Peak(s):  Silverheels, Mt  -  13,822 feet
Date Posted:  12/14/2018
Date Climbed:   12/14/2018
Author:  WildWanderer
 Silver Stars at Night   

Mt Silverheels – 13,822


RT Length: 9 miles

Elevation Gain: 3800’

Last night I was at an event and didn’t make it home until midnight, which meant I wasn’t in bed until about 12:30am. Nevertheless I set my alarm for 2am, got up, and headed to the trailhead. Yes, I was tired, but if I only hiked on the days I wasn’t tired I’d never get to hike. Also, today was supposed to be beautiful! I really wanted to get above treeline.

Hoosier Pass Trailhead was probably the easiest trailhead I’ve ever driven to. It was easy to find, and directly off the main road with plenty of parking space.


I arrived at the trailhead 4:45am. I parked my truck, got my gear together, and crossed the road to begin my hike around 5am.


It was about 19* outside, but for some reason it felt extremely cold this morning. So cold I didn’t take out my topo map, and instead followed the tracks that led to the left. This ended up being a mistake I noticed about ¼ of a mile in when I stopped to put on my snowshoes. Yep, I was definitely going the wrong way. So I backtracked back to the gate, got out my map, and re-oriented myself. I was supposed to go east… where there weren’t any tracks. (After the gate don’t go left, go straight). I re-started my tracker and began again.


I broke trail in the dark. This is actually much more difficult than it sounds, and the new powdered snow made it more difficult than it should have been. I’ve never hiked in this area before, but I knew there was a good trail/4WD road here somewhere. Unfortunately, with the snow and in the dark I couldn’t see said trail. Everything looked the same. I’d only notice I was “off” the trail when I’d suddenly sink to my knees in the snow. Luckily it’s really not that far to treeline so this didn’t slow me down too much.


The best part about hiking in the dark? Tonight’s Geminid Meteor shower! I saw dozens of shooting stars, maybe more. Every time I looked up I’d see another one. This had me stopping quite a bit just to enjoy the sight, and was a major plus to my hiking this morning (and one of the reasons I forwent sleep). There was no moon, the sky was clear, and there were hundreds of stars in the sky. Wow. Just… wow. Colorado is amazing!!! Why wasn’t anyone out here with a better camera than I had photographing this?!?!?

I made it to treeline and it was still very dark. I knew the general direction I was supposed to head, so I just aimed east and kept hiking up a gentle slope, enjoying the stars.


When I made it to the top of the first slope it was still dark, but it was beginning to get a little lighter out. I could see the ridge I was supposed to follow, but couldn’t really tell how deep the snow was, so I stuck to the ridge longer than necessary. This ended up being a great idea because there were cornices I was unable to see. Here’s the path I took. You’ll notice where I started heading south is further than I needed to go, but once again this had been a good choice due to the cornices


From here I was supposed to aim for the power lines (circled in red) and continue down to about 12,400’. Ouch! This meant a loss in elevation of about 500’! Here’s the rest of the route from this point


Did I mention it was WINDY?!?!? Seriously windy. The kind of wind that flings your snot into the air before you have a chance to wipe it. I had snot on my nose, cheek, eyebrow, and I'm pretty sure I'd have it in my hair too if I wasn't wearing a hat. The forecast had called for 10-15mph winds, and they were at least that, and steady, with 30mph+ gusts thrown in every now and then for fun.


It was much too windy for me to take off my gloves, and I was happy the sun was beginning to rise so I could now see the rest of the route before me. I looked west. Again, wow!


OK, back to that wind. It was creating cornices all over the place! See this?


Here’s what it looked like on the other side


I crossed the final bump along the connecting ridge and found the rib I was supposed to climb that would lead me to the top of Mt Silverheels. This looked straightforward. Here’s the route I took, careful to avoid both gullies and the cornices


Towards the top of the rib the snow decreased and I was left with talus


Here’s a look back on the route I took to get to the top of the ridge. By sticking to the ridge I’d avoided the cornices circled in red (which are larger than they appear in this picture)


From here it was a very easy walk to the summit


I summited at 8am. It took me 2.5 hours to summit.



Check out some of the views!


The summit was relatively flat. Here’s a picture of the last bit of the trek up, and another of how I get those summit-selfie photos…


The wind had died down a bit, so I stayed on the summit longer than I normally do to enjoy the view.

When I did start on my way down I had a little difficulty finding the exact spot to descend. I wanted to be sure to miss the two gullies, but that exact spot was difficult to find once on top of the rib. Finally, I decided to just parallel with the radio towers and head down. This ended up being the correct choice, and I soon found my snowshoe tracks to follow back down.


The wind began to pick up again, and I noticed a cornice crumble and slide. It was a small slide, but interesting just the same. The red circle is where the snow came to a stop after falling


I continued on, aiming for the radio towers and dreading that upcoming elevation gain


Here’s a look back on the route down from Mt Silverheels


In the light of day I could see a better path over Hoosier ridge than I’d used on my trek in. I was going to stay a bit lower, now that I could see in the daylight how the snow didn’t pose avalanche danger. The dotted route is the way I hiked in, the solid line the way I hiked out, careful to stay on solid ground/snow and then on the ridge to avoid the cornices.


I saw this bone on a cairn. The bone was about 6 inches long


I made it to the ridge and just followed it back


At the end of the ridge I saw the last bit of my hike down to treeline, and the radio towers I’d missed in the dark on my hike in.


The wind started dying down and I started making tracks again. They started out pretty scarce, but got deeper and deeper as I made my way to treeline. Every now and then I’d stumble upon a willow and sink a bit


Back beneath treeline I was able to see the snow frosted trees I’d missed in the dark. Such a beautiful sight! And the trench I’d put in this morning was still there so I deepened it a bit.


I made it back down to my truck at 11am, making this a 9 mile hike in 5.5 hours, with a little bit of trenching, lots of wind, and about 25 minutes on the summit. (my first distance includes my off route hiking from the beginning, so it’s a little off).


Because they’re fun, here’s my relive video:

Oh, and this was my 50th 13er. Woot!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

12/15/2018 13:46
I remember struggling on the way down through soft snow in willows on a May climb. Sounds like you didn't have as much trouble with those. Keep plugging - you're knocking them off with abandon.

Some questions
12/16/2018 15:58
Hey Wild, Iâve been reading your reports for a while and have noticed your really good at winter hiking compared to myself. I was wondering what is main difference between winter and summer hiking? Iâm thinking about going out to quandary for a winter hike on the class 1 trail and as my first winter 14er I want to be prepared! Keep up the great reports, thanks!


Quandary's a great winter 14er!
12/16/2018 17:34
The best way you can be prepared is to ask a lot of questions (great job so far!) I'd recommend attending one of the Happy Hours and talking with others who've done winter hiking. The main difference between winter and summer hiking is winter hiking is more work on your body: It's more physically exhausting trudging through snow carrying all that extra gear than walking on a clear trail with just a water bladder. Route finding is more difficult since everything is covered in snow (unless there's an established trench, which there should be on Quandary). A good rule of thumb is every mile in winter feels like 2 in summer (if not more). Quandary is a great first winter 14er! Be sure to check the weather reports before you head out, and prepare for the worst case scenario weather wise. Have a GPS and know how to use it. Dress in layers, bring warm water in a water bottle (not a bladder) and keep it close to your body so it doesn't freeze. Start early, and in addition to your layers/snow clothes wear a balaclava and goggles, bring and know how to use snowshoes and microspikes, and pace yourself. Also, remember you can always turn back and try again if the conditions aren't right. I've had to turn back due to weather/conditions many times, and even though I didn't summit, I learned something I used on another hike. Taking an avalanche course is very helpful in determining snow conditions on the ground, but I've found the best teacher is experience. Good luck!!!

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