Saturday, 7 May 2011

Climbing Mt Silverheels

Today S, N, and I climbed Mt Silverheels, named for the distinctive shoes of a beloved mining town dance hall girl from Colorado's colorful late-19th century history. The mountain is the 96th highest in Colorado, one of the "Centennial 13ers" (of Colorado's over 500 mountains over 13,000 ft, the "Centennials" are the 100 highest), with an elevation of 13,822 ft above sea level. We climbed it from the Hoosier Pass trailhead, which in retrospect may have been setting ourselves up for a harder time than we could have had with a different route...

Dawn light on nearby Quandary Peak (14,265 ft). I stood on top of that one in 2006.
A number of 14ers (mountains over 14,000 ft) are in the area, most of which I have climbed, but one of my favorites is Quandary Peak, which was the dominant mountain in our northwestern view for much of the day. Quandary has a very long ridge (which you can see there) that leads up to the summit.
S and N show love for each other the only way they know how: with unexpected violence.
 Since this was an early May climb, we had to contend with snow, in some places deep. We opted to leave our snowshoes in the car, which meant that it was somewhat more treacherous than it might have been, but luckily in the morning much of the snow was quite hard, and we were able to walk on top of it and only sink in a bit. This made the going much easier than it would have been if we had had to sink in with every step.
Tracks in the snow.
Part of the problem with the route we chose was that it wasn't a simple up and down the mountain route -- it involved a lot of going up slopes of varying steepness and then going back down again. This was especially true on the way back.
 S and N crossing a snowfield, with the goal of Mt Silverheels ahead of them.

We seemed to spend a lot of time going up and down things that looked like this.
 Case in point above there. However, eventually we came to the steady uphill that led to the summit and all three of us settled in and made the final 1000 ft push in about 40 minutes. I arrived at the summit not far behind the other two and we sat for a few minutes eating snacks and resting. However, there was a gusting, freezing cold wind that drove us off the summit, as there was no sheltered place to sit (the cairn at the top was completely filled with snow), so we didn't spend long there.
View from the top looking to the southeast. Pikes Peak (14,110 ft) is the  lone mountain in the far distance, with South Park spread out in between.
 Mt Silverheels sticks out in the relatively flat, high-altitude valley known as South Park (which is not a town), and so the significant features you can see to the east from the summit are the rolling hills in the valley and then, far across the valley, the mountains of the Front Range (which is what you can see from Denver), including the lone prominence of Pikes Peak, which is the snow-capped peak you can just see in the background.
S teabags N on the summit.
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On the way down, skirting that enormous cornice.
Setting off down from the summit, we first came down a steep talus slope (broken up rocks that slip and slide as you walk on them; they are old deposits that fell from the glaciers that once covered the Rockies), and then to a series of ridges and hills that we had to surmount to get back to Hoosier Pass (and the car). We took a different route from that morning in the hopes of avoiding too much snowfield crossing, as it was quite a warm day and we were concerned that the snow would be soft and we would punch through it as we walked. However, that route proved to involve a lot of uphill after we had summited, which just felt wrong to me (and my legs, which are very sore as I write this). This included having to get on top of something that was 12,800 ft high.
Finally, coming down into the trees again. My old friend Quandary Peak is to the left.
Eventually, however, we made it down to treeline, which meant we were close to the car. However, we had to traverse the deep snow through the trees to make it to the road. The sun had softened the snow and all three of us would periodically sink down into the snow up to our hips and have to dig ourselves out. In one notable instance, I fell in so far that I almost lost a boot pulling myself out. Eventually we made it to the car and then ate some much-deserved barbecue in Conifer on the way home.

In all, the hike was about 10 miles round trip and we gained 3400 vertical feet. I had a great day and am really looking forward to a lot more hiking this summer!

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