| Perfect start on Sherman
Our foursome rolled into Fairplay on a Saturday afternoon with our sights set on Mount Sherman for the first peak of our annual August venture into 14er country. We’ve learned in our four previous years of climbing that there’s no such thing as an easy 14er, at least not for flatlanders one day removed from the Midwest. But Sherman looked a heck of a lot easier than many others – relatively short, modest elevation gain, and no difficult exposure for potentially altitude-affected climbers.
Fourmile Creek basin
Wildflowers were great
An afternoon scouting trip to the Fourmile Creek trailhead followed. With clear skies, some of our group (well, actually just me) were tempted to make a spontaneous afternoon summit attempt. Wiser opinions prevailed, and we returned to Fairplay. A couple hours later we watched from the comfort of our vehicle as storms pummeled Sherman and its neighbors with rain.
Most intense rainbow colors I have ever seen
Our summit endeavor would come the following morning as planned. We arrived at the trailhead around 6:30 a.m., by no means the first there but plenty early enough for a day with a favorable weather forecast. We strapped on our modest packs and headed up the “trail,” actually an old mining road. Remnants of mining days in fact provided the greatest interest in the early going.
How would you like to go to work in there every day?
A closer look inside one of the mine shafts
About 100 feet up the trail, we were gasping for air, or at least Big Brother Mark and I were. We’ve done this enough now that this experience is no longer a surprise, but it never ceases to be amusing. After a while the muscles limber up and the lungs open, but the body’s initial reaction makes the thought of reaching the summit seem absurd.
Slightly better work environment than the mine shaft
It quickly became apparent that this sunny August Sunday would be Family Day on Sherman. A long train of moms, dads, kids and dogs stretched out both in front and behind us. We are pretty slow on the trail, especially on Day One of our annual trip, but we plodded past several groups with flagging youngsters.
I listened with amusement as one dad tried to bribe his boys to press on. “We’ll have some Mike & Ikes when we get to that switchback,” he told them, pointing to a milestone ahead. I asked if that offer stood for our group, too. It did not, but we persevered upward nonetheless.
The mining-road trail gave way to a short snowfield crossing and a brief talus slope to reach the Sherman-Sheridan saddle.
Snow in August on a south-facing slope
The steepest part of the route follows, on a well-established class one trail with no exposure. Following that, the somewhat airy feeling provided by a section of ridge walk pleasantly surprised us. No real exposure, but enough air to feel like you’re on a real mountain.
We love ridge walks! The saddle is behind us, to our left in the photo
Big Brother enjoying the ridge. Ways to go yet.
We would encounter a climber who had ascended alone from the west side. A modest trail is available from that side to gain the Sherman-Sheridan saddle, but this guy had not known of it and had instead come straight up the west slope to a point higher on the ridge – a steep, loose approach. He was relieved to be off that slope and on the tame ridge.
As we ridge-walked, with the summit in sight and family groups strung out ahead and behind, we agreed that Sherman is a perfect starter mountain. In our case, perfect for acclimating our Midwest lungs to 14,000 foot air. It would also be perfect for someone who has never climbed a 14er. The ridge is just rugged enough to move it out of the “talus heap” category, and it's short and readily accessible by 14er standards. And it still offers 14er views from the top!
Not long after that ridge section, we arrived at the summit and joined the social hour there. It was definitely not a hardcore 14er group there. As I tried to identify nearby peaks, I asked some of the folks there if they knew. The most common response was a clueless shrug. There were so many middle-class moms/dads/kids/dogs around, I half expected someone to come around selling Girl Scout cookies. I suppose I would have bought some if that happened.
Four Musketeers on top!
We actually did encounter a group that had a Girl-Scout look to it on the way down, which probably is what introduced the cookies idea to my slightly altitude-addled brain. As we descended, this group of kids was just starting up the steep section above the saddle. I didn't really notice if there were any boys in the gang – no uniforms – but their numbers suggested some such type of group, and the girls were definitely in charge. They were ridiculously enthusiastic.
“What's your name?” one of them called out to Maryjane's boyfriend. “Garrett,” he replied with bemusement. They immediately launched into chanting “Go Garrett, go Garrett, go Garrett” until the chant petered out into giggling. And so on it went with others along the trail. Their adult mentors just shrugged and smiled. I wondered idly if they would maintain that energy all the way to the top. It appeared that they might.
After a long break at the saddle, we continued down. Looking back, we saw some others bypass the trail to glissade a snowfield below the saddle. I was a little disappointed that we didn't think of it. The modest incline and snow condition made it appear to be safe without equipment, and lots of fun.
Wish I had thought of that! Note the dog romping in the snow.
The cooling-off that the snow would have provided would have helped me as well. As we descended, I felt worse and worse. The headache, deteriorated motor function and general malaise were not a real problem on the road-trail, but I was annoyed and a little upset. With rigorous pre-trip training, diamox to help with the altitude, and a more reasonable acclimation plan than we had allowed in some prior trips, I did not expect these symptoms.
Break time - but I'm not smart enough to get out of the sun
I would experience the same issues the next day descending Quandary – at which time I concluded the main problem was not altitude but rather sun exposure. Sunscreen protects the skin, but I was going hatless and the sun exposure to my head was taking its toll. I don't know the medical specifics, but the image of my brains cooking in a crock-pot seems to convey what I decided was going on. A $15 hat from Wal-Mart would solve the problem on the next outing, but this day I would just plod through, wondering later how many brain cells I cooked to death.
Back at the trailhead. Even Sherman wipes out old Flatlanders on peak #1
We finally reached the trailhead, and after a quick nap (still cooking brain cells), headed back to our “base camp” - the Fairplay Hotel. Our accommodations definitely enriched our experience this trip. As we had shopped for a room the day before, a charming bed-and-breakfast was a little too pricey, as was a historic downtown hotel. We found a cheap, drab road house which would have sufficed in the opinion of the three guys in our group, but Dear Daughter Maryjane had other ideas. While we “took a look at” a room in the road house, Maryjane called Kat, the proprietor of the hotel, and employed a combination of pleading and negotiating to procure a better rate. “They’re trying to force me to stay here,” she told her new BFF on the phone.
Dear Daughter’s phone call, and $20 out of her pocket to cover the remaining difference from the road house, landed us in the quaintly decrepit Fairplay Hotel. Absurdly squeaky floors, two electrical outlets per double room, and a sign instructing us to “let the water run a long time and it will warm up” set the atmosphere. Kat topped it off with gleeful tales about legends of ghosts in the building. Maryjane even heard strange squeaky noises coming from the walls, although I, being the skeptical type, thought the pigeons I saw disappearing into holes in the exterior siding may have had more to do with the noises than any ghosts.
Dear Daughter makes friends with everyone - and everything
There's more to this display, but it's a family website
At any rate, we all agreed the hotel was charming. Spending our first several nights in Colorado sleeping at almost 10,000 feet in Fairplay probably wasn't our best move, but we got away with it and had a great time on our 2011 “starter” mountain. We came away with our 12th summit and our bodies acclimated for the more serious endeavors ahead of us – starting with Quandary’s West Ridge route the next day.
Michigan Mitten rock!
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