| Silverheels - The Road Less Traveled
Starting Point: Beaver Creek TH (10,740’)
Peak Climbed: Mt. Silverheels (13,822’)
RT Distance: ~9.5 miles (estimated)
Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,500 feet (estimated)
RT Time: 5 hours 30 minutes (including 30 minutes on summit, 25 minutes on vantage points, and 20 minutes on poorly executed off-route descent)
Everyone loves a gentle giant. Growing up in a culture replete with mythological tales, I was always fascinated by giants. One such giant was Kumbhakarna, from the Hindu epic Ramayana. When it was time for Kumbhakarna to reap the reward of his penance and secure a boon, a wicked scheme by the gods resulted in his tongue being tied and the blessing he asked for was for “sleep” rather than power over the gods. His “wish” was granted and his yearly cycle was being recumbent for six months and awake for six! So too, may be the case with Colorado’s highest peaks – that they sleep and become benign for half the year through summer and fall, and malicious for the other half when they create their own weather and snow conditions. My goal today was to visit the gentle giant of Centennial 13ers, Mt. Silverheels, and pay a visit while he was asleep!
Silverheels - The Gentle Giant
My research on the forum only brought up one report of an ascent up Silverheels’ south ridge and that was in winter so perhaps this will provide some useful beta. The Beaver Creek trailhead is in Fairplay, 0.3 miles north of the unmarked campground on FS 659, 5.0 miles along Beaver Creek Ln from the junction with 4th St.
Beaver Creek Trailhead
The trail starts as a 4WD road as it crosses to Beaver Creek’s east side and climbs up the lazy slopes.
Beaver Creek crossing
Gentle 4WD road
The grade of the road was gentle through this section and I decided to warm up with an equally gentle run. In about a mile as the road climbed to a high point, I found an offshoot heading north and followed this into the woods.
Detour but still a road
The road picked up in steepness approaching treeline, and views sprung to the northwest as the road meandered in and out of the thinning trees.
View to the west
Just over thirty minutes in, I got my first view of the crest of Silverheels, far enough in the distance that it appeared nothing like a giant - yet.
At treeline - the giant comes into view
The road headed toward Pt. 12,282 so I stayed on it as it skirted this summit on its west side.
Road heads toward Pt. 12,282
The rocky west slope of Point 12,282 looked prime for a quick scramble and I obliged!
Scramble to pt. 12,282
This summit provided a neat vantage point with lovely views all around.
View from Pt. 12,282
I surveyed the remainder of the route to Silverheels and realized that the appearance was somewhat deceptive.
Surveying the route to the peak
Nearly 2 miles remained and some 1600 feet of elevation would need to be gained over the broad south slopes. Roach rates this hike Class 1/1+ but I did not find anything resembling a Class 1 trail beyond this point. Of course, none was needed as I mentally mapped the best route to the summit. I descended off Point 12,282 and started an ascending traverse skirting the grassy slopes to my right.
Staying below the grassy slope
The hike from here was on tundra interspersed with rock gullies and it looked like the most direct approach would skirt Pt. 13,004 to its west or hiker’s left.
Skirting Pt. 13,004
Sidehilling across a rocky section
As I sidehilled around the grassy slopes, I found segments of a trail which petered out before long.
Trail? What trail?
I wondered if I’d missed the Class 1 trail by not going over Pt. 13,004 and made a mental note to hit this summit on my return.
Viewing the route taken
Even avoiding summing this point, there was a bit of elevation to be lost before I could start the final pitch.
One more short descent
At the final saddle
As I made it to the final talus leading to the summit, I spotted a herd of sheep on the final pitch.
Sheep on the rocks!
I accidentally startled the herd but was lucky enough to get a shot as they sped across the slope in front of me.
I was inspired by the sight but still could not duplicate their pace up that final pitch! It wasn’t for lack of trying, though!
May Goatsspeed be with you!
Two hours and ten minutes after I’d forded Beaver Creek, I was atop Silverheels getting a rare birds-eye view of the entire route I’d taken.
Reviewing the route to summit
The views of the Tenmile range were striking as always.
Quandary and the Tenmilers
The next shot looks over the north ridge of Silverheels, with the familiar sight of Grays and Torreys in the distance.
View to the north
On my descent I made sure I summited Point 13,004. As I surveyed the area from this vantage point, I decided that I could skirt Pt. 12,282 and hit the road below treeline (planned route in blue).
Descent from Pt. 13,004
What’s that they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? No GPS and questionable route-finding skills do not make for effective short cuts!
I did a descending traverse circumventing Pt. 12,282 but headed too far west (hiker’s right) once I got below the trees.
Skirting Pt. 12,282
I didn’t intersect the road as I’d expected, and when I got to the creek I was greeted by this sight.
After some scouring of the area, I found spots where the creek split and was able to cross smaller waterways to make it across to the other side, joining FS 659 some two miles off the trailhead – a "shortcut" that added some 20 minutes to my descent, but hey, it was all in the spirit of adventure and it was scenic!
In all, it was a rewarding excursion into the lair of the gentle giant; I came, I saw, I tiptoed around the sleeping giant and left. May the mountains ever be so gentle.
Shhh...don't wake up the giant!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):