Mount Huron (14,003 feet)
Via Winfield 4x4 Trailhead
July 23, 2003
Sam and I chose Huron for today, because we wanted to have a reasonably easy peak as kind of a rest day. Little did we know that Mother Nature would provide us with additional miles and vertical, making a 5 hour day into a 7.5 hour one.
We started by further abusing our SUV rental by bringing it up the 4x4 road from Winfield. This was 2 miles where we truly tested the ground clearance of this vehicle. It passed! By the time we got to the 4x4 trailhead, it was 8:00am. This was a relatively late start, but for this short summit, we thought we were in good shape. From the 4x4 trailhead, the CFI trail headed left, just before the road gate. The beginning of the trail was very gentle switchbacks, which made for a very slow elevation gain. Once the switchbacks started to break treeline, there was a wonderful South view of the Three Apostles. Eventually the trail came up out of the treeline completely, and you could clearly see that the intended route was up the Northwest ridge. First, though you have to cross a beautiful, open meadow area with a small lake, plenty of small creeks and wild flowers. After crossing this meadow, the trail has a stair climb up onto the ridge. The trail up the ridge is a little bit steeper than the previous trail, but it is class 1 in my opinion. At about 13,300 ft, the trail finally turns into what I would call class 2.
Most of the way up the ridge, we had started to closely watch the weather. There was a threatening cloud front out of the Northwest, that looked like it was heading our direction. I was at about 13,300 ft, that I saw a lady coming down the trail quickly. She said that she was watching the clouds to the Northwest, but when she got about 30 yards from the summit, it was the clouds coming over the summit that scared her. Her friend had actually already decided not to summit and was waiting for her down around 12,500 ft. I decided to trudge forward cautiously, but rapidly. I called Sam on the radio, and told him that I was going to go forward, but might turn back. Sure enough, moments later, the rain started coming. And the clouds magically got much darker. This was at 10:15 in the morning. At 13,400 ft, I turned my butt around and started back down the mountain. Sam was only a few hundred feet behind me. As we were heading down the trail (very quickly) sure enough – boom – there was thunder. We went faster. Did I mention that it was getting even darker, and it was starting to rain and hail? We caught up with two small groups that had also decided to head down. I was trying to communicate to everybody to stay 20 feet apart or more, but they didn’t seem to get it. At around 12,500 ft – boom – another thunder clap. This is where Sam and I decided to hunker down. We thought it would be safer than running down the slopes with our lightening rods, I mean trek poles. We threw our poles far from ourselves, and pulled off our packs. As I was pulling off my pack, needless to say, my brand new compact video camera went flying, and bounced off several rocks before stopping. Surprisingly, it didn’t sustain anything more than cosmetic damage. Sam and I separated ourselves from our packs also, and squatted down on some rocks in a small gully. I told Sam, to keep at least 20 feet away from me. I didn’t want to get zapped also, if he got hit. I also told him to keep his hands off of the ground.
One more thunder clap, then everything started to turn back to normal. The hail and rain stopped, at least for the time being. Sam and I, and the other groups decided to start heading for tree line. The sky was still dark, and the rain was coming and going. Eventually, we made it to about 12,100 ft, and held. By this point, all the other groups had given up and headed down. There was even this young kid in one of the groups that was crying. I thought that he was scared of the storm, but it turns out he was upset for not making the summit. As Sam and I waited at 12,100 ft the sky started to look promising. Of course, I was looking for any good sign. As we waited, two new guys came up the trail. They had gotten a late start and stayed below tree line during the crux of the storm. But, now they were headed up. Sam and I were still cautious though. The clouds were still dark – especially over the summit – and it was difficult to see which direction they were heading. About 30 minutes after the guys passed us heading up the trail, the sun poked through the clouds. A large portion of the sky was still dark, but that was my sign to GO! I told Sam, “This is our window. We need to head to the top now or never.” So, we started back up. I can’t tell you how painful it was to be retracing the steps that we had already earned. I wasn’t messing around though, and I pulled pretty far ahead. Eventually, I was finally on new, untraveled trail (around 13,400 ft), then shortly I was on the top. I met up with the two guys that passed us. They reached the top only a few minutes before I did. We were all glad that we didn’t completely give up. Sam reached the summit about 30 minutes later. Soon after Sam came up, we headed back down. At this point, the sky was perfectly clear, although we could see dark skies in the distance. The weather held the rest of the way down.
Even though we added miles and vertical to this climb, it was still a great climb. The view from the top of this mountain is outstanding; especially the Apostles. The trail is superb, thanks to the CFI. I have serious doubts that it is only a 4 miles round trip, as Roach says. It seemed a lot longer than that. Overall elevation gain was 4500 ft, and I estimate the mileage to be around 6 miles (probably more).