| Fitzpatrick Pk (Southern Sawatch): 14 Mile Day + Groomed Track = Success
Fitzpatrick Pk (13112')
Jan 19, 2008
14 miles RT/3600' gain
From St. Elmo (10000')
Participants: Pete Krzanowsky, Ryan Kowalski, Gary Neban, & Kevin Baker
It's been over 2 months since I have been up anything higher than 11709' Chief Mtn, so I was long overdue to hit a 13er. I posted an invite and surprisingly got quite a bit of interest for a winter hike. Between Pete, Ryan, and I, there were only 3 peaks in all of the Front Range/Mosquito/10 Mile ranges that at least one of us hadn't climbed. With all the snow in the Sangres, I looked for something safe and accessible in the southern Sawatch. Fitzpatrick caught my eye as something reasonable because there usually is a groomed snowmobile track all the way to Tincup Pass barring recent heavy snow.
The drive to the trailhead was a bit challenging for both Ryan and I as Ryan dealt with high winds and low visibility over Kenosha Pass and South Park while Hwy 24 was a bit icy in the first hour leaving C. Springs for me. CR-162 was plowed as expected all the way to St Elmo. I was amazed at how much snow there was in the southern Sawatch, probably the most I have seen at this time of year in the 4 years I have lived here. We all met at the general store in St Elmo and geared up for the cold hike.
We took off at 8am under sunny skies and a brisk temp of 7 degrees. I had 5 layers on with long underwear, 2 base layers, a soft shell, and a hard shell. It would prove it's worth up high on the ridge. As expected, there was a groomed snowmobile track and there hadn't been any recent snow.
Ryan set a brisk pace and I must be out of shape because I was the sweep man for the day.
We could tell the wind was ripping up high as we could see spindrift blowing off the ridgelines, although the trees provided excellent coverage from the wind.
Fitzpatrick popped into view as we neared treeline, and we knew our easy walk in the trees would be short lived!
We made great time up to treeline and were able to preview our route. The snowmobile track pretty much takes a direct line to Tincup Pass, which is a good bit below the summer jeep trail. A strong contingent of snowmobilers were already high in the basin playing around and we appreciated their track all the way to Tincup Pass!
We put on the wind gear and snowshoes at treeline prepared to enter the inevitable battle with the wind. The forecast had deteriorated overnight to a high of 9 with 40 mph gusts, and that was probably pretty close to actual conditions. The hike to the pass was windy but still somewhat protected. Once we reached the pass, a crosswind from the n.w. told us it was now time to pay our dues.
The hike up the ridge to ranked Pt 12780B was enjoyable at first despite the wind as the snowshoeing was great on solid strastrugi snow.
About halfway up the ridge the wind picked up and the snow turned to sugar. We wallowed up a steep section that really sapped my energy, then the terrain mellowed out to the summit. We arrived around 11:49 and pretty much kept on going as it was too nasty to take a break. We were all beginning to feel the long hike, but Fitzpatrick was there for the taking. A one mile ridge and 700' vertical was what separated us from our primary goal.
I was hoping the south side of 12780 would offer us a break from the wind, but no dice. I had to keep moving my balaclava and goggles around to make sure everything was covered, but I missed a spot for awhile on the right side of my face and got a little wind burn. The descent down to the saddle went quick, and I dreaded the hump up Fitzpatrick, although the snow was in decent shape for snowshoes.
Our pace slowed as we headed up Fitzpatrick as the wind was sapping our strength, but at least it was predictable and didn't really knock us around too much. I would guess the gusts were around 40mph. It took us an hour for the ridge run over to Fitzpatrick. There was a brief wind shadow below the summit, but no such luck on the summit. We took a few pics and talked about our descent route. It was 11 degrees on the summit, so the windchill was in the -15 range with the gusts. The east slopes of Fitzpatrick are generally mellow, but there are a few areas that were steep/loaded enough to cause some concern. The other options are to resummit the 12er to Tincup Pass against the wind or traverse underneath the 12er on windblown talus. We spotted a safe line on Fitzpatrick's east slopes that looked like it would go.
Gary did a fine job leading us generally s.e. down the east slopes connecting wind scoured ribs and avoiding a loaded bowl. The snow was wind slab with nasty sugar underneath, which is a bad combination on steep slopes. Our gentle line took us safely down to the flats where we found some snowmobile tracks that took us back to the groomed path near treeline.
Fitzpatrick on the descent:
The five mile hike out went quicker than the last time I slogged down this road after a long day of trailbreaking on 13050 & Tincup last Feb. We were back at the cars at 4pm, good for an 8 hour day. We all agreed that this was much less effort than we imagined since we were able to enjoy a groomed track for 10 out of the 14 miles! Who would have thought a 14 mile hike to a 13er in winter wouldn't be a death march! Thanks to Pete, Gary, and Ryan for joining me on a fine outing.
GPS track (high res image available in slideshow):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):