to have kicked up too. Forward I slog, slowly, as the main bump in the ridge approaches. At the bump, I find hard snow to the McNamee-Clinton saddle. From there, scree saves me from postholing to within a few feet of Clinton's summit which is reached at 2:55pm. Success!
I'd love to dig out the summit register but this wind is merciless today. 30 seconds on the summit and it's time to boogie towards the scree below the ridge connecting the summit and the highpoint on Clinton's East Ridge. Bye hellacious wind!
Plunge stepping through the connecting snow patches in the scree makes for a rapid decent and soon I'm back at the snowshoe cache. Starting down something's missing, where's my snowshoe track? My track has been blown clean, it's not even visible, go figure. Dirty mountain gods, different year, same old tricks.
Despite the re-break, the descent goes by quickly and my path around Wheeler Lake reveals short sections of earlier passage. At the crest of the slope heading to the Wheeler Trail, all evidence has gone by the wayside. A mile or so down the trail, dusk arrives.
Wind still dancing along Clinton‘s upper reaches
Fading light with 2 miles until the reservoir
Through the dimming light, it seems that some of my snowshoe tracks from earlier today have already been raised above the snow. Never seen that before. 30 minutes from the reservoir my headlamp goes on and I march through the darkness to my vehicle. Wow, 9 degrees…..a warm front!