| When nothing goes quite right: A Long Day on Antero
When nothing goes quite right: A Long Day on Antero
3 years ago, I attempted this mountain, via the same route, but on November 18th. Jason and I had a fairly bad day, and were turned around due to the lateness of the day and weather. After that, I swore that the next time I came to this mountain, we would not only succeed in gaining the summit, but we would do so from the 1st creek crossing. Jason was so dispirited after that defeat that he was ready to swear off the mountain in its entirety.
We did our best to watch the weather, and prior reports. I had high hopes from prior road condition reports that we would make it to the second crossing, and NOAA weather reports from the week made it seem as though what snow would fall during the storm mid week would not amount to much more then 3-4 inches. Based on that belief Jason, Rob (Robco), John (Aconcagua08 ) and I met up at 4am at the Stegosaurus Lot.
Everyone packed for a light and fast trip to the summit from the creek crossing. The first sign of troubles to come were encountered as we made our way along an ice packed Eisenhower Tunnel and Freemont Pass. The snow stopped in Leadville, but we were slowed down substantially. We made it to the bottom of the Baldwin Gulch Road at 7am and realized quickly that driving the road was out of the question. A layer of ice hiding under the snow sent the jeep sliding less then a half mile up. But it was a half-mile nonetheless. We backed the jeep to a safe pull off and started getting ready.
Realizing that conditions were probably going to be similar to our previous attempt, we hoped that the road above tree line would be somewhat wind scoured. As a result, snow shoes stayed in the Jeep. We rushed to get our packs on and left the Jeep somewhere between 730am and 8am. I think we all knew somewhere in the back of our minds that this was a less then ideal situation, but we were intent of giving it a shot, as fast and light as possible.
No one questioned the decision not to bring snowshoes until shortly after the first creek crossing. The snow deepened and the post holing began. Jason and I attempted to boost our moral by telling each other and ourselves that it would get better at the switchbacks that would start at tree line due to wind scouring. Everything else was turning out to be identical to our last attempt, why would the nature of the wind scour be any different? At least that's what we told ourselves. There was no such luck. Unlike our previous experience, the wind laid the snow flat across the road, with a thick crust on top and powder beneath.
a view at Treeline
With all the post holing that was going on, our progress slowed to a crawl. Three switchbacks up, we lost our patience and opted to take the gullies. We would still posthole, but at the very least we would be making direct uphill progress. As such, we made very slow but steady progress.
Photo taken by Robco of me postholing to my knees
John (Aconcagua08 ), Rob (Robco) and Jason not far above tree line working hard to stay on hard pack and thin snow at the edge of the road
John coming up the first gully
Rob coming up the second gully
looking out while on the road
At around 13,000ft the wind started in earnest. We had expected this; the forecast had been for 25-30mph sustained, with gusts up to 50. This seemed accurate at 13,000, but got steadily worse. We opted to cut over the ridge and drop back onto the road to get out of the wind.
Heading across the road near our exit point, right before the wind really picked up with serious gusts. You can see the trail we exited the road on as the thin line of snow on the ridge
John bracing in the wind
briefly on the South ridge taking advantage of the wind scoured landscape we briefly had (finally)
When we reached the parking lot at 13,700 we were all exhausted. The nearly non-stop post holing had taken its toll and it was late. At the time all we knew was it had to be late, and were guessing maybe 2pm, but we didn't look to be sure. Antero's summit was taunting us and we could see the remainder of the route, but with the snow we could not make out the route across the thin ridge between the summit and us.
John looking out at Antero from 13,700ft
After a quick break, we headed towards the ridge. It was not long before we realized how much worse the winds had gotten in the time we had been on the leeward side of the road. The winds had reached a point where it was difficult to move in the sustained winds and gusts would threaten to take you off your feet if you did not brace yourself against something. Half way across the traverse, we were no longer able to find a safe way to make it across without some method of traction control and the wind made it difficult to negotiate the few routes we were able to find. The skies to the southwest were darkening and it was clear things would not get any better. Disappointed, but confident in our decision, we made our way back through the continuously increasing winds to 13,700ft.
Jason at the turn around point
John right before we turned around, I was struggling to feel my fingers when I would take my mitts off for longer then a couple of seconds to manipulate my point and shoot so this was taken with my fingers seriously numb and is not very good
heading back to 13700, during one of the times the wind gusts died down enough to take a photo
It was then that we realized how late we had let it get. It was 4pm. Now, even what had been the protected side of the mountain was being pounded by the winds as they tore around the upper flanks of the mountain. John and I briefly talked about how important it was for us to get down below tree line before dark. If left exposed, this could easily turn into a whiteout once the sun dropped below the horizon. With our decision to turn around so solidly re-enforced we pushed ourselves as hard on our return to tree line as we had on our way up. As a result, we were back at tree line by 6pm as the snow started coming down, but at least we were out of the wind. After a break to split the Poweraide that was left in my pack we moved through the dark and made it back to the car at 730pm.
Rob taking a break after reaching treeline, before it started snowing, Jason and John are in the background
A shot of the color of the sunset with the dark clouds visible to the Southwest
It took us until after midnight to get back to Denver, after a long drive through the snow packed roads between Leadville and Denver.
With a day to think about the trip, I find that I still have no regrets about turning back. Based on the situation, it was the best possible call. We could have made it to the summit, but at the pace we had been reduced to we would not have made it back to 13,700ft for another hour, what would have likely been 5pm or later. Without the ability to use sunglasses or goggles to protect our eyes from the windblasts combine with the snow the possibility of being caught in whiteout conditions would have been exponentially increased. I think the lessons learned are to be cautious when applying prior experiences with conditions a mountain to current conditions. Second, never leave your snowshoes in the car when you can't even get up the road in a Jeep Rubicon.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):