TR-Mt Silverheels (13822')
~13 miles RT, 3700' gain
via south ridge
CO Rank- 96
CO Prominence Rank- 59
Participants : Patrick Thornley, Matt Williams, Risa Hayes, and Kevin Baker
Silverheels has been on my short list of peaks to climb for quite some time. The history behind the name of this huge mountain is interesting. Back in the mining days, a smallpox epidemic ravaged the town of Fairplay. The only remaining woman stayed in town to care for the sick miners. Silverheels is a beautiful mountain that guards the east side of Hoosier Pass near the Continental Divide. It is infamous for strong winds. With avalanche danger still being moderate on most aspects, Pat and I decided on the gentle south ridge route where the ridge would more than likely be dry. In the summer this is the standard route, but a gate closure at 10360' makes for a long day in winter and spring.
My friends Pat and Matt left Co. Springs at a little after 5am with temps in the low 30's and some low clouds. We met Risa who was riding with her friend Walt in Fairplay. They followed us to the trailhead and Walt headed off to go fishing. We were hoping the winter closure gate would be open as there was little or no snow to be seen. It was closed, which we later found out was a good thing as the forest service road turns into a mud bowl when the sun comes out. This would add close to 4 miles to our day, but this section of the road was easy. Our start at 7:58 was a bit nippy at around 28 degrees with some low lying clouds still in the area, but the sun broke through in about a half hour. We crossed Beaver Creek and headed up FS184 at 10740'. There was little snow on the road and what we did encounter was hard packed and thin with a few occassional drifts. We were glad we didn't bring the snowshoes. At 11160', we found the old logging road which headed northeast into a beautiful bristlecone pine forest near treeline. Somewhere around 11500', we lost the road in some drifts and ended up heading northeast to the ridge. In hindsight, this was probably a good decision even though we ended up traversing below the ridge proper most of the day. We unnecessarily went over Pt 12282', which we could have stayed to the left of. You end up losing everything you gain by going over it.
Matt and I decided to basically do an ascending traverse of the gentle slope the rest of the way, as the terrain was open tundra and stable talus. This is a pretty straightforward climb, but the size of this mountain will play tricks on your mind. The west slopes below the ridge has plenty of "mini-ridges" along the way to get your hopes up for no reason. As we neared the summit, it was quite apparent that I hadn't been above treeline very much this winter as the short breaks were frequent. I started seeing some patches of snow, so I knew the summit was close. Finally, at 11:54 I trudged up the hard packed snow to the summit shelter where it was pretty windy. The wind was probably in the 20MPH sustained, 40MPH gusts range for most of the day, but it wasn't cold enough to need goggles. I found a spot on the leeward side of the summit to sit and Matt topped out 5 minutes later. Risa and Pat were soon to follow. The views from Silverheels on this day were amazing as neighboring 14'ers Lincoln, Bross, Democrat, Quandary, and Sherman were gleaming in the spring sun. The trained eye could probably find at least 30 14'ers from here. Temps were in the low 40's, so it was comfortable enough to enjoy lunch and take a catnap on the rocks. A couple guys came up from the west ridge route as we were getting ready to leave, and that was the only people we saw all day, typical for a centennial.
After a nice, long break enjoying the scenery on the summit, we headed down at 1:32. We got a couple short glissades in just below the summit, then began our plod down the long south ridge. This time we traversed to the right of Pt 12282', saving some effort. We meandered through the bristlecone pines and found the logging road, which as expected was very muddy. The slip and slide down the road wasn't too bad, as we avoided the mud as much as possible. We were glad the gate was closed, because it would be very easy to get any 4WD stuck in this mess. The road was consistently muddy to within 1/2 mile of the gate. We made it back to the car at 4:30 where Walt was waiting for us. We headed back to the booming town of Fairplay for some grub, happy to enjoy some solitude in the high country!