Roughed up by the ShermThe previous day, my first day in Colorado from sea level, I had climbed Quandary on zero sleep. Needless to say, by the time I pulled into Leadville later that afternoon I was pretty tired. After grabbing some food at the always satisfying Tennessee Pass Cafe, I checked into the Timberline Motel.
I may have not felt the elevation on Quandary, but I felt it that night in Leadville. At around 2 AM I woke up with a pounding headache. I tried to sleep to no avail for a few hours, before taking a Tylenol PM. That knocked me out, and it wasn't until 8 AM when I woke up...far from an Alpine start. Fortunately for me, the trailhead was pretty close by.
I got lost on the way there, bearing right at the intersection where you are supposed to bear left onto a gravel road. I drove around a mine for awhile before realizing there was no other way to go.
Like all other Colorado days, this one began real pleasantly. The drive up Iowa Gulch was very pretty in a mild way, and refreshing for the fact that it was so close to Leadville. However, the closer I got to the mountains, the closer the attraction faded for me, as I realized that these were mined out rubble piles. Still the west face of Sherman was pretty cool, and surprisingly rugged...a far cry from the gentle massif that it appears to be from the Fairplay side.
The moment I stepped out of the car I knew it wasn't going to be my day. Maybe it was the lingering effects of the Tylenol, or the altitude finally catching up to me, or the cumulative lack of sleep, but I was tired from the first minute on the trail. It's a shame too, because I found Iowa Gulch to be a pleasant surprise, especially with the wildflowers in bloom, a lush valley juxtaposed against the dry rubble piles of the Mosquito's.
10 minutes into the hike I realized that I had left my camera in the car. Maybe a sign of my fatigue, as I was too lazy to turn back and decided to continue on. I got into trouble right when the trail emerged from the gulch onto the talus. Somehow, I managed to wander about 50 feet about the main trail. The rocks were real loose, and even as I tried my best to walk slowly and carefully, I managed to knock some pretty big rocks down, tumbling about 100 feet below me. After some hesitant scrambling, I found my way back onto the main trail, which wasn't that much better, and getting looser with every step.
The trail makes several switchbacks up the gully between Sherman and Sheridan. At many points it is composed of pretty loose dirt that makes going up a slog and going down a giant pain in the a**. By the time I reached the saddle, I was already running into people heading down. I must've looked pretty awful and pathetic, since they felt the need to console me and tell me that the summit wasn't that far away.
The hike up the ridge from the saddle was less steep, and the trail improved in spots. Mostly, it was still loose scree and dirt. Another interesting quirk to the mountain was that under every loose rock I knocked aside with my boots, there was a sizable spider scurrying for cover. It really magnified the effect of the deterioration on this mountain; I finally understood the meaning of Gerry Roach's catchphrase: "Geologic time includes now."
The ridge narrows itself as you ascent closer to the summit, and if my memory serves me correct, there was one class 2 scramble/move that served as a brief respite from the loose, sloppy slog I was entrenched in. A few places actually presented some exposure. Nothing mindblowing, but you knew that if you were to fall, a feat which would have been difficult even for the clumsiest of us, the fall would be mighty unpleasant.
The ridge eased up in its steepness, and pretty soon I found myself on the summit. It would have been hard to tell where the highpoint was had it not been for the giant rock enclave and summit register. The views were pleasant, especially of Holy Cross to the west, but I found it much less pristine than Quandary. Maybe it was the flies that were flying around still, even at 14,036'. Maybe it was the spiders.
The slog down was just as difficult, if not more, than the way up. I found out later that trekking poles would have been perfect for such a task. I do own a pair of trekking poles, actually, but they were sitting in a garage. In Massachusetts. I actually didn't think I would need them in Colorado. Smart, right?
Every step I took downhill knocked the wind out of me, even after I reached the flat traverse of Iowa Gulch. The 10 feet of climbing you have to do to reach the parking lot was the most painful 10 feet of my life, and I could have sworn that it took 10 hours. I found my camera in the car, and took some pictures of the area to make up for the lack of summit shots. I wondered about the west face of Sherman. True, it presented no epic rock faces, but it looked like an impossible climb through unbearable talus positioned at dangerously steep levels. I wonder if anyone has tried climbing it, as it would certainly pose a unique mountaineering challenge.
Mt. Sherman might be the "easiest" of the 14ers, but on this fine July day, I found it to be more than what I had bargained for. In fact, of the 4 14ers I climbed on my trip (Quandary, Sherman, Castle, Elbert), I would say that Sherman by far was the most physically taxing one.