Pride v. better judgment, or How I Didn't Get Myself Killed on Mount Adams

Page Type
Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Sep 12, 2009
Hiking, Scrambling
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72.08% Score
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Pride v. better judgment, or How I Didn't Get Myself Killed on Mount Adams
Created On: Sep 13, 2009
Last Edited On: Sep 14, 2009

This whole expedition was doomed from the get-go

I managed to get a few hours of sleep before awaking at 1 am Saturday morning. According to Google Maps it would take me 4 1/2 hours to drive to the Horn Creek TH from my place in Broomfield. I left at 2 and, much to my surprise, arrived at the TH parking at 5:15.

Then began the confusion. In the dark I couldn't actually find the Horn Creek TH parking lot and, after driving around for awhile, I finally parked near a sign for Rainbow Creek TH. Need to fix that headlight..

No big deal, I knew that Rainbow Creek Trail meets Horn Creek Trail somewhere. I started off in the dark and, after a hundred feet or so, came to a fork in the trail. No signs, just a stake in the ground. I went right, then changed my mind, went back, and took the left fork.

After walking for awhile, I began second-(third?)-guessing and called my parents in Ohio to look up that stupid unlabeled fork in the trail. No luck. Then I stumbled across the real Horn Creek TH parking lot (which, later, under the light of day I discovered was connected to--and indeed mere dozens of yards from--where I had parked).

Great day for a hike?

It was now 6 am and I could see fine without the headlamp. The sky was all blue with some little fluffy clouds way up. Gorgeous!

Feeling confident that I was now on the right trail, I set off in earnest. All the forks after this were labeled quite well. The trail itself is wonderful and has just about every type of surface you could want--dirt, mud, water, little rocks, big rocks, manure.. at any rate I was glad for my waterproof shoes.

The hike to the basin, with its mixed grades, was a good warm-up for the torture ahead. Along the way I passed a few tents and the skeletonized remains of something in the deer family.

I reached the basin at 8:15. The sun had just come up over the ridge to the South, offering a scenic view of the pristine lake surrounded by tundra, steep hills, and rock walls; and all dominated still by blue sky.
Horn Lake Basin

There's a reason people camp in the basin

From the basin it appears there are three peaks. Pointy one on the right, flat one in the middle, pointy one on the left. I couldn't remember which one was Adams!

While debating whether it was the peak on the right or the one in the middle, I remembered I needed to climb a ridge to the north. So I started up that 1000+ feet of torture and learned why many folk rest overnight in the basin. Not having a GPS or any other device sophisticated enough to gauge steepness, I can still say with relative certainty that the hill is steep. Climb some dozens of feet, curse my exploring instinct, rest, repeat.

Above 10,000 ft the brain gets less oxygen to make decisions

Halfway up the hill, the wind picked up and the scary clouds started pouring into the basin from the West; wispy at first, but gradually darker and thicker (read: capable of holding lots of stuff, like rain and lightning). I told myself as long as I could still see blue sky to the Northwest I would keep going.

I made the ridge at 10:30 to finally peer over the other side for a rewarding view of the North Crestone Lake basin. I couldn't see much of the surrounding peaks for the clouds, but I did catch a glimpse of the Kit Carson trio, Humboldt, and the Baldies.

The ridge was incredibly fun. You can climb as steep or subtle as you like this side of technical. I picked a moderate path up and over most of the big rocks and around the really big ones.

When I could no longer see blue sky to the West, I told myself as long as I didn't hear thunder, see thunderclouds, or see lightning, I would keep going.

Those are jets passing overhead, right? Actually there were a lot of airplanes, but I did hear an itty-bit of thunder in the distance. So I stashed my aluminum poles (yes, my self-preservation instinct was at least half-retarded by now). Was it worth the risk of death by lightning? I dunno, but I was getting close!

Making a hard decision

At openings in the cloud cover I kept checking the conditions to the West. At 11:30 I saw a giant thundercloud that wasn't there before. I was probably no more than 30 minutes' scrambling to the summit.

I looked at the summit, then the looming cloud, then the sweet, sweet summit. The weather was going to beat me there, no question. I miserably turned around and after locating my poles got off the ridge lickety-split, and by a very direct route. Halfway down, snow, then minutes later, rain. By 12:20 I was back at the lake.
Horn Lake

I hiked/jogged/ran eastward in worsening conditions. The campers had split. Caught up with one on the trail and chatted as we went for awhile, then took off again. Shortly passed a guy going the other way (!) with camping gear.
Ominous clouds over Horn Creek Trail

Got back to my car at 2 pm, at which point it began to storm in earnest. I was treated to an epic lightningfest minutes later as I drove away from that awful sense of disappointment.
Escape from the Sangre de Cristo s

Blah blah blah...

Could have done a few things differently:

1) Hiked with a companion; someone with a healthy respect for life.
2) Started earlier, leaving Broomfield at midnight!?
3) Camped in the basin Friday night. Don't have the gear, though.
4) Checked the weather forecast. There were awful storms all over the front range Saturday.

If anyone climbs this peak in the near future and stumbles across my manly pride, please give it back.

Otherwise I'll retrieve it in a few weeks.



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Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Sep 14, 2009 3:24 pm - Voted 10/10

Good Story

You'll get her next time.


metal4lyf - Sep 14, 2009 8:39 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good Story

Thanks, and thanks for the vote! =)

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