| Eagle Pk, Mt Marcy & UN 13513 (Sangres)
It seems like as the snow starts to accumulate, more 14ers.com members are becoming interested in 13ers or other possible snow hikes as well as general conditions in different areas. I appreciate the few 13er TRs people have posted here and will try to post TRs when I can. Be forewarned that I don't write them explicitly for this site, so while you'll find useful beta, I might also ramble on about things you don't care about.
In my limited experience, I've found the Sangre de Cristos to be great for fall hikes. Here's 2 hikes I did this weekend:
10/28/06 - Eagle Peak (13,205)
From 10,000 ft on FS 198
7 mi, 3300 ft
10/29/06 - Mount Marcy (13,490) & UN 13,513
From Gibson Creek TH
14 mi, 5100 ft
As of Friday night my weekend plans were still undetermined. I didn't know what kind of hike to plan because I was unsure about how much snow had fallen during the last storm and I'm not used to breaking trail all day by myself. I was also worried about avalanches.
At around 10pm Friday night I somehow decided on Eagle Peak in the northern Sangres. Previous TRs indicated it was a good winter hike so I figured I could definitely handle it alone in October. I still didn't know what I'd do Sunday, so I threw my overnight stuff in the car just in case I decided not to go home Saturday night.
The road to this "trailhead" is FS 198 which begins in the tiny town of Hillside. The first 3.5 miles are on a nice dirt road. After that the road gets rocky and high clearance is necessary. I was able to drive 3.6 miles further to around 10,000 ft with 4WD. At that point, negotiating the slippery boulders obscured by about 8 inches of snow wasn't appealing. I hadn't expected to be able to drive this far anyway and it was already going to be quite an easy hike.
Driving up the rough road had taken quite a while so I didn't start hiking until 8:10. I followed the road for another mile to Rainbow Lake. From there I walked around the north side of the lake and climbed up unto Eagle Peak's gentle northeast ridge. At first I was able to follow a faint trail whose start was marked by large cairns and blue arrows painted on rocks by the lake. After a while, I lost the trail; it either petered out or was obscured by the deepening snow. I wore snowshoes from around 10,700 ft to 11,700 ft (treeline). I probably could have gotten away without them though if I had to. The drifts near treeline were several feet deep. Above treeline, the ridge was windswept and fairly snow-free. Of course I was greeted by the wind once I popped out of the trees, but it was very sunny and the wind seemed warmer than usual. Hiking up the gentle, grassy ridge was a piece of cake. Near the summit, there was some snow covered talus to negotiate, but that was short lived. The last bit to the summit was though deeper snow (2+ feet). I think I got there around 11:30. I was a little disappointed that the hike had been so short and easy, but it was a great day to be in the Sangres. From the summit there were nice views of Cottonwood Peak, UN 13123 B, Thirsty Peak, Lakes Peak, and Electric Peak to the southwest. The trip back to the car was uneventful and leisurely and I was done by 1:30.
Now what? I had pretty much decided not to go home. Should I stay in the Sangres where the conditions were somewhat favorable or should I try my luck somewhere else on Sunday? After much debate with myself and changing my mind several times, I decided to stay in the Sangres. For some reason I feel the most at home and comfortable there. This played a role in my decision because although I'm getting more confident at hiking alone in the snowy "off-season", I am not always 100% comfortable with it.
Saturday's hike was way too easy so I wanted to come up with a more ambitious plan for Sunday. I decided on Mt. Marcy and UN 13,513 (aka Silver Peak on my map). UN 13,513 was sort of unfinished business. I had tried to climb it along with Spread Eagle Peak and UN 13,524 B back in September, but the crazily strong wind simply would not permit me to get to it. Again, I wanted to avoid any possible avalanche territory so I planned an unconventional route to climb these two peaks (typical routes start from the Lakes of Clouds basin, I think). The gentle-ish ridge separating the Swift Creek drainage and the Texas Creek drainage (accessed via the Lakes of Clouds trail) seemed like a safe option to get me to the ridge where these two peaks sit. I would have to be above treeline for a long time though. My plan was to follow this ridge, grab the two peaks, and follow the ridge back. This isn't how things unfolded though.
I drove to the Gibson Creek TH and crashed in the car. Throughout the night I was disturbed by the howling wind outside. Please, please, please stop, I was thinking. My wake up call came at 5am with the hunters arriving and I was hiking by 6. From the TH, I walked the 0.1 miles west to the Rainbow trail and then north for half a mile to the Lakes of Clouds trail (#1351). A guy and his dog had signed in the day before on their way to the lakes so I was hoping for a nice, broken trail. The first mile or so was relatively snow free, but I soon found myself waking through 12-14 inches. Luckily, the trailbreakers had made it a little easier for me.
I left the trail near the junction with trail #1349 around 10,700 ft. and climbed north, sometimes steeply, to gain my ridge. I was surprised at how little snow was here – I didn't need snowshoes, although the bushwhacking made up for it at times. By the time I hit treeline I had accumulated many twigs. The wind was pretty fierce and I had to put on all the clothes I had. I topped out on the ridge just west of Point 12,245.
The ridge wasn't totally what I had expected. It took me just over 2 hours to traverse the 1.6 miles to the end of the ridge, gaining only 1100 ft! For the most part the ridge was windswept and snow wasn't too much of a problem. But there were numerous fairly significant, steep bumps. Near the end, I had to do some class 3 scrambling that slowed me down. Some portions were loose – at one point I knocked loose a computer monitor sized rock above me. Fortunately I was able to catch it briefly and deflect it away from me. As the minutes ticked by and it seemed like I wasn't getting anywhere I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew. I had already been at it for 5 hours, had hiked more than 6 miles, and my two peaks still seemed far away. I started thinking I'd be lucky to get one of them and make it back before dark. I got totally freaked when I looked at my watch and wondered where the last 40 minutes had gone! Then I realized that the falling rock incident had made my watch reset itself. Whew!
When I topped out on the little point at the end of the ridge, I had to decide what to do. I had originally planned on climbing UN 13,513 first as it was farthest away, then Mt. Marcy, then traversing back across the long ridge the way I'd come. But I had had enough of that ridge and had been keeping my eye on the terrain for some time already, trying to construe a better, quicker way back. The northeast ridge of UN 13,513 leading down into the Lakes of Clouds basin looked like a reasonable option – windblown and safe. The downside would be that I'd have to cross the basin to get to the trail, something I've done before without snow and I knew there would be willows and possibly deep snow to negotiate. At the time it sounded a heck of a lot better than the ridge. So plans changed and it was on to Mt. Marcy first. From the end of my ridge, it was a short (but very windy) stroll to the summit. It had taken more than 5.5 hours to get here. I was absolutely starving and feeling kind of sick but there was no shelter from the wind to be found on this gentle summit. I retraced my steps back to the end of my ridge, stuffing hunks of Snickers in my mouth from time to time. I was feeling better now and more confident that I'd make it back before dark. The ridge to UN 13,513 looked like it could be a bit tricky. It was steep, rather narrow, and rocky. It turned out to be fine, and a goat had made some tracks so I had a good idea about where to step without falling between boulders. Although it had been really windy the entire way from Mt. Marcy, the summit was eerily calm. What amazing views! I think that this is one of the best Sangre de Cristo 13ers I've been on in that respect. Mt. Owen looked awesome. I could see the Crestone group, Rito Alto, Spread Eagle, UN 13,524 B, Mt. Marcy, and Gibbs Peak to name a few. But alas, it was a long way back - I was behind "schedule" and didn't have time for a real break.
The northeast ridge of UN 13,513 made for an easy descent down into the basin. Once in the basin, I encountered deep snow – several feet. The snowshoes I'd been hauling around all day were finally of use and I was very glad I had them although even with them on the going was hard. My plan was to stay kind of high on the north side of the basin to avoid most of the willows and swamp I knew were down there. This worked out fairly well and the bushwhacking wasn't too bad. I navigated my way to the lower lake where I knew the trail started with merry visions of a broken trail all the way back to the car. No such luck – apparently the trailbreakers hadn't made it to the lakes like they'd hoped. Luckily, I knew where to catch the trail and snowshoed my way back down. After a little more than a mile I found where the trailbreakers had turned around. I continued on down the trail sans snowshoes.
I was back at the TH around 3:45. I was amazed that I had made it back so early. Halfway through the hike I had already prepared myself for hiking out in the dark. At 14 miles, this hike was a little more than I had bargained for, but it was awesome! On the way down I was thinking about my hike of Horn Peak last fall in very similar conditions. It was my first ever solo hike in the snow and harsh wind and I remember being pretty paranoid the entire time. What a difference a year can make. I was much more relaxed this weekend.
Eagle Peak pictures and route map (click on picture)
Mt. Marcy & UN 13,513 pictures & route map (click on picture)