I was planning on doing some mountain hiking last Saturday near Berthoud Pass on US 40 in Colorado, but ran into slick roadway on Colorado 127 just across the border, and decided that I didn't want to deal with ~100 miles of slow driving. I really wanted to summit a mountain to celebrate my birthday. Unfortunately, there was an impending major winter storm, thus I decided that Colorado was out. However, the highest mountain in the southeast half of Wyoming happens to be 50 miles away from me. Medicine Bow Peak is significant for me because it's the first mountain I ever climbed, this July 1st, and this climb would make it the first mountain I ever climbed twice. Of course, the winter storm was still pending.
The early Saturday morning forecast delayed the winter storm watch for this area until Saturday night and Sunday, so I decided to go for it. Since I had such a short drive, I didn't start very early and didn't start climbing until 8:10am. The Medicine Bow Trail starts at 10400ft and it was snowing lightly above about 8500ft on the approach, and I ended up being in falling snow until well after making it back to Laramie in the afternoon.
The trail switchbacks up through forest for a while before reaching treeline somewhere around 11000ft. There was about 2" of fresh snow, and the older snow was slowly getting deeper as I ascended. The route is mostly well-cairned, which was important since visibility was steadily dropping as I ascended in snow and fog. Typical visibility was 1/8-1/4 mile while above treeline. I managed to stay on or near the trail all the way up and reached the summit at 10:18. The view from Medicine Bow Peak to the south is exceptional as this face is quite steep and overlooks a lake. Unfortunately, I couldn't see anything except for the summit.
The fun started on the way down. Only about 15 minutes after starting down, I lost the trail. I'm still not sure how I managed this, but I certainly didn't want it to happen on this particular day. I had my compass, though, and knew the general direction I wanted to head. Despite the snow, I was keeping warm and I still had more clothing in my pack. Unfortunately, the direction I headed led me through a talus/boulder field, which is not good when half-covered with snow. I encountered a creek near treeline and decided to follow it down. As it turned out, this creek was flowing too much west and not enough south, but I figured that it would be prudent to follow the terrain as much as possible.
At about 11:30, I found the end of a forest road that headed south and I was pretty sure connected back to the main road, which was nice timing because I was getting a bit concerned by this point. Visibility had improved to about 1/2 mile during a lull in the snow, but didn't really matter at this point. As I hoped, about an hour later, I was on the Snowy Range Road. The only problem was that I was about 2 miles below (west of) my car as the crow flies, which unfortunately translates to 4 miles on the road. I hiked up the road for about 2 miles (~45 minutes) before deciding that I had had enough and flagged down a vehicle (turned out to be Forest Service) and got a ride for the last two miles to my car, which had about 1.5" of snow on it. I still could have hiked those miles but it seemed pretty pointless to hike up a paved road.
It was about 1:20 at this point, giving a round trip time of 5 hours 10 minutes. My best guess is that thanks to my idiocy this hike became 2000ft/10.5 miles r.t. Still not a bad day, and was a good test of compass usage and 'crisis' management skills.
BTW, this is a great hike during the summer and it's not very steep considering the dramatic views at the top (except that you can see a paved road which may or may not diminish your summit experience).
To the chronological trip index
To the Medicine Bow Peak page
File last modified: 20 December 2004