| If at first...
Stats include our failed Plan A
Miles: ~10 (could have been ~9)
Elevation gained/lost: ~3,400 (could have been ~2,600)
Special gear: Snowshoes (mandatory), Crampons (a good idea), Ice Axe (of course)
Starting elevation: ~10,600
Trail head: Where Forest Road 145 starts from 19A/Wurts Ditch Road.
Directions: A couple miles south of Tennessee Pass, look on the west side of the road for County Road 19. Take this for a little less than 1 mile and turn right (north) on County Road 19A, which also seems to be called "Wurts Ditch Road." Maybe .75 miles along 19A you'll see a building on your left and the sign in the picture below. The road is plowed to just beyond the sign. There is parking for several vehicles.
Current access: We took our Xterra, but we didn't put it into 4WD. It got pretty muddy in the afternoon, but we didn't have any problems.
Our route is in purple.
I've wanted to hike Homestake Peak for a while now. It has good access and I'd heard about the great views on top. We've driven over Tennessee Pass many times and I noted the access road usually thinking "That'll be a great peak to hike someday." The stats for Homestake Peak are such that it would be a good hike after a longer day. We hiked this on Sunday after getting turned around on Saturday attempting Mascot Peak (near Yale). We got to about 11,400 ish on Mascot, but the snow was in no condition for hiking thanks to a late start.
We had some unused hotel points that were about to expire so we used them to stay in Vail overnight and got a good rest. We left the hotel at about 4:30 am to make sure we got an early start. Turning around 2 days in a row is not something we wanted to do (but of course would have for safety reasons).
We parked at a plowed pull off right here. The road is impassable for wheeled vehicles less than 50 yards or so beyond this point.
Our hike started here and followed Forest Road 145 for the first part. This area seems to be quite popular with snowmobilers. There are red and blue markers for the route, but the snowmobile tracks deviate from the forest road in some places. We followed the firm snow under the snowmobile tracks until we decided not to.
Here's Kate on the way down near the "TH" with the red and blue trail markers. The pic is looking up the trail going away from TH.
Kate and I are both pretty stubborn and we don't like turning around. It was our fault that we had to turn around on Mascot - we didn't start early enough on the southeast aspect we planned to hike. By the time we got to the ridge to get up to Mascot, we were wallowing in thigh-deep snow on a pretty steep slope. It took us about an hour to go 300 vertical feet and, being mathematically inclined, we did some calcs and found that it would be silly to continue. We'd been at sea level for 10 days or so with only a couple forays above even 1,000 feet leading up to this weekend so we expected to have some altitude issues, but we didn't turn around for that. We headed down to Eddyline.
The snowmobile tracks went through several meadows. We stopped paying attention to the trail markers and started scouting our proposed route. I'd put something into the GPS as a proposed route, but, eh, it was only a suggestion.
Snow instabilities were a concern for us, but this peak was supposed to have some mostly avy-safe routes, which was a big reason why we planned this peak to hike. There was ample evidence of avalanche risk in the area. We experienced fresh snow on a dirty layer and saw evidence on the ridge of multiple avalanches - the below is an image of the biggest slide.
We got some glimpses of our goal in the open areas. We also saw that there was a nice-looking ridge that we could gain near our route that would take us to Homestake, but it was heavily corniced. The other side of the ridge, according to the map was a pretty gentle slope, so we decided to take our chances and go along the ridge. We figured the other side of the ridge, since the near side was corniced, would likely be windblown. Spending more time at a higher elevation would also help us recover from the negative effects of Hawaiian beaches. We put snowshoes on soon after we left the snowmobile tracks due to a couple of postholes.
Homestake is left of center.
As we gained the ridge and got out of the trees, our goal became more clear. The ridge looked like it would go and it was a nice mellow south-facing slope.
We got to the crest of the ridge and saw something unexpected. It was not a low-angle, wind-blown ridge and it looked a bit spicier than what we wanted. I chalked up my initial apprehension to early season jitters. We hadn't hiked on a narrow snowy ridge since probably last spring. So I figured we should just keep going to see how it worked out.
"I have a bad feeling about this." Star Wars
Up to this point, we were making good progress. Our elevation was about 12,600 feet - Homestake is 13,209 feet - almost there!
The view toward Homestake and a big avy path that cracked the ice on Slide Lake - appropriately named...
In front of us was a gully sloping down to our right over which we had to cross to get past the ridge obstacles. Then there was that cornice block thing just after that. It looked like the narrow part of the ridge ended just maybe 50 yards farther, but first, this section.
"NUTS." General Anthony McAuliffe, WWII
My steps are visible in the above picture. I plunged my ice axe into the snow with each step and after getting through about a foot of loose fresh snow, there was a hard layer, then an easy section, then another hard layer. With the recent news about avalanches, the avalanche path we saw in the basin, CAIC's warnings about instability, the dirty layer, and the steepness of the terrain (which isn't well captured in the pic) I was a little on edge here. Something just didn't feel right.
Maybe this was the most stable snow in the world and it wouldn't have slid. Maybe it wouldn't have slid 99 out of 100 times, but it didn't feel right. I told Kate that I wasn't comfortable. We discussed the situation for a bit and we turned around. I thought we'd be heading back to the car.
Two days in a row... Oh well. Both decisions were good decisions: Better to be at the car wishing you were on the mountain than to be on the mountain wishing you were back at the car. Still, better route finding could have prevented this turnaround like an earlier start could likely have prevented the Mascot turnaround.
We started down - not our ascent route, but a gully we found near where we were. We could easily see Homestake there across the basin.
Kate and I descended the gully. The snow was hard and icy; crampons were extremely helpful and I considered them necessary. I glissaded a little in the less-steep sections, but the snow was hard and not great for glissading.
We got to the bottom of the gully and looked over at Homestake. Hey, it's right there... Maybe we should just head over that way to check it out for a future trip... After all, we had descended to near where our initial planned ascent route was.
Hmmm... Why not?
Why not go back to plan A? We headed toward that far ridge, which was our originally-planned ascent route.
“Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
We still felt strong so we walked across the basin to the foot of that ridge. Also, it was somewhat cloudy and cool so the snow was staying firm.
Here's Kate gaining the ridge with the ridge we just came from behind her. The gully we descended off that ridge is the first prominent gully from the right; it's the one that angles to the right as it descends.
From the ridge, looking up toward the summit.
"Never give up. Never surrender!" Galaxy Quest
Here's Kate on the ridge with the Cooper ski area behind her. The views on the ridge and on the summit were great!
The ridge had continuous snow to the summit. We're not skiers, so we might be wrong, but we thought this would make a good ski.
On the summit, we looked over at the ridge we started up. As expected, the basin side was corniced, but the windward side was blown clear. If you were to go that route, you'd want to not be walking on snow...
Views from on top:
Toward Holy Cross
South toward Massive and Elbert.
Toward Leadville/Mosquito range
On the way down, we went through mostly supportive snow, but we (really, I, since I was leading) kept getting sucked too far south by the terrain. When we found ourselves on a lake, we made a sharp north turn to get back on track.
Near the lake we saw some blue trail markers and we followed them until we lost them.
More clearings and foresty areas awaited us. Kate patiently kept telling me which way to go - her GPS was right on.
Success! Our stubbornness paid off and we were able to safely gain the summit. We were 100% prepared to turn around (as we did initially) if the conditions weren't right, but sometimes it's not the right answer to just go home after a setback.
Our 2nd route is pretty avy safe and it's in good shape now for a nice snowshoe/ski/whatever, but always practice safe snow travel.
Bob and Kate
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):