Brad's Outdoor Adventures
Huron Peak, 14,012 feet
Class 2 with snow
Distance (round-trip): 8 miles
Elevation Gain: abt 4,000 feet
Sunrise: Virginia and Winfield Peaks
It had been far too long since my previous fourteener. I was eager to get out once again, but there were a few problems. Today is my only day in the near future I had free on my schedule, today’s weather forecast for the mountains was-–in a word–-questionable, I had no one to climb with me today, and I have a PT (Physical Training) test two days from now with the Army, meaning I needed to find a relatively easy peak to tackle.
Huron Peak fit the requirements perfectly, and after work last night I drove the three hours to the South Winfield Trailhead. As I am a sucker for loop hikes (to take in as much scenery as possible), I decided to start the hike by first bagging Brown’s Peak. Thus, I drove the extra half a mile or so up the rough 4-wheel drive road to where another dirt road turned off to the left toward Lulu Gulch. It was drizzling rain outside as I parked my jeep and drifted off to sleep.
It took forever to get light outside this morning, partly because the sun rises later this time of year and mainly because it was so cloudy. As I started up the easy-to-walk logging road of Huron’s North Ridge Route, light rain showers kept sprinkling me to keep me moving.
About an hour into my hike, still walking the switchbacks of the dirt road and approaching timberline, the sky suddenly lit up. It was as if God turned on a lightbulb, and even through the clouds I could see the unmistakable illumination of the sun. The scene was spectacular, as I had clear views of the ridge and valley opposite me, with the brilliant pink clouds overhanging the alpenglow of the mountains and the bright gold color of the aspens below. It was the single most spectacular scene I have ever witnessed. I snapped several pictures, of course, but even though they turned out great, they don’t do the moment justice. Mostly, I just stood there gawking at the incredibly huge and real painting in front of me. What a wonderful surprise!
Things were about to change dramatically, however. The sun had seemed like it was going to break loose and “roll the clouds away,” but in fact the exact opposite began to take place. As I continued up the left side of another fork in the dirt road and meandered my way into Lulu Gulch, low and ominous clouds began to fill the valley and overtake the peaks around me. The light rain that had been falling began to freeze and pelt me in the face as I continued upward.
Not following Gerry Roach’s northwest route verbatim, I left the dirt road before it went down into the gulch and followed another, smaller and rougher dirt road (now more of a trail) upward above tree line. This eventually veered over toward the gulch, and I left it and started straight up a steep grassy hill toward a large draw in the landscape above me. This is what I was aiming for, in making it up to the saddle between Middle Mountain and my first destination of the day, Brown’s Peak.
Finally I made it to the base of the steep ravine and began my ascent. I started out on the scree slope which was actually not so bad, thanks to the soft mud acting almost like snow. Within the hour I would actually be walking in snow, because the rain-turned-sleet was quickly changing over once again, this time to snowflakes. I much preferred the snow, however, because it did not sting like the sleet.
My going was slow as I continued my ascent toward the saddle. Eventually I left the scree trail and decided to traverse the wet talus instead, which was actually not too terribly slippery.
By the time I reached the saddle, I was in a full-fledged snowstorm. I could not even see Brown’s Peak, and the ground was fully covered for as far as I could see (which wasn’t very far). The wind was blowing, but not badly, and I was feeling good. The hillside I next climbed was a slippery combination of snow, rock and grass, all the way to the summit of the 13,523-foot Brown’s Peak.
I was on the summit of my first peak of the day before I knew it, an unofficially-ranked thirteener in the heart of the Sawatch Mountains, named Browns Peak. I can’t really say much about it, because all I could see from there was snow: in the sky, on the ground, all around me. The wind was blowing harshly, and I didn’t see fit to stick around very long. My gloves were soaked through and the wind was picking up severely, so I decided it best to keep moving.
From there I continued south along the talus-filled ridge-line toward the saddle between Brown’s and Huron. The farther I went, the harder the snow fell and the deeper it was getting. The wind in this area was very fierce, but it was almost nonexistent whenever I dropped down slightly onto the east side of the ridge. Even though this was the rougher side of the saddle, it was worth it to get some reprieve from the weather.
Unfortunately, I was only able to stay on this side for short sections, as steep cliffs and drop-offs kept forcing me to zigzag back onto the ridge-top anyway.
All I could see was the 50 to 100 yards of rock ahead of me, so I pretty much just kept moving forward. I crossed the jagged “Point 13,518” and dropped downhill onto the final saddle before my main ascent. I stopped here to fuel myself with some trail mix (that stuff never fails me), and then I was on my way!
Though slippery at times, the snow was now deep enough to provide nice walking for the most part. A couple inches of fresh snow is always nice, unless the going is too steep. This was actually a fun climb, and it didn’t take very long at all, despite a number of stops to catch my breath and inhale some more snow.
For the second out of two peaks, I was on the summit before I had any idea I was there. I found a register marked “Huron Peak, 14,003 feet,” and I had nowhere to go but down, so I figured that must be it! It was snowing as hard as ever now (I was covered with a layer by now, and the ground had four or five inches at the summit), and the wind was relentless. With shivering hands I signed in and took a few pictures, though there was really nothing picture-worthy. I took a shot of my sorry-snowman-self, as well as a shot of the register, and for good measure, “the view” which turned out to be a frame of white with some rocks at the bottom (which were right next to my feet). Huron Peak is supposed to have one of the best views of the Sawatch, and I had been looking forward to it, especially with the tree-color at its peak.
However, it was not to be. Having spent only ten minutes on the summit, I had to leave. I was fine while I was moving, but sitting still in the fierce winds was a freezing and risky affair.
The hard part behind me, I now had to complete my loop back into the valley. I followed my already mostly-snow-filled footprints back down to the saddle, where I found the main (Northwest Slopes) trail. I did not have any trouble the rest of the way, as it was simply switchback after switchback down the never-ending hill to timberline. Midway down, where the weather was calmer but there was still a good bit of snow, I passed a friendly guy with an Australian accent, then continued on my way. I was the first to sign in at the summit today, by the way, and this man was the second of only three that I know of who went to Huron. The third was a man I passed just below timberline, who was sitting on a log writing in a journal.
Brilliant aspens in the valley
Before I got to timberline, however, something crazy happened. The wind picked up again, and in a matter of half an hour the sky was transformed. The fog and low snow-filled clouds I had been used to all morning suddenly disappeared, replaced by a blue sky and newly-snow-capped peaks all around me. I stood there for half an hour for the second such photo op of the day, capturing the grandeur of the sky and the snow and the tree-color and the peaks. It was beautiful! However, had I been on the summit then instead of two hours earlier, I would have had an even better view! I guess it just goes to show earlier is not always
better when it comes to mountain climbing. But, let’s look at the bright side, I didn’t
get struck by lightning! In fact, there wasn’t any. The rest of my hike out the sky was deep blue with an occasional cloud, and I never saw any of the predicted afternoon storms materialize.
The switchbacks seemed to never end. I went down, down, down the steep slope toward the valley floor, all the snow and wind behind me. Eventually I came to the 4WD South Winfield Trailhead, and stopped to look at a small and pleasant lake there. The remaining two miles out the dirt road to my jeep were very nice, with more awesome tree-color and scenery enveloping me all the way. I reached my jeep at 12:47, after a very interesting and eventful morning journey.
One of my favorite things about climbing fourteeners is the incredible view you are rewarded with when you get to the summit. That was today’s one big disappointment for me. Other than that, I couldn’t have been more pleased with how everything turned out! I completed my itinerary for the day without incident, and was able to stay healthy and avoid any problems despite the adverse weather. On top of that, I saw some of my favorite Colorado scenery to date, and did nothing but increase my yearning for more adventure in the Great Outdoors!
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