With the Front, Mosquito and Sawatch ranges hammered by recent storms, Jamie and I decided to make the longer drive to the Sangres. We left my place shortly after 3am, making our way to Westcliffe and the Hermit Pass Rd. On the way, I was pulled over for speeding but was not ticketed - a good omen? The Honda CRV made nice progress up the road despite minimal snow. Abruptly, we turned a corner and saw that a large fallen tree had ended our drive at 9700'.
We set off at 7am up the road, breaking trail through about 2 inches of fresh snow. We did not bring snowshoes and did not need them all day. The morning was sunny and not too cold. Above Horseshoe Lake, we cut a switchback as we neared the pass. We briefly split up; I headed to Hermit Pass and dropped my pack while Jamie ascended a snow slope to reach Rito Alto's south ridge.
We summitted around 11:45am. While the snow had slowed us down, we did very little postholing. Incredible views of the valleys to the west and east. We noted some storm systems in the distance, and a few clouds had gathered overhead.
After a nice break, we descended to Hermit Pass and made the quick jaunt up Hermit Peak at about 1:15pm. Jamie decided to forego Eureka Mtn, so I handed him the car keys and set off, planning to see him again at the car.
I dropped to about 12650' in the huge Hermit/Eureka saddle and dumped my pack. The next goal was the ridge associated with Pt 13005, which would require a little elevation gain and loss. I crossed the ridge and reached the flat plain below Eureka's final north slope. My energy waned here. Halfway up the slope I started counting 50 steps, resting, and repeated this about 10 times before reaching the summit at 2:40pm. I took a few minutes to investigate an eastern summit which looked similar in height, but was clearly lower when I reached it.
Clouds were moving in now, and my GPS said sunset was at 4:50pm, so I felt some pressure to get back to the road. I returned to the Hermit-Eureka saddle, crossing some snow slopes that made me regret having left my axe with the pack. At the edge of the cliffs above Horseshoe Lake, I looked for a descent path.
The first couloirs I came to looked steep, so I continued down and east until I found a suitable break. The axe served me well here as I descended to near the lake's elevation, then slowly trudged up to the Hermit Pass Road at 4pm.
After resting a little, I started a quick march down the road, reassured to see Jamie's footprints heading towards the car. Light turned to dusk and then darkness, but the wide road was easy to follow. Light snow fell for the final 30 minutes as I reached Jamie and the vehicle at 5:35pm.
We had an uneventful drive home, the first 2 hours through a snowstorm, happy that we'd grabbed a couple more peaks just before the clock struck winter!