| Sherman Dreams
It's hard to sleep when your heart wants to jump out of your chest and run down the road – bloody arteries slapping against the rocks and all – to a lower elevation. It seemed to take forever to fall asleep at an elevation higher than Mt. Hood, but once I did I was in that high-elevation dream land, where it's exciting and scary.
I don't know why, but whenever I sleep above 9,000 feet of elevation I always seem to have the strangest dreams. Sometimes it's like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory sort of stuff. Sometimes it's about vivid plane crashes.
Late at night, with a full moon shining its brights on us, on the Fourmile side of Sherman, we found a nice spot to park at about 11,700 feet. It was right before a huge, foot-deep vein of snow blocked our forward progress. I wouldn't have any problems getting up it while it was icy and firm, but I knew later the next day, after becoming slushy under the sun, it would be a different animal, so we stopped there.
No one else was around. The nearest paved road was 10 miles away. Jen and I were all alone in that upper basin. It was pretty cool, but it was also a little spooky. We might as well have been on the moon.
After reorganizing and situating all our gear in the front seats, we snuggled into our 10-degree down bags on our new memory foam in the back of the truck. It was comfortable and warm but my heart pounded in an attempt to adjust my body to the elevation.
Eventually I fell asleep, along with Jen, but I woke up often.
In the middle of the night, I remember waking to a really eerie scene. We were completely enveloped by a dense fog. I couldn't see more than a hundred yards. The sky above us was completely cloaked in white, and the full moon's blaze was completely obscured. I worried we'd have crappy climbing weather. But having climbed so many fourteeners, and understanding how quickly weather can change, I've learned to just "wait and see."
The next time I woke, one of my hands felt like a frozen cut of fish, but that was only because it was outside of my sleeping bag. When I dipped it back into the cauldron of warmth, I was thoroughly cozy again. That sleeping bag was heaven.
The next dream I remembered having was about eating dry coffee cake that tasted like cardboard.
Shortly after 5 a.m. we wrenched ourselves from our cozy cocoons and forced some Lunchables down our throats. I used to think they were the best things ever for breakfast (easy, cheap, edible, good combo of meat, carbs and fat), but after a only a few episodes, like most climbing food, I'm already getting sick of them.
At 5:50 a.m. we finally got our act together and started up the road. We were still all alone up there.
It wasn't easy to step outside into that cold air and start our march up the mountain. But after a couple minutes I was stepping large and laughing easy. Well, not really, but I wanted to be. I have to admit, it took a little longer to swing myself into the fun.
I think we hiked about a mile to get to the summer gate. The road was dry most of the way, though some drifts still block trucks.
Here's a look at the summer gate:
With the standard summer route buried under snow in many places, we chose our own route up the snow. Knowing where to go, routefinding wasn't much of a problem, other than things like: Should we go up this snow here or up that section of road to that snow?
Hilltop Mine, with Sherman upper-right:
Once in view of the Sheridan-Sherman ridge, it looked like a cakewalk. When we got to the base of it, I was humbled, as it looked rather steep. But when we finally started up it, it wasn't so bad.
Shot of the ridge (standard summer route is somewhere underneath the snow), our route in red:
Jen climbing to the ridge:
After cresting that ridge, or so we thought, there was actually more to climb to get to the ridge proper.
Once we gained the narrower section of the ridge, the mountain ratcheted things up a notch. Constant, 25- to 30-mph winds blasted us. Staying positive, I noted how the wind was pushing us "into the mountain," as we were skirting just to the west of the ridge crest.
Looking down at the Iowa Gulch side:
Jen wanted to tear off the crampons, as they made it awkward to climb the dry rock sections, but I insisted we keep them on, as I had a feeling there was a lot more snow/ice to go.
The cold wind was brutal. And when I needed some sort of sympathy, I reached for my thermometer, which read 5 degrees. The wind, I figured, was blowing at least 25 mph, with much higher gusts (strong enough to push me over a couple times), which made the wind chill factor at least negative 15.
We held strong and continued along Sherman's long ridge to the true summit. Beautiful area up there …
It was quite a ride, but once we gained the summit (8:35am) and ducked into the summit rock shelter, amazingly, it blocked the wind really well. It was a sweet hangout and we enjoyed it thoroughly for many moments.
Jen on the summit:
Me on the summit:
The view of the mighty Sawatch peaks is amazing from Sherman.
Crappy, zoomed-in shot of Elbert:
Crappy, zoomed-in shot of Massive:
Getting down was half the battle and we took it seriously, even though Sherman isn't one of the "most-serious" peaks.
Did I mention the views were awesome?
The snow was perfect – up and down. It was firm and gritty and mostly consistent. Going back down from the ridge was pleasant, too. The snow had softened just enough to allow perfect heel plunges but no postholing problems or dangerous conditions. We skipped on the glissading opportunities, aside from one short glissade that I made (photo by Jen) …
Here's a shot I took on our way down, looking down the road from just above the summer gate. Red circle is where we parked:
At 10:25 a.m. we made it back to the truck.
And here's one last view from our parking spot, looking up. Sheridan on the left; Sherman's summit is upper-right and out of view:
No rest for my high altitude heart, we spent the night, post-climb, in Leadville, where we experienced many strange events over the course of the evening. I won't go into details, but let me just say, I narrowly escaped a car accident due to some people that were in the middle of road rage incident; a swine flu cougher waited in line behind me at the grocery store; a transvestite served me some crappy beer; and the sight of a gimpy Gallagher look-alike on a bike made me laugh to the point that I almost spilled gas on my shoe. True stories. I've been to Leadville many times, but it has never been so weird. Maybe the altitude has something to do with it.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):