I knew that there was a lot of snow in the high mountains, but I was really itching to climb something tall in Colorado. One reason I picked Mount Hope was because it's a relatively short, steep hike. Thus, if I had soft snow, I still might be able to make it just because it's not very long. However, I wanted to stack the odds in my favor so I left Laramie at 2am hoping the snow would be well consolidated.
I had one very interesting experience driving to the mountain. While I was getting my 3 hours of sleep, we had a thundershower in Laramie, which is somewhat unusual after dark. As I drove southwest on Wyoming 230 I quickly gained on a batch of storms and ended up getting a good light show and some cold rain. At the turnoff for Woods Landing at about 7500ft elevation, the road starts it's steep climb into the Medicine Bow National Forest. At this point, the precipitation started looking funny in the headlights. It took me a second, but I realized it was snowing, and soon after, the road suddenly had an inch of snow on it! The road was just wet again after a half-mile, but it was very surprising to have had heavy enough snow from a late June thunderstorm to cover the roadway at only 7500ft.
I arrived at the trailhead on the Clear Creek Road at about 6am near sunrise. A couple of guidebooks say you can drive a couple hundred yards up a road from here to a small parking area, but it didn't look to healthy for a passenger car. Since I knew there would be a lot of snow, I took a suggestion from Garratt and Martin in their high 13ers book and decided my route was to follow the Colorado Trail up to Hope Pass, and then follow the ridge to Hope. As an added bonus, if I was tired at Hope Pass or didn't like what I saw on Hope, I could instead climb Quail Mountain from Hope Pass. At this point, I had no idea I would be able to climb them both.
I was surprised how little snow there was near the valley floor. Snowline is still around 10000ft in the Snowys in SE Wyoming, but it was obviously much higher here. This gave me a lot of confidence, because I knew that a substantial portion of the climb would be a trail hike. I started up the "road" at 6:10am, and reached the trailhead register a couple minutes later. I noticed a recent entry that said that snowline was at 11500ft, much higher than I expected, even for a south-facing route.
I'm in a lot better shape than the last time I actually hiked on dirt as opposed to snow and it was really making a big difference. I was working at the same heart rate as usual, but I was making much more progress than usual. The first snow along the trail was at about 11000ft, and shortly after, parts of the trail were drifted over. Finally, just like the trailhead register entry said, the trail disappeared in the snow at 11500ft. As I had hoped, the snow had a solid crust, and I was up to 11800ft after a total of only an hour of hiking. [As of summer 1999, that is still the only time I've gained 2000ft in one hour.]
At this point, I could see Mount Hope quite well, as well as Hope Pass (12540ft). Although there was some exposed dirt, the best way up to the pass was on snow. The slope gradually steepened, and by the time my clinometer read 30 degrees, it was too slick to simply walk up. However, it was also too hard to kick steps with any sort of efficiency. The slope wasn't dangerous, so I continued up, using my axe in horizontal position (pick planted into the snow), and flat-footing (plant step-step, plant step-step, etc.). Not the most graceful method, and probably not very good for my back considering how much I had to bend over, but it worked fine. I didn't quite pick the right line and I ended up about 100ft above the pass on the Quail Mountain side, finishing on 35-degree snow.
Mount Hope's east ridge had been looking pretty interesting for quite a while. Interesting, but doable. The ridge crest is rugged and only the very crest was free of snow. However, I could see a region high on the ridge that was completely snow-covered, and I figured this might be the crux. The highest, gentler part of the ridge near the summit was corniced on the north side but was otherwise snow-free. In between the east ridge and the southeast ridge there is a large hanging basin and there was a little bit of recent avalanche activity below the southeast ridge from cornice failures. However, the avalanches hadn't made it very far down the slope.
The ridge climb was a mixture of several things. Some of it was hiking on snow on the right side of the ridge with a considerable dropoff down steep snow about a half-meter away. There was also a considerable amount of scrambling over jagged talus and small boulders right on the ridge crest. This was necessary to avoid some of the fairly slick snow on the left side of the ridge in the steeper parts. As it turned out, whenever I was on rock, I pretty much had to climb right over everything and couldn't skirt much of it. This involved some easy Class 3 scrambling, but when snow-free this probably could be somewhat avoided. The worst part of the ridge climbing was that when I was on the snow I had to stay near the rocks. This meant that occasionally my left leg punched through the softer snow near the rocks.
I made my way up to the part of the ridge that was snow-covered. I was lucky here in that there were still footprints from the last person to climb. The snow had softened up enough that I could have probably kicked steps, but I didn't have to as the footprints were several inches deep. After this section, the mountain levels out for the last couple hundred yards to the summit cairn, which I reached shortly before 9am.
The weather up there was gorgeous with practically a flat calm and clouds were just starting to form over some of the mountains. There were only a handful of registered ascents this year with the last one a couple days previous. The register had been there nearly two years and was only about 1/3 full. I ate a Power Bar and enjoyed the scenery, including several nearby 14ers (this fact is probably one of the reasons that Hope is not particularly popular), and Twin Lakes. I still had energy left, and I decided to bag Quail Mountain while I was there.
I had been contemplating all the way up where I would start my glissade descent off of Hope. I decided that the snow was soft enough for the steeper part at the top of that hanging basin to be safe. I adjusted everything and started sliding at about 13600ft at angle of probably near 40 degrees (however, I didn't measure it). It was pretty fast and I self-arrested after about 100ft. I started up again and again started to self-arrest after another 150ft. This time however, it didn't quite go right. I wasn't digging in too much and after about 10 feet of sliding, suddenly the ground dipped and I didn't have my axe anymore. I had no problem stopping without it 10 feet later. I scrambled back up to see what the deal was, and discovered that I had slid right over a crack in the snowpack about 2 meters long, 25 cm wide and about a meter deep. My axe had lodged into the bottom wall of this. This was pretty scary because this probably was an avalanche that didn't quite happen sometime before. The snow was still solid here, but I hurriedly traversed out from below this. My best option was still to glissade down, so I got set again and this time did a fast 600ft continuous sitting glissade down to where the slope eased quite a bit. The upper part was fast enough for my stomach to feel like I was falling. Very cool.
This put me down near 12700ft and I probably could have kept going, but to climb Quail Mountain, I had to get back to Hope Pass. I did a rather awkward traverse back over to the ridge, and descended back to the pass. The climb up Quail was a steep snow-free hike up a scree and loose talus slope, very anti-climactic after the climb of Hope. After crossing a couple false summits, I reached the real summit at about 10:40.
I didn't have much reason to linger, so I headed back down the pass. I did another 500ft worth of glissading back down into Sheep Gulch, and hiked the rest of the softening snow, which I punched through numerous times. I found the trail right where I left it. At some point, and I'm really unclear where, I had the interesting experience of not merely breaking through the snow up to my thigh, which I've done several times, but going in above my waist. Very interesting. The 1.5 miles or so of the trail went quickly, but with good views across the valley to the Belford/Oxford/Missouri area. Even though I have a bit of a knee problem, I was able to do a couple hundred yards worth of trail running and I reached my car exactly at noon, less than 6 hours after starting. Actually, my knee didn't bother me at all, even during the steep descent off of Quail and on the final trail; credit goes to the orthopedist for the diagnosis and for the physical therapist for showing me the leg exercises that I've been doing for the last 6 weeks.
At least with the current snowpack, Mount Hope was a great mountain to climb, well worth doing again sometime.
To the chronological trip index
To the Mount Hope page
To the Quail Mountain page
File last modified: 20 December 2004