| Catching a Shy Huron Peak on the Run
North Ridge (Standard Route - Class 2 - South Winfield TH)
Depart 4WD Trailhead: approx. 5:00 a.m.
Summit: approx. 8:30 a.m.
Return to Trailhead: approx. 10:45 a.m.
Total Elevation gain: approx. 3600 feet
Roundtrip mileage: approx. 7.5 miles
Since I had spent most of the week attending a mortgage fraud conference in Denver, I could not return home to Kansas City without trying to sneak in a peak. The plan was simple: leave Denver late in the afternoon on Thursday, drive to the South Winfield trailhead, get as far up the 4WD road as possible with the rental car, get some sleep, and take a shot at Huron early on Friday knowing I had to get back for an 8:30 p.m. flight out of DIA.
Got out of downtown Denver with the rental car as planned late Thursday afternoon and headed west on I-70; took the Hwy 91 exit to Leadville, kept going south on U.S. Hwy 24 to Clear Creek Reservoir and then down Chaffee County 390 to Winfield and the start of the 4WD road. There are numerous established campsites all along the length of the 4WD road, and I pulled into one after about a mile when I decided I had pressed my luck far enough in the FWD Chrysler Aspen SUV. Got my gear organized in the remaining daylight. There was plenty of room to comfortably spread out my 6' 1" frame with the seats folded down, so it was off to sleep in the back of the rental car right after snapping this picture in the last light of the day. This is what rental cars with less than 10,000 miles on them were made to do.
It had rained on me pretty much the entire drive from Denver, ranging between a drizzle to a steady downpour. I went to sleep listening to light rain, hoping for a clearing sky in the morning. The weather would have to cooperate if my plan to sneak in a peak was going to succeed. I could see a star or two in the sky when I woke up around 1:00 a.m. and I was encouraged when there were quite a few more as I started walking up the road toward the Huron Peak trailhead around 4:15 a.m. Maybe the rain would hold off after all. I unknowingly went up the Banker Mine road in the dark but quickly realized my mistake when I came upon the old mine buildings. No mention of those in Bill's directions to the trailhead! Even with this detour, it was a little before 5:00 a.m. when I finally headed up the Huron Peak trail.
Within a half hour after signing in at the trail register, there was enough light to easily navigate on the well-defined CFI trail without the headlamp. As daylight increased, I could not get a good read on the sky but now, as the next picture shows, there was abundant low cloud cover.
Hoping to see the much publicized view of the Three Apostles from the trail, I was disappointed. They were there all right, but the tops of the peaks were obscured by clouds, with no view of their full grandeur. After breaking treeline and entering the basin, the low cloud cover continued to be obvious, persistent, and potentially ominous.
Heading up out of the basin, the Three Apostles were still hidden from view, along with practically everything else.
Especially after breaking treeline, I was constantly considering whether to press on or turn around. But the rain never started and, more importantly, there was no indication of typical rain cloud buildup.
This large cairn, located part way up the great trail to the ridge crest, shows again how low the cloud cover was, and I was walking right into the thick of it the higher I went.
I kept wondering if I was going to get caught by any kind of storm and was ready to bolt and run at the first sign of any kind of weather trouble.
I pressed on up the switchbacks to the ridge, and knew when I gained the ridge it was just another 550 feet of elevation gain to the summit. Energized by that awareness, it seemed like I was on the summit in no time. I was the first to summit and my reward - for being alone on the top of a peak reported to have some of the best views in the Sawatch - was to see absolutely nothing. A solo climber from Colorado Springs arrived about 15 minutes later with his dog, and we took turns taking summit shots of each other with a banner that my friend Sarge, a 14ers.com member, made for me. The dog was exceptionally friendly, so I included him in my shot and paid him with a hunk of cheese. Forgot to ask his name, but doesn't he look a little bit like a red fox?
In about 10 minutes we were joined by Matthew Hayden from Breckenridge, who said he had left his camera behind. I took a shot of him with Sarge's banner so I could email it to him.
Both summit shots show the denseness of the low cloud cover. The snow Matthew is standing in on the summit was about the only place we encountered it. The trail itself was almost entirely snow free, with only a couple of short trail sections in the basin still being snow covered.
After about a half hour on the summit, I figured the cloud cover was not going to relent and I was ready to head down. The famed Huron summit views would have to wait for another day. Just as I reached for my pack, there was a momentary cloud break to the west, so I quickly found the camera and snapped these shots. There was never a view in any other direction, and this was as good as it was going to get for today. Not much from the standpoint of eye popping views, but they do capture the ethereal nature of the clouds.
If I am correct, and this is indeed a westerly view, then I think the partially visible peak in these shots is Granite Mountain. Perhaps someone more familiar with the peak will know for sure.
Exhilarated to have gotten these limited views when it had looked like none were to be had, I quickly headed down to the trailhead, wanting to make sure I had plenty of time to get back to Denver and catch my plane home. When I got to the basin, the clouds had cleared to the point I could look up and see Huron's summit, a view that had been kept from me on the ascent. It sure looked a long ways off, and I was kinda glad Huron had been shy during the ascent. It's all psychological no doubt, but somehow it seems easier for me to keep pressing on when I can't see how far off the summit is. The descent was quick and otherwise uneventful but it was mildly depressing to get to the end of the trail, knowing I had another mile to walk down the 4WD road to reach the car, but I was in the car and moving down the road by 11:30. Before I got to the Missouri Gulch trailhead, the rain started and continued all the way to Denver. Mission accomplished – snuck in a peak and stayed dry in the process. Poached a spit/sponge bath in the bathroom at the car rental place, and still got through security and to the gate about an hour and a half before scheduled departure. Even though Huron was very shy and did not reveal much of herself on this day, it was a good day in the mountains and a great way to end the work week.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):