| The Dam Gathering
Peak: Mount Silverheels
Route: Hoosier Pass to North Spur
RT Distance: ~8 Miles
Elevation Gain: ~3,500 Feet
Participants: Shanahan96, Jamienellis, Stevevets689, Hammerheart, Slopestyle, Moon stalker, Jamespeak, Jeff Price, Covfrrider, Thebeave7, Chris Gerber, Andy, MtnMike, Ben, Dex, MountainHiker, Mountainhikerette, Snowball, Crestone, Georgie, Bobby Peru, Endeavor54, Glen, ChicagoTransplant, Lanternerouge08, Josh, Finkler, CODave, Kevin Baker, Steve Mueller, Chad Stolzfus, Altitude14er, Everest Dreams, Dcbates80911, COMedic04, Creidinger, Alynn Vienot, Brent Sturgeon, Kwsinger, KeithK, Greenhouseguy, Yetifreak, Cheechaco, and Mark Milburn
A rough outline of our route
There was once a saloon lady who lived in South Park, Colorado. Like all of the girls at the saloon, she made her living and reputation by "questionable practices," now illegal in most States. However, this lady of the evening was not your run of the mill woman of pleasure. When a smallpox outbreak tore through the town, this lady was the only one of her practice who stayed behind to care for the miners who were suffering and dying from the horrible disease. She eventually caught it herself and passed away. In return for the lady's noble actions, the townsfolk decided to name the mountain behind their town after her. She went by the name of "Silverheels."
It was time for the 2008 14ers.com Winter Gathering. Jamie (shanahan96) was choosing the climb, and as appropriate for a gathering involving people of all experience levels, chose a mountain with minimal avalanche risk and no technical challenge. This peak, Mount Silverheels, is located in the very southernmost tip of the Front Range, across Hoosier Pass from the Lincoln group in the Mosquito range. Silverheels is a very prominent mountain; it looks huge when seen from the south in the town of Fairplay. It is not a 14er, but one of the less famous Centennial 13ers, or one of the high 13ers that make up the rest of Colorado's 100 highest peaks along with the 14ers. Thus, it still provides a formidable hike in the winter.
Originally, I had plans to climb Quandary Peak the day of the gathering along with the Colorado School of Mines Outdoor Recreation Center, but due to issues with running official trips on Forest Service land, they changed their itinerary to local Bergen Peak, topping out at around 9,700 feet. I decided that I would rather climb something in the top 100 and joined the gathering. While discussing plans on 14ers.com, the group decided to meet up afterwards at the Dillon Dam Brewery, and because of this, the gathering got its official name, the "Dam Gathering."
Early in the morning of the gathering, I met up with the two Jamies (shanahan96 and jamienellis) near the town of Morrison and we headed off for Hoosier Pass, the start of the climb. We arrived at about 6:40 AM to find that the parking lot at the top of the pass was already filling up with other climbers. By the time we were ready to begin the approach at around 7:20, the back of the lot was lined with cars and the air was misty with the breath of over 30 climbers. Visibility was somewhat limited but still good enough. We began the hike.
The Dam Gathering has begun
Starting the snowy trip through the trees
Almost done with most of the deep stuff
The first part of the approach led us to timberline, and most of us had either snowshoes or skis with skins. Timberline is not very far from the pass, and once reached most of us took off our snowshoes and cached them. The terrain was grassy and rocky with a few inches of snow cover, more in drifts. We continued on the slope leading up to a bump on the ridge of the approach.
At the snowshoe cache
Starting up the ridge
Our first sight of our destination
This first bump of the ridge, Hoosier Ridge, is 12,814 feet at its top, and has a ridge leading to the south towards Silverheels, but that is not the correct approach. The ridge dips much lower than the correct one. We continued along the Continental Divide, skirting more ridge bumps on the right. Once we started to near the next large bump we started turning to the south on the ridge that connects Hoosier Ridge to Mount Silverheels. By this time, the gathering had split into two groups; I was in the first one, being led by Mike (Chicago Transplant). We tried to contact the other group and the Jamies, but with the ridge bumps and weather we couldn't get reliable radio contact. We continued along the ridge under some large power lines, over another bump, and finally stood at the base of one of Silverheels' North Spurs.
Starting on the ridge to Silverheels
Mike (Chicago Transplant) heading for "Powerline Saddle"
Looking up at Silverheels. Our route followed the more bare terrain on the right
Now we were no longer approaching, but rather climbing Silverheels. The terrain got much steeper very quickly, and the loose talus underneath a few inches of new snow was manageable but not very enjoyable. We saw that the second group was making their way towards the correct ridge just before visibility lowered so we could not see them anymore. The unrelenting spur climbed and climbed and progress was slow. I in particular was already running out of energy and slowing down, but not in any mood to stop.
Making our way up the steep slope
By the time I arrived on Silverheels' summit ridge I was alone, and I imagine that most of the group was on top. I stopped to put on a balaclava and heavy gloves as the wind started to pick up. Shortly before the summit, a large amount of the 14ers group made their way down passed me after summiting. The top was not far off.
When I arrived at the summit, a small group of climbers were still there. I plopped my pack down and gladly accepted the beef jerky and almond clusters one of the climbers offered. A short while later, the Jamies came into view, and they walked hand-in-hand, side-by-side to the summit. We did not hang out for very long up there due to the wind, but were there long enough for some pictures and congratulating words.
On the summit with more of the second group. Photo courtesy of Greenhouseguy
Heading down to the connecting ridge. See the cornice?
On the way down we warmed up a bit, and temporarily the visibility opened up a little. We descended the loose talus and arrived back at the ridge connecting Silverheels to Hoosier Ridge. Jamie (shanahan96) mentioned that we now had to overcome "Heartbreak Hill" before we could continue, and as we made our way around the first bump I fell behind again. I slowly made my way around the little hill to see… a couple more little hills. I thought to myself, "Ok, these and then it's downhill the rest of the way." I hiked over those little hills and Heartbreak Hill's name sunk in. There was still a good deal of elevation to gain before we could hike out. In fact, most of the rest of the way to the first bump on the ridge was somehow uphill.
Looking back up at the mountain
Shanahan96 and Crestone on the way out
I very, very slowly made my way along. When I at last stepped onto Hoosier Ridge again with still more elevation to gain, I caught up to three climbers including Kevin Baker who were making their way down from Red Mountain and the actual summit of Hoosier Ridge. The company was just in time; all of a sudden we were hit by about 40 mph consistent winds, and visibility dropped to white-out conditions. The sun was still barely visible and with that and the constant wind direction I was confident of my navigation, but was still very happy to be with a party that had a GPS. We hiked along the ridge and (at last!) started to lose elevation again.
Once we were part of the way down the slope to timberline, the visibility cleared up again and we saw the Jamies making their way over to the ridge proper from the left. We grouped up and discussed the fact that there was still a group of about eight behind us. One of the members of Kevin Baker's group offered some much appreciated hot cider, and then they moved on while the Jamies and I stayed back for a while, trying to establish radio contact with those behind us. We decided to at least descent to the snowshoe cache. We did finally get contact with Mark Milburn who was in the group behind us, and he accounted for all of the rest of the people who were still not down, saying they were moving and ok. With that, we started the last bit of the hike out.
We arrived back at the trailhead and off the Dam Mountain at around 5 PM. We waited to make sure everyone was getting down alright and then took off for the Dam Brewery. Once there, we met up with Mike (Chicago Transplant) as well as MountainHiker, Mountainhikerette, and Endeavor54, and then we ran into an hour long wait for a table. We were way too hungry to wait that long so we headed off to Old Chicago, where there was a 45 minute wait. It was fast food time. We went to Wendy's, where there was no wait. Ski towns and their Saturday nights… Everyone but the Jamies ordered Baconators which are half pound cheeseburgers with bacon, and we had our own Dam After-party. Then we drove home. We decided there is no reason for any of us to return to that Dam Mountain ever again due to the Dam Looseness and Dam Hike Out. But even with all that, it was one of the best Dam Gatherings I've been to, with a great turn out and even greater success rate among them! Well done everyone!
For more of my photos from this climb, please visit my photo album:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):