What better way to kick off the new year with a day in the mountains! I had the day off and as expected could not find any climbing partners for the day after New Years. The forecast up north looked bad and I didn't want to climb anything in the Sangres by myself, so I decided to give Almagre another shot. On Dec 3, Doug Hatfield, Patrick Thornley, and myself made an attempt but were turned back by a snow storm. It took us 4 hrs before turning around on the road at 11200'. This time I headed out earlier in anticipation of an easier time.
I left the house at 5:40am hoping to start right around sunrise. The forecast looked mild but the winds could be a problem. Old Stage Road behind the Broadmoor was mostly dry as expected. I found FR 379 and decided to see how far I could get my stock Santa Fe. The road was well packed with patches of ice, but I came to a creek crossing that was sketchy just 1/2 mile up the road. I gave it a go and nearly got stuck, but made it across. On the way back I had to wait on a Jeep Cherokee that didn't make it. The road got worse, so I parked at 10000'.
I donned my new YacTrax and set off at 7:20 with temps probably in the upper 20's. FR 379 is a popular attraction for local 4WD enthusiasts, so it was well packed but very icy. I made good time and found a shortcut that really saved me some mileage. I followed 4 wheeler tracks n.w. up a ridge just beyond Frosty Park. I found the old road noted on the quad which crossed 379 at 10600', then ascended the s.e. flanks of Almagre rejoining the road at 11600'. The snow was 4-8" deep on this track, but I still made much better time than following the ridiculous switchbacks on 379. I was now already further than we got last time! I couldn't believe how much easier the effort was with better snow conditions! Almagre would not let me grace her slopes this easily though.
The winds were soon going to greet me in earnest, so I donned the shell and headed up the gentle road. It is hard to believe that these 4WD maniacs had a track established all the way to about 11700'. Impressive. As I crested the ridge, the winds hit me ferociously as they were funnelled by the saddle. I donned more wind gear at an interesting shelter at frozen Stratton Reservoir, which sits in the middle of the two summits. After the gear break, I began to head for the dam at the east end of the reservoir and decided not to as the wind could have blown me off! The wind was so strong at the saddle that it was blowing me sideways and holding my weight when gusting.
I hugged the west side of the reservoir to avoid the worst of the wind, then picked my way to the northern summit, the highpoint of the mountain, arriving at 10:20. The wind was not too bad on the eastern leeward side of the summit, so I had lunch and enjoyed the superb views of C. Springs and Pikes. After about 30 min, I headed down to bag the southern summit, which is also a ranked 12er. Two for the price of one!
As I made my way down, another hiker approached me. It was none other than John Kirk, who I had met at the 14erworld party last month! He said Ryan and Erin Schilling were with him too. What are the odds of meeting hikers you know on an obscure peak like Almagre in Jan? I waited for Ryan and Erin as they were climbing some peaks while in the state from PA. On the south side of the reservoir, I headed uphill for to rejoin the road and followed it all the way to the summit. The road wraps all the way around to the south side of the summit, then heads n.w. directly into the wind. I would have saved some heartache by checking the map and heading directly up the slope. It took me about an hour to make the traverse over to the southern summit, but the wind was much easier to deal with for the most part.
The southern summit has an interersting communications tower which is visible from many parts of the city. It sounded like a hurricane up there as the wind was ripping. John, Ryan, and Erin were making their way down the north summit as I relaxed. I had another snack on the leeward side of the building and then decided to make the short hike over to the Baldy benchmark, which is on the very southern edge of the ridge. The wind was probably the worst here, but it was worth it as there were great views of nearby 11er Rosa. I headed down at 12:28, happy to soon be out of the wind.
As I made my way back down the road, a couple trucks were all the way up to 11700', one of which appeared to be stuck! I watched for a few minutes as they backed it up over a couple huge boulders on the edge of the road and were able to get out of trouble. At the trail intersection, I waited for John, Ryan, and Erin so I could show them the shortcut. It turns out they came up another road, so we parted ways and headed down. The hike out was uneventful other than losing my tracks for a few minutes, and I arrived back at the car at 2:28. Hard to believe conditions can make a hike so much different!