From St Mary’s Glacier
Friday January 28, 2011
Winter Doldrums………..A real and existing feeling in your very bones; months have past since the last time you ventured out seeking the “high points” of an alpine summit.
I received a Gerry Roach book for Christmas; Colorado’s Indian Peaks and read a 13er.com trip report from El Chupacabra (thanks man) and found myself quite inspired to pursue a winter ascent of James Peak.
Having the day off on Friday the 28th (thank goodness) and wanting to “get-to-going” after my first peak of the 2011 season I checked the favorable weather posted on the NOAA webpage, readied my daypack and got myself out as early as I possibly could on this fine morning.
The traffic was minor and the drive to the St Mary’s/Alice exit 238 off I -70 went well with the 9 miles to the $5 parking lot just beyond the Glacier Trail sign no problems.
Glacier Trail Parking Lot
Only one other car at the parking lot; 3 young people on skis chattering nervously about the thrills of the day to come up the glacier……….Cool. I pulled out my old Yukon Charlie snowshoes, applied a thick layer of sun lotion, sunglasses, layered my clothes for the trek and started back a bit and then up the “Glacier Trail” to St Mary’s Glacier.
Up the ¾ mile trail, bearing left and following the previous footprints brought me to a most wonderful view of the lake and the glacier above, complete with the remains of avalanches launched upon this small lake below. Bearing right and across the bridge to the far right side of the glacier I went; the day was brilliant and no one around as I proceeded up the glacier.
Up St Mary's Glacier
Progress was good as I climbed far right on hard/wind blown snow and reaching the top of the glacier through a driving wind felt like I was on my way.
Ahead was the “rock pile.” Here I pulled things tight against the pressing wind and forged ahead to the top of the glacier and plodded forward (always) and gained the respite of the wind behind the rock pile where I paused and took in a good drink of Gatorade. Up and across the “tundra” went well as the winds subsided and the vastness of this high/flat approach caught me a bit off guard as hiking across brought an unexpected calm and with the views of the summit ahead
and the surrounding peaks..........No one around and the clear views felt most privileged.
Winds carved and shaped the snows of this tundra into sculptures of random features and the thing that came to mind was the Great Sand Dunes with its splendid display of never-ending exposure to any and all prevailing winds. Countless crests, pockets, cornices of snowy white before me as I gained altitude proceeding right up and onto the higher ground above.
Bare rock & stone lay ahead as I took a slow (pausing often/briefly) to catch my breathe and gain the ridge right and over a false summit where the true summit lay well ahead/above; here the winds started hard once more.
Eyes forward and the sight of the summit above made for a most beckoning endeavor as I buttoned-down my clothes again while proceeding. Finding my way across a windswept final approach with snows stacked/loose caused a zigzagged traversed passage ascent to an empty summit at 1:02PM. I’d made it!!..........Here the winds lightened most noticeably.
I’ve never experienced the clarity of a winter’s day on an alpine summit and it made for a gawking/mouth-opening vista. In every direction was a postcard view and my breathless fatigue soon gave way to absolute awe. Snowcapped peaks in all directions and 150+ miles visibility stunned my senses. Longs Peak, Grays & Torreys, Winter Park ski area, countless other peaks, Denver way down below.
Self portrait Summit Shot
I gazed around and thanked the Lord above for allowing my passage to such tranquil beauty. God has most assuredly shed his grace on Colorado, USA………..Nothing short of a most definite spectaculation!
I “picked myself from the ground” and found my camera was not functioning, I drank & ate and caught my breath while surveying this fine perch in a short stone bunker built by others. My cell phone shots were all would take with me as I tried to take-in the best of what I saw as my memories will need to serve me.
Looking north from James Peak summit.
Looking west from James Peak summit.
Looking southwest from James Peak summit.
I stayed about 20 mins and started back down along my snow shoed path bearing towards the cairns and found a more gradual descent line. Nice.
Yours truly just below James Peak summit.
Heading down I saw the 3 young people making there way up out of the tundra. We bid good luck as they “skinned” up and I “shoed” down. The rock pile was my goal as I plodded down through the tundra
Vast Tundra, tiny dark/spec hump in the middle is the "rock pile"
and marveled at the snow shapes along the way.
Again the winds subsided here and the remainder of the route would be a pleasant descent with quiet calm……….Sunshine was everywhere and the brightness gave way to shadows on the right while going back down the glacier.
Top of St Mary's Glacier
I found and followed my original tracks from this morning while the rigors of heading down took a toll and forgetting to bring aspirin or Celebex expressed my decline and the last portion of the glacier couldn’t have come sooner. However, the day held perfect and my pains were overtaken with the unseasonably warm temps and reaching the last of the Glacier Trail brought my much needed relief. Back to the parking lot and my truck at 3:04PM.
My first alpine summit climb of 2011; a James Peak Wilderness snow trek on this glorious day.
I couldn’t have asked for more………………Sweet!