My climbing partner, Ted Kruse, and I were interested in Colorado winter climbing. We arrived at the Leadville Ranger District office on February 24 to get information on local conditions. We were particularly interested in Mt. Massive, especially in light of the recent Summitpost group's report.
At the office, the rangers recommended a fairly circuitous route on Massive to minimize avalanche risk. They described a northeastern approach, climbing to the northwestern summit, then traversing back to the southeast to the main summit. While we understood the rationale, it looked like too much deep snow trail-breaking for the two of us right off the bat, given our mid-winter/post-holiday conditioning.
Since we didn't have any strong feelings about any particular climbs, the rangers suggested Mount Sheridan. While it gets little winter traffic, it was one of their own favorites. We decided to give it a go.
On the morning of the 25th, we drove to the end of the plowed road in Iowa Gulch. We parked the truck at 10,800 and started hiking in the full moonlight. We followed the switchbacks of the unplowed road south up the lower slopes of Long and Derry Hill. The road gave way to progressively more obscure snowmobile tracks, mid-morning at around 11,500.
We had heard about winter climbing in Central Colorado, about breaking trail through hip-deep powder even with snowshoes, but we had no idea. We were used to the heavy "Cascade Concrete" of the Northwest, but quickly learned the difference. At one point, we spent 45 minutes covering only a few hundred (horizontal) feet before we finally gained the ridge on Long and Derry Hill. Fortunately, from there, things became significantly easier.
After Long and Derry Hill, the route follows the ridge due east to West Sheridan at 12,962, southeast to Peak 12,980, and east again to Mount Sheridan at 13,748. Route finding was obvious above treeline, and in fact we followed rabbit tracks the last mile to the summit (what he was doing up there is beyond me).
The trip back to the truck was tiring but uneventful, and we finished once again under moonlight.
A few thoughts:
Not being a "14'er" Sheridan sees relatively little traffic, especially during winter. Parties should be prepared to break a lot of trail.
West Sheridan and Peak 12,980 are small but aesthetic sub-summits with Kodak Moment potential.
The north side of the ridge from West Sheridan to Sheridan proper is heavily corniced and shows significant avalanche activity. Care must be taken if visibility is impaired.
The traverse to Mt. Sherman (14,036) is doable, but would make for a very long day in winter conditions.
Roping up is not necessary on this route. I found crampons helpful for the final ascent and descent of Mt. Sheridan proper, Ted did well without. The surface was mixed scant snow - ice - scree. The remainder of the route was snowshoe terrain