Mmmm, winter. I love climbing this time of year...the cold, the long days, the snow, the solitude, the excuse to wear all my various jackets! There's just nothing quite like the joys and challenges of the season. Coming off of the holidays and a few outings of mediocre ski days, our small crew was excited to get out for the first time this winter. Some last minute planning had the four of us ready to go and hit something easy near Denver for a relaxed Saturday climb. Options abounded, but we eventually settled on Mt. Silverheels. This friendly centennial seemed to be the perfect combo of easy access, relative safety, a short day, and a peak none of us had done before.
As it turns out, Silverheels has quite a history. Taken from the best source around (Wikipedia), I thought this little anecdote about the naming of the mountain was pretty interesting:
"The mountain was named for Silverheels, a dance hall girl in the nearby mining camp of Buckskin Joe. She was nicknamed "Silverheels" because of the silver shoes she wore in the dance halls. Legend has it that in 1861 a smallpox epidemic hit the small camp. Most of the miners stayed for fear of claim jumpers. Most of the women and children fled to Denver; but Silverheels stayed. She nursed her friends and neighbors through the disease. Soon, she caught the disease and managed to struggle through. But the small pox scarred her beautiful face and she ran into her cabin located at the base of Mount Silverheels. Once the epidemic was over, the miners that survived raised money for her as thanks. They soon had raised $5,000. Upon taking it to her cabin, the miners discovered that she was no longer there. Her cabin appeared deserted. Many believed that she had hidden because the smallpox had left her so scarred. The money was returned to the miners, but many still wanted to show thanks, so the nearby mountain was named after her. Several years later when Buckskin Joe was run down and the gold rush over, someone claimed to have seen a black veiled woman placing flowers on the graves of those who died in the 1861 smallpox epidemic. Even today, people claim to see a black veiled woman wandering around Buckskin Joe cemetery peak has quite a history."
Of course, to be perfectly honest, absolutely none of that crossed our minds as we woke up early Saturday morning. We were more so thinking about our own tiredness and goals for the day. Oh, and of course, totally derping the name of the peak by referring to it as "Gaperheels" and hurling out ridiculous quotes from Braveheart all day long....
Anyways, after rendzevouing at T-Rex, the standard early morning drive had us to Hoosier Pass right at dawn. Sluggishly rolling out of the car, the zero degree temps mixed with a steady breeze had us all a bit chilled. Of course, I didn't really notice until Rick somehow managed to sneak into my shotgun seat to put on his boots in the warmth of the car. Sigh.... Anyways, after donning all the necessary layers and gear for the day, we got rolling right at 7:00.
The price we pay for climbing. Still, funny how much easier this is than a normal wake up during the work week.
His feet warm and toasty, Rick looks to fully get into the Gaperheels experience!
We had evaluated a couple of routes up the peak, and given the low snow totals thus far this season, all were on the table. However, as I have mentioned, we were pretty much looking for the most painless and enjoyable experience possible for this day. With that in mind, we opted for the 'standard' North Spur route from Hoosier Ridge. We liked how quick this option gets you out of the trees and onto the ridge, as well as avoiding the post holing hell which can apparently happen in Beaver Creek. We gambled on the snowshoes and decided to leave them in the car. This turned out to be a good decision as there is a deep trench the whole first mile up to the ridge. They may have been helpful in a few spots, but overall they were definitely not required for 95%+ of the day.
Getting through the trees took all of 15-20 minutes, and we were soon quickly rolling up towards the ridge line. (lordhelmut)
It has been said that Bross challenges even the best photographers. Well, I am generally not even a mediocre photographer, but what the heck - challenge accepted!
Ben models the proper way to climb a peak in winter - fanny pack and all!
Cresting Hoosier Ridge for the first time, the hulking mass of Silverheels comes into view. Curiously, as big as the mountain looks from Kenosha Pass, Breck, Keystone, etc., it actually just never seemed that far away on the approach.
Coming over the first hump, we decided to take a bit of a short cut on the route. Given the low snow, the wind & cold on the ridge line, and (frankly) our own laziness, it looked like we could make a low traverse underneath the ridge to shave some vert and distance on the day. It seemed like a good idea, so we simply cut a few hundred feet beneath the high point and trudged on. We found this option to be relatively safe as we trekked across. However, later in the season I can absolutely see how this choice would not be as smart. The bowls underneath Hoosier Ridge do hold quite a bit of snow, and with a few more feet the traverse would be pretty suspect in a few short sections. However, on this day, we were able to more or less stick to rocks the whole way which made for an easy and safe crossing on low angle terrain.
Lincoln and its amphitheater from across the way.
Rick enjoying the wide open spaces.
Hoosier Ridge in its entirety.
Looking back on the route. Our traverse beneath the ridge line ended up saving a few hundred feet of descent off the Hoosier Ridge as the route turns due south to meet up with the low connecting saddle to Silverheels.
Approaching the power lines at 12,400. It is a bit surreal to cross these so high and out there on the peak.
It took us a 3 1/2 hours or so to reach the base of the North Spur and final pitch up the peak. The conditions were awesome pretty much the whole way. There was enough snow to cover most of the talus and for a nice base, but not so much to create a post holing nightmare. Furthermore, the wind served us nicely as it had compacted most of the snow along the route. On the whole, we really couldn't have asked for much better.
First outing with the iPhone 5. Gotta love the panorama feature.
Taking a break at the base of the final pitch. This time it's Ben's turn to derp for the camera.
Looking back on the small hump just past the power lines - a surprisingly annoying little bit of gain on the way back.
Soul food. (lordhelmut)
Beta shot of the final spur and last 1,000+ (ish) feet. The route pretty much goes straight up and climber's left of the snow field.
The route to this point is a fairly relaxed angle and offers a very stead incline. The last spur changes that up a bit as the steepness gets cranked up a notch. However, the talus was locked in quite nicely, and there are some great views from this ridge line.
Looking over to Lincoln as we get higher.
Lincoln again - putting the new long-lense on my camera to work. Merry Christmas to me!
The last pitch was easily the most difficult of the route, but then again, on this peak that isn't really saying much. I think the main annoyance is how low angle the terrain is to this point, and all of a sudden it jumps to a fairly shocking steepness on the way to the top. But overall, not enough to quite kill the relaxing day. Actually, the main issue came as we crested onto the West Ridge of Silverheels proper just a few hundred yards from the top. To this point, it had been a cold day, but seeing as we were relatively sheltered by the wind, it hadn't been an issue. Cresting the ridge (unsurprisingly), that all changed as it really started to blow. I'm guessing we hit sustained winds of 40 MPH on the way up, and probably much faster than that on the summit. Topping out, our nice relaxing tramp turned to a certain degree of misery as temps dropped to well below zero.
"Hurry up a-holes, it's cold!" (lordhelmut)
Nearly there. (Benners)
Hunkered down on top.
Summit shot looking North to Mt. Guyot, Grays and Torreys, etc.
Twenty seconds of an exposed hand to take this pic was enough to make the next hour or so pretty miserable. Still, I do like having the shot.
As often happens on these winter outings, the wind drove us off the summit after a few short minutes. A few quick pictures was all it took to freeze most of our hands and drive us in a mad dash to get off the ridge. Thankfully, with the descent route in such great condition, we were able to fly back down and lose a thousand feet of vert or so in a matter of minutes. It took us just over 4 1/2 hours to get to the top, but we were able to make it back down to lower elevations in great time.
Rolling past the power lines and hustling back to the cars!
We opted to descend the way we came beneath Hossier Ridge again. Watching the snow and wind whipping off of the top, we were glad to do so.
The descent was pretty uneventful. The one thing which pleasently surprised me was just how quick we got down. I was a bit frustrated at how long the ascent had taken, but we were able to get off in just over 2 hours, for a 7 hour round trip time - plenty of time to avoid ski traffic via 285 and get back to Denver in time to catch some football. And, for all that, it turned out to generally be the easy and stress free day I think we were all looking for. This was especially true for Benners, who was out on his first peak since having surgery a number of weeks ago. Unsurprisingly, he did awesome all day and (aside from the fanny pack) you wouldn't even have know he was bed-ridden just a few weeks prior. Nice work dood!
As always, thanks for reading and looking at the pictures. Hope it was useful and informative. Happy Climbing!
One last parting shot of yours truly. (Benners)