Mountain: Mt Sherman
Route: Southwest Ridge from Fourmile Creek (Class II)
Group Members: Ryan (ACERyGuy007), Michael (Corn), Nick (MonGoose)
The weather on Saturday was warm and sunny and our goal was to backpack to approximately 12,500' and camp for the evening. Sunday was supposed to be windy with a slight chance of snow. Weather permitting, we were going to make an attempt on Mt Sherman and/or Mt Sheridan.
The road was plowed to the cabins at ~11,000'. We could have driven a little bit higher with 4wd but a vehicle was already stuck in the middle of the road and had to be towed out (before getting stuck again). We chose to park here which in hindsight turned out to be a very good decision.
Ryan, Nick and Michael on the road to Mt Sherman.
We snowshoed along the road enjoying the sunshine on a beautiful afternoon. Nearing the gate at 12,000', the road was blown clear of snow. When we arrived at the gate, the gate was open or perhaps had been broken open. Large sheets of ice flow covered the road at the gate which would have made further driving dangerous.
On the ascent we assessed our options: 1) a snow free route up Mt Sheridan (left) and 2) a minimal snow route up Mt Sherman (right).
We ran into a few hikers heading down, none of whom trekked very high onto the mountain. Near dark we met two climbers who had summitted Mt Sherman but were still a few hours away from the car. They had ascended the South Slope route which they felt was a mistake and came down the standard route. During their ascent, they triggered a slab avalanche which we were able to see the next day.
The gate at 12,000' was broken open but you wouldn't be able to drive your car past the ice flow. (photo by Ryan)
During our ascent, we were able to pick out two routes to get up the mountain. The first went to the right of the cornice up Mt Sherman's steeper section. The second was a snow free path straight up Mt Sheridan, which we could then traverse the saddle and head over to Mt Sherman. We had options, or so we thought.
As it was getting dark, we picked a spot for camp around 12,600' and dug a level shelf into a snow bank. After stomping the area, we set up our tents and started making dinner for the evening as the snow began to fall.
We packed out a spot and set up the tents for the evening. (photo by Ryan)
Our humble abode where we drank tea and discussed the finer points of life. (photo by Ryan)
Before bed, I went outside and snapped some photos of our tents. I was hoping to shoot some star trails but we were in a snowstorm with a few inches of fresh snow already on the ground.
Timed exposures can become chilling endeavors on cold evenings.
As I crawled into my sleeping bag I heard to the snowfall increasing on the tops of our tents. We slept fairly soundly, awaking a few times in the night. The lowest temperature I recorded on my digital thermometer was 16F deg in the tent, which on average is 10 degrees warmer than outside. A 0 degree sleeping bag with a heated Nalgene by my feet did the trick.
The next morning we awoke to a winter wonderland. There was a fresh 6" of snow on the ground - how much of that fell from the sky and how much blew over from the next basin, I'm not sure. The world was a sea of white and as we peered out of the tent, we couldn't even make out the road that was only 30' away.
Venturing out to photograph the sunrise. (photo by Ryan)
As the sun warmed the air, the winds continued to howl.
The winds were howling but the sun was warming our tents as we slept in for a bit and enjoyed a hot (Mountain House) breakfast. We sipped tea and watched the sun rise from the comfort of our front porch / vestibule as we took a look at the surrounding terrain. All snow-free routes had disappeared and signs of avalanches were apparent on East facing slopes. Just one day prior the Colorado Avalanche Information Center had issued an advisory in response to the large slides that had taken place on Berthoud Pass, Loveland Pass and Hoosier Pass. A few inches of new snow coupled with continuing strong winds increased the instability of the snowpack. The decision to head down was an easy one.
Ryan melts snow for water.
Our snow-free route has disappeared.
Michael demonstrates why it's a bad idea to leave your Nalgene outside in single digit temperatures. However, the gatorade snow cone was tasty.
Panorama: Click to Enlarge
On the hike out we saw five different avalanches, none of which we triggered. One slab avalanche was from the climbers the day before, one occurred in the saddle between Mt Sherman and Mt Sheridan, two were in NE facing gullies and one was an east facing cornice on a rollover.
A slide on the saddle between Mt Sherman and Mt Sheridan.
A northeast facing wind-loaded slope.
We did a few beacon searches for practice before packing up camp. As the skies cleared, the wind remained and large swirls of snow could be seen on every major ridge.
With a 3.3 /10 rating on IMDB
, there's no need to rush home for this one.
Picking our way down the trail. Each step would alternate between a foot of snow and then a few inches.
As we trekked out along the road we were grateful that we had parked lower. With the fresh snow accumulations, driving the upper section of the road would have been very difficult.
The winding road back to our everyday lives.
We found a nice little place to eat in Fairplay called McCall's Park Bar where we grabbed a burger and watched the Broncos final game of the regular season next to a wood-fired stove. They offer free orange and blue jello shots after every Broncos touchdown, which forced us to leave at halftime. It was a nice ending to a fun trip.
Although snow-free routes were visible on the ascent, the overnight storm had blanketed the area making it nearly impossible to tell which surfaces had 3" of snow and which had 3'. The strong winds which frequently occur in this area were already at work migrating the snow across the ridges into the gullies. After a few clear days, the snow free routes should re-emerge on the windswept ridges although the cornices will be a little higher and the cross loaded slopes will be deeper.
In the end, Mt Sherman kicked our butts and I loved every second of it. Our weekend endeavor served as a nice reminder that everything is harder in winter.
Be safe out there,