Intro/StatsLittle Horn Pk (13143')
Feb 17, 2008
8.5 miles RT, 4250' gain
Via east ridge
Participants: Steve Myers, John Broadbooks, John and Renata Collard, and Kevin Baker
My wife and I were visiting a friend in the Salida area over the weekend, so I was looking to possibly hit a northern Sangre 13er while in the area. A healthy winter has made accessibility a problem for many of the 13ers in the Sangres, but I knew that the road to the Horn Creek TH was plowed. I remembered Sarah T's winter report of Little Horn and Fluted from last year, but this year was a different ballgame.
As luck would have it, I ran into a local on summitpost (Steve Myers) who gave me some detailed beta on the conditions. Kane Engelbert also helped out with beta after his recent solo success 6 days prior. Steve even rebroke Kane's track all the way to the ridge the day before! How often do you get a gift like this in winter? I was imagining a never ending wallowfest just getting to the ridge!
Cakewalk to the Ridge
4 of us met at the Westcliffe Inn Sunday morning where John and Renata stayed. We met Steve near the trailhead. The road was plowed just .3 mile from the TH n.w. of Horn Creek Ranch at 8920', so we weren't complaining! We set out at 6:47am under clear skies, no wind, and a temp of 15 degrees. Could it be another typical bluebird day with John and Renata? Steve set a brisk pace up the well tracked trail as we hooked up briefly with the Rainbow Trail heading south, then caught the signed Horn Creek trail at 9160'. The trail was broken enough that we didn't need snowshoes on it.
The friendly confines of the trail were short lived as we left it at an open area at 9720', following Kane and Steve's nice track. We enjoyed relatively well consolidated snow up to the ridge and the postholing was minimal. Even on north facing aspects, the snow was in decent shape. Once on the ridge, Kane's track was pretty much obliterated by the wind. Another 800' of vertical brought us to treeline where we took a break. 13er Horn Peak greeted us to the north.
The higher but easier neighbor to the north of Little Horn is Horn Peak.
A break in the trees reveals our final, distant goal for the day as the long east ridge of Little Horn presents itself.
First view of Little Horn. We have a long ways to go! 13er Fluted in background.
John B commented on the good weather fortunes I seemingly bring when hiking with John and Renata. Old man winter must have been listening, because the bluebird day didn't last long!
Paying Our Dues on the East Ridge
Off we went up the east ridge, which had about 6-8" of powder on top of a wind blasted layer. The trail breaking was getting tougher, but it still wasn't bad at all.
Nearing treeline on the east ridge.
Steve and I cached our snowshoes at around 12K', but there was still much more snow on the ridge than I thought there would be. Clouds began to blow in and it started snowing, but the wind and visibility wasn't bad at all. The easy undulating ridge soon gave way to steeper class 2+ terrain. We were beginning to wonder where the class 3+ terrain was at, as we were now only 1/4 mile from the summit. As we popped out on the first false summit, the real difficulties revealed themselves. There's no freebies in winter!
The depressing view from the first false summit, and that isn't the true summit!
At this point, Steve wasn't feeling too well and John B decided to head down with him. John, Renata, and I decided to give it a shot as we donned ice axes and stashed poles. A herd of bighorn sheep stared at us from the next false summit and wondered what us loons were doing up here! This ridge would be an easy scramble in dry conditions, but fresh snow made things much tougher. We stayed on the ridge crest initially before coming to a tower. I don't like being on an exposed, wet ridge, so we decided to skirt the ridge when the conditions allowed. I spotted a small couloir below a notch to the 2nd false summit that looked manageble. We traversed over to it, kicking steps across snow that for the most part was in decent shape, not too firm and not too soft.
John Collard nearing the top of a small couloir in fine shape for Feb.
Once at the notch, we skirted some steep slabs on the north side on class 2 terrain and came to another false summit. From here we could finally see the true summit and the hardest part was behind us! We traversed to the south side of one more small tower and staggered onto the summit at 1:47, taking nearly an hour for the class 3 section!
We only hung around for 15 minutes, as it was a pretty chilly 10 degrees on the summit. The descent is always tougher, so we took out time trying to remember the route we took. For the most part, we stayed on track other than me getting off route once and were happy to get back to the easier stuff.
Centennial Adams (left) and Little Horn on the descent.
As usual, I didn't eat or drink enough on this winter day and started to bonk with all the trail breaking and kicking steps. The snow had accumulated a good 2-3" on the ridge and the winds picked up in earnest. We put our snowshoes back on as the winds gathered steam, which isn't exactly fun. My hands took awhile to warm up after that.
Soaking up the views on the descent of Little Horn's east ridge.
We were happy to get back into the friendly confines of the trees and noticed that either Steve or John was descending w/o snowshoes. It turns out poor Steve couldn't find his snowshoes as they were possibly buried by the new snow. He was already having stomach problems, so he had to posthole his way all the way back down to the trail! We met back up with them at the trail and finished just in time for me not to break out the headlamp at 6:25 under a bright moon. I must say Little Horn is a formidable challenge in winter even when you have the benefit of a trench to the ridge!