| Take that, Winter!!!
Mt. Sherman 14,036'
January 24, 2009
South Slopes Route from Fourmile Creek
Round Trip: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: ~3000'
Intrepid Mountaineers: Scott* (edlins), Jerilyn*, Mike* (Smoove), Matt (native_mntguy), Kevin, Brad* (BirdMan), Rob* (colowolf), KeithK
*Stood on the Summit
When my co-workers Scott and Brad asked me if I was going to do a winter 14er with them, there was little hesitation in saying yes. As long as we were aiming at a reasonably safe mountain, I knew I would be game. Huron Peak was mentioned, but I discouraged that choice due to the long approach this time of year, and Mt. Sherman made much more sense. Accessible, usually safe, and not overly difficult; even with winter conditions, this "little" pile of rocks seemed like a perfect choice. Three became eight, as Rob joined Brad from Colorado Springs, Jerilyn accompanied Scott from Boulder, and Matt, Kevin and Mike all made their way to the winter closure as well.
I think we were all expecting the weather to provide the greatest challenge of the day, but as we arrived in Fairplay for a quick gas station break, there was hardly a cloud in the sky, and it was difficult to not have a moment of hope that the predicted storms had blown themselves out. After an easy drive to the road closure about 1 mile from the Leavick Mill, a brief effort to dig out an oversized pickup truck that lost a battle with the road drainage, we were all geared up and ready to begin our journey. Scott distributed 2-way radios, which would prove to be a very good idea. At 7:10 a.m., the skies were promising.
The walk up the road was easy; Scott and Jerilyn glided along with skins on their skis while the rest all wore snowshoes. Arguably, you could get by without, but I think it was easier to wear the 'shoes. As we passed the Leavick Mill, the day was still very promising, with the sun hitting the Horseshoe Mountain cirque, providing more false confidence.
Sheep Mtn. from the Leavick Mill…
The group began to split up, and I assumed my customary role at the back of the pack, protecting my partners from any surprise bear, rogue snowmobile, or ptarmigan attacks.
My first ever ptarmigan sighting!
As we arrived at the summer parking area, I watched the other groups beginning to head up the draw, which I mistakenly thought was the wrong route. Somehow I had convinced myself that we needed to stay on the road all the way up into the basin, but fortunately I followed in Scott and Jerilyn's skin track, and we worked our way into the gully that is the main component of the South Slopes Route.
The start of the route, right at the summer parking area…
Once leaving the road, it is easiest to just stay right and top a small hill that leads directly to the proper gulley that runs along the base of White Ridge. Only Scott found this direct line, everyone else erred to the west, needlessly climbing a series of rounded ridges that make up the south end of the basin. Fresh snow made for some slippery side-hilling, but overall conditions were surprisingly good, other than the increasing storm that seemed intent on engulfing us. The sun taunted us as it continued to peek through the clouds from the south, while Mt. Sherman never did become visible. I began using White Ridge as my point of reference whenever possible, reasoning that if it was still to my right, I was going in the correct general direction.
Conditions down low along White Ridge…
Looking back down the gulley as Jerilyn skins up the hill…
As the terrain narrows, the gulley begins to form into more of a trough at the base of the Mt. Sherman/White Ridge saddle, and the real ascent begins. It is sneaky steep, and I found myself stopping frequently to breathe. I almost caught Scott, Jerilyn, Matt and Kevin, and I was feeling good that I could keep them within sight, even for the conditions.
My last picture of the day; you can CLEARLY see Scott and Jerilyn up ahead…
With three radios amongst us, we were able to keep in contact with each other quite well all day long. Brad radioed down that he, Mike and Rob were beginning their summit push, which gave me a nice shot of adrenaline to continue. The winds were picking up, the terrain became steeper, and I decided to do something I SHOULD be doing more often on every hike, I stopped and ate. Wolfing down a couple of Pop Tarts, I immediately began to feel stronger, and began to push towards the saddle In earnest. I noticed that Scott and Jerilyn staged their skis as things became rocky and steep, and Matt and Kevin were also on foot. I felt that the traction of my MSR Lightning Ascents would be more beneficial, and flipped up the heel elevators to increase my efficiency. I highly recommend MSR snowshoes with elevator bars, they make a big difference on the hills.
As I neared the saddle, I could see Matt and Kevin fighting to find a good line, but it looked like they were mired in some deep snow that wasn't providing friendly passage. Scott and Jerilyn had disappeared into the white curtain that was the surroundings in every direction, and I knew they'd be on the summit very soon. I had my own aspirations of the same result, but my lungs and heart continued to force me to stop and catch my breath. I suppose I should be okay with that, since I haven't been at altitude since the Fall Gathering in September, and I felt surprisingly strong otherwise. Three months of dedicated gym workouts seem to be making a difference, if only a small one. Three ghostly figures suddenly appeared ahead, and I tried to push my way towards them, know that Brad's group would provide me with the beta I needed to find the top of this choss heap. Unfortunately, the mountain had other ideas, as the wind and snow picked up noticeably, making balance a priority over progress. As I met Brad, Mike and Rob, Scott's radio call pretty much ended the ascent. "It's very disorienting up here, can you hear me yelling?" I replied, "No, we can't, do you have a whistle?" What a great tool, the whistle. We continued to send out those shrill signals, and within a short while Jerilyn appeared, glissading down the slope, with Scott close behind. It was decision time. Was the weather going to break? At least lighten up? Or was this going to be it? Scott generously offered to accompany me up to the summit if I was set on going, but after some serious deliberation, I decided that I was not confident enough in my navigation skills yet. While I have this fancy GPS, I still haven't learned to properly use it, not enough to rely on, and I felt a test run at 13,500' in a white out was not the appropriate time for a field trial. Down it would be.
Rob on the summit…
Brad and Mike stand on top of Mt. Sherman, or so they claim…
Scott's self portrait…
Unfortunately, I don't have Jerilyn's summit picture, but it cannot go without saying how impressed I was by her. This was her first 14er, during winter, in true winter conditions, and she made it look easy. Congratulations, Jerilyn!
It should be mentioned that the second we turned around, everyone realized how damn steep this route actually is. A lot of slipping and falling ensued, as the snow suddenly did not seem very supportive as we tried to maneuver down the trough. Scott and Jerilyn clipped into their skis, and were quickly out of sight. You can see Scott's ski videos in his trip report:
The rest of the journey was the all too familiar one foot in front of the other, those last few miles on every hike that seem to drag on forever, as muscles begin to ache and feet begin to protest. As Mr. Middlebrook is fond of saying, keep hiking! Reaching the cars, we all rejoiced in a safe, successful and fun day in the mountains. Most of us had never met, so it was great to hike with some new friends. Thanks for the great day, guys! And girl.
Let's hit the road!
And not to forget... Mike provided this synopsis of the trip, as well as some lessons in route finding as it relates to efficiency...
So I did Mt. Sherman with some people on Saturday. Holy five year anniversary, Batman. The forecast for 11,667 feet was 60% chance of snow, sustained wind of 20 mph with gusts up to 40 mph. Did that concern us? Of course not.
So we get there at about 6:30, go up that same road. I've told my friend a few times about how I got the Dakota stuck on the side of the road, and exactly how I did it. So he goes up the road a bit, realizes he's going to get stuck, so starts backing up...to the right. Sound familiar? Too late, I realize what's happening and say, "Be careful not to back into the...." Boom, we're stuck. Lucky for us, we had plenty of manpower and put some chains in front of the tires for traction. After about 20 min, huge ass Dodge 3500 is unstuck.
Beautiful morning so far...sound familiar? So we head out. Planning on doing the snow route up the south slope to avoid the ridge. Looks maybe easier. But instead of following my pre-downloaded GPS track, the dude in front veers us to the left a bit. Like a dick, I kind of leave Kevin and my friend Matt behind to go with the faster two guys. Matt has 40+ 14ers under his belt so I figure they'll be fine. There's another couple with us on telemarks behind them, and the last guy with us is behind the skiers. Eight people total. One guy brought radios, which was awesome.
We're parallel to the track...maybe 300-400 ft off. Well that made a hell of a difference...much, much steeper. And at about 13,500 the weather really hits. White out, strong winds. Can't see shit. Wind chill is well below zero. I imagine once or twice how easy it would be to take a nice...long...very long...rest. The other two choose to continue up the steep shit, but I decide to head towards my GPS track and eventually find a gentler slope to the top. We finally get to the ridge. The guys think the summit is to the left but my trusty GPS tells me it's to the right! Thing comes in handy sometimes.
So we summit after 4 1/2 hours. Head back down following the GPS track to the tee. Hmm, amazingly, this route is far easier. But then the weather comes in strong again. And we don't know where the other people are. We finally see the skiers and they decide to push another 20 min or so towards the summit. Then we find Matt and Kevin and convince them (wasn't hard to convince Kevin) that it's wiser to head down. Find the last guy and convince him too.
The skiers summit but don't know which way to head down because of the conditions. But with the radio and some loud whistles (two investments I will probably make soon), they finally make their way back to us. It's steep for a while and the weather's still nasty, but eventually everything gets nicer and we all make it down safely. 8 hours, 18 minutes. What a day.
And the crazy part? A few days later, you forget the bad parts. You know how it is. So the lessons are: pick a good weather day and follow the friggin GPS track. I know I will follow at least one of the lessons next time.
The route with the red circle represents the path that Brad, Mike and Rob took, while the blue circle indicates the proper route...