Peak(s):  Spread Eagle Pk  -  13,423 feet
Date Posted:  12/08/2018
Date Climbed:   12/07/2018
Author:  WildWanderer
 Trenching is Tiring  

Spread Eagle Peak – 13,423


RT Length: 7.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 4300’

I’m sitting here at the Toyota dealership, again, writing a trip report. I put a lot of miles on my truck and it seems I’m here every month for an oil change. I’m pretty sure I’ve written more trip reports here than at my house. At least they have free internet so I can get some work done while I wait. Oh, and it would be helpful if cars could go 10,000 miles between oil changes instead of 5,000: It would give me an extra 2 hours a month. Anyway….

I haven’t been out above treeline for two weeks because I was in Texas for my son’s BMT graduation and in California for a speaking engagement for work. I told myself I was hiking today no matter the weather, but luckily the weather was forecasted to be mild in the Sangres. I’d attempted Spread Eagle Peak back in October, but some early season snow had stopped me at treeline due to unanticipated avalanche danger. Turning around that time had hurt because I had plenty of time to continue hiking and it was a great day (if a little windy) but it had been the right thing to do. I wanted to attempt Spread Eagle Peak again today.

I made it to the trailhead at 5am and was on the trail by 5:15am. The drive in was a little icy but manageable, especially on the way out. I was the only vehicle in the parking lot when I arrived, and there were 2 other trucks there when I left.

Gibson Trailhead

I didn’t put on my snowshoes at the beginning because this is what the trail looked like.


However, after about half a mile I broke down and put them on, knowing the snow would only get deeper.


The trail was easy to follow in the dark, as it was obvious a lot of people had been here lately. There was a nice trench all the way to the stream crossing, and a little bit further.


The trench was so good I wasn’t checking my map much, just following the previous tracks and my memory. I was a bit confused when the trench started heading up the ridge much sooner than I had last time, but I knew as long as I gained the ridge and followed it I was good: I might as well follow someone else’s trench, right? I was a bit tired of making my own trench (it’s hard work!). This all worked very well until the trench disappeared. I was still hiking in the dark but gaining in elevation and it seemed yesterday’s wind and snow had almost completely buried the trench. Here’s what the trench looked like as the sun began to rise


If you looked really hard you could see where the trench had been in some areas, but it was completely gone in most, so either way I was breaking trail again. Every once in a while I’d be breaking trail and stumble upon the old trench. This was nice because it reaffirmed I was going in the right direction. The difference between the two paths is whoever made the first trench made nice switchbacks up the mountain. I just headed straight up.

I made it to the ridge and still had quite a bit of hiking along said ridge to do to make it to treeline. This hike has a lot of elevation gain in a short distance. Here’s the path I took along the ridge to treeline.


It had taken quite a bit of work to get me there! At this point I began postholing up to my knees, and did so until making it to treeline at about 8:30am. I was exhausted from trenching but excited as I was now at the area I’d had to turn back last time, and this time it looked doable. Here’s a look back at the way I’d come


And the route ahead of me


The snow at treeline was about 4 feet deep and sugary. I was now postholing up to my waist unexpectedly at times, but consistently just to my shins.


At the end of the ridge I could see most of the route before me.


This proved to be the most difficult part of the hike for me. The elevation gain here was the steepest of the route, and the snow wasn’t consistent enough to need snowshoes (but I still kept them on because I’m too lazy to stop to take them off). I stayed to the right of the snow


This section was quite steep, and where I began slowing down physically. I made it to the top of this hump and set my next goal:


This took me way too long to accomplish. I started getting dizzy and mentally went through all the reasons why I was getting dizzy, trying to figure out what was causing the problem:

  • I hadn’t eaten at all today (but this was normal: I don’t usually eat before hiking, I just have a big dinner the night before)
  • I hadn’t been drinking water (this was normal too: I get nauseous when I hike and drink so I bring water and don’t drink it. Seriously)
  • I hadn’t been above treeline in 3 weeks, and in fact had been at sea level (most likely the cause, but I don’t get altitude sickness, so this was a hard sell as well)
  • I was physically exhausted from trenching thus far (probable, but compared to Colony Baldy a few weeks ago this was child’s play… but I had been more tired than usual on that hike too, so there might be a correlation)
  • The wine I’d had last night hadn’t agreed with me (once again, probable, but I drink wine every night so this in general wasn’t out of the ordinary, and it had been my usual wine)
  • Last night’s dinner had been too salty? (OK, I’m stretching for answers here)

In the end I figured I’d been breathing harder than normal due to coming from sea level and was most likely dehydrated for all the reasons above plus exhaling more than normal. I didn’t want to drink water because it would make me nauseous, but I was already dizzy so I figured what the heck? I sat down (yes, I sat down. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve EVER sat down on a hike. Ever.) and went through my pack looking for water. I took 4 sips and put the bottle away. I was immediately nauseous. Great. I stuck a few gummy bears in my mouth to give me some sugar to suck on and continued. Slowly.

I gradually made it to the rocky ridge before the summit


My head hurt but I did not want to turn around and make a third attempt on this peak: while any day hiking is better than not, that trudge up and to treeline was brutal, and I’d already trenched it twice. I had no intention of trenching it a third time. I only had the ridge and a short climb left in front of me, maybe 200 vertical feet (I’d wanted to hike Peak of the Clouds too but at this point I changed my mind: One peak was going to be enough for me today). I honestly don’t remember much of the climb to the summit. My head hurt and I felt nauseous but kept drinking water, each sip harder to swallow than the last as it increased my headache. (I say all this, and while it was miserable it wasn’t enough to make me turn back: it was uncomfortable but manageable, and the views were phenomenal!) I summited just before 10am and immediately the wind on this otherwise perfect weather day picked up. I was inside of a small ice cloud, with little pieces of snow flying into my face. I tried to get a picture but the camera was confused and refused to focus in all the blur.


Where had this wind come from? With my cloudy headache had I missed the signs? My head hurt. It was time to turn back. The wind continued until I made it back down about 200 vertical feet from the summit and then it abruptly stopped and the ice just kind of disappeared into the sky. I stopped here for a bit to rest and take some pictures of what was left of the wind. It was a beautiful day, but my headache wasn’t getting any better. (Side note: maybe the incoming wind had changed the pressure in my head and caused the headache? Probably another long shot…)

Wind blowing snow around

OK, time to seriously head back. Here’s a look down the ridge


And the route back to my truck

View of route from Gibson Trailhead up the ridge and towards Spread Eagle Peak

About halfway down this part of the mountain I came across another hiker. I was surprised at first, as I hadn’t expected to see anyone else out here today. We talked for about 2 minutes: the longest I think I’ve ever talked with someone on a mountain, and unfortunately I wasn’t a good conversationalist. My lips were numb from the small ice cloud and I couldn’t form my words properly. Added to that my mental confusion (headache) and the fact I was 80% sure I had a huge clump of snot dried to my nose, all I could think about was getting back below treeline where I’d hoped my headache would subside. I do remember he’d said he’d made the original trench last week (If I didn’t say it then, thank you! It had helped me make the trench this morning) and how it had been a long slog for him then as well. He’d intended to reach Peak of the Clouds today as well, for which I was a bit jealous.

The ridge on the way back started with small amounts of snow, and increased as I got to treeline


On the way back down I wanted to work on the trench so others could use it this weekend, as it wasn’t supposed to snow for a few more days and I’m sure others want to summit this peak as well. I turned my post holes into double postholes and patted them down. The hiker on his way up had helped with this, and I was hoping he’d do the finishing touches on his way back down. I’m not gonna lie, I glissaded a bit on the steeper parts because I could. Here’s looking up on my tracks:


Here’s a look at some of the better parts of the trench.


The trek back down was easy, as I just had to follow my tracks. I met two other snowshoers near the stream crossing with their pup, but they didn’t have any intention on going much further that day. My headache didn’t stop when I reached treeline, or even when I made it to my truck at noon. I had a beer waiting for me and downed it: My headache was immediately gone.

I’m so glad I decided to go out today! Despite the headache I loved the quiet, solitude, and views of white mountains surrounded by blue skies. I saw 1 ptarmigan, but strangely enough, no footprints or evidence of other animals. Most of the pine trees were unfortunately dead.

Despite not eating anything all day but a few gummy bears I wasn’t hungry when I made it back home and made dinner for everyone but skipped eating dinner myself. Falling asleep was difficult as well, but this morning I’m feeling fine. Maybe I was just sick? I don’t get sick…

This was a 7.2 mile hike with 4300’ of elevation gain in 7 hours.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
Nice Report!
12/09/2018 14:53
Great detail, Iâm jealous, as all Iâve been doing for months now is working on our house.

BTW, went through Westcliffe the day before your hike, and Sangres were all socked in, so I figured any tracks were probably covered up. Congrats on finishing this peak. Hopefully house work, and future sale will allow me to get back to these peaks.


The peak is steep...
12/10/2018 09:58
It is a pretty good grunt to get above treeline. Did it last calendar winter when there was probably only 8 inches of snow... managed to find a good sized deadfall area on the ascent and it was quite miserable. Fun when you break treeline and get to take in those nice Sangre views. Congrats on another peak, 7 hours is excellent speed especially with the deep trenching and feeling sick.

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