As I’ve heard it said, “Proper prior planning prevents poor, puky performance.” Five days ago, Mount Hope re-enforced that doctrine, and taught me some lessons in map-reading as well. I had been trying to climb the mountain’s southeast ridge from the Sheep Gulch Trailhead, but in the end I came from the mountain with a failed attempt of the southwest ridge, having started errantly near the Rockdale Trailhead. It had been worth the effort, for a beautiful day and some great views of the mountains to the south, but having learned more about the area, I was determined to try again.
Saturday in Buena Vista called for a 30% chance of thunderstorms, and that was my main concern for this hike. Avalanche danger was still looming some places, but I found snow conditions overall to be much better than they had been just five days earlier. Still, I was not risking a trip to the snow-loaded Hope Pass. Instead, I would go up the southeast ridge of Mount Hope, as I had been planning.
I got a late start, not leaving my jeep at the four-wheel drive parking spot till 7:45. The Hope Pass Trail was well-maintained and easy to follow, and I made good time ascending Sheep Gulch. Abou 11,200 feet, I reached snow-line. This time around, it was hardened and easy to walk on top of, plus I noticed a set of footprints, perhaps a couple days old. It was somewhere around here I saw a bird fanning its tail feathers, probably a grouse or ptarmigan.
Before crossing over onto the east side of Sheep Gulch, a tree-free slope of rocks opened up to my left. Instead of continuing up the Hope Pass Trail, I decided to abandon it here. I hiked up the steep, partially-snow covered slope to a flat next to Mount Hope’s southeast ridge, and stopped to observe my surroundings. To the west, I could see the southwest slopes I had been on five days earlier, and to the east I had excellent views of Quail Mountain. Above me lay the surprisingly steep slopes leading to Mount Hope’s southeast ridge.
Steep and slippery scree gave way to steep and loose rock, which eventually gave way to steep, deep and annoying snow. Some places the snow was icy and dangerous, but just when I would consider putting on crampons, I would sink to my waist and have to dig myself out to keep going. The numerous evergreens were a blessing for hand-holds, to pull myself upward, but overall I just couldn’t wait to get above them. I knew the snow would taper off once I could get to the ridge-line, and indeed it did. For the most part, the northeastern side of the ridge was corniced and snow-loaded, while the western facing slopes were either completely bare or covered with patchy snow, just as I had experienced last week. This allowed me to make better time the rest of the way up to the summit.
At noon, I arrived at the summit of Mount Hope, and immediately snowflakes started coming down. I had been watching the clouds, which were becoming a little ominous, but these flurries were the first precipitation I had seen coming from them. I really wanted to try getting to neighboring Quail Mountain, but it wasn’t worth risking a battle with the weather. I sat there about ten minutes, took some pictures of the awesome scenery, looked for the summit registry to no avail, and ate some energy food. The flurries passed, and I decided to investigate the east ridge.
I angled over to where the east ridge and southeast ridge separated, and it appeared the east ridge would be a hopeless endeavor, as I could not even see below the steep snow slope where I was standing. Additionally, there were no footprints here, as there had been on Hope’s southeast ridge. However, as I resigned myself to going back down the same way I had ascended, my view of the east ridge opened up, and I realized it wasn’t as impossible as I had thought. I decided to take it one section at a time, keeping a close eye on the weather, and Hope’s east ridge turned out to be a blast! I had read this ridge involved some sections of scrambling, and the lingering snowpack added to the alpine feel of this descent. I had a lot of fun, and also was glad to get a look down Mount Hope’s “Hopeful” Couloir.
Now at Hope Pass, I resolved to make a hasty ascent of Quail Mountain. If bad weather hit, my safest route would be via Quail Mountain’s summit and down its snow-free southwest slopes; I simply didn’t trust the snow slopes clinging to the gulch below me. The clouds were no more threatening than they had been all day, but I decided to play it safe and got moving.
In the mountains, I often have trouble setting a good pace for myself, thereby tiring out quickly and needing a lot of breaks to catch my breath. Hiking up the steep west slopes of Quail Mountain, I focused completely on my breathing, and as a result I found myself with a much better pace: a little slower, but taking far fewer breaks. It was nice that there was no snow on this slope, and the closer I got to the summit the more the slope’s angle relented.
At 1400, I arrived at Quail Mountain’s summit. Some squalls of precipitation were visible in adjacent valleys, and the clouds were still hovering ominously for as far as I could see, but the weather had not worsened since I stood atop Mount Hope. In fact, I barely felt a breath of wind all day. I signed the summit register, which I found in a small metal pipe chained to the summit cairn. I was the first to sign it since October 4th of last year! Just behind this were two decrepit cabins, probably from the mining era. Looking farther, great views of the Sawatch, Tenmile and Mosquito ranges surrounded me. Do I have to go back to civilization already? Can’t I just set up a tent or something?
Alas, thoughts of warm food, a shower and comfortable sleep nudged me down the mountainside. I went straight down the very steep southwestern slopes of talus, scree, and patchy snow. I made good time, though it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere on the never-ending slope. At least I had a great view the whole time.
Finally at timberline, I post-holed my way through the now slushy snow to the Hope Pass Trail, completing my loop. Once below the snow, I ran most of the trail down to my jeep. Despite the threatening weather, I never heard a rumble of thunder and the road home was completely dry. I was definitely glad I had made it to both summits, completing another grand day in the Sawatch and getting some training for some more difficult climbs to come.