This was originally intended to be my last possible attempt on a winter 14er, being the last day of Winter. First, I was considering Quandary Peak, but I was a little concerned with recent snowfall. So, I reconsidered and decided to give Mount Bross a try from the wind-swept east side. I finally bought myself a pair of snowshoes, and I was expecting to need them to navigate 3 miles of presumably snowed-in road to get to Bross' east ridge, followed by a steeper, but drier hike up the ridge.
I left Boulder at 0318, and didn't drive particularly fast, taking US 285 to get to into South Park. From "downtown" Alma I turned off onto the Buckskin Road, and after 2.6 miles, I found myself at an improptu parking area and a snowplow. However, the start of the road I was expecting to snowshoe, which leads to the Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pine Scenic Area, had been recently plowed. OK, I guess I'll keep driving and see what happens. Unfortunately, I only made it about 300 yards before I lost my traction; a front-wheel drive car just wasn't enough. Back at the snowplow I contemplated things. First, I finally noticed just how windy it was, and the blowing snow. I was a little concerned with the road drifting over and making my exit down the road difficult. Plus, I knew if it was windy at 11000ft, it must be really hauling up high. On a calmer day, I might have chained up the tires and gave the road a go, making the hike shorter. Or, on a calmer day the 10+ mile round-trip hike would have been more appealing. But, I decided that this just wasn't my day.
I drove back down to Alma, and decided to head toward home via Hoosier Pass and take a close look at Quandary Peak. Just above Alma I could see that a cap cloud was trying to develop over Mount Lincoln and Mount Cameron, just north of Bross. That verified my hunch that the wind was very high up there. A cap cloud had formed over North Star Mountain, just north of those peaks. But the best was yet to come. The next peak to the north is Quandary Peak (all the mountains I've mentioned are within about 5 miles of each other). There was a tremendous cap cloud over the mountain, with "mist" from blowing snow all the down to treeline. Conditions high on Quandary must have been "full"; i.e. probably near hurricane force winds with zero visibility. My first look at Quandary from the south side revealed that the cap cloud was all the way down to a prominent flat part at 13200ft, 1000ft below the summit.
I had a third option for this day, snowshoeing on the Mount Evans Road. The 13+ miles to the summit are only open during late spring and summer, and I've heard that it is a fairly popular snowshoeing and skiing route. When I got there, a guy was gearing up in the parking lot and I said hi. I saw skis and assumed that he was a cross-country skier. About 5 minutes after he started up the road, I was geared up and ready to hike.
It was just after 0800 at this point, and the temperature was in the upper 20s. The wind was still strong, but the lower portion of the road is below treeline. It's been a couple years since I used snowshoes, but it's something that I seem to be able to do fairly well. There were a couple of packed lines on the road, and in fact you could just about walk up the road in boots. My large (36" x 10") snowshoes were overkill, but I bought them with the intent of having one pair that I could use in all conditions.
With abundant sunshine, and proper clothing, even in the wind it was a nice morning. I eventually caught that guy (Art) and spoke with him for a few minutes. I found out that he was on snowshoes for the ascent and brought an old pair of skis with him to try to make an easy descent. I went on ahead, and ended up at a place where snow had drifted across the roadbed at about a 40-45 degree angle, with a long steep slope below. I would have been content to turn around at that point and call it a 5+ mile day. However, Art showed up and knew that heading up the short hill before the steep slope was a good thing. He said that this area is often a prime avalanche slope, but it wasn't very loaded on this day.
We snowshoed up the 30-foot slope which brought us to a nearly snow-free ridge. At this point we had officially teamed up for an ascent of Goliath Peak, a high point along the road. From the low side, it's a fairly significant point. From the Mount Evans side, it's merely a pimple. I'm guessing it was named "Goliath" as a joke.
However, while we were ascending this ridge, the wind wasn't a joke. Luckily there was little snow to be blown around. We had effectively cut a switchback on the road, and hit the road again near Goliath. While hiking the road we were heading into the wind, and I pulled out my wind gauge at one point. Of course the wind lulled to 15-20 mph at that point. However, a bit later, the wind got strong again and I was able to log a gust to 55 mph.
Shortly after this, Art decided that we should turn left and make the final 500ft climb of Goliath. We had already cached our snowshoes so we hiked up the rocky tundra (and patchy snow). We reached the modest summit at 1025. The wind wasn't quite as bad on top, but we both independently decided that ski goggles were a good idea until we got back below the trees. We didn't linger too long and headed back down. The less intense downhill hike allowed us to chat a little.
At the bottom of that snow slope Art decided to try skiing, so we parted; me fully expecting him to come gliding past me at some point. That never happened, though. Either the skiing didn't go well, or he took a short cut. I felt pretty strong and hiked the last two miles (according to a mile marker sign poking out of the snow) in 40 minutes, after taking 70 minutes to ascend that distance.
So, while I didn't get a winter 14er this year, this was a nice hike, a good test run for my snowshoes, a pleasant meeting with another mountaineer (he is planning on climbing Aconcagua next January!), and a good recon to an area I hope to further explore this spring.
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File last modified: 28 December 2004