| A Windy Day from Loveland Pass
Given that I'm only in town from Texas for a few days, I decided to take a chance with the high wind advisory for most of the Rockies today and headed out to Loveland Pass for a second chance at Sniktau with two friends also from the Lone Star. This is my second trip to CO following a successful Quandary Summit in March, and for my two friends, this was their first experience with any kind of altitude hiking or climbing.
My first attempt at my first 13er was two days ago, 5/24, but the weather forced my group to turn back.
Sniktau the morning of 5/24
Blowing snow and fierce winds made tough going on that day as we struggled up the hill to Pt. 12915. There were five people above us on the mount when we pulled into the parking area at the pass, but one by one they turned around and headed back down, passing us and warning us about the winds the higher they went. The trail also became obscure underneath the growing banks of snow which dotted the way up, and one guy coming down told us he got a little lost and had trouble finding the correct way down from Pt. 12915 as conditions deteriorated. Probably about halfway up, as white-out conditions threatened, we decided to call it, and instead found a much calmer hike on Hoosier Ridge after a drive over to Hoosier Pass. We vowed to return.
Today we got to the pass and started just before 7am with some strong winds, I'd guess 20-25mph, but nothing unbearable. It's amazing how different it can look after just 48 hours.
Sniktau the morning of 5/26
It was a very smoggy day and as I've seen on this site several times today, smoke from fires in New Mexico can almost be tasted as well as seen. I thought this would give us additional trouble with breathing in the thin air (we're coming from Lubbock, 3200ft) but surprisingly we didn't stop too often on the ascent up to Pt. 12915, making it there in less than an hour. On our way up we passed a gentleman coming down with his dogs who told us the winds were weaker up on the ridge than they were in the pass. He may have been telling the truth at that hour, but by 8am, the winds had increased to at least 30mph with gusts occasionally forcing us off balance as we crested the point. We needed a break to eat breakfast and sprawled out on the northern side of a cairn to rest and shelter from the wind.
Sheltering from the wind under a cairn on Pt. 12,915
A view to the north of the bumps needed to be overtaken before we could reach Sniktau. Fortunately now we had the wind at our backs instead of hitting us perpendicularly. I prophesied a rough return trip if wind directions didn't change.
Moving up the muddy trail towards the only bit of easy class 2 we encountered all day.
And another shot of the bulk of the route leading up the mini-13er just before Sniktau.
Arriving at the summit of an unnamed 13er, the winds were picking up more and more, with gusts at least in the 40mph range. We took shelter behind cairns to rest while deciding if it was worth continuing to finish the attempt on Sniktau.
From the unnamed point looking at Sniktau, the mountain looked very intimidating to our tired Texan un-acclimated bodies. There was an additional problem in that the ice and cornice which had been along most of the eastern ridge seemed to bisect the trail at several points, and we had decided to leave our spikes and axes in the car based on how dry the trail looked from there. After some scouting, two of us decided to continue, leaving our third team-mate to wait and nurse a hurt knee which hadn't fully healed from a small injury which took place on Hoosier Ridge. It was possible to avoid the hard snow and ice for the most part by hopping on talus piles, even though it took us quite off-trail in some locations.
The route up Sniktau over a snowbank.
The climb up was surprisingly faster than I thought it would be; when we arrived at the summit I was expecting it to be a false based on how fast we got there, but this was undoubtedly the place.
We spent no more than 10 minutes on the summit: I was eager on tagging Cupid and Grizzly if possible and the ever-increasing winds were making that possibility diminish with each passing minute. After re-meeting on the mini-13er south of Sniktau with our 3rd teamate, we fought our way against the wind back to Pt. 12915 where I realized I had a headache setting in despite the Advil, excessive hydration and plenty of eating. Time to get down. The winds seemed to reinforce this conclusion by battering us and increasing in both intensity and length of gusts.
On the way to the point, we passed the same snowfields which only hours earlier had been rock-hard one-way ramps over the eastern face of the ridge, but with some melting became softer and more agreeable to walk on. I was surprised to find some of them as deep as they were, and made sure to keep my companions far away from the edge after reading several TRs about that cornice sneaking up on unsuspecting people.
The descent from Pt. 12915 was like trying to walk underwater with a nagging current. The winds were probably gusting to 60mph by that point, and I was grateful we had a large trail and little exposure because the wind constantly blew us towards the north and oftentimes forced us to anchor and lean against it to wait it out. Nevertheless, we made good time and were back at the parking area around 1, not too bad for my first ranked 13er and for my companions' first time anywhere above 12,000ft.
I must comment that we did earn some funny glances in our shells and essentially full winter gear we took with us up the mountain and back. Most people we saw on the mountain were in a single layer and without gloves or hats and told us they were hot, while we were for the most part wind-burned and cold. It was much easier to hide my out-of-town status in March when everyone was bundled against the weather.
All in all, I'm very glad I went out and did some hiking despite the forecast, and hopefully it will pay dividends when I try to take this group up Gray's and Quandary later this week!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):