Valentine's Day 2009On Valentine’s Day 2009 I had these incredible romantic visions of roses and romance dancing in my head, but instead I found myself shivering in snowstorm with Matthew Van Horn at the trailhead for Little Black Mountain. Don’t get me wrong, as far as climbing partners go Matt is top rate, but just not what I had in mind in those visions of grandeur, however I was stoked to get the day started right with another fantastic Wasatch peak. The flowers, chocolates and fuzzy romantic sentiments could wait until later.
The weather forecast for the day looked bleak at best, but we had high hopes. Our goal was to bag the Avenues Twin peaks first and then hopefully make our way over to the top of Little Black Mountain. The snow was alternating between fairly light and moderately heavy and the cool air felt good as we started hiking on the snow packed trail. After about a mile the snow started getting pretty deep, so we decided to break out the snowshoes. There are several ‘bumps’ to go over on the way to the Avenues Twin Peaks and it is a perfect place to snowshoe and get a good cardio workout.
When we crested the first summit I was surprised to see the clouds clearing somewhat and I thought this would bode well for our trip over to Little Black. The weather was supposed to blow over in the late morning or early afternoon and our prospects were looking up. By time we reached the second summit we could see the city below although there were still plenty of clouds around, but the snow had stopped and for a few moments we could see Little Black in the distance whenever there would be a break in the clouds and we decided to go for it.
We went back over the first Twin and then headed down on the ridge that would lead us to our goal. The slog over to the base of Little Black was longer than I thought it would be and as we hiked the wind and snow started to pick up again, although it was nothing to worry about at the time. When we reached the flank of the mountain the snow was deep and snowshoes were an absolute must. As we climbed higher on the mountain the snow and wind only increased and by time we reached the summit ridge it was a full blown white out.
Our visibility was gone and the conditions just seemed to get worse by the second, but we were too close to stop at this point, so we trudged along in the deep windblown snow. Matt had been breaking trail the whole way and as we made our way on the ridge he let me pass to break it for a while. The snow was very deep and it was almost surreal to be in this place. Mother Nature was throwing her best at us and it was certainly a thrill to engage the elements in this fashion. As we got higher the weather only got worse. The snow was really coming down and the wind had also picked up with a cruel force.
The summit ridge seemed to go on forever and we did pass a few sections that had some exposure and some nice cornices, but nothing that seemed too serious. When we finally reached the top we didn’t want to stay long and I noticed that my hydration tube was completely frozen. I was really thirsty, so I opened my pack to get a drink from a water bottle that I had stowed and when I pulled off my glove my hand instantly was frozen with a biting pain from the cold air. In just a few brief seconds that I had my pack off it completely froze where I had been sweating and I could feel the ice as I placed it back on my back. My face was stinging and I thought about digging out my shell jacket, but with the conditions I just didn’t want to mess with my pack any longer so I snapped everything back into place and bailed. Matt was already a few seconds ahead of me and I just wanted to get down and out of the wind before I made any more adjustments. I was hoping for an uneventful hike down, but those happy thoughts were shattered when my left snowshoe suddenly came off. I noticed that the strap was completely frozen and I was unable to adjust it at all. I managed to get it back on, but my hand was numb in seconds, so I couldn’t tighten the strap and I knew it might come off again and sure enough within about two minutes it popped off again. Matt was getting ahead of me and I couldn’t see him and I was starting to get a little worried because without the snowshoe I would be screwed and the visibility was basically gone. My face was stinging from the constant pelting of snow and wind and for a few seconds there I was asking myself what in the world am I doing up here, but those thoughts quickly faded and I realized that even these moments can be fun and the challenges on a hike make it even more rewarding in the end.
I descended down to the ridge and Matt was waiting for me and I told him I needed to fix my snowshoe, so he waited while I adjusted the strap. I spent a few minutes fixing the strap and threw on my parka to block the wind. I was finally able to get the strap tightened and after a short break we were slogging back to the trailhead. There were a few times that we were not sure where we were going, but between the two of us we were able to stay on the right route and about the time we reached the base of the Avenues Twins, the storm eased up and we were able to get our bearings.
The hike out was uneventful. With each step the weather improved and the clouds even opened up showing the city below and by time we reached the trailhead the heaviest portion of the storm was on its way to Colorado. It had dumped over 18 inches in the mountains and made our trip to Little Black Mountain a little more exciting than we had planned, but it was definitely a lot of fun and the perfect way to start the weekend and now I could turn my attention to Cupid, hearts and flowers.