| Hoosier Hysteria
13,352 Feet (352nd Highest in Colorado)
Southwest Ridge from Hoosier Pass
Trailhead Elevation 11,539 Feet
8.5 Miles Roundtrip
2,500 Feet Elevation Gained
April 17th, 2010
Greenhouseguy (Brian), Zoomie83 (Todd), and Chris
Hoosier Ridge is a ranked thirteener on the Continental Divide east of Hoosier Pass. Explorer John C. Fremont "discovered" the pass in 1844 after Ute Indians had used it for hundreds of years to travel between hunting grounds in Middle Park and South Park. Early gold miners from the state of Indiana named the pass, and Hoosier Ridge was named for the pass. Several rare species of alpine plants are found on the ridge, which could become designated as a wilderness area if Congress approves the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign.
Hoosier Ridge seen from Quandary Peak's summit (image taken 3/15/07). Centennial thirteener Mt. Silverheels is in the upper right of the image.
I almost called off the hike before it even started. The weather report was not good, and I was well aware of how wind and blowing snow could affect visibility on the ridge. I spent 15 minutes in a whiteout on the ridge during the 2008 14ers.com Winter Gathering, and I was not anxious to repeat the experience. The snow was already falling, and a Mustang spun out on the pass while we were gearing up. This was not going to be pretty.
Looking towards Hoosier Ridge from Hoosier Pass
The hike started in an open spruce forest just below treeline. Skiers and snowshoers frequently use the trail, so the snow was well packed. Above treeline where the spruce forest gave way to willows, there were some seriously deep postholes. This could be trouble when the snow softens up in the afternoon. I found it easier to navigate the willows with snowshoes, but Todd and Chris booted it with minimal issues.
Starting through the willows at treeline
After we made it through the willows, we started up the long, gradual slope to the first bump on the ridge. The wind had exposed the tundra higher on the ridge, but there was still plenty of snow down low. We could see a group of hikers huddled together halfway up the slope.
Looking up the slope at Pt. 12,814. Note the group of hikers just below the high point.
Conditions deteriorated as we gained altitude. The wind was gusting at about 35 m.p.h., and visibility was abysmal by the time we reached the top of Pt. 12,814. Déjà vu.
Near whiteout conditions on Pt. 12,814
Todd was having some health issues, so he decided to call it a day after reaching Pt. 12,814. The high winds made it impossible to carry on a normal conversation. Chris and I pushed on; we could see the group of hikers congregated on the second point on the ridge.
Hikers on the second point on the ridge
We caught up with the group of hikers between the second and third points on the ridge; it was a Colorado Mountain Club group led by John and Renata Collard. Sarah Simon and a few other people from Lists of John were in the group. John and Renata were kind enough to let us join the group for safety in the foul weather conditions. We kept moving towards the third point with our new friends.
On the ridge with the Colorado Mountain Club group
Wind-blasted ice on a post in the cairn on the third point on the ridge
When we reached the fourth point on the ridge, the CMC group decided to call things off on account of the weather. We were about 1.4 miles from the summit, and conditions showed no sign of improving. On the other hand, I really didn't think that it would get much worse. We said our goodbyes, and kept moving. I was happy, and a little bit surprised to have met such a nice bunch of people this far off of the beaten path.
The CMC group sizing up the situation
And then there were two. Chris and I leaned into the wind and slogged up another bump on the ridge. I don't think that it was snowing at this point, but the wind was keeping plenty of ice particles airborne. It was rough on any exposed skin.
Chris getting battered by the wind on a snowy slope
Under ideal conditions, we probably could have sidehilled some of the numerous points on the ridge. With high winds and icy slopes, it seemed safer to stick to the ridge crest. We kept up a good pace on the excruciatingly long ridge.
Looking towards the last of the false summits. Or is it?
With so many bumps on the ridge, it was easy to convince myself that the next one would be the summit. I've never been disappointed so many times in one day. When the true summit came into view, there was no doubt about it.
Chris gazing at the last false summit. The true summit is visible in the center of the image.
We were able to bypass a couple of choss piles on the way to the last false summit. The wind was still hammering us, and banks of clouds blowing across the ridge periodically obstructed our view.
Bearing to the left to avoid these choss piles
Hoosier Ridge summit to the left, Red Peak summit to the right
We had entertained thoughts of continuing on to Red Mountain, but the weather caused us to abandon this idea early in the hike. We would only get one summit today, and we would have to earn it. The final approach to the summit cone was relatively easy.
Chris on the long, flat ridge on the last false summit
I was listing about 10 degrees to starboard as I approached the summit cone; the wind had been consistently bad all day. As I started up the final slope, I tried to avoid the rocks and stay on the smooth surface of the frozen snow. Conserving even a trifling amount of energy made it easier to gain the summit.
Chris starting the final summit push
The summit was just a rounded mound of talus, but the views would have been extraordinary on a normal day. Mt. Silverheels, Quandary Peak, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Bross, and Mt. Democrat are all very close. Boreas Mountain and Mt. Guyot should have been visible, but were lost in the banks of clouds. Everything in sight was some shade of gray.
A Hoosier chowing down on Hoosier Ridge's summit
Greenhouseguy attempting a smile on the summit
Red Mountain and Red Peak weren't going to happen today, but their remoteness was certainly appealing.
Red Mountain (13,229 feet) viewed from Hoosier Ridge
Red Peak (13,215 feet) as seen from Hoosier Ridge
Mt. Silverheels appeared and disappeared as the clouds moved through. The snow-filled gullies on its massive slopes gave it a dramatic appearance.
Mt. Silverheels with its summit in the clouds
The return trip was going to be a grind. It was a roller coaster ride up and down the bumps on the ridge, each one a little lower than the last. Each bump took a little more effort than the one that preceded it.
Starting the journey back down the ridge
After freezing my left side on the ascent, I got to freeze my right side on the way back down. The breeze pushed the wind chill into the negative zone, and my Camelbak tube froze solid. I balled up my fists inside my gloves to keep my fingers warm. This is why mountaineers use mittens! At least the weather couldn't get any worse, could it?
Leaning into the wind
Most of the remainder of the ridge
Staying on the snow
Several long and interesting ridges converge in the Hoosier Pass area, and all of them are interesting hikes. In addition to Hoosier Ridge there is Mt. Lincoln's east shoulder, North Star Mountain, Quandary Peak's east ridge, and Pacific Peak's east ridge.
(left to right) Mt. Lincoln's east shoulder, North Star Mountain, Quandary Peak's east ridge, and Pacific Peak's east ridge
Just when things seemed to be clearing up a bit, another huge bank of clouds moved in. The clouds covered the entire lower portion of the ridge, so there was no doubt that we would have to contend with more precipitation.
Walking straight into the clouds
We made it over the last few bumps with extremely limited visibility. As long as we could see 50 feet in front of us, there was no problem. There was a potentially dangerous cornice on the southeast side of the ridge, but it was easy enough to stay on solid ground. Conditions continued to degrade after we passed over Pt. 12,815 and started down the final slope. We tried to follow our tracks from earlier in the day, but they had mostly filled in with snow. I had to use my GPS to guide us back to the trail through the willows.
Do you still remember/December's foggy freeze? – Jethro Tull, "Aqualung"
We broke out of the cloud layer as we reached the bottom of the slope. The snow had softened considerably, so I put my snowshoes back on to cross through the willows. The trail back to the pass was packed nicely, but there were still some soft spots.
Following the trail through the willows back to the pass
GPS track of our Hoosier Ridge hike
Hoosier Ridge is a truly classic winter/early spring hike. It would be hard to beat getting to enjoy this much time above 13,000 feet in winter-like conditions on the relative safety of a broad ridge. I can only hope that nature will be kinder to me when I go back in July to see the tundra in full color.
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