(Jeez, I can't believe how freakin' long this report ended up being. It was just a 4.5 hour hike and I turned it into War and Peace. On the other hand, there's often more to talk about when things don't go quite right. There's a very concise summary of the trip report at bottom that a friend wrote.)
Last weekend I reconnoitered the Mount Evans Road after bailing on another 14er due to high winds and blowing snow. Again this weekend I was concerned with high winds, and in fact, I took advantage of Spring Break at CU to delay this hike until Monday with the hopes of having decent weather.
My plan was to push all the way up to the summit of Rogers Peak. This is a sub-peak of Mount Evans, with enough saddle drop from Evans to count as a "ranked" 13er. I had decided on a route based on my recon and some map work. This route included taking advantage of my snowshoes and cut the first two switchbacks on the lower portion of the closed road. While snowshoeing through dense timber has its own issues, my route was going to shorten the trek by more than a mile each way. And, I had found out from another hiker last week that the Colorado Mountain Club had a trail flagged through the trees to cut the first switchback.
This is definitely a hike where living in Boulder (as opposed to Laramie, Wyoming) has a major advantage. I left home shortly after 0430 and despite taking a while to gear up, I was hiking at 0617. The weather was exactly as expected, sunny, mild, and windy. Of course, "mild" has a different meaning above 10,000ft in March than it does for the lowlands. Still, it was only down into the upper 20s during the early parts of the hike.
After a few minutes hiking on the road, I headed up into the trees. There was no special marking for the CMC trail, but despite entering the trees a little early, by angling right I hit the trail shortly after. The trail wasn't especially well packed down and winds around a little, but still helped me out quite a bit. Once you hit the road again, the first option to get to the upper part of the road is to stay on the road for a while, and do a short snow scramble on what can sometimes be an avalanche slope. This is what I and my improptu partner did last week. However, my planned route was already long, and by heading up through the timber again, one can shorten the hike by a large fraction of a mile.
However, I quickly found out why that isn't necessarily the best option. First, this slope is steeper than the lower one. Second, the snow was very loose and sloppy. I only had to gain about 200 feet to get out of the snow, but it took quite a while as I sometimes sank a leg in up to my crotch. These are bigtime snowshoes I'm using, too. All geared up, my gross weight is about 190 lbs, but my shoes are 36" by 10" and are rated past 200 lbs in deep powder. Several times I when I tried to use my arms for leverage, my poles would disappear into the snow to my hands. This ascent was very arduous, and had an impact on the rest of the trip.
I finally broke out of the trees, and at least I had chosen a line that got me out of the trees about as low as possible. From here I had to ascend a couple hundred feet up a wind-hammered tundra slope with limited snow cover to get back to the road.
At this point, I was at the final approach for Mount Goliath. But for Rogers Peak, I had to stay on the road and skirt the west side of Goliath. I kept my snowshoes on because I wasn't sure what conditions were like "around the bend". The road shoulder ended up being dry, so I cached my snowshoes in a 2-foot wide drainage pipe sticking out of the road bed. I was mostly in the shade here since it was still early in the morning, and this area is totally exposed to the wind. I started to notice that my penis was getting cold from the wind (no reason to be coy, eh?). I was wearing briefs, midweight bottoms, and 200 weight polartec pants. I tried the ol' mitten-in-the-pants ploy but I ended up having to put on my shell pants. I was also wearing a midweight top, polartec jacket, shell jacket, balaclava, ski goggles, gloves, Gore-Tex overmitts, and gaiters. Just a typical walk in the park.
It was around this point that I noticed that one of my trekking poles was broken. Great. Poles are a nicety while walking, but more like a necessity when snowshoeing soft snow. The problem was with the inner mechanism that lets you lock the pole at a certain height. As it turned out, when I got home I was quickly able to get the pole to work again, but that didn't happen in the field.
There is a road turnout on the back side of Mount Goliath, and in my planned route I was to take a right and head off-road up a ridge to get to Rogers. Well, dummy me, I second-guessed myself here and decided to keep hiking up the road. At some point I would have to turn right and head up the slope. The problem was that eventually the small amount of exposed road surface became icy, my normal hiking boots don't have great traction, and with an almost non-existant shoulder, you can take quite a fall down the slope below the road. Heading up meant tiptoeing up some very hardpacked snow and I had neither crampons nor an ice axe. It wasn't very steep, but when you are traveling alone in a remote area (and by this time I was in a remote area), a fall is a fall, and you just can't let one happen. So, I crept up the 25-foot snow slope, cursing most of the way and wondering why the hell I didn't follow my original plan. Above this was patchy snow cover on the tundra which was still a little awkward at times, requiring me to expend a little extra energy, particularly when cursing myself some more for not following the original plan.
Above all this was a ridge extending from behind and to my right (leading back toward Goliath Peak), to ahead and to my left (leading to another road saddle). Somewhere beyond this ridge lay a connecting ridge to Rogers Peak. I finally topped out on this ridge near some very large boulders. At this point I could see Rogers Peak. To get there I would have to head to my right along this ridge and down to a saddle, then up about 700 vertical feet. I was pretty worn out by this point. I still had plenty of time, the weather was reasonable, but I had a hard time imagining how I was going to come up with the energy to ascend that last 700 feet, especially because it was pretty similar to the slope I had just ascended. It didn't help that I probably wasn't hydrating or eating enough.
I paused to assess the situation under a huge south-facing rock which got me out of the wind, but kept me in the sun. It was also a good place from which to take a few pictures. At least in this calm spot, it was a beautiful day at 12,700ft. I had to make a decision, and decided that it just wasn't my day to climb Rogers Peak.
I haven't had to bail out like this very often, mostly because I'm careful in the first place to make sure things are OK. In fact, I've started (or finished) driving somewhere and turned around about as many times as I've cut a hike short. Usually, I start to feel much better as soon as I make the decision to bail and that's always a good sign that I've made the right decision. It also brings home the point that one's mental state is so important in these things. Anyway, this time as I headed over to the exit ridge, I just couldn't help thinking just how close Rogers was from there. I guess this time my decision had more to do with my physical state than mental. I ambled down the ridge back to the road turnout, and this was definitely the proper ascent route. It was still a beautiful day despite the wind, and almost before I knew it I was back at the highway, then back at my cached snowshoes.
I decided that despite the crappy snow conditions, it would still probably be easier and safer to descend down through the trees. I couldn't quite find my exact exit point from the ascent, so I headed down and to the right so as to hit the road above the lower flagged trail. Even with just one pole, this went reasonably well, albiet still strenuous when I had to pull a snowshoe out of 2 feet of snow. When I hit the road I still wasn't sure I was above the lower trail, so I hiked up the road for 100 yards to take a look-see. I then came back down 200 yards, and found the entrance exactly where I left it. Yay! This went quickly, leaving a couple hundred yards of hiking down the road to the parking lot. My leg muscles were just about shot at this point. Lifting my feet off the ground hiking the nearly level road wasn't easy. At 1052 my hike ended. After just 4.5 hours it was surprising just how tired I was.
Despite the fact that my off-road snowshoeing took a lot out of me and had an impact on the rest of the hike, it's still hard to argue with that route. I think if I had stayed on my pre-planned route the whole way I still might have made the summit. Taking a rest break every few minutes during the really tough parts might help.
About a mile from home, while driving north on Broadway, I got into a car accident. I'm not quite sure what happened in front of the guy in front of me, but I suddenly noticed that he was coming to a rapid stop in heavy traffic and I could only slow from 20 mph to 5 mph before rear-ending him. The guy behind me managed to stop in time. However, what I hit was a small, narrow trailer that was being towed. We pulled over, and after asking me if I was all right, we converged between our vehicles. He wasn't concerned at all, and said something to the effect that I couldn't have damaged his trailer. I looked at the front of my car, which already has a few dings from an incident several years ago in Laramie (some guy backed into me to give another car room to leave an angle-parking spot). Despite the rather loud-sounding collision, I didn't see any damage. I reached back into my car and popped up the headlights. Intact. He said that since there was no damage that there was no need to involve the police and I agreed. So we shook hands and continued on our merry ways. Phew!! It's hard to beat that; a traffic accident with no injuries and no damage. I presume that his trailer and its hitch absorbed much of the energy of the collision. Had I hit the rear-end of a car, it probably would have been another story.
After reading this report, here's what my friend Matthias (who was a grad student in Laramie with me for several years) had to say:
"I read your trip report. Whine, whine... Oooh, it's cold, and windy, and the snow is so soft ... That's what you get for living in a sissy town like Boulder, instead of a real men's town like Laramie!" ;->
Yep, that about sums it up!
To the chronological trip index
To the Rogers Peak page
File last modified: 28 December 2004