Introduction-My first attempt. February 17th, 2008
I’ve now been within a stone throw from the summit of Little Horn Peak three times in the last five weeks.
My first attempt was with Kevin B and his friends on 2/17. A great group of people. Kevins Trip Report
The last half mile before nearing the first false summit, I began to get a bad stomach ache. So, I slowed my pace, in hopes of it going away and continuing on. I had carried my snowshoes a ways further than Kevin. Kevin, using his head, marked a waypoint on his gps when he stashed his.
Another quarter mile or so up, I finally decided to stow my snowshoes. I thought maybe, getting rid of the extra weight might help me feel better. When I took them out of my pack, I placed a rock on top of them. The wind had picked up a little bit and I didn’t want them blowing off the mountain. When I set them down, I had neglected to give myself a waypoint on my gps. Thinking to myself as I walked away; they are sitting right out in plain sight and the ridgeline is fairly narrow, it will be simple to find them when I get back. Boy, was I wrong.
I kept walking further up with a much slower pace. The group, smelling the nearness of the summit, started leaving me further behind.
I finally couldn’t go any further. My gut was wrenching and I was just plain miserable. So, I sat down.
I told the group that I was fine. Sat down and waited for them to the summit and return. All the while, hoping the pain in my gut would go away.
After the group had disappeared over the ridge for a few minutes, John B came back down. By this time, the clouds from an approaching storm had enveloped the mountains and snow had been falling at a pretty good pace for a while.
John offered to head back down with me. And so, we started down, me constantly looking for my snowshoes. John kept questioning me on the whereabouts of the snowshoes and I kept assuring him, they were coming up shortly. Finally, we reached the spot where Kevin had stashed his snowshoes. My heart fell to my stomach. We had passed them without seeing them.
By this time, I was feeling so bad, that I didn’t want to climb back up and look for them. So I asked John to continue leading the way down. He began stomping as hard as he could with his snowshoes. At first, the going wasn’t too bad. The snow along the ridge had been windblown and was fairly packed. I was doing ok.
We reached the tree line and the snow softened up. I had thought, with five of us coming up and packing the trail down, it would be a breeze going down. Looking back, I think, that a thousand people could have walked over the trail in front of me with snowshoes and still, I would have wallowed in the “that” mire. It was my day of suffering and no one was taking it away from me.
John continued pounding the ground with his snowshoes and I kept sinking waist deep. Each time, I pulled myself from the hole, my gut heaved in pain. I’d pull myself out of one hole and two steps later, I’d be buried again. I used my trekking poles as handheld snowshoes. When I sunk, I crawled with the poles. Laying them flat across the top of the snow. Sometimes, I crawled for fifty feet or more. Anything from sinking again.
I began to roll down hills whenever possible. I tried everything. Even screaming, cussing and hitting the ground each time I sank. This went on for nearly 3 miles. Although it seemed like an eternity, I imagine it lasted for three or four hours. In that situation, that is an eternity.
I felt so bad for John. Having to listen to me cuss and whine. He knew I was suffering, but there was nothing more that he could do, other than the continual pounding and packing down of the snow.
I felt foolish and angry for losing the snowshoes. After a couple of hours of solid misery of wrenching my gut each time I pulled myself out of a hole, I just wanted to lay there for a few hours and get some rest, but knew the sun would be going down and the temperature would drop quickly.
We pressed on. Out of bushwhack country and onto the Horn Creek trail, The snow was packed down much harder. I was able to make it back to the car without sinking too often and arrived about a half-hour or so after the sun had set. Alive, but feeling totally miserable. God, I was glad I only had to drive to the other side of the valley.
The following morning, when I went to my car, I realized that, not only had I lost my snowshoes, but also lost my sunglasses. What an expensive hike that turned to be.
The Second Attempt-February 24th, 2008
The entire week, after leaving my snowshoes up on the mountain, I thought about getting back up there and look for them before someone else picked them up. The sunglasses were just a cheap pair, so I wasn’t too disappointed about losing them. Besides, with all the wind the ridge gets, they had to have blown miles away by now. The last thing on my mind was finding them.
The Sangre De Cristo Mountains are a fairly desolate place in the winter. I’ve lived just across the Wet Mountain Valley from the Sangres for two winters now. Other than tracks up to the Rainbow trail from the Horn Creek Spur trail and back from locals getting their exercise, I rarely ever see any tracks other than mine. Because of this, I knew that there was a good chance for my snowshoes being up there until I got back. I just didn’t want wait and take the chance of losing them. So, my friend Jeff and I went up the following Sunday.
It was already very windy when we got to the parking area. The road to the trailhead is not plowed during the winter, so you have to park about a third of a mile from the trailhead parking area. As soon as we opened the car doors, the wind caught them and blew them shut. We looked at each other. I was already to turn and drive back home, but…we both figured; we’re here already. Let’s hike.
Fortunately, our trail from the prior week was still there. It had only snowed a couple of inches over the past week. Travel went well, until about 11000 ft or so. The wind tends to cover up tracks fairly quick. Snow was soft until we got out of the trees and on to the ridgeline.
We sat down for a bite to eat in the same spot that Kevin B had stashed his snowshoes. The wind and spindrift stung our faces. I knew we were very close to where I had left my snowshoes. Even though we were getting tossed around, we both knew, that it was “Snowshoes or Bust”.
A minute later one of Jeff’s gloves blew out of his grasp and down the side of the mountain never to be seen again. In retrospect, I look at it as an offering to the god of Little Horn Peak. The angry god who had stole my snowshoes and sunglasses. Pulled me down into the depths of it’s frozen tundra. Trying to make me a slave of its frosty depths for eternity. I wondered….Would this appease the god?
It was very cold. Jeff reached in his pack to get out, what I thought was a second pair of gloves. Instead, he pulled out a large white sock to use as a glove. I told Jeff that there was no way in hell that I was hiking with Lamb Chops. Fortunately, I had a second pair of gloves in my pack. Gave them to Jeff. We said goodbye to Lambchops and continued up to search for the snowshoes.
In about ten minutes, we hit the ridgeline where the rocks and exposure begins. There was still quite a bit of snow up there. We walked for about another ten minutes. Directly in front of us lay my snowshoes. Just waiting to be picked up and carried home. How lucky can you get.
Pay no attention to the hat. It's a loaner..
With the relentless wind battering us, we knew that there was no reason to continue on, so we headed back down the mountain and stopped in Silver Cliff for our “Victory Pizza”. Actually, whenever Jeff drives over into my backyard, we go for pizza after a hard days work. And when I drive over to Jeffs neck of the woods, it’s not worth him driving all the way to Silver Cliff. So, I stop in Silver Cliff and get a pizza to go. And just to piss Jeff off, I give his pieces to Sunny.
The Third Attempt-March 29th, 2008
The weather report said mostly sunny skies. It also mentioned “windy” with gusts up to 50mph. But, it was the weekend and I wanted to get out. So, I took the chance of a wasted day and headed over to the Horn Creek Trailhead. This time, the road towards the trailhead parking area had been plowed up to the trailhead parking area, but the road was closed just above the spur trail parking spot, due to lumbering operations. I have to say, having a couple hundred extra yards of dirt ground, instead of snow was a welcome sight. It’s been a long winter.
Recent night temperatures have been around or above freezing. Friday night was one of those “above freezing” nights. I immediately had to put on snowshoes as soon as I got to the trailhead parking area.
There was a little bit of snow falling. The wind was blowing pretty hard as well.
Although it hadn’t snowed for a week or so, the trail that had once been a foot deep trench up to the register at Horn Creek, showed nothing more than sign of a faint footprint here and there. But, it was fairly packed and I had minimal sinking. Except for a few bare spots that get a good amount of afternoon sun, the trail remained covered with snow up to where I had left the trail on my two previous climbs.
Once leaving the Horn Lakes/Creek trail, I was able to veer to my right. Using a slightly different approach than the last two times. There was a lot of bare ground showing and I decided to take advantage of it. At 10300, I started sinking badly. Memories of my first attempt quickly came to mind. So, I put on my snowshoes and continued.
The ridge I took started off with a much mellower grade, but the forest was very dense. I felt as though I was a running back in a football game, trying to get past the line of defense. I was grabbed continually from the left and from the right. In front of me and behind me. I was even tackled a few times as well. Finally, elevation got the better of the situation and I emerged from the woods, the victor. Unfortunately, I had left one battle behind me, but had another to contend with. The wind.
The second time I had gone up with Jeff, there had been recent snow. The wind kicked up the fresh snow and battered it against our faces. This time, there was no fresh snow to speak of, excluding the small flakes that were falling as I was hiking. I wasn’t getting blasted with spindrift, but the wind was much stronger and would pick up and push me around with great intensity. I would hear a roar working its way up from the canyons below. I would brace myself with all fours (my legs and trekking poles). A few seconds later I would get blasted by an invisible wall. As quickly as it came, it left and the cycle continued as I climbed.
I began getting near the base of the false summit. I looked down and laying there were my sunglasses. Intact and the lenses were cleaner than I’d ever seen. As though nature had held on to them and washed them. Waiting for my return. I felt as though my luck would change and this would be the day I summited Little Horn.
I finally made it to where I had stopped on my first attempt. The false summit standing in front of me. I lucked up and half way to the top stood a lone ram. I watched in fascination as it as it jumped from rock to rock, wishing that I had its agility and confidence. I took a picture and rested for a few minutes and began the climb towards the false summit. Not knowing what to expect when I reached the top. If you look closely in the picture below, you'll see the ram.
There was substantially less snow along the ridge and the final assault to the false summit than the two previous times I had been there. I thought, this would be it. I would finally get to enjoy the labor of my work and suffering.
As I climbed, the wind whipped up all around me. I braced myself each time. Counting each step I took. Stopping after 50 or so. Gasping a few breaths and then, continue on. I could see the top getting nearer and nearer. Just a few more steps to go.
Then, I reached the top and what lay in front of me gave me a jolt. And….the shock hit me. A large wall of boulders about six feet wide with sheer drops on both sides. There was still a good amount of snow on the coulior that Kevin, John & Renatta had used, but not enough to be of used as a good path of travel. Regardless of what it take to get across the ledge, today was not going to be that day. The wind was blowing too hard.
Heading Down In Frustration
As I headed down. I felt the disappointment of getting near enough to almost hit it with a stone, but still, too far to actually touch.
I had taken me nearly six hours to climb. I would have a long time to think about it on the way down. But, at least it was going to be a breeze. Or…. At least I thought it would be.
Except for the wind (which, by now I had learned to brace myself when I heard the approaching roar) the walk back down the ridge was fairly uneventful.
I reached the tree line. I wondered if I would spook any creatures out of hiding on the way down. Earlier, on the way up, just before reaching open space, I had scared a bobcat. It had darted across the path in front of me about 100 feet. Unfortunately, much to quick to allow me to pull the camera from my pocket and take a shot.
As I got lower in elevation, The snow started to give way under my feet. Although the upper elevations had been under cloud cover most the day and the wind chill had made it cold, lower elevations had been basking in the afternoon sun and temps had been well above freezing. The snow was melting. I began to sink above my knees, even with snowshoes on. As the grades got steeper, I found my self sinking more and falling to my face on occasion. Every bone in my body ached and my feet were killing me. I was tired and getting sick of sinking. I think I’ve had enough spring type snow to last this year.
I had been following my original tracks back down. Not the most direct route, due to the steepness of the climb. On the way up, we always zig zag to make the climb easier. I was getting tired of having to pull myself out of holes, so I started working my way straight down the side of the mountain. I continued to sink, but I knew that travelling that way would be a lot shorter and a lot less of a hassle than taking the long way and following my upward bound tracks.
I finally reached a southerly facing hill where the snow had melted. I removed my snowshoes temporarily to give my legs and feet a break. I was to need them again once I hit the Horn Creek Trail and all the way back to the trailhead parking area.
My Personal Enigma
I have an aversion for sheer drops. The final section that leads to the true summit has just that. The picture below doesn’t do justice for what you see when you top that false summit and look to what’s ahead.
I don’t know if you reach a certain age and you learn a better understanding of mortality or if some people are meant to hang off the sides of cliffs and others aren’t.
I’ve been working on my aversion. Getting more exposure. Crossing the Phantom Terrace. Sitting on ledges and staring straight down sheer drops. Anything to help me feel more at ease with the situation I’m facing.
As I sit in my car at the trailhead, I close my eyes. In my mind, I’m staring across the void to Little Horn Peak, I wonder, even on a perfect day..Will I ever cross or will it always remain “My Personal Enigma?”
Stats-Attempt Number Three Mileage-8.5 Miles Round Trip
Vertical Gain-4200 feet
RT Time-10 Hours
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