IntroductionThis is the story of our 2015 Christmas trip spent in the Colorado mountains, more specifically in the southern ramparts of the spectacular Gore Range. We stayed in one of the 10th Mountain Huts and climbed some peaks in super challenging conditions. A cold front bringing a blast of arctic air was forecasted to come through, but we decided to go anyway. Participants were Shaylee, my 11 year old daughter; Kessler, my 13 year old son; and Kimberly, my young and beautiful wife.
December 24: To Janet's CabinAfter a challenging drive through a blizzard the night before, Kim, Kessler, Shaylee, and I started up towards Janet's Cabin, one of the 10th mountain division huts. Under cloudy skies, we tried to snowshoe fast because of the approaching storm. It was a very cold storm system and it was definitely quite cold on the approach.
Since we were on snowshoes, we had to hike up through the Copper Mountain resort before finding the route into the dense forest and up the valley.
We made good time, stopping only once since it was too cold to stop for very long anyway. We arrived at the hut just before the storm hit.
We were worried about the avalanche danger for the peak climbs, so we decided to use careful route selection and to check conditions carefully.
December 25: Elk Mountain in a BlizzardThe weather was very cold and stormy, with poor visibility and snow falling, but I wanted to get out and climb Elk Mountain and Sugarloaf Peak. No one else wanted to go, so I set up alone. The trail was broken by some skiers up to a hill above the hut. Above that, I broke trail up to Searle Pass and then the conditions became brutal with the high winds. The chill factor was around -40F/-40C on the new chart, but it was still snowing horizontally.
I made my way up the ridge towards Elk Mountain with poor visibility, but every once in a while I could see part of the mountain briefly. Even though visibility was poor, I could see what I took for a very steep slope or cornice on the way to a false summit, but when I got there, it turned out to be not bad. I made my way over the false summits and to the final push up Elk Mountain, which was quite steep considering the conditions.
At the summit of Elk Mountain, I didn't get any views and decided not to continue any further. I couldn't see anything and was worried getting lost in the whiteout. Besides, it was absolutely brutal and I was freezing cold.
I descended the same way. One the way back, there were several snow slumps, but that was in areas not steep enough to slide. I avoided any slide danger by staying on the ridge-tops for the ascent.
The evening was spent playing games (mostly) Uno, telling stories, and having a good time.
December 26: Jacque Peak Under High Winds and Cold TemperaturesWe awoke to -24F (-31C) at the mountain hut. The skies were mostly sunny though. Kessler and I set off for the summit of Jacque Peak, 13,211 feet/4027 meters elevation.
Since I had broken the trail to Searle Pass the day before, we made faster time to the pass than I did on the previous day. Once we were at the pass, it was windy and cold again.
After a very brief break at the pass to get some water, we headed up the ridge towards Jacque Peak. The ridge had pretty good snow conditions, but there were a few places where the snow was deep and a few place where the wind had blown off the snow leaving exposed rock.
Kessler was moving faster than me, but he would have to find a place sheltered from the wind in order to wait for me since it was so cold.
The ridge seemed much longer than expected and when we got to the major false summit (almost a mountain in itself), at 12,660 feet, it was disheartening to see how much further the summit still was. We also had to descend a fair distance before climbing up towards the true summit.
The route to the summit was also more difficult than we expected and we had some steep rock scrambling, which was tedious since there were areas of soft snow between the rocks.
Eventually we made our way up another false summit and to the true summit. It was a hard earned summit, but the wind was just screaming. I calculated the windchill to be -54F (-48C) on the new chart and -81F (-63C) on the old!
We didn't spend much time on the summit, but got a hot drink (we had brought it up in a thermos) and ate a very brief lunch. Other than our brief break at Searle Pass, this was our only rest.
The views were absolutely spectacular and we could see much of the Gore Range and Sawatch, as well as the other surrounding mountain ranges. Still, with the cold, we didn't spend much time on the summit. We headed back down the mountain using the same route, but we found a better way through the rock scrambling section and avoided much of it.
It was a very spectacular climb, but very cold, and the ridge was much longer than we thought it would be. The rest of the group was happy to see us when we stumbled into the cabin.
It stayed well below zero all day, even at the cabin.
December 27: Homeward BoundIt was still cold, but not nearly as cold as the day before. The temperature even rose above zero. We packed up and had a sunny snowshoe down the packed trail and to the vehicle.
It was a bit chilly at times, and the trip was challenging, but it was still a great experience.