Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sherman 01.07.2012

With very busy weekends in my near future, I decided that I needed to get out this Saturday, even if the forecast was a little sketchy.

The forecast for Mt. Sherman (elev. 14,036 ft.) was for winds of 17mph with gusts up to 29mph, with a high of 22 and wind chills to reach -16 F. There was also a storm front moving in and it was supposed to start snowing around 11am lightly increasing in the evening with accumulations between 5 - 12 inches.

So, I read the forecast and decided that I just need to start really early. I pack my gear, set my alarm for 2:15am and go to sleep around 10:30pm. It seems like no time has passed when my alarm goes off and I briefly think of just shutting it off and going back to sleep, but I eventually force myself to wake up.

I am out the door by 2:45am and at the trailhead around 5:15am. I take one attempt at driving higher up a 4-wheel drive road that is snow covered, and remembering my experience on Elbert, I quickly retreat when I come to a somewhat deep section of snow, and end up parking near the normal winter closure at 11,000ft.

As soon as my boots hit the ground, the snow begins. It's 5:45am.

It's light snow, so I continue hoping to see it clear by daylight. I am on the trail for maybe 45 minutes when I have a minor equipment issue where my headlamp dies. I replaced the batteries, which is hard to do in the dark, but I just used my iPhone's flashlight app to see enough to swap them out, and again I am on my way.

At 12,000ft, there is a gate where the 4-wheel drive trail ends. This is about 3 miles from where I parked. As soon as I go through the gate, I see headlights behind me and think to myself that one day I will buy a Jeep to save me time on these 4-wheel drive trails that my truck just can't do.

The snow stops for a while as I continue up towards the ridge and past some old mines. This is about the time I see one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen.

The weather at this point is better than I expected, and for my upper body, I am down to my synthetic base layer, my Patagonia R1 Hoody, and my thin rain jacket for a wind break. My super warm REI Primaloft jacket is in my backpack.

I am making good time, as I get to a fork in the trail and I am 90% sure I should go left, but to go right looks tempting. Going right is a more direct route, but steeper. I decide to stick to what I think is the right way and I go left.

The guys from the Jeep that drove to 12,000ft are catching up to me and I see them stop where I stopped at the fork and they go right... up the south face of Sherman.

I wonder if I am on the right trail now, and double-check the map and decide that I am just fine.

I continue up and right before reaching the ridge there is a snow cornice formed along the ridge, and it's definitely worse in some spots than others so I head towards a spot in the ridge that looks the safest.

At this point I have to stop and grab my ice axe to navigate some steep, slick, bullet-proof snow that leads to the ridge / cornice. I didn't stop to grab pics at this point, but I probably should have. Instead the picture I took was when I reached the ridge. I am glad that part was over.


Whew, now just a nice ridge walk up to the summit.

But now is when Mr. Weather decides to start letting his presence be known again. The temp drops what felt like 10 degrees, the wind picked up and by the time I was nearing the summit, clouds were moving in quickly.

I grab a picture (right) of a fellow climber who is standing on the summit. Looks like a nice easy walk over, and then I am off to summit nearby Gemini peak (elevation 13,951 ft.)

I stop and talk to this guy for a bit, and he is also going to do Gemini. At this point I am getting cold, so our conversation is short. He kindly snaps a quick picture of me, and I am off to finish the final few steps towards the summit of Mt. Sherman.

I also meet three Army guys from Colorado Springs up near the summit and in my opinion they are clearly a little under prepared for this type of winter ascent. They have no ice axes, no trekking poles, no microspikes for traction, and they are dressed in desert boots, jeans, and at least one guy is wearing gloves that I wouldn't even think about using on a 14er in the winter.

Not to mention the fact that they took the south face up.

I respect our military folks a TON, so I ask if they are OK (since they look cold) and they reply that they are fine, but heading down. I also think to myself... "they've probably dealt with shit a hundred times as bad as this". So, I continue to the summit.

As I hit the summit of Sherman, the weather goes from SNAFU to TARFU. I now put on my warm jacket, microspikes, a full face fleece balaclava, and ski goggles. As I do this, I think it's probably best to save Gemini for some other day.

So I begin my descent.

As I reach the ridge again, the 3 Army guys are standing on a big snow cornice looking over the edge. I recognize how dangerous this is, and hurry to catch up to them. I advise them to find a safer route down and briefly explain the avalanche dangers of cornices and also explain that they should spread out a bit if they are in a dangerous area. We get to the spot (or at least near it) where I came up and I remember how steep and slick it was on the way up. I think that there's no way these guys are going to have any traction on this slope and I offer up my trekking poles to them, which they gladly take and I lead the way down using my ice axe again. They follow down, albeit a little adventurously. After 15 minutes of scrambling over some rock, and trying to avoid moderate avalanche terrain, and some short & safe, but very fun glissades we finally reach the trail again.

After a quick descent with a lot of great conversation, we reached their Jeep at 12:00pm. Not bad for 8.5 miles or so. They thanked me for my help and offered a ride from 12,000ft back to my truck at 11,000ft. I gladly accept and save myself another 3 miles of descent.

On the way out I stop to help a husband and wife who were stuck on the ice. I offer up the kitty litter (for traction on ice) that I always carry in the truck for just this type of thing, thanks to the great advice from my wife. So, I spread some litter under his rear tires and it works flawlessly on the first attempt. They thank me and ask if I think it's too late to start up Sherman. I look at my phone and see it's 12:30pm already. I look at them like they are crazy and tell them that there is weather moving in and it's easily 11 miles round trip from where they parked.

As I drive away I take this last picture of the weather moving into the Fourmile creek area.

On my drive home, it snowed almost the whole way with the weather continuing to get worse all the time. Hopefully everyone made it home safe, including this clown I saw riding a Harley down I-70 in the snow.

Overall it was a interesting day with a lot of interaction with other people on the mountain. I usually rarely see others up there in conditions like this, but sometimes it's nice to see others, since we can rely on each other for help.

Now I am just sounding like a hippie... signing off.

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