Intro/StatsEast Spanish Pk (12683')
9 miles RT, 3300' gain
Via west ridge/standard route
May 11, 2008
Participants: Johan Anderson & Kevin Baker
Hiking in May is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you'll get next with the conditions. The Bible study group I'm a part of was having a men's retreat near Cuchara over the weekend, so I decided to hit prominent 12er East Spanish on the free day. I find myself closest to God in the mountains, so what better day to cap off the weekend. An invite to the group only yielded one taker, and poor Johan didn't know what he was getting into!
Johan has been interested in getting into hiking, so I took him up 10er South White Peak late Sat afternoon for a warmup. It turned out to be a fairly challenging bushwack with over 2K' of vertical. Johan did well and was up for E. Spanish the next day. We bumped back our start time a bit as we knew a bluebird day was in store. That bluebird day and late start would come back to bite us.
I wasn't sure how close we would get to the 4WD trailhead since the 4WD road off CR-360 ascends north facing slopes. We had a nice view of West Spanish dramatic north face as we approached.
I rammed my way through a few minor drifts over the road and was stopped by a series of drifts at 9600', just .4 mile shy of the 4WD trailhead. The road was easily handled by my stock Hyundai Santa Fe and is fun to drive. We set out at 8:47am with temps already soaring into the upper 40's.
Sidehilling 101: No Prerequisite RequiredWe arrived at the trailhead in about 15 minutes and had to put on snowshoes only a few hundred yards down the trail. The trail gently climbs to the saddle between the Spanish Peaks, but there was way more snow than I expected. The snow was fairly consolidated at first, but deep, sloping drifts quickly became a problem.
My MSR snowshoes do well on this, but the snowshoes Johan borrowed don't do so well. This was probably the worst sidehilling I have ever done, even though the postholing wasn't too bad. We picked up a bear track and he did a good job staying on the trail! It amazes me how efficient animals are as he must have a great sense of direction. He must have made those tracks in the afternoon, because he was postholing a lot. Not a good sign.
The trail wraps around drainages, so there were dry patches on the n.w. facing slopes to give us a break. Johan decided to go w/o snowshoes and actually made better progress, although he was beginning to feel the pressure on his ankles from the relentless sidehilling. I gave him my MSR's and went w/o snowshoes until I started postholing too much. When I stopped to put the other snowshoes on, Johan decided to call it a day. I felt bad to put him through such misery, but he was a good sport and insisted he could find his way back to the car with our nice track coupled with the bear tracks.
We parted ways just 1/2 mile from the saddle. I was able to easily follow the trail up until this point and promptly lost it for a few minutes after leaving Johan. I found it again just below the saddle and once on the ridge the going was much quicker as I either stayed on the ridge crest or avoided snow on southerly slopes.
The next part of the hike is a steep grind of 700' in only .4 mile. Thankfully I was able to avoid most of the snow, but I pretty much had to bushwack as the trail was buried in a lot of areas. Now finally on the west ridge, the rest of the hike was a breeze. There were huge drifts on the ridgecrest that either I could walk on top of or avoid. I took a break at treeline, refueling with a Snickers and Gatorade for the final 1100' grunt. The talus on the ridge is pretty stable and the snow was minimal until the final 300 ft, when the ridge narrows a bit, but the exposure is minimal.
I stayed on top of the snow on the ridge crest for the most part and finally topped out at 2:05. I told Johan I would turn around at 3, so I called him and my wife with an ETA of when I would get down. I was the first to sign the register since Oct. It would take a monumental effort to pull off this peak in winter.
The trip down to the saddle was an easy cruise, then the inevitable 2 mile torture slog in the now soft, slick snow ensued. I was dreading this, and it was as bad as I feared. Snowshoes did little to stop the slip-n-slide. I took them off, but the postholing was too bad to go without. I probably wiped out 5 or 6 times, but luckily there was only 2 miles of this hell and there were a few dry patches to give me a break. I was so happy to be back at the level road and staggered back to the car at 6:20 where Johan was taking a nap. That sure was a tough intro to snowshoeing for Johan but he did well considering all the challenges we faced!