Horseshoe and The Peak Without Peer but Who Angered the Wind Gods?
Trailhead: Intersection of CR-18 and FS-603, Elevation: 11,600’
Route: East slopes
Peaks in order of ascent: Horseshoe Peak (13,898’), Peerless Mountain (13,348’)
RT Distance: 6.7 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,600 feet
What could possibly make a short and sweet class 1 hike a challenge? Snow, for one, but the weather since the snow storm of a week ago had been mild to say the least and much of the white stuff had melted. The forecast for today called for bluebird skies and highs in the low forties so no concern on that front (no pun intended) either. I had my sights on the thirteeners in the Mosquito range that I had omitted on my last peak bagging extravaganza in the area. Horseshoe Peak at 13,898 feet would be the main star and only ranked peak of the three, with Finnback Knob (13,409’) to the northwest, and Peerless Mountain (13,348’) to the northeast rounding up the cast.
I drove up CR-18 to the junction with FS-603, about 0.9 miles past the Leavick townsite. CR-18 is a rough dirt road that is easily passable for passenger cars and all I heard on the 11 mile jaunt was the racket from the rocks getting strewn about and hitting the undercarriage and wheel wells of my car; well, that is until I stopped at the junction and turned off the engine. It was only then that I heard the steady roar outside and fearing the worst, cracked open the door only to have it slammed shut by the wind! Ah, the wind – that other element that I hadn’t considered a threat until now. I didn’t step out of the car until I was fully decked with wind breaker, hood, gloves et al.
The hike follows the 4WD road as it climbs the gentle hillside, the winds in the meantime steadily scouring the mostly barren landscape.
As the road climbs over treeline, Horseshoe Peak and Peerless Mountain come into view.
The winds were a constant roar in my ears despite having my hood on and my hat strapped to hold it snugly in place, but little did I know that things would get worse soon, a lot worse!
The 4WD road goes all the way up to the 13,200 foot high saddle between Horseshoe and Peerless, making for a rather lackluster hike. I decided to shave some distance and make the hike a little more exciting by cutting across the sweepers.
Walking on the tundra or on relatively solid talus took some of the monotony out of this section the hike.
My excursion took me farther left of the saddle and closer to Horseshoe, the snow fields that I encountered on the way posing no real threat as they could mostly be bypassed.
I took the next picture of Horseshoe from just below the saddle showing the faint trail up the ridge. As it turned out, this was the last one I took before I eventually summited Horseshoe and there was a good reason for that.
No sooner had I gained the ridge than the winds which had been steady but bearable transformed into a veritable gale. I stopped for a couple of minutes hoping that they were just gusts that would soon relent but there was simply no letting up. The next hour that I spent on this ridge was arguably one of my most miserable ever on a mountain. I started the climb toward Horseshoe with the northwesterly winds thrashing my side and back. Within minutes, my face turned numb and my lips felt like giant blobs – good thing I didn’t have company to make conversation!
Less than halfway up the ridge, my hat would no longer stay put without my holding it down despite the tightened strap but that wasn’t even the worst; I tried to take a swig of water and sucked up ice crystals – yes, the wind chill had frozen the water in my camelback! I had just one goal then and that was to summit Horseshoe and get off that inhospitable place as quickly as I could. A ridge run was completely out of question; in fact, I had to walk with my legs splayed to stay stable, using my hiking pole as a prop. The trail was thankfully easy to follow and was I glad to spot the summit cairn. The view of the Sawatch from atop Horseshoe with the light dusting of snow on the peaks was beautiful but I was in no position to enjoy it.
I grabbed a couple of shots and with nary a glance at Finnback Knob, I turned around. No internal debate, no vacillation, I knew when I was beaten! I still wanted to “bag” the "Peak without Peer", so I hurried down the ridge with the wind now directly blasting onto me. I held my head down to protect my face, catching no more than a few feet of the trail in front of me within my sight. The absolute worst spot proved to be the saddle, with the winds now almost succeeding in dislodging me off the ridge. I persevered and soon traversed all three of the rocky mounds atop Peerless. The view of Sherman and adjoining peaks that I’d visited not too long ago were worth the punishment I had to endure.
I took one last look at the third peak that simply wasn’t meant to be before retracing my path down the ridge.
Shortly before reaching the saddle, my emotions were probably akin to what Roach may have felt when he rather succinctly summarized the East Ridge route up Missouri by saying, “Descend another route.” Irritation, maybe? Disgust, perhaps? As soon as I descended below the saddle, the wind returned to its former bearable self. What I’d labeled as unpleasant just a little while ago was now almost comfortable, proving indeed that it’s all relative!
I made the most of my descent, sliding down rocky gullies and snow fields and in short, having a blast.
After all, how long can you stay angry in the mountains?
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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