The weather was perfect for a winter ascent on Silverheels. We started from the Hoosier Pass TH at 8 a.m. The peaks had considerably less snow than the last trip report from two weeks ago; so we left the snowshoes in the car and continued with microspikes. We quickly reached treeline to march the ascent to the first peak at 12,500. The snow along the trail was still solid and we avoided postholing despite evidence and concern that we might need those snowshoes on the way back. Soon, the snow gave way past the willow bushes and we were on alpine grass.
Nearing the first peak with Quandary (right), Lincoln, and Bross in the background.
We skirted around to the south of the first rise to come to a large bowl. We decided to continue our course parallel to the first saddle, hoping to keep the same elevation. All was well expect crossing one small snow field were the angle made me wish I took a minute to unhook my ax. The snow was solid, but as we shed more and more layers in the blaring sun, taking these snowfields on the way back may have been a slippery mess. This shaved off maybe a half a mile and 400 ft. elevation gain.
From just north of the first peak looking at Silverheels and our improv route
Eventually, we joined the official trail before the second 12,514 peak and skirted the next rise to meet the power lines. We had the whole bowl, trail, and summit to ourselves. The microspikes came off after the last snowfield.
The infamous powerlines and the northwest face of Silverheels
At 3.2 miles, after fueling up with a snack, we began our assault of the steep final ascent on Silverheels. The initial section is grass and, besides the oxygen struggle, was quite manageable. I couldn't find an official trail, but made my own switchback attempts to avoid the challenging grade. The terrain turned to scree and small talus, which often gave way under my step. We did find a light trail amid this slope, but it is not prominent. Very little snow remains.
The grassy area at the bottom of the final ascent. None of my photos caputre the grade quite effectively
Once on the ridge, and after a small break to regroup and catch up on oxygen, it was an easy 300 feet to the summit. The ascent took 3 and a half hours.
Summit. I appreciate the decorative addition on the post.
The views are amazing--Front Range, Tenmile, Sawatch, the whole South Park Plateau.
Looking back down at the route from the summit.
A look south from the summit.
With the sun warming out tired legs, it was hard to leave the beauty and comfort of the summit. But, the winds did pick up and it was time to go.
I threw the microspikes back on and searched for snow to descend rather than deal with loose rock. The trail through the scree was easier to find, as always, when descending. The microspikes helped get purchase in a few sliding moments. A few of us had brought an ice axe to possibly glissade a collier on the way down, but the melt had left only a section that would require more scree to access and didn’t look like it would pay off. The actual descent of the steep slope went quite quickly anyway.
We took the regular route on the way back, ascending to the ridge and making the rolling ascents and descents until we came back to the last slope back to Hwy 9.
A look at Silverheels from the ridge on the way back
Pt. 12,514, almost done, looking at Lincoln and Quandary
It was 2 o’clock and the sun had beat on the snow to make it ready for posthole fun. Others in my party skirted left (south) along the highest point to avoid the sometimes thigh-high surprises. I continued aiming for the trail. Eventually, the packed snow held my weight, but someone else’s tracks told a different story with 2-foot holes as evidence.
The variety in ascent and descent while walking the ridge makes this a unique hike—it’s not just up and then down. The views are amazing. We were lucky with a low wind day. I could imagine the gusts otherwise all but a few hundred feet are in the trees.