| Mt. Sherman - Snow Route SE face
Trailhead: ~0.8 miles from Fourmile Creek near Leavick Mine
Route(s): Sherman Snow Route
Partners: Leopard233, RogueJackalope, Cody
Elevation Gain: ~3,000’
We had met as a group several weeks before and discussed some possible ski mountaineering excursions. We had just received a lot of snow in a 2-week period, over 3 feet in places, and our avalanche conditions were sketchy. This was a week after the Loveland pass avalanche that tragically killed 5 people and was the deadliest avalanche in 51 years. Needless to say most people were a little skittish when it came to the avalanche conditions. Therefore we decided to do something that was relatively low angle, south or southeast facing, and something that would give us a good indication on what snow conditions were like. We knew we were going to have to be very conservative in our decision making and needed a good view of all the terrain. Mt. Sherman fit this bill nicely so RogueJackalope, Cody, and myself headed out from Denver Friday night with that goal in mind.
We turned off 285 south of Fairplay just after 8pm Friday night after closing down the Subway and proceeded up the road. Approximately 4 miles from the turnoff we started seeing snow and muddy roads, oh and a moose. The snow and mud progressively got worse and at about mile 7 or 7.5 the vehicle tracks ended. With my 4WD Tacoma we were able to break through to within a mile of the Leavick mine.
We woke up at 4:30am with intentions of starting to skin at 5:30am.
We ended up leaving about 5:40am, with firm snow and temps in the teens. Skinning progressed quickly and we were at the Leavick mine site in about 20 minutes.
As the sun came up on the mountain we passed the Leavick mine site and received our first glimpse of the terrain above tree line.
We also saw a little friend that was following us for about a half mile.
We had discussed the possibility, depending on how the snow route up Sherman looked, skiing the south couloirs off of White ridge so here’s some beta on how those look. Most of them look very skiable but, as we found out later, the snow surface conditions could be highly variable.
We turned right off the main road at about 12,000 feet and started climbing the drainage. This is where the skin track started to get a little steeper and we were constantly evaluating the snow. While we were climbing there were portions that were bulletproof and one had to use the edges to get any grip at all, followed closely by a wind crust that you would punch through slightly. We noticed some small cracks occurring while we were skinning, but they only extended through the first few centimeters of snow, which was a pretty hard and thin melt-freeze crust, they only extended 2 or 3 meters from the skin track, and there was no “whoomphing”. So the cracks didn’t concern us very much but we agreed that we would keep an eye on them. It didn’t take long to figure out what the better climbing snow looked like so we tried to connect the “slightly punchy wind crust” portions together up to about the middle of the south east face.
We skinned to about 13,500 feet before the snow was too hard and the steepness caused us to start boot packing. So the Ice axes came out and we started making a staircase. The snow here was highly variable. For one minute you would be kicking steps in bulletproof thick wind crust where your boots only went in a couple inches, and the next, less than 10 vertical feet later, you would be kicking through a thin wind crust into nice snow and sinking shin deep. This process repeated all the way to the summit.
A look out across the basin from about 13,600 feet.
We summited at about 10:45am with the wind whipping around on top so we found a little place kind of out of the wind and hunkered down for a while to try and get some softer snow on the face for the descent.
A look down the ridge toward White Ridge.
We spent about half an hour on top, eating, discussing our options and just hanging out. There looks to be a lot of snow on all the mountains as you can see. Here’s a panoramic of the Collegiates.
The decision was made to descend our ascent route as it was the first climb of the season for us and there were some tired legs in the group. Skiing montage above the rocky part of the drainage:
We carefully shimmied our way through the rocks, without taking the skis off, amazingly, to the top of the next section of skiing. From here we could ski all the way back to the truck. Skiing montage #2:
This photo of RogueJackalope shows the majority of the climb and descent from about 11,500 feet.
All in all we made it back safe without having to use the beacons, which is a win in my book. We were never overly concerned about the snow but we followed best practices and spread out on the climb, probably 100 to 200 feet of separation, descended one at a time and tried to stick to the lower angle slopes. Round trip took 6.5 hours, approximately 3,000 feet vertical, 5 hours of ascent, half hour on the summit, and 1 hour back to the truck where the cold, celebratory beers were waiting. Thanks for reading and everyone stay safe out there.
Photos mostly courtesy of RogueJackalope, who likes taking pictures but can’t be bothered to write anything up.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):