Intro/StatsBison Pk (12431')
McCurdy Mtn (12168')
16.5 miles RT/5600' gain
From Ute Creek TH (8760')
Participants: Darin Baker and Kevin Baker
April 12, 2008
This trip came about at the last minute as a bad avy forecast squashed any hopes of doing a couloir climb this weekend. The Lost Creek Wilderness (LCW) is an amazing playground of rock s.w. of Denver that is overlooked by most list seekers as there is nothing higher than 12K'. I'm ashamed that I had only been on one summit in this unique place (Buffalo Pk), and it was a brutal bushwack. If Bison and McCurdy were 14ers, they would be one of the most popular ones. This place is special. The LCW has been high on my list to explore, and it was high time to get down there!
I don't think I have hiked with Darin since Rainier a couple years ago, so it was great to hike with him again. He's not much of a list seeker, so he was happy to repeat Bison with me, which is the highpoint of the LCW and the Taryall Range. We met in C. Springs and made the short drive up CR-77 off Hwy 24.
Bison Peak: An Overlooked Wonderland of RockWe set out extra early at 6:15am in anticipation of some posthole action on the way down. My thermometer registered a chilly 14 degrees as we started out, probably the coldest hike I have done in April! The recent storm had left just a 1/2 inch of snow at the lower elevations, so we made great time up the initially gentle Ute Creek trail. The snow deepened as we climbed, but not enough to warrant breaking out the snowshoes. Darin suggested we cache them at our first break below the saddle, but I knew it was much too soon to do so given the nightmare postholathon reports I have read of Bison!
I announced to Darin that we could traverse over to nearby 12er McCurdy if the snow didn't get much deeper than this, and he surprisingly was open to the suggestion! Besides, I reasoned this would be a good test for Shasta next month. The terrain will be windscoured once we get to treeline! Yeah, right. If we only knew what torture awaited us later in the day. We made great time until reaching the heavily drifted saddle and were glad we didn't ditch the snowshoes!
Darin had led the way up to this point as he is in better shape than me, but now we had to start rotating breaking trail. There was a good 8-10" of fresh powder on top of a few unconsolidated layers. We broke off a few slabs and heard a few loud "Whumps" throughout the day, so they were right with the avy forecast! My MSR snowshoes don't do as well in deep power and I was still postholing with them on, so out came the extenders. Darin had better luck staying afloat with his huge Tubbs snowshoes, which are good for powder but bad for the steeps.
We took a consevative line up to the south ridge of Bison, staying south of the trail as it switchbacks up some slopes that are just steep enough to slide. Once on the ridge, I found out why Bison gets so much hype!
It was a huge playground of striking, weird granite formations that really caught the eye. We worked our way up the broad ridge, taking in the amazing sights. I got a pic of a huge monolith that dwarfed Darin.
It looked like a tough climb. The wind hadn't done much work to scour the tundra, so we left our snowshoes on all the way to the summit. Spindrift began to batter us from time to time, just enough to break out the balaclava.
We topped out just short of 5 hours and I was still feeling pretty good. Maybe it was because Darin had broken trail at least 3/4th's of the way!
We hung around for only 10 minutes as it was too windy for an extended stay. Nobody had signed the register since Oct and I accidentally smashed the glass jar it was in. McCurdy played games with us as it looked close. We must have been sufferring altitude hypoxia, because it was a LONG way over there! We followed our tracks down the open tundra, enjoying the granite paradise down to the ridge to McCurdy.
Death March to McCurdy and BackWe took a much needed lunch break once we reached treeline out of the wind, refueling ourselves for the long march over to McCurdy. We quickly found out that there was no such thing as wind scoured terrain or hard snow, as the trail breaking was tough. Darin did more of the work since I was postholing more than him, but at least the postholing was not enough to slow us down too much. I discovered that one of my extensions fell off descending Bison, so one leg postholed more than the other!
McCurdy is one huge mountain. I didn't print a map of it, so I used the map loaded on my GPS to get a waypoint for the summit. .9 mile to go. That should be doable.
The broad ridge has many ups and downs along the way, and we knew we would be paying a price on the way back. We came across a cool arch along the way that we actually passed through to avoid some loaded slopes. It framed Bison perfectly.
We both were starting to bonk as the snow was miserable, but we pressed on and finally could see the true summit as we countoured around another formation. After crossing another long snowfield, we came to the summit block. I was too tired to take off my snowshoes for the final scramble, so we just clawed our way up with the snowshoes on to the top, a nearly 3 hour traverse! I made sure we were on the right summit and that was confirmed with a Jennifer Roach register. Noboby had signed it since her CMC group in Oct.
Bushwacking down the south slopes of McCurdy would not be an option in this nasty snow, so the death march back to Bison's south ridge was unavoidable. We ate and rehydated for 20 minutes, and headed down. Downclimbing dry rock on snowshoes is always interesting, but we both managed to score a 10 for style points. Up and down we went, weaving around the formations. We followed our tracks as best we could, but the wind was wiping it out at times. Whoever was leading (mostly Darin) was having to rebreak a bit of the track.
About 3/4 of the way up, we both were feeling weak so we stopped for some more food. Only another 300 ft awaited a smooth descent down the trail, but it wouldn't come easy. We plowed our way back up one more long snowfield to the south ridge of Bison. We briefly lost our track and wallowed around to find it, finally finding it after a hard fought battle! Somebody else had been up our track today, so it was an easy cruise back down to the saddle. The long hike out wasn't as painful as feared as the trail was mostly dry for the last few miles. The last mile though took forever as I kept looking at my GPS for the remaining distance. We finally got back to the car at 7:15, happy to survive another spring death march!