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 Peak(s):  Browns Peak - 11,722 feet
 Post Date:  06/02/2009
 Date Climbed:   05/29/2009
 Posted By:  KeithK

 It sure sounded good.   

Browns Peak (11,722')
May 29, 2009
Route: Western Face from Snowy Range Road
Round Trip: 7.25 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,365'


It sure sounded good. Two eleveners and a twelver would make for a pretty productive day in the mountains of southern Wyoming; after all, they're not far apart and the elevation gain would be totally manageable. I can knock these out, no problem…

A 2:00 a.m. alarm signals the start to my annual trek to the Snowy Mountains, west of Laramie, Wyoming. This would make for the 20th annual? 21st? 19th? Somewhere in there; my friends from the expansive state to the north have been camping at a secret spot on the bank of Libby Creek since they were getting edumacated at the University of Wyoming. It is a tradition that I'm proud to be a part of, and I look forward to with childlike anticipation every spring. 2008 marked the start of a new tradition, one that is mine and only mine, and that is to climb a peak before getting down to the business of kegs and gourmet camping cuisine. This year, I would climb all 3, as a symbol of the physical progress I've made over the past winter, and as a personal challenge to push myself. It sure sounded good.
Almost an hour late out of Denver, I finally arrive at the pull off on Snowy Range Road, about a quarter mile shy of what would be the turn into the Lewis Lake/Sugarloaf/Lake Marie recreation area, if not for plenty of snow. Surprisingly, a good freeze had occurred overnight, and the snow was nice and hard, but I chose to wear the snowshoes right out of the gate anyway. Extra traction never hurts, especially in this area, where the undulating landscape provides plenty of ups and downs.

A short time later, Medicine Bow Peak appears, its little sidekick Sugarloaf Mtn. hiding behind the trees…


Browns Peak maintains a low profile at first…


I had my eyes on Browns Peak, since it sits well to the east of Medicine Bow and Sugarloaf. I would climb it first, presumably by the trail that I perceived to exist on the western shoulder of the peak, more plateau than mountain. A shallow snow gully caught my eye, though, and I really thought hard about giving it a go.

A tempting line right of center…


The view of Sugarloaf Mtn. and Medicine Bow Peak takes shape…


My first good look at the Island Couloir; I really want to climb this one, but not on this day…


I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to chance the south facing snow, as the sun was high and bright, even though the air remained cool and crisp, and the snow did not seem to be interested in synthesizing vitamin D3. I did not bring my helmet, and being alone, minimizing risk was probably the better philosophy. With continued deliberation, I made my way across the basin, eventually realizing that the path of least resistance would be to aim for the west ridge, where there would surely be easy hiking onto the top of this big bean bag looking mountain.

Negotiating a maze of trees, trying to stay on snow…


A glance over the shoulder reveals the Park Range in northern Colorado, shiny and bright on this brilliant spring morning…


I worked my way into a predicament, as I became tree-ed out, with no through passage on snowshoes to reach the snow that I had my eye on. Backtracking, I dropped down below the trees and traversed across a nice bowl, before beginning a televator-aided snowshoe ascent up continuous snow to what I hoped would be the trail on the ridge. Two large rocks became my first goal.

Stay out of their way…


As I worked up the slope, I heard and witnessed a falling cornice across the valley on a couloir adjacent to the Island; definitely the right decision to forego the snow climb today, I thought. I'll just keep walking up this line, not too steep, but enough to force self arrest in the event of a fall. Breaking out of the shade, I reached the end of the snow in short order. Placing my snowshoes behind a perfect rock, I set a waypoint and surveyed the path ahead.

Rocky tundraness…


Browns Peak is an odd one; it reminds me of Kataka Mtn. in the Evans Wilderness Area. The tundra and rocks just go on, and it's difficult to see an actual summit. I strolled across, knowing that the high point was on the far northeastern corner of the peak. Why is it that the true summit is ALWAYS on the other side of the mountain? I finally gained a view of the pile of talus that claims supremacy.

Is that it?


I was surprised that there is no trail on this mountain; you just walk across whichever line you choose. Twice I thought I spotted cairns, but closer inspection revealed naturally occurring rocks. My GPS says I've passed the summit. Huh? I'll go stand on top of that rock heap anyway. A quick jaunt up the snow, and I found my first summit of the day, bright and early just after 10:00. That took longer than I thought it would.

Elk Mountain to the north…


An interesting view of Medicine Bow Peak…


I quickly began to backtrack, or attempted to. It was difficult to follow my exact line back down, as everything looks the same on top of that pillow of a mountain. My GPS was useful in steering back to my snowshoe rock, where a Peanut Butter Honey Stinger bar and some Accelerade provided a much needed boost, as the short night's sleep and long drive were already beginning to wear on me. For the first time in two years, I also noticed the presence of another climber, working up the face of Medicine Bow. Strapping the 'shoes to my pack, I stowed my poles and set off with axe in hand, intending to find a good line back down to the basin. Surprisingly, the snow was still hard and slick, and I stayed on the steep tundra and rocks as far as I could, until forced onto the white blanket. A short, steep slope was carefully bootable, and I finally had the courage to sit down and slide. A nice glissade down onto a bench below ended without incident, but I was hesitant to continue without knowing exactly what would be next. So I plunge stepped over the lip of the remainder of the slope, until I came to a point where I knew that there would be no surprises. Another glissade dropped me quickly into the basin, and I began the trek over to the next goal, Sugarloaf Mtn.

It sure sounds like a good idea…


I trudged westward, seemingly losing energy with every step. Hmm, this is not good. I know that I am more than strong enough to climb these two peaks in front of me. I know I am. Reaching the northeastern flank of Sugarloaf, the snow was beginning to soften and provided just enough annoyance that it was time to put the snowshoes back on. A short time later, I ran out of snow, and motivation. As I alternated between assessing the rocky and rugged looking north face of Sugarloaf and watching the lone climber descend the steep snow on Medicine Bow, I realized just how pleasant the prospect of ice cold beer and campfire brats would be, and it was time to high tail it back to the truck and get the party started. I'll come back next year for Sugarloaf, and its neighbors.

Browns Peak from Sugarloaf Mtn.; my ascent route dead center, with the descent line to its left…


Lewis Lake; I think I'll stay off of the "ice"…


Probably want to avoid that area, too…


I really don't see why the area is still closed…


The trek back to the truck was much easier than a year ago, and five and a half hours after I started, I finished. It felt good to have covered over seven miles in that amount of time, but it also seemed like 1,300' feet of vertical had to be inaccurate, as I felt like I'd climbed more than that. The end result was satisfaction, though. Another stellar day in the high country, and now I had rest and relaxation to look forward to. That sure sounds good!

 


  • Comments or Questions (2)
Yog


Cool     2009-06-03 09:40:24
Nice report on a lesser climbed area! Love the photos


USAKeller


Kegs?!?!     2009-06-04 12:47:20
Great report, Keith. And wonderful photos too - I really like the different view of Medicine Bow. Hopefully you didn‘t have any spiders in your sleeping bag! ;)



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