What is more fun than postholing? Postholing with snowshoes!
And what could be better than a false summit? Multiple false summits!
I have been meaning to climb Mount Silverheels all through the winter, and this fine spring day was the first time everything actually came together and I was able to go. The mountain itself is nothing special–a humongous pile of rocks amongst a number of other humongous piles of rocks–but it is one of Colorado’s hundred highest, and it does have spectacular views.
In retrospect, Silverheels reminds me of a castle surrounded by a giant moat. I say this because getting to it from the north or west requires a significant up and then downhill to get to the base of the mountain. In the winter or springtime, this direction of travel is the only logical choice. Thus, I found myself at the South Scott Gulch Trailhead, eager to start bush-whacking my way up the steep west slopes of the foothill: Beaver Ridge.
My eagerness quickly began to fade as shortness of breath took over. I had gotten a little out of shape over the past few weeks, and the deep powdery snow had been untouched by anyone in the recent past. I may not have underestimated the mountain I was climbing, but this ridge would prove to be higher and tougher than I had anticipated. I wore my snowshoes the whole way to the ridge-top, and was post-holing probably about half that time. Needless to say, this took some time. I had great photo opportunities when I stopped, for Mount Lincoln and Mount Bross rose impressively across the valley to the west.
Finally on the crest of Beaver Ridge, I could see I had clearly gotten off-track. The saddle I had been aiming for lay below me to the north, and to the east I could finally see my goal: the steep west ridge of Mount Silverheels. Time to start downhill, I angled below the saddle to the bottom of the gulch. This trek was almost as annoying as my ascent on the other side of the ridge had been. The deep snow was complemented by tall willows, and my face met the snow more than once on this arduous downhill journey. I passed under the humongous power-lines, and continued down to the bottom of the gulch.
Before today, my main concern on the west ridge of Mount Silverheels was avalanche danger, but I was hoping it would be wind-swept as it was when I previewed this ridge back in December. Indeed, this was clearly the case, as I began my trek up the steep grass and talus-strewn ridge. It was only a short time before I stopped to take off my snowshoes so I could begin the familiar task of talus-hiking my way to the summit. I did not stash the snowshoes, but instead tied them to my pack, as I didn’t yet know which route I would take out of the mountain.
Energized by the lack of snow, I made my way briskly up this steep and serene ridge. Point 12,984 was the one false summit I was expecting, but this would only prove to be one of several false summits along the way. After Point 12,984, the angle relented and I was able to make even better time the rest of the way up to the summit.
Mount Silverheels is notorious for its wind, and I must say I did not have it too bad. There was wind at times, and it was especially fierce on the summit, but it was not unbearable. I arrived at the summit at 1336, four hours after leaving my jeep. There was a small rock shelter, but it was entirely filled in with hard-packed snow, and there was no use trying to find the summit register. I stayed only ten minutes, enjoying the view of all of the Front, Mosquito, and Tenmile Ranges, but not enjoying the wind.
I had been toying with the idea of descending the northwest ridge, completing what Gerry Roach calls “Tour de Silverheels.” When I saw two people approaching from below via this ridge, I decided to go down and meet them and go through with the “Tour de Silverheels” idea. It was a man and a woman from upstate New York, now residing in Boulder. We had a nice short chat, and as they continued toward the summit, I swiftly moved down the slopes of the northwest ridge. The descent of this ridge felt every bit as steep as the trip up the west ridge had been, but I made good time.
Back in “the moat” as I came to think of it, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to shortcut back to my original path, instead of continuing directly west to the Scott Gulch Trailhead. Some of the visible terrain on the south-facing slopes looked entirely avalanche-prone, and I wanted to avoid that if at all possible. Indeed, much of the snow I encountered on my trek back over Beaver Ridge was unstable, but I found it easy to avoid any avalanche danger by angling straight for the saddle I had earlier missed. I was also fortunate to find solid snow the whole way, as opposed to the willow mess I had encountered to the south earlier in the day.
Back on the west side of Beaver Ridge, I followed my path the rest of the way down to the jeep. The bright sun had softened a lot of the snow, making me post-hole even worse on the way down. I arrived at my jeep at 1700, relieved to be done with the snowshoes and false summits for the day, but thankful that I even had the opportunity to be out there in the first place. The mountains won’t stop calling, and I’ll be back!