Spring fun in the Bighorn Mountains Wyoming
After a few warm up state highpoints and some rock climbing at Devils Tower, I decided to hit a warmup peak in the Bighorns. I was looking for a shorter approach as the spring snows had been heavy, so we decided on Hesse Mountain. At only 8 miles round trip, we figured it would be the perfect length for a day trip, and a good way to get to 10,500 and see some nice scenery.
After driving west on I-90 and taking route 16 west over the Bighorns from Buffalo, we parked at the top of FR29 which is just east of Powder River pass. In summer conditions this road would be open for a couple miles and would shorten your approach accordingly. Please be aware that there is NO ESTABLISHED TRAIL for this climb. The FR, along with a few snowmobile trails, is the only marked travelway.....knowledge of compass and map use comes in very handy as you can see ZERO landmarks when in the thick timber approach to the ridge and likewise on your descent back to your car. We analyzed the valley and the approach from the truck and decided that the thick timber we'd be pushing through would make snowshoes more of a hindrance than a help. We also misjudged how much melt had happened inside the treeline......it's 1.5miles across that valley so it's kinda hard to see. :) So we got going. We crossed a large field/drainage from the mountain snowmelt, and hit the treeline. Immediately we realized we were in for a bit of a workout. We had light packs, 10lbs or so, but the snowpack was easily 3-5ft.....even 6ft in spots. On went the gaiters and the uphill postholing for 2 miles in waist deep snow through thick timber and pine falls began! After some grueling work we finally hit the treeline and decided to eschew the standard walkup, and instead traverse the broken sections of granite fins that make up the SW ridge.
This choice proved to be fantastic 3rd/4th, and even a few 5th class moves on fairly solid granite. We came across some snow crossings and some steeper snow ramps, and were carefull of hidden moats from some heavy drifting the week before. Being on the leeward side, a lot of snow loading had filled some fairly large gaps in between rocks, so lots of ice axe probing was going on on these crossings. I punched through to my stomach in a 6 footer. The last snowfield was benign, but very soft and I broke trail through knee deep snow until the last rock scramble appeared. Pictured below was Matt following through the last snowfield. My camera battery died on the summit....so no summit pics! Anyway, the descent was interesting as we decided to go down a different ridge which put us back where we THOUGHT the FR should have been....only 2 miles further down from where we ascended. We pushed through heavy snow until we hit what we thought was the end of the poorly maintained road, which had snowmobile tracks all over it. So we followed this north west back to where the road should have been. Keep in mind that the snow here was HIDEOUS. Nice hard crust on the top 6 inches would give away to 3 ft of crystal depth hoar. It SUCKED. We punched through this for 1.5-2 miles until I hit a set of tracks....OUR TRACKS. This was a first for me in 26 years of mountain travel. We'd concentrated so hard on the work it took to walk through this crap, we failed to realize that we were NOT on the FR....it was a snowmobile trail that took us back to the base of our route! So we went back up above treeline, found our target ridge and got our compass bearings.....a set off yet again! This time we realized what we had done and had a good laugh about it. In all, it was a blast!