Day started off great. After just returning from France, we were still suffering from jet lag and bounded out of bed at 2:30a with a sunny disposition that only Shirley Temple could rival. Got on the road by 3:30a and drove through much rain en route to Buena Vista. Dawn hit and we saw quite a bit of snow on the Collegiate Peaks and were concerned about the hike. However, it was going to take more than a little rain and snow to douse our gleeful attitudes so, we decided to continue on and make the call at the trailhead.
We parked at the 2WD parking area (near Winfield) at 6:30a with no rain in sight. We spotted a few bits of blue sky and decided to head off and see what happens.
So up the 4WD road we went and took the first fork left to do Brown's Peak first. Now THAT road is a 4WD road! Very rough with a few patches of deep snow covering the road (perhaps the remnants of past avalanches?) We followed the Brown's route described in Roache's book and it seemed simple enough,...leave the road, get on the ridge, and turn right (how hard can it be?) The sun made brief appearances throughout the hike, but it really never warmed up to hike without our jackets on for more than 15 min or so.
The ascent up to the ridge appeared relatively benign from a distance, but as is usually the case, that all changed as we got closer. It was somewhat steep, with lots of hard snow fields to either try to avoid or traverse (and us without crampons). Plus it began to snow and the wind picked up a bit. We stowed our hiking poles, pulled out our trusty ice axes and trudged forth across the solid snow. I kept looking up at the ridge, but it only seemed to recede further away with each kicked in step, adding a mental challenge to my day as well. So, I just stared at my feet like a child scorned and plugged on.
And the confusion begins....
The snow and wind continued to increase, but not intolerably so. It let up at times, and even appeared like it may stop altogether. The ridge stopped backing away and we eventually caught up to it. We headed to the right (just as Roache's book said), but...we missed Brown's Peak....(that part still has me scratching my head). We somehow ended up making a large arc around the East side of Brown's and hit some other 13er. What I don't understand is that we remained ON the ridge the whole time, which appeared to go directly to Brown's summit. (Later, John downloaded our path over a topo and there is no discerning ridge where we trekked.) If anyone can explain to me what happened, please do shoot me an email. This is driving me nuts and I've developed a throbbing headache trying to figure this out.
Upon realizing we were not on Brown's (which seemed impossible), we got really turned around. The snow picked up to near white out conditions and we could not see anything beyond the mysterious summit we had just gained (and we weren't exactly sure WHICH summit that was). According to the GPS, the summit we were on (again) seemed impossible. John started doubting the GPS readings and I pulled out my compass. The direction the compass said we were heading wasn't making sense either. I was puzzled and kept turning in circles thinking I was going to suddenly see something that would make our journey clear, and hoping my compass would change the direction of North, but all we could see was whiteness in all directions and my compass didn't waiver on which way North was.
With the poor visibility and our confusion, we decided to call it a day and do a trackback back to the car.
the snow lifted briefly and we saw Huron less than a mile away (in a direction neither of us ever imagined) and our spirits rose. According to MapSource, the peak we were on was 1 foot higher than Brown's so, we shrugged, said, "close enough," and headed off towards Huron. As we hiked the ridge over to Huron, we watched in amazement as the mountain completely disappeared from view again.
The wind and snow picked up and the snow was beginning to sting a little. Balaclavas, neck gaitors, and cinched hoods covered our exposed skin as we slowly made progress toward the false summits. At times I wanted to quit as the wind kept knocking me down and was REALLY getting me mad. Then without warning, the real summit was suddenly under our feet (oh thank heavens)! Although the views were nil, it was still rather incredible.
We enjoyed being up on the summit, but spent far too much time there eating and trying to figure out our directions back to the car (the GPS had fogged up, but my compass filled in nicely). I started to get really cold and needed out of the wind fast. We got our bearings and glissaded off the summit and started back across the ridge. I saw a long snow filled gully in the general direction of the car and dropped to my butt and glissaded down. I knew it wasn't the exact direction, but we needed out of the wind fast and decided to head across to the trail at treeline. We must have glissaded about 3/4s of a mile down, acquiring a massive wedgy and a few bruises along the way, but it was great!
We made it into the trees and warmed up quickly, unfortunately...we glissaded too far down and too far to the left and ended up 1.25 miles off course. Bushwacking became the new name of the game. Boy do I take maintained trails for granted, I never realized how thick the forest could be.
We headed over towards the trail at a painstakingly slow rate climbing over and under fallen trees, plus there were patches of deep snow that we were having to post hole through. John frightened off an elk and then we heard it grunting and bugling nearby in the trees. Not sure if it was warning us or not, but we did our best to act nonthreatening.
John found a nearby trail on his GPS that would take us exactly in the direction we needed. We found the trail (or so we thought) and gladly jumped on it...then we soon recognized the cabin ruins of the Missouri Gulch Trail...damn...time to bushwack. John consulted his fogged up GPS again and discovered we were mere steps from the trail of which we sought. We found the trail in a beautiful meadow (another happy moment in my day), the sun came out, and we had gorgeous views of the "3 Apostles" and surrounding peaks. The best part is, within 1.5 unobstructed and flat miles, we got dumped out at the 4WD trailhead and headed down the road towards the car. No more bushwacking, freezing winds, or missed summits, only sunshine and happy times remained.
We arrived at the car, feeling quite pleased wth the day. Then we sped off for some Mexican food before the long drive back to the Springs.
Again, if anyone knows how the heck we made a huge arc around Brown's Peak, please do tell me....