Huron Peak trip report

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.THIS AFTERNOON...CLOUDY WITH SHOWERS LIKELY AND SCATTERED
THUNDERSTORMS.  SNOW SHOWERS ABOVE 11,000 FEET.  HIGHS IN
THE UPPER 40S TO MID 50S.
.TONIGHT...SHOWERS LIKELY WITH A FEW THUNDERSTORMS.  SNOW
LEVEL LOWERING TO AROUND 9 THOUSAND FEET.  LOWS UPPER 20S
TO MID 30S.
.SATURDAY...CLOUDY WITH SHOWERS LIKELY AND A FEW
THUNDERSTORMS.  SNOW LEVEL AROUND 10 THOUSAND FEET.  HIGHS
IN THE 40S AND LOWER 50S.

Thus read the forecast issued on the 30th for the central mountains of Colorado. I knew there might be a lot of snow on the ground, but I was most worried about the chance of t-storms (especially after reading Bob Broeking's harrowing near-miss descending Blanca/Ellingwood [on rec.backcountry]), and the possibility of a whiteout. I don't have any winter mountaineering equipment (yet), so I rigged up a trekking pole from the leg of a wooden telescope tripod.

I slept in a bit, and left the curb at 2:21am (I was originally planning to leave by 2). Hardly had any precip on the way, but I-70 was quite wet up to the Eisenhower tunnel. I reached the good (but washboarded in spots) dirt road leading to the trailhead around 6:30, and made the 12 miles to the parking spot south of Winfield by shortly after 7am. Going up this road I did hit a little rain/snow mix, and by about 10000ft, there was snow along the road. The sky didn't look too favorable at this point, and I couldn't see the mountain tops. This is another route without a true trailhead; it's just a matter of how far you can or want to drive up an increasingly difficult road. By the time I started up at 7:22, it was 32 degrees, with light wind, an inch or two of fresh snow, and the clouds were breaking up. However, the mountains were almost completely covered with snow.

The first two miles are an uneventful, but scenic, walk up a 4WD road, which unfortunately doesn't provide much of an elevation gain. Of course, on this easy part, it was easier to enjoy the views of this winter wonderland.

A little ways up the road past a gate which defines the end of the road and the start of a trail, there's a sign for the Huron trail pointing you straight up a hill. On this hillside there was about 3" of fluffy snow, and I was a little ways up the hill before I found the trail. As I found out on the way down, there really wasn't much of a trail near the bottom (more on that later).

I eventually made it up to what must have been the 'charming grassy basin' at 12300ft that Roach describes. Of course, it was covered with about 4" of snow. From here, I saw a herd of Elk about a quarter-mile away. At this point, I really wasn't sure if I was looking at Huron or Browns Peak, which is just north of Huron. In any case, I could see what I was up against; a climb up fairly steep snow-covered talus. If this was Browns Peak, I still had another 500ft of gain after what looked to be a tough climb. I think the normal route goes basically straight up Hurons' northwest face, but that looked a little too steep for me under these conditions, so I aimed for a point high on what I assumed was Hurons' north ridge.

This is when the fun really started. The snow was fluffy (not really powder snow, though), so my boots sank on every step. Fine, except for the rocks underneath, which not only were slick, but loose in places. And, as an added bonus, the snow kept getting deeper with more drifts. So basically it was hard to take two steps the same, one step would sink to dirt, the next would hit a slick or loose rock just below the snow, etc. As I got farther up, I would occasionally sink in almost to my knees. Everytime I hit a rock, I would lose about half of the altitude gain of the step from slipping. The only good thing about this tedious ascent was that I was staying warm. My improvised trekking pole was invaluable up here, but in some rocky places I ended up using my hands.

The ascent was taking a long time, and if this was only Browns I was prepared to turn around when I reached it's summit. By about 11am, I was getting close to this summit, and was also getting higher than most of the nearby summits. Also, my altimeter was saying that I was getting fairly close to 14000ft. I finally reached the mystery summit shortly before noon, and it turned out to be a falsie. Thankfully, shortly beyond I could see an American flag on a slightly higher summit, and didn't see anything higher beyond this fairly flat area. Despite being close now, it still took another 10 minutes slogging through the snow to reach this, and at 12:05pm I was on top. Part of the register tube was sticking above the snow, and I comfirmed where I was. Nobody had been up on the 30th, and I was probably to be the only one on top on the 1st.

I was a little worried that the descent might be quite difficult, and the weather was looking like it might deteriorate soon. I decided to descend straight down and try to stay away from rocks as much as possible. The snow was soft all the way to the surface and too shallow to do any sort of glissade, but I was still able to get down pretty quickly with out hurting myself. There were a couple of fun parts where I was able to almost run down the slope plunging into snow up to my knees; it almost felt like scree running. Of course, as soon as I would establish a rhythm doing this, I would start hitting rock. At least when I was slipping, it was in the direction I wanted to go. I comfirmed that this wasn't the way to ascend when my cap (which I was wearing over my balaclava), blew off uphill in a light snow shower. I had to scramble up the hill on all fours to get it, and although I think the angle was only about 30-40 degrees, it wasn't the kind of thing I wanted to do for a couple hours.

I finished going down this face in the bottom of a shallow couloir, and only 50 minutes after starting my descent, I was back to my footsteps on the grassy basin, and I was out of the snow shower. By the time I had retraced my steps to around 11000-11500ft, most of the snow had melted off the trail, and some spots were a little too steep for comfort on mud.

Once I got near the bottom of the hill, I could see that there wasn't really a trail on the last 100ft of elevation. As it turns out, the trail sign wasn't where it should have been. While sitting on a rock having a snack, two Forest Service people came walking down the trail, and I found out that they had moved the trail sign closer to the gate while I was on Huron. From this new place there was a good trail on the entire hill. They also were doing some other sign work, and we chatted for a minute. I passed them again a little farther down the road, but about 15 minutes later they came down in their 4WD vehicle and offered me a ride, but this was the easy part of the trip and I was feeling fine. I reached my car at 2:48pm, almost 7 1/2 hours after starting.

I had considered ending my 14er season last week, but I'm glad decided to go on Saturday. A tough climb, but well worth it. I'll probably climb Medicine Bow Peak, our local 12er, again, and maybe some other 'short' mountains in northern Colorado, but I'm done with 14ers in this, my first year of climbing.


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File last modified: 20 December 2004

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