Trip ReportJoe Grim, Frédérique Grim, Manuel Fillon, Mary Jackson and Terri Gerard
2059 feet gain (8% avg. grade)
a little more than 5 hours
We started the hike from the Cow Creek Trailhead (N40.43059 W105.50061, WGS84) amidst bright sunshine and warm temperatures (~32°), but very strong winds. I believe we were the only ones to hike from this small trailhead that day, as ours were the only footprints when we came back.
We hiked a short ways up the Cow Creek Trail by the cabins in the research area and then turned onto the North Boundary Trail (N40.43145 W105.50325) and started our ascent up the south side of the east ridge of Sheep Mountain. Normally snow doesn’t last too long on this south-facing slope, but after the heavy snows from earlier in the week, it was still completely snow-covered. Nonetheless, it was too rocky (and the snow wasn’t deep enough) to wear snowshoes, so we carried them on our packs until we made it to the saddle (N40.43972 W105.50483) at the top of the ridge. From here, the trail drops back down into a valley to the north, but we instead headed west, following the ridgeline toward Sheep Mountain.
The winds at the saddle were atrocious, stingy our faces with sand and snow that it picked up from the ground. We were eager to get into the trees just to our west. Our initial ascent from the saddle was quite steep, but the grade became less strenuous after only five minutes. From there, it was a gentle climb for the next hour through the mostly open-floored forest with very little downfall. After a while though, we started to see the steep mountainside looming ahead that we still had to conquer. The winds that had been blasting us along much of the ridgeline died down as we approached the bottom of the steep mountainside, as it blocked the strong winds from the west.
The climb started out okay; the snow was knee deep and it wasn’t too slippery, but as we got higher and higher, it continued to steepen, with the grade increasing to as much as 40% for a quarter-mile stretch. The heavy blanket of snow from earlier in the week laid over a layer of sugary snow that literally made it one step up-3/4ers of a step back with many of the steps we took. The unstable nature of the snowpack was also evident as we heard several “whumphs” as it settled all around us, which was also evidenced by an arc of cracks in the snow around us. This was no day to be on an avalanche-prone slope, or even one that even had the remotest chance of giving! We were glad we were doing this hike instead.
Finally, thanks particularly to Manuel’s trail-breaking through the steepest section of the climb, we neared the top of the mountain. We stopped just short of the summit plateau to eat our lunch out of the strong wind, but we could definitely hear it roar in the tree tops above us. Lunch was very nice, and as far as I know, no one got cold.
After lunch, we did the last 100 feet of elevation gain and worked our way across the summit plateau over to what seemed to be the highest point (N40.43765 W105.52841); however, this was about 170 feet to the north-northeast of the position declared by the USGS (N40.4372 W105.5285). We knew there was supposed to be a cairn at the summit, but only a single rock jutted out of the snow at this place. We looked around, but nothing was clearly higher, so Manuel pushed away the snow around the single rock to find that there really was an entire cairn buried beneath all the snow. We can’t say for 100% sure that this was the highest spot, but what we can say is that the USGS location is most definitely downhill from this spot.
There wasn’t much of a view from the true summit, only a few small glimpses through the trees, so we made our way southwestward toward the shear south face of Sheep Mountain. As the trees began to open up (N40.43624 W105.53021), we got a wonderful view of the park to our south, including the entire length of Lumpy Ridge. To the west we could see McGregor, Dark and the east slope of Mummy Mountain (I believe the summit was covered in clouds.) To the east we could see the lines of foothills and even part of the plains beyond. However, we also encountered the fiercest winds of the day: 45 mph I would guess. It was strong enough to make it hard to keep one’s balance while wearing snowshoes. We had hoped to hike down to the top of the cliff face (~N40.4327 W105.5296), but upon encountering the fierce wind, the group consensus was to get back in the trees and head back.
We retraced our steps the whole way back and by the time we made it to the car, the wind had greatly subsided. It was a great hike with a fun group.
For a slideshow of our hike, you can click here.