It was Christmas break and it was time for yet another swell adventure in the Wann adventure chronicles. The festivities of Christmas had begun to wind down, and I and three others were yearning for adventure.
My brother, being one of them, had returned home from school in Texas and was enjoying his nice long break, as were the Simmons brothers Ty and Trevor. The one and only mountain goat Trevor had returned home from a semester of many great adventures in the Colorado Front Range. His stories of climbing snow-covered fourteen thousand foot peaks rubbed off on the rest of us, and soon we were craving an adventure of our own. Our plan: To summit Mt. Sherman, a 14,036 ft. peak South of Denver.
The idea was to leave early Saturday morning, make a quick stop at REI in Denver, and then head South about 2-2 ½ hours to Leadville, Colorado. From there we would drive as far as we could go on the mountain access road just out of Leadville and climb the peak early the next morning.
As I said that was the plan and as always we didn’t stick to plan very closely. But we didn’t care, we had an amazing adventure ahead of us, and that was what mattered. We left about an hour or so later that expected so our REI stop was a very short one as we still had a long way to go. There, we rented mountaineering ice-axes, a cheap seven bucks, for Dylan, Ty and I, Trevor was already outfitted. Grabbing a quick coffee or two, I got a hot-chocolate, we blazed on to Leadville.
Arriving late in the afternoon, we knew that we were pressed for time because of the fast setting sun, and the fact that we were going to backpack in a mile after parking the vehicle. So once we went as far as we dared to go in the snow (last years Laramie Peak disaster was on our minds) we quickly threw on our packs and made off. Due to the winter road closure, we had about 1 ½ to 2 miles to go to the base of the peak. After a mile we reached a spot that looked good for a campsite. As it was getting dark, we had to boot up the headlamps to set up our tents and collect what dry firewood we could find. Surprisingly we found a great deal of dry wood that we broke off of the bottom of some trees, and in little time we were happily warming our hands around a blazing fire.
The area was beautiful; I can still picture it in my head. Towering peaks basked in snow and subtle moonlight. We were truly blessed to experience a full moon, and oh how it lit up our surroundings! And this full-moon and the possibility of bad weather drastically altered our plan…in a most awesome way! As we talked around the warm fire a new plan began to form and all were in agreement, we were going to make a moonlight ascent!
This was around 8:00pm, so when 9:00pm rolled around, we hopped in our warm sleeping bags to get three hours of sleep. I was rudely awakened by the sound of an alarm, as 12:00 came around too soon. It took about an hour for us to get ready trying to pack our day packs light, but with important food, and cold weather gear, and to stash our tents safely in the trees so they would not blow away if a storm rolled through.
By 1:00 a.m. we were off into the pale moonlight with our destination summit looming some 2,000 ft or so ahead of us. Up the road, we soon reached the valley at the base of the peak and headed to the actual base. This proved to be a most exhausting task as we trudged through powder that reach mid-thigh at times. We definitely learned to bring our snowshoes the next time!
Once at the base, we proceed to climb up to the saddle ridge via a hard packed couloir. A couloir is a steep sloping snowfield. At the base of a large slope up towards the ridge to the summit we had a measly breakfast of hard granola bars and cold water. It was freezing cold when we stopped moving so we continued to press on up the rocky slope. Lots of loose, ankle-busting rocks called scree, made this part of the climb most unpleasant. Since it was early in the morning with many clouds, it was hard to see very far at all. Soon it became a matter of will power to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Eventually we got up to the ridge as seen in the picture and continued on to the summit. This part of the climb was the best even though it was still difficult, it was awesome to be hiking along a narrow ridge that reminded us of Everest’s northwest ridge.
Finally we reached the summit at 5:00 a.m. Unfortunately we couldn’t see anything as we were dusted with light snow but the feeling of accomplishment was truly amazing and made it all worthwhile. Although there was a long trip ahead of us to get back to camp, and we were tired and hungry. Seventy-five mile an hour winds, that drove blinding snow into our eyes, increased the risk of exposure and made the descent along the scree difficult. In spite of all this, we were quietly in high spirits. We had done it!
The hike down was long and tiring but we made it to the base with few troubles even having fun every now and then glaciating (sliding) on open patches of snow using our ice-axes as breaks. Once we reached the base, we had a very long way yet to the road because we had to once again cross the sea of knee deep snow. This was utterly exhausting, beyond what words can describe. But, by the grace of God, we made it to the road. After a quick “second” breakfast we continued on down the road to our camp.
We then pulled our tents out of the shelter of the trees and plopped into our sleeping bags, hoping to warm up and catch some rest before we returned to the vehicle. Unfortunately we were utterly soaked from the powdered snow. A very quick two hours later we woke up to a heavy snow, one with big, fat snowflakes. This was not a pleasant site for us because heavy snow meant the possibility of having the vehicle get snowed in and stuck. Not wanting to waste anymore time, we hurriedly packed up all of our wet gear and set out for the Suburban.
It was a fast but pleasant hike back to the car, and an even a more pleasant experience to see the faithful Suburban waiting for us. Booting up the heat, and revving up the engine we gave a good shove from behind to erase any possibility of getting stuck. And, yes we made it! The huge vehicle lurched forward and started rolling just fine.
We all hopped in with a shout of joy and the trip concluded with an easy drive back through Denver, stopping for a mouth-watering Chipotle, and on to home. An adventure indeed!