I had to get in one more mountain this weekend since I won't be able to do another for about 6 weeks. Had thoughts about doing Medicine Bow Peak but I didn't start hiking until 8:15, which is hardly an alpine start. This, combined with the slowly worsening weather as I drove higher, made me decide that I would do whatever seemed reasonable based upon my condition and the weather.
When I reached the roadblock at about 9700ft on the Snowy Range Road, there were a few snow flurries, but the weather was actually clearing and better than down in Centennial a few miles and 1700ft below. It was chilly; 13F, but with no wind that's pretty good hiking weather this time of year.
The most sensical approach is to walk up the road on the well- packed snow (snowmobilers constitute the primary use group this time of year). Parts of the road were blown clear of snow, but in a few places there are already 6-foot drifts. Very peaceful except when a group of snowmobilers roared by. Being a paved road grade, the hiking is easy, which was nice since I was carrying 25+lbs on my back with an ice axe, crampons, and snowshoes. The sun was out for a while (still with flurries), but by the time I reached Snowy Range Pass at 10850ft, it clouded over again with a cloud ceiling at about 11600ft. I headed down the other side of the pass for a short distance to the hairpin curve where we left the road for the winter ascent of Medicine Bow Peak in March.
I left the road here as well and strapped on the snowshoes. It was after 10am by this time and it was snowing a bit harder (still not much more than flurries); however, I felt good, so I decided to ascend Sugarloaf Mountain which is a southern sub-peak of Medicine Bow Peak. On the USGS map, there is a closed contour of 11400ft, with a marked point beside it labelled as 11398; whatever.
There's still not much of a grade on the short off-road approach to Sugarloaf and my back was glad I had the snowshoes on my feet; of course my legs weren't quite as happy. I was a little worried about slide danger, so I opted not to climb the south face, which would be a nice non-technical snow climb. Instead, I did what we did in March on the winter ascent of Medicine Bow Peak, and climbed up a short slope to a point on the ridge a couple hundred vertical feet below Sugarloaf. This time, the snow was awkward with a very thin crust, and the snowshoes weren't really helping. There was a slim chance of a small slide of this slope but it wasn't very long or deep.
Once on the ridge, I dumped the snowshoes for the rocky hike to the top. The rock is smooth quartzite so it was slick and a bit awkward. My new trekking poles weren't much help here. I summitted shortly before 11:30. The summit was surprisingly neat. It was still the same quartzite rock prevalent in the area, but the blocks of it were very rectangular and elegant. The clouds weren't more than a couple hundred feet above me and I couldn't really see anything; too bad, because the view of the Snowy Range would be great.
Nothing really exciting to say about the trip down. The slog down the road was a slog down the road with occasional passing snowmachines. The weather didn't change much, and it was still only 18F at 2:22pm when I finished.
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File last modified: 21 December 2004