Route: Standard route variation from Hoosier pass TH
Distance: 8.6 miles
Elevation gain: ~3,800 feet
Time: 7 hours
Participants: Spiderman crew (Doug and Arthur) and me
Doug and I agreed to meet at the top of the Hoosier Pass for the hike up Mt. Silverheels on Sunday. When I pulled into the TH at 5.40am and did not see his car, I began to worry that the hike won't happen, as I was not in the mood to go solo. As I sat in the car and listened to the howling winds for the next 10 minutes, my Plan B was starting to look more and more appealing - an extra hour of sleep, bacon and egg breakfast in Breck and catching the first chair at A-Basin - especially since I knew that some of my ski buddies were going to be there. Alas, as soon as I saw Doug's approaching car, I knew that I had to hike today.
The weather forecast looked decent for most of the week, but a day or two before the hike the wind forecast was bumped up to 55 mph gusts. Not good, but Doug (and Arthur) were unfazed.
After brief introductions, we quickly geared up and were off by 6.20 am. Even in the dark, I recognized the familiar trail - last December I hiked 13er Hoosier Ridge from the same TH. The wind was manageable in the trees, but I knew it would become a problem later on. Once out of the trees and on the ridge, all three of us noticed a peculiar thing - the winds were strong, but they were blowing in our backs - not a bad scenario. Maintaining good speed, we crested the ridge just in time to catch the sunrise, which was good. The winds on the ridge were brutal, which wasn't so good.
Sunrise from ~12,400 feet
Once we saw that we have to lose a lot of elevation, we hurried to get off the ridge and into the fist basin, dropping 600 feet in the process. Now at 12K and at the low point of the Silverheels ridge, the main elevation gain was about to commence.
Doug & Arthur lower in the basin, approaching Silverheels (~12,000 feet)
I tried to follow the road, but it lead to ankle-deep postholing, so I primarily used the shoulder
Heading up the shoulder. North Star is covered in clouds
Approaching the ridge ~13,000 feet
Summit ridge - it gets VERY windy here
The winds were bothersome, but still quite manageable until we hit the top of the ridge proper (13,500 feet). At least we got some nice views from the summit, as the fast moving clouds did not seem to want to stick around and obstruct the views. We hit our target goal of being on the summit by 10am. After mere 10-15 minutes, we were ready to roll off the ridge - and quick.
On the summit. It is cold
Descending back to ~12,600 feet following the standard trail was fairly straightforward, although in a few spots the trail was hard to follow.
Following the standard trail off the summit
Couloir is starting to fill up nicely
Soon it was time to consider the options - do we follow the standard route back or do we return the same way we came? Upon observing a lot of extra elevation gain, and concerned about the winds if we chose to stay on the ridge, we decided to pick the line that would merge with our original route.
Descending back into the basin
Back at at the valley floor (near 12K) we enjoyed a few moments of windless, balmy weather, but could see the winds whipping high on the ridges.
Enjoying a break in balmy weather for a few minutes
None of us was looking forward to ascending back to Pt. 12,600 ft, but there were no alternatives, so off we went (and slowly). The higher we went, the stronger the winds became. As soon as we reached the unprotected spine of the ridge, the winds were ready to blow us off. It was time to make a decision and quick - do we keep fighting an uphill battle with the winds now blowing straight in our faces to get back to our original route, or shall we drop into the drainage to our left and merge with our route later? After brief evaluation, we determined that the willows should not present a major problem that early in the season, and off the ridge we went.
Our descent line into the drainage - aiming for the low point on the ridge, about a mile away
Our estimates proved to be correct - after careful traversing and route finding through the willows, we had no major trouble reaching the low point of the ridge near 11,900 feet. Of course, with more snow, this line would become more problematic.
Carefully navigating through the willows
Angling right to merge with the standard trail - Lincoln is in the background
After angling right, we were soon back on the standard trail and 0.5 miles from the car, which we subsequently reached at 1.19pm. Skiing was still in the cards for me that day - I had just enough time to dash over to A-Basin to get a dozen short runs before the resort closed for the day.
A Basin is open for business!
And it is nearly not as windy as on Silverheels...
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