Mt. Sheridan - 13,748 feet
Mt. Sheridan - 13,748 feet
|The Goldilocks Zone|
Waking up Sunday morning and realizing my ski partner for the day was MIA, I needed to come up with a plan for the day. I couldn't let the recent storm's snow go to waste, but since I was going solo, I had to knock the risk level down a couple notches from what I had originally intended.
I decided I'd drive up to Leavick and check out the east slopes of Sherman and the surrounding area for a safe and enjoyable line. The Mosquito range is a relatively quick drive from my home in Manitou, and has a lot of low angle, wind blown safe winter lines. Not to mention that I get the pleasure of driving past the Lake George Bible Church, which has a sign out front to display words of wisdom to the HWY 24 motorists. Their "interesting" messages are kind of a guilty pleasure for me, I have to admit. And I suppose it's always nice to be able to head into the mountains armed with the wisdom to avoid all of the world's evils, whether it's government, science, or the pastor's cheating wife.
Ten inches of snow had fallen the previous evening, forcing me to park on the side of the road about a mile down from Leavick. I began skinning up the road, following one set of parallel foot prints. Within about twenty minutes of skinning at a quick pace to keep myself warm on this frigid morning, I came across the source of the foot prints. I stopped and chatted with the two hikers for a couple minutes, as I emptied out the entire contents of my back pack, looking for my boot gloves (neoprene covers for my AT boots. I knew it was going to be a very cold and windy day up high). They spent an hour hiking the distance that only took me twenty minutes to cover, and confessed to me that they were certain they would not go through with their original plan of climbing Mt. Sherman, but wanted to go as high as possible to get a work out in.
The hikers pressed on up the road, around the corner and out of view, while I stayed behind to layer up my extremities and delayer my core (it was a cold morning but I intended to move fast). Within five minutes of skinning up the road, I came across the hikers who had decided to turn around and forgo the wind, the cold, and the deep snow, and considered Breckenridge to be a finer alternative.
As I hiked in, I surveyed the surrounding peaks in hopes of discovering a goal for the day. The first contestant that came into view was Horseshoe mountain.
I was looking for a big climb that would also offer a nice ski line. This time of year, the snow is shallow but unstable. Most of the deeper skiable snow, this time of year, exists in wind loaded or wind sheltered gullys. The problem with that, is the wind loading creates a very unstable pack. The mountains around me were mostly wind scoured or wind loaded. I was in search of an aspect that was not too wind scoured and stripped of snow, and an aspect that was also not too heavily wind loaded. As a solo skier, I needed the conditions to be just right. And when I finally caught view of Mt. Sheridan and it's snow covered flanks, I knew that would be my objective for the day.
The deep snow I was skinning in was pristine. There must not have been any wind since the snow had fallen. However, it was clear by looking at the mountain tops that the winds were blowing like mad up there, and probably going to get worse as the day progressed. By the time I reached tree line, the icy cold winds were blowing hard enough that I was forced to cover up my face with my balaclava and ski goggles. I was moving at a quick pace and generating enough body heat to keep my core warm and continued on above tree line with only a soft shell jacket over my usual tshirt base layer and a light long sleeve t.
I headed up towards the Sheridan/Sherman saddle, as I intended to climb the snowfield to the right of Sheridan's summit (seen in image 5), and then descend the left snowfield. As I ascended moderately angled (less than 30°) snow slopes towards the saddle, I was evaluating the stability of the snow pack, assuming the left snowfield would hold a similar pack to the snowfields I was climbing. I judged it to be a safe snow pack, with a solid wind affected base beneath the new soft but dense powder layer. I was able to keep the angle below thirty degrees (estimated), I never punched through the base layer, and observed no signs of instability like settling or cracking.
Approaching the base of Sheridan's right snowfield (seen in image 5), the cold winds were blowing hard enough for me to carefully reconsider how my face coverings were situated. As hard as I tried to make sure there were no exposed portions of skin on the windward side of my face, I could still feel the sting on my face around the edge of my goggles. I put on my hard shell over top of the soft shell and angled the hood to protect the right side of my face.
Although I had been carrying my dslr in my inner jacket pocket next to my chest, the cold winds were just too much for the battery. It was here that the battery decided to give up on life and demand that I remove it from the camera and store it next to a much warmer part of my body if I wanted any chance of using it again on this trip.
I was able to skin to nearly the summit. About a hundred feet below the summit, I put the skis on my back and booted the rest of the way. On top of the summit, the cold winds were blowing so hard that I wasn't able to take my mitts off for more than a few seconds before my fingers went so numb that I could not move them. My mittens successfully kept my fingers warm, while they were in them, however the mitts are much too puffy to allow any dexterity. Zipping or unzipping jackets, buckling or unbuckling back pack buckles was nearly impossible. And working a camera with the mitts on was definitely an impossible task.
Bundling up in my down puffy, I attempted to transition from hiking mode to ski mode, and take a couple pics, in short stages. I would remove the mitts for a few seconds to accomplish a couple tasks, and then put them back on to regain feeling in my fingers and then repeat.
Getting a summit shot of myself, using the camera's timer, was kind of a time consuming process. My mitts were too puffy to press the shutter release, and when I took a mitt off to press the shutter release, I found that I was too slow to put my mitt back on and get into the frame before the timer went off. I came up with the ingenious idea of keeping my mitts on and using a pointy rock to press the shutter release. It took a while to get an acceptable shot. Sometimes I forgot to drop the rock and ended up getting a shot of myself looking like an angry cave man with a stone weapon in his hand. Sometimes I just wasn't fast enough to get into the frame...
...sometimes I was able to make my way into the frame...
... and sometimes just barely.
I apologize for the lack of non-me summit shots, but the clouds had enveloped the Sawatch range and were starting to form over my Mosquitoes. I was hoping to get some beta shots of the nearby mountains in hopes of finding next week's objective (and to share some beta with the fine folks of 14ers.com), but the weather was not as cooperative as I had hoped.
The summit was blasted free of snow, and so I hiked a short distance down the south ridge until I reached the snowfield on the east side of the ridge, as seen on lookers left in image 5. I skied the line carefully and methodically in hopes that the snow pack here would be as stable as the snow I had climbed. I stuck as close to the ridge as possible, made a few cuts from one island of safety to another, and only really opened it up when I was sure of the snow I was on and when I was reasonably clear of any possible trigger points.
At the base of the triangular portion of the peak, seen in image 5, I traversed north across wind scoured tundra to reconnect with my ascent route. Once back on route, the skiing down was straight forward (see the youtube video below).
Enjoy the video:
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