Accidentally overslept as I set the alarm clock for 3PM instead of 3AM (someone needs to invent a clock to interpret what one really means). Regardless, we somehow woke at a reasonable time and were on the road just after 5AM heading west out of Colorado Springs. Passed through Johnsons Village and found CR162 without incident. Drove the 11+ miles down the well maintained (and mostly paved) road to the pull out area across from the 4WD road to Antero. The 4WD road was not driveable and had quite a bit of snow on it so, we didn't even try. I love my Jeep Liberty, but I know its limits.
I took my snowshoes and John opted to leave his in the Jeep. We started up the road at ~8:30a, but after about 1/2 mile or so, John decided he really needed them and we headed back to the car. Turns out that was the best decision, snowshoes were definitely needed for several miles on the road/trail. Our proof...the postholing footprints of some poor slob (PS) ahead of us who didn't have snowshoes.
The trip up the road was beautiful, but long. Baldwin Creek offered some photo ops, that I failed to capture (a photographer I'm not), but I enjoyed the scenery all the same. I was warned about some possible avalanche slopes along the road and we cautiously crossed one at a time below those areas. Thanks for the warning (SPers Kirk Mallory and attm), even though we were in the trees, it WAS a dangerous area.
We followed the 2 sets of footprints ahead of us (1 with snowshoes and 1 without) and tried our best not to sink in the snow. Wasn't too bad, once we got the hang of it. There was literally about a 12-18" wide sweet spot on the trail where the snow was fairlly solid and you could (with snowshoes) mostly walk on top. However, if you stepped off that narrow path, you were sinking in up to your knees. We continued to follow the footprints and noticed that the PS without snowshoes suddenly must have put some on. Not sure why he waited so long....
We were making great time and made it to the start of the switchbacks when it really started warming up. I took off my jacket and stripped down to only one light layer. Any hotter and I would have been hiking in a jog bra...it was amazing, I've never been so warm at treeline in mid April before.
We opted to head straight up the gully, rather than take the switchbacks. The 2 guys in front of us had taken that route and the gully seemed safe enough. However, we stuck to the side and had our beacons on "just in case".
Trudging up the gully was very taxing. My snowshoes aren't for mountaineering and they really don't grip very well on inclines. After 3/4th of the way up, my calves were screaming for mercy. John had better snowshoes that not only gripped better but had the heel lift bar on them. His calves and disposition were far more cheerful than mine. Due to unfounded resentment, I shot John and his little heel lifts resentful looks. Occasionally John would turn around and ask how I was doing...(b*stard).... ;)
We made it through the gully and continued heading up the snow and boulder fields to the 13,800 ft summit near Antero. The wind picked up a little and the sky became somewhat cloudy. The temperature dropped so, we put on all our layers and jackets. John started getting bad cramps in his thigh and had to stop. He had been drinking water, but it still seemed that he was getting dehydrated. I figured he may be shy on electrolytes and gave him some gatorade. He ate a gel, massaged his quad, and took some Tylenol. That seemed to do the trick. After awhile he was good as gold and was able to continue on without further cramping or pain.
Once on the ridge, we removed our snowshoes. We surveyed the ridge and opted to not drop down on the easier path and tried to stay as much on top of the ridge as possible. THAT was cool! There was a little exposure at times and I was rather excited that it didn't bother me (perhaps overly so :). Heights usually bother me so, I was curious how I'd do.
We made it across the ridge and started up the final pitch to the summit. We soon met with the 2 guys ahead of us coming down and exchanged brief pleasantries before continuing on. We made the summit in decent time (given the conditions and stops) and on queue, the wind calmed while we were on top. We spent 20 minutes or so up there eating, taking pictures, and enjoying the fabulous views of Mount White and its neighbors.
We began our trek down, foolishly believing we would be able to glissade most of the way down...not even close. The warm temps and sun melted the snow too much and we had to negotiate the deep melting snow on foot and not on butt.
We crossed back over the ridge (again, THAT was cool! :) and began descending back toward the gully. That's when the trek switched from "being cool" to "being frustrating". The snow fields covered many large rocks which...turned out to really be a problem (our snowshoes sunk deep in the soft snow now). Our legs were constantly being tweaked, shins bruised, and snowshoes often got hung on the hidden rocks below. My ancient gaitors and well-worn hiking boots had had enough and finally gave out. My boots tore and my gaitors kept riding up above my boots (no matter how much I tried to adjust them). My boots filled with snow, but my feet weren't cold and it was futile to empty them out so, I trudged on.
Tried taking the switchbacks, but they were equally difficult. Not due to rocks, but the snow was deeper and we were sinking in up to our hips. So, we opted for the shortest path,...even if it wasn't the path of least resistance. As we quickly discovered, there wasn't an easy way down this mountain today.
Finally made it to the bottom of the switchbacks and met up again with the 2 guys. We were quite the foursome struggling back down the trail in the unstable snow. Where we once could walk on top, was no longer the case and sinking, tripping, and cussing ensued. John took the lead for awhile when the 2 guys asked if we wanted to take turns leading, to conserve our efforts. John declined as he wanted to get back to the car ASAP. So, we thanked them and trudged ahead, slowly leaving the 2 behind. They were camping at the fork and didn't have that much further to go anyway so, it wouldn't have bought us much, but it was nice of them to offer.
The remainder of the trip down was just more of the same. Feel with poles, step, step, step, plunge, fall, sigh, struggle back up, feel with poles, step, plunge, fall, sigh....
Within a mile of the car, we saw where an avalanche had released while we were on our hike. There was 2-3 feet of debris we had to step through that was covering the road. Then about 50 ft further there was more debris from a 2nd avalanche. All along the road there was evidence of other smaller avalanches. It would have been incredible to of seen them release, but I was thankful that we weren't caught in the 2 bigger ones. We wouldn't have been buried but we probably would have gotten a little battered and possibly knocked down the ravine on the other side of the road. The avalanches released exactly where those SPers had warned me about. Summitpost is a wonderful thing.... :)
Finally made it back to the car, very wet, very tired, but also very satisfied with the day.
P.S. I felt that I was in fairly good shape for this one, but I must say, I will rethink doing anything over 10 mi in these conditions next time...it just gets too old after awhile....