| Gone with the Wind
14,036 Feet (46th highest in Colorado)
Southwest Ridge from Fourmile Creek Trailhead, 11,680 Feet
November 4th, 2007
5.25 Miles Roundtrip
2,000 Feet Elevation Gained
Greenhouseguy (Brian), Slow Moving Fun Seeker (Jay F), Briaowe (Brian O.), Jamie O., and Shawn (Jabberwocky)
Gone with the Wind
General William Tecumseh Sherman was portrayed as a villain in Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone With the Wind. In fact, Gen. Sherman's infamous March to the Sea is the "wind" that Ms. Mitchell referred to in the title of her book. When my partners and I ascended Mt. Sherman in gale force winds on Sunday, the irony was not lost on me.
Sunday's hike started on an inauspicious note. Brian O. (with daughter Jamie) and I showed up at the park and ride an hour early because we forgot to set our clocks back. We slept in my car for an hour until Jay and Shawn showed up. The five of us piled in my Jeep and drove down Hwy. 285 to Fairplay, where we stopped at the Phillips 66 station for snacks and other necessities. Fourmile Rd., the road the trailhead, is on the southern outskirts of town. Fourmile Rd. starts out as a paved road, but the pavement ends at the junction with the road to Thompson Park. The dirt part of the road presented no problems until the last quarter mile below the gate, where it became rutted and rocky. A 2WD vehicle could have made it to the gate with careful driving. The road was entirely free of snow.
We parked at the gate below the Dauntless Mine and geared up. The sky was clear and the temperature was 35 degrees.
Jamie, Brian O. Shawn, and Jay gearing up for the hike
Aside from a few patches of ice, the road was clear all the way to the ruins of the Dauntless Mine.
Mt. Sheridan's southeast slope rises behind the vestiges of the Dauntless Mine
It took us a few minutes to find our pace. Shawn, who just moved to Denver from Houston two weeks ago, had a particularly hard time adjusting to the altitude. The first half of the standard route on Mt. Sherman is not overly demanding because it follows an old mining road with a fairly gentle grade.
The distinctive remains of the Hilltop Mine appear to the left of Mt. Sherman
As we gained altitude, the patches of snow became more and more prevalent. The snow was consolidated, and was not very deep.
Slow Moving Fun Seeker hiking on snow below the Hilltop Mine
Mt. Sherman has little to offer in the way of natural beauty, and it is a runt compared to the giants in the nearby Sawatch Range. Some people disparage the mountain because it is relatively easy to climb. As I admired the peak under brilliant blue skies, I felt like it deserved much, much more respect.
The south side of Mt. Sherman observed from the flat area near the Hilltop Mine
Ruins of the Hilltop Mine, established in 1887. An aerial tramway carried ore from the mine to the Leavick Mill
We reached the top of the hill by the Hilltop Mine, and bore to the southwest towards the saddle between Mt Sherman and Mt. Sheridan. The saddle was partially covered in snow, and a small cornice was beginning to form at the top.
Mt. Sheridan and the Sherman/Sheridan saddle, viewed from the Hilltop Mine
We could see the stone cairns that marked the standard route, but much of the trail was covered. Jay took the lead, and broke the trail through the snow. I followed behind him, kicking and flattening the snow to clear the path. By the time our small group reached the top of the saddle, we had broken a nice trench for our return trip.
Shawn and Brian near the top of the Sherman/Sheridan saddle
When we reached the top of the saddle, it became apparent that there were several different trails on the lower part of Mt. Sherman's southwest ridge. We saw a lone hiker come up from the Iowa Gulch side of the saddle, and he chose the trail that was the farthest to the right. We agreed that this looked like the best route, and we started up the ridge several hundred yards behind him.
Jay standing on the saddle in front of the broad lower portion of Mt. Sherman's southwest ridge
Jay starting up the braided network of trails on Mt. Sherman's southwest ridge
Mt. Sherman is reputed to be a windy mountain, and it was living up to its reputation. Most of the snow had been blown off of the exposed portions of the ridge, but we were occasionally pelted by small bits of ice that were loosened by the wind. It was a blessing to have most of the trail free of snow, but some sections of the trail passed through loose scree that made travel more difficult.
Jay heading for higher places
The upper section of Mt. Sherman's southwest ridge is narrow and rocky. We were sheltered from the wind on the east side of the ridge, but at about 13,750 feet, we had to walk on top of the ridge. When I emerged from the leeward side of a large rock, I was nearly blown over. I had to have three points of contact just to hold my ground. The wind velocity had increased dramatically, and our shot at the summit appeared to be in jeopardy. I made myself comfortable behind the rock and waited for the rest of my group. Was the wind just gusting, or was it going to sustain the velocity? None of us could believe what we were experiencing. Brian O. was concerned that his daughter might get blown off of the narrow ridge, so he made the prudent choice and headed back to the car. His concern was not unfounded. I'm easily twice Jamie's size, and I needed every ounce of my bulk to keep my feet planted. It became obvious that the wind was not going to abate. Frankly, I didn't give a damn. I was not going to be denied just 250 feet from the summit. I emerged from behind our wind shelter, and took a few cautious steps. Plant both poles, take a step. Plant both poles, take a step. Repeat.
The narrow part of the ridge was kind of dicey in the high wind. If there was going to be any trouble, this was where it was going to happen. There was no way to duck over the side to get out of the wind.
The narrow, rocky portion of Mt. Sherman's southwest ridge
As I neared the top of the ridge, I met the hiker who had come up from Iowa Gulch. He had stashed his pack, because the snowshoes lashed to the outside were catching the wind and causing trouble for him. We had a nice chat in spite of the awful conditions, and went our separate ways.
Approaching Pt. 14,007
The wind was still howling when I hit Pt. 14,007. I felt safer once I was on the summit ridge, because the summit was much more flat and broad than the lower ridge.
Pt. 14,007, moving towards the true summit
When I reached the long summit ridge, I noted that the summit itself was far from spectacular. When I arrived at the bump that constitutes the true summit, I found that the wind shelter was filled with snow. I knew that the summit register was buried in there, so I didn't bother to look for it.
Mt. Sherman's long summit ridge
The views were far more spectacular than the actual summit. I could see Pikes Peak in the distance, with spindrift that appeared to stretch for miles. All of the Mosquito Range fourteeners were visible to the north. I caught a glimpse of the Maroon Bells far to the west. I was not able to identify all of the peaks in the Sawatch Range, but I could easily make out Mt. Massive, Mt. Elbert, La Plata Peak, Huron Peak, and all of the Collegiate Peaks. Thirteeners Mt. Sheridan, Peerless Mountain, and Horseshoe Mountain dominated the view to the south.
The twin peaks of Gemini Peak with the northern Mosquito Range in the background
Looking over West Sheridan at the northern Sawatch Range; Mt. Massive, Mt. Elbert, and La Plata Peak and others
Pikes Peak in the distance, with South Park in the foreground
Looking down at Mt. Sheridan, with several Sawatch fourteeners in the background
Peering into the headwaters of Fourmile Creek
Jay and fourteener virgin Shawn arrived at the summit a few minutes behind me. Naturally, Shawn was pumped to get on top of his first fourteener. Just two weeks ago, he was a Texan. He took plenty of time to let it all soak in, and of course we took plenty of summit shots.
Gratuitous summit shot: Slow Moving Fun Seeker, Greenhouseguy, and Jabberwocky
It should come as no surprise that Shawn started to show some of the classic symptoms of AMS: headache, nausea, and dizziness. The best course of action was to hydrate and lose altitude posthaste. His symptoms eased after we descended about 800 or 900 feet. The wind chill factor had to have been well below zero, but we all had appropriate gear to deal with the cold. Cold fingers seemed to have been the most common complaint.
The narrow ridge provided most of the excitement on the way down. It is not as narrow or as exposed as it seems to be in pictures, but not many people would choose to stand on this ridge while being battered by 70 m.p.h. gusts.
Heading back down the narrow ridge
We were somewhat relieved to get back down to the saddle. Certainly the wind would be less objectionable on the other side. The trail below the saddle was much less rugged, and we would be able to make much better time.
Jay and Shawn covering the last few yards to the saddle
A frustrating thing happened as we descended the saddle; the wind shifted directions and started to batter us from the east. It was unpleasant for a while, but not nearly as powerful as the wind that we experienced high on the ridge. The wind almost entirely died down by the time we reached the car. Brian O. and Jamie were not terribly bummed about missing the summit. They still got a great hike, and used their extra time to explore the ruins of the Dauntless Mine. Shawn got his first fourteener, but I doubt that it will be his last. It was a repeat summit for Jay and me, but thanks to the wind, it was unlike any of our previous summits.