I didn't want to do anything "big" with the possibility of some snowcover from a weak storm Friday night and Saturday morning, and the forecast of wind gusts to 50 mph. I had been wanting to get Buckskin before the year was out, for the reason given at the end of this report. I had thought about doing the minor sub-peak Loveland Mountain as well, which has a nominal start point 4 miles up the Buckskin Gulch Road, the same road that leads to Kite Lake and a trio of 14ers.
However, there is no legal parking at or within a quarter-mile or so of the Sweet Home Mine. Abundant signs and fences make this clear. There is a wide spot about 0.2-0.3 miles past the nominal parking given in the guidebook where 2 or 3 cars can parallel park off the roadway. I actually stopped here for a moment to assess the situation. I decided that with the wind already blowing pretty good and the fresh snowcover, I might as well keep driving up the road and go for the standard route from Kite Lake instead of hiking over Loveland Mountain first. In addition to the wind, the air was extremely dry; at my car the relative humidity was 10% with a dewpoint of -11F! The dewpoint was -7F on the summit and still below zero at the end of the hike.
I made it to about 5.2 miles from the highway, just past the major switchback in the road, and decided to park next to another car in a place where 3 or 4 cars can park. The road is quite good up to the mine, and then gets a bit rugged for a car after that. As it turned out, there was a section just short of the first main parking lot that might not be navigable for all cars. Which is sort of stupid since it costs $3 to park there, and $0 to park a quarter-mile short. I think it was still possible to drive closer to the lake, but a (the?) trail to Lake Emma starts here and that was what I needed. (The trail wasn't signed, either, which further supports my usual thought that these fee collection programs are mainly collecting money to support the cost of the fee collection program and to put up fancy, unhelpful signs.)
To counterbalance the shortness of this route, you don't get to spend much time on a trail. After about a half-mile you leave the trail to Lake Emma and go cross country. The point at which you should leave the trail is pretty obvious and you can see a logical route to the left over to some power lines. Buckskin Creek is very narrow and weak at this point (and was probably somewhat energized by new snowmelt), but if you do this route in late spring or early summer this area is probably quite marshy.
It didn't take too long to work over to the power lines, and I more or less followed them up a steeper slope to where it flattens out a little bit. There is actually a bit of a trail here which is hard to see from below. The power lines take a hard right here, heading to a 13140ft saddle before descending toward the Climax Molybdenum Mine at Fremont Pass. The route up Buckskin continues straight up the hill for another 1300ft.
The snowcover was getting to be more continuous by now, and the wind was getting stronger. I had to put on my shell pants, although I was expecting that since I wasn't wearing long underwear under my Polartec pants. At about 12700ft, I measured the first wind gust to 40 mph. Despite only 2-3" of average snowcover, this wind was producing occasional clouds of blowing snow. Above 13000ft, the route steepens, and according to the USGS map, the average grade above 13200ft is about 33 degrees. There were definitely some steeper sections. The main issues were the poor footing due to the snowcovered talus and grass, and having to stop when another cloud of spindrift passed through.
I couldn't help thinking about how stupid this is. It was a beautiful sunny day pretty much anywhere within a 2 hour drive of Boulder and here I am climbing a mountain hardly anybody has heard of, on a route that really doesn't go particularly well with a few inches of snow cover, getting sandblasted by blowing snow despite the thin snowcover, and I was kinda digging it! It helped a lot that it wasn't very cold and this was such a short ascent.
It was still tedious, though, mainly because of the irregular footing. I kept working my way up in fits and starts, climbing up rapidly to try to "beat" the poor footing, and then stopping to catch my breath or wait for another cloud of blowing snow. The latter became less of a problem as I approached the summit ridge.
Once I reached the ridge, the wind became stronger than at any other time on the hike. I measured a gust to 46 mph, and it averaged nearly 40 mph over the course of 30 seconds or so. Luckily, it was only a few minutes' walk on the gentle ridge to reach the summit.
I should mention that this was the southeast summit which is labelled as 13865ft on the USGS map. The Roaches' guidebook and Garratt & Martin both indicate that this summit is a bit higher than the northwest summit, a quarter-mile away. Yet, the summit register is allegedly on the northwest summit. There was just a cairn to mark the southeast summit. Since the ascent took just under 2 hours, I didn't even take a sit-down break. I shot some video (including recording another gust to 40 mph for the camera) and looked around for about 10 minutes. There wasn't much snow on south and west faces of 14ers Democrat and Bross. In fact, there wasn't a whole lot of snow visible anywhere. It doesn't look like that's going to change within the next week, either. It was rather warm on the summit, 31F, and given that it was only 10am, the weather certainly isn't helping the snow survive.
I had decided not to descend the way I came, and try something farther northwest. I had even considered climbing to the other summit, descending to the 13140ft "powerline saddle", and then following the powerlines down through the gentle upper valley. But, I got to the saddle between the two summits and thought, "well, hell, I might as well get this out of the way." So, I started working my way down the talus and snow. It was awkward in places, but I found that sticking to the snowier sections was working pretty well. I actually found about 200ft of snow deep enough (6-12") that I could plunge-step or even glissade!
As the terrain flattened out, I worked my way over to the power lines to intersect my ascent route. This involved some sidehilling, but not very much, and it wasn't as difficult as it looked. From above, I was able to follow the short snowcovered trail section that switchbacked back and forth beneath the power lines.
Not much to say beyond that; it was a short walk back to the pay lot, and then to my car. The temperature was in the mid 40s and there still wasn't any cloud cover.
As far as numerology, I have now climbed all 14 "ranked" peaks in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range that are on the state's top 100 list. This is the first range for which I have completed that list. (It was also the first range where I finished off the 14ers back in my first year of hiking, 1994.) I just need Gemini Peak to finish off all named summits above 13800ft in the range. Not that any of the peaks are technically difficult, but it was still 12 separate hiking trips.
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File last modified: 02 January 2005