OK, I finally had a chance to give this hike another shot. I tried it last year a week after spring began but didn't quite make the summit. This year I tried it a few weeks before the start of winter. I ended up having better weather, and I applied what I learned about the route to make sensational route choices this time. The net result was my first-ever successful ascent of a high summit in November. (Well, OK, I had never tried before, but how many people are out there peak bagging after Thanksgiving, anyway...)
I had wanted to go hiking earlier in the 4-day weekend, but after unusually mild weather up to that point, the mountains finally started getting some snow. I had missed the 4 previous weekends, and you may find the main reason interesting, and maybe sobering. On Sunday, October 28th, I was heading for Casco Peak southwest of Leadville, and hit a deer 11 miles south of Leadville. I almost avoided it, but despite making it halfway into the wrong lane I clipped it with my right front bumper and did $1500 worth of damage. Because I wasn't sure if the car was OK, I immediately turned back toward home, so I might get back to civilization (or at least Leadville; ha, ha) if the car was not fit to drive. However, I ended up making it back to Boulder. If it had been damaged a bit less I might have done the hike anyway, but I wasn't sure about the damage and since I don't actually own the car yet nor do I carry a cell phone, it would have been a little stupid to push my luck. On top of that, the car didn't make it into the body shop until the following week (which was not my fault) so I missed two more weekends of good weather. Finally, the fourth weekend was the Leonid meteor shower, so I headed up to the high country to watch that and although I brought my hiking gear, I was too tired to hike after all the excitement and anyway the trailhead for my planned hike was inaccessible. (You can check out my photos from the meteor shower if you like.)
The weather still had the potential to cause problems this weekend, and a significant storm system was slowly tracking across Colorado. There had already been major snows in the San Juans, and I decided to stay as far east as possible and hope that I got off a mountain before the weather hit. That was the main reason why I ended up trying Rogers Peak again.
On last year's hike it was sunny but cool and windy, and I really had to bundle up to stay "warm". On my most recent hike, I damn near froze to death on Mount Ouray due to cold and very high winds. So, I ended up grossly overcompensating. I wore my plastic doubles, and I had three layers top and bottom, plus gaiters. My feet were practically dripping wet afterwards, but I was pretty much correct on my clothing above the waist. The temperature was in the 20s, but the wind was never over 30 mph and usually 15-20, so it wasn't too bad, except when blowing in my face.
The trailhead is the start of the Mount Evans Road near Echo Lake, which is closed for the winter in late September or October. For my route, I decided to immediately head off-road to cut the first switchback which saves nearly a mile. I used snowshoes, but there was barely enough snow to need them. When I hit the road again, I scraped the snow off a small section of the road shoulder so I could find the road exit on the way down. Unlike last time, I decided to walk up the road a little ways to minimize the amount of time I would spend snowshoeing through the trees. I hiked about a quarter-mile up the road (past the 2nd mile marker), and headed up the fall line shortly before a major turn in the road. This worked out very well, and I broke out of the trees quickly and then huffed and puffed up mostly dry tundra to get to the road again. If you are keeping track, I've now hiked a little more than a mile to get 3.5 miles up the road!
The road then curves around Goliath Peak, so you have to stay on the road for over a mile before you leave it for good. With so little snow around, and knowing that this would be the case for the windswept upper route, I cached my snowshoes in a tiny concrete "bunker" next to one of those tall snowplow guide poles. Early in the morning, much of this stretch is in the shadow of Goliath so it was a little chilly for a while, especially heading into the southerly wind. It was mostly sunny during the ascent with occasional clouds.
The key for the rest of the route is to leave the road at a saddle between Goliath and a ridge that leads to the ridge that leads up to Rogers (no, I didn't accidentally repeat myself). There is an interpretive sign and a parking area here, plus a trail around the backside of Goliath. This trail would actually be the shortest route around Goliath, but has some serious avalanche danger.
I was feeling pretty good at this point, but there's nothing like hiking up tundra and rocks and snow in the wind above 12,000ft to kill your spirit. You want to stay slightly on the right-hand side of the ridge to avoid a little extra gain at a saddle, and then at the top of this ridge at 12,700 to avoid a rocky area and more extra gain. At this point you have a good view of Rogers itself. I was pretty tired at this point, and had only taken one sitdown break. I also wasn't eating or drinking enough. Typical "winter" mountaineering. My right quad was getting more and more sore, something it's done before when wearing lead bricks - uh, plastic doubles.
The weather was starting to deteriorate towards Mount Evans, so I tried to go as fast as I could up the last 700ft to Rogers. Again, you want to stay a little bit to the right to approach another small saddle from below instead of from above. Although by that point I was moving pretty slowly, the terrain is not very steep. It does get a bit rockier toward the top, but it's still only low-end Class 2 at worst.
The summit is rather flat, but the highest rock is a steep, tall, angled slab with a crack in it. There was a summit register, but it was a mass of frozen paper and I couldn't even read a single name or date of their climb. I had seen footprints off and on all the way up the mountain, so someone had been there recently, and I was sort of hoping to see an entry from that person. Anyway, I thought about taking the register home and mailing the remains to the CMC, but I didn't see much point. From the summit, the weather looked apocalyptic over Mount Evans, and the wind was strong enough that it was blowing a few flurries from the nearby showers onto Rogers despite the Sun still shining.
With the immediate possibility of bad weather, I didn't stay on the summit for very long, and I hustled back down to the road. As it turned out, I only had a few flurries and the bad weather remained over Mount Evans. The long road segment seemed even longer than on the ascent, mainly because I wasn't taking any breaks. But, I finally reached my snowshoe cache and took a little break there.
From here, I made the short jaunt down to the trees, retracing my snowshoe tracks from the ascent, and then the even shorter jaunt through the trees to the road. The mark I left along the shoulder was still there about a quarter-mile down the road, and again I retraced my exact route through the trees to hit the first curve in the road. By now it had clouded up a lot, but out of the wind I was getting pretty warm. If I hadn't been so close to my car I would have had to take off a layer before continuing. Anyway, I reached my car shortly after noon for a 5-hour round-trip.
Timing is everything; when I got home at 2pm, there were widespread light showers over just the mountains, but things exploded by 3pm and it started snowing pretty hard in Boulder and along most of my drive route. By about 5pm, road conditions were pretty bad in most places. Driving in snowfall when the roads are bad is bad enough, but couple that with roads full of Coloradans; man, it doesn't get any worse!
To the chronological trip index
To the Rogers Peak page
File last modified: 24 November 2005