Peak(s):  Marble Mtn A  -  13,266 feet
Date Posted:  03/21/2017
Modified:  03/23/2017
Date Climbed:   03/18/2017
Author:  Tornadoman
Additional Members:   Trailrunner
 Marble Mountain- Standard Ascent, Machete Ridge Descent  

Marble Mountain:
Start Time: 6:55 am
End Time: 5:27 pm


O Compass, Where Art Thou?

It's mid-afternoon. Post-holing almost every step on slushy, sloppy, Sangre snow. Scratched up in places where the trees are thicker. We followed our snowshoe track on the first part of the descent under the trees but then it disappeared. Something has gone wrong on the descent of Marble Mountain. I already checked the front pocket of my pack for my compass, but I will check again. Nope, not there. Sometimes I carry it in the pocket of my jacket. Let's recheck there. No bueno. Time to search all the other compartments of the pack. No compass....


Starting Out

The alarm clock went off at 3:23 am. We have never had a major problem getting up early but that doesn't mean we enjoy it. The drive from Aurora to Westcliffe goes as well as can be expected, and other than a suicidal bunny we reach the trailhead without incident. There is no snow to the 2wd trailhead and it was an easy drive even in our Corolla. Once we convince ourselves to get moving we enjoy the beautiful day. The air is an invigorating crisp temperature that feels more like May or June. Instead of my outer shell jacket I just stick with the light down (this will be the case throughout the day). The combination of hard packed snow and dirt makes for smooth sailing and we reach the Rainbow Trail fairly quickly. Hmm... maybe the snow will support us and we won't need to put on the snowshoes for a while. Nope, after a few steps I start sinking over knee deep each step. Fortunately, once the snowshoes are on the postholing isn't a problem; in fact we weren't sinking at all. The Rainbow Trail had a variety of snow depth, some places were nearly bare while others had deep snow. After just a few minutes the trail levels out, and looking to the right I see the faintest signs of a possible old trail. This looks like the turnoff to head toward Marble Mountain's summit.


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The Ascent

At times the ascent of Marble's ridge is clear going, and even though it is covered in deep snow I imagine that there is a trail below us. Sometimes it isn't as defined and there are a few areas of deadfall to negotiate. The basic theme is to just go up, and eventually you will reach treeline. Eventually is the key word, as this seems to be one of those peaks where it takes forever to clear the trees. The snow isn't quite as solid anymore, and sometimes we sink several inches deep, but overall it isn't that bad. After the first couple hundred vertical feet above treeline the route is bare, it's a nice steady gain and not difficult at all. We take it slow and enjoy the views and the sunshine and warm weather. However, the wind really starts to kick up as we approach the summit.

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The Summit

The summit views are superb with great views stretching from Tijeras/Music to Milwaukee, Broken Hand Peak, Crestone Needle, KC area, and Humboldt. To the east the lower Wet Mountain Range is fully visible as is Pikes. It's one of those views that you really want to soak in for an extended time but the wind is really howling up high. Despite the warm air temperatures my hands are freezing after snapping a few quick pictures because of the wind chill.

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The Descent

Everything starts off well on the descent. Again we stop frequently to take more pictures. I startled a ptarmigan on the way down and we watched it for several minutes (first time I have seen one with the white plumage). Eventually we reach the snowshoe cache and figure it will be easy to follow our snowshoe tracks from the morning. Everything starts off well, and despite a bit of sloppy snow and sinking we make good time. We slip and slide in the mashed potato snow but it isn't a major problem. The brief ascent of PT. 10725 goes quickly and my thoughts are mostly on pizza at this point and how quickly we can get to the car. Suddenly our snowshoe tracks from the morning just stopped, I assume due to the fact that we weren't sinking at all on the firm snow in this area earlier in the morning. I do a first search for the compass and fail. No worries, I think to myself we will back on track soon.

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Escape from Machete Ridge

Back to the beginning of the report. The second and more thorough search for the compass has failed. I briefly think that maybe we should ascend and see if we can find where we went wrong, but we have probably already dropped several hundred vertical feet. It will take a long time to reascend with constant postholing uphill, and it will all be for naught if we still can't find our course. I figure that a continued descent will eventually bring us below the trees and we will be able to figure out the way to the car from there. All of a sudden, I have a revelation. The compass is in my outer shell jacket! I never wore the jacket because of the warm temperatures, but a quick search in the pocket produces the missing instrument. Taking a reading it appears that we are headed east or southeast, while we should have been heading northeast. We continue downhill, now taking frequent compass readings and heading north when the terrain and deadfall allows. I figure we will hit the Rainbow Trail soon and take that back to South Colony Road. After another half hour of postholing and weaving through deadfall we make it below snowline.

Soon afterward we find a fence that borders property owned by some of the Sangre Mountain People. We can now see South Colony Road to the northeast and even a few tiny dots that must be cars in the parking lot! A large herd of elk to the east also provides a few minutes of entertainment. Jumping the fence and making a beeline for the car would be the easiest end to the day, but I have heard that the native Sangrians are a brutal and merciless people, and crossing their land would likely be a suicide mission. We continue up and down small ridges roughly following the fence line as it continues to the north, then to the east, and eventually to the north again. Although the south sides of all these ridges are bare, knee deep snow persists on the northern aspects, leading to inevitable postholing. We run into multiple skeletons from large animals along the fence line, serving as a warning to any who would dare trespass. Finally the fence ends and we can see the car probably half a mile to the northeast with no more obstacles in the way. We race downhill toward it and what do we see ahead? A barbed wire fence! We have accidentally trespassed on the land of the Sangre Mountain People. In a full sprint we run for our lives, fully expecting a machete in the back at any moment. We reach the fence and roll under it finally back on South Colony Road. We walk the football field distance to the car with another day in the moments complete!*

* Portions of the previous paragraph may or may not be factual. The Sangre Mountain People may or may not exist and we may or may not have accidentally crossed their land.

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Lessons Learned

Since moving to Colorado last summer I feel that I have gotten a little sloppy with pack preparation. I need to be taking a few minutes to double check where all key items are in my pack before each trip instead of just assuming everything is in place because it was on the last hike. When I lived in Kansas and there were about 3 trips to Colorado each year I was very meticulous, but admittedly haven't been lately. This would have prevented the initial problem of the lack of a compass. Also, it may be time to purchase a hiking GPS as there are some routes where it may prove essential (Little Bear SW ridge I am looking at you). One note on routefinding: It seems that ascending a ridge in the trees is usually reasonably straightforward as you just need to head up. However upon descending a ridge route without a trail everything seems to look the same as the terrain angles downward in multiple directions.

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 Comments or Questions
MtnHub

Lessons learned
03/21/2017 21:17
I can identify with that. Whenever I pack my day pack (or suitcase etc when traveling) now I usually place almost everything (at least the really crucial items) out next to the pack until ready to leave. There've been times in the past when I've left things packed after a previous hike thinking that way I won't forget it, but then not remembering I had done that and searched all over thinking it was lost! My Alzheimer's moments occur more frequently anymore so I've discovered the best way to keep track of everything I need is to have it visible just before I'm ready to leave.


Lithic

Ptarmigan
03/22/2017 06:23
Very cool that you saw a white-tailed ptarmigan with winter plumage. Pretty rare sighting!


Jay521

White Ptarmigan
03/23/2017 10:49
I will send you a separate PM on how 3 white ptarmigans almost killed me a few years ago! Nice, nice report and you have moved Marble higher on my list as a result...



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