| The Thunder From a Bull
November 7, 2010
Hikers: Carson Black, Eva Light, Cindy Fletcher, Rhonda Weiler, & Darin Baker
Bull Hill (13,761')
Trailhead: Black Cloud
Route: Southeast Ridge
Distance: ~7mi RT
Elevation Gain: ~4400'*
*added ~3-400' to our elevation gain due to re-climbing a section at/below treeline when we turned around due to thunder & lightning, at 10am! (One hour later, it was blue skies once again.)
Gear: Daypack w/Essentials (including "winter-time" Essentials, such as face mask, goggles, gaitors)
Resources Used for Trip Planning: A combination of Garratt & Martins' Colorado's High Thirteeners guidebook, Roach's Colorado's Fourteeners guidebook, and 14ers.com (the latter two for TH directions, the former for the route description); TOPO! mapping software
This was a CMC (Colorado Mountain Club) trip that I put in the activity schedule and I couldn't have asked for a better group of members that joined me, so thank you for making it a fun and memorable trip!
Memorable, and interesting, is what this trip turned out to be, mostly due to the strange weather.
"Strange weather!? This is Colorado! Of course there's going to be strange weather!"
On our drive to BV (Buena Vista), we were treated to a gorgeous sunrise, reflecting off of the interesting texture of the morning clouds.
"Ahh, that's a nice way to start the day!"
At 8am, we were leaving our cars and heading up the Black Cloud trail under sunny blue skies….
two hours later it would be a much different look above.
As was mentioned, we were on the trail by 8am, and with current conditions, the trail was free of snow. This trail is in much better shape than I was expecting, since I don't think it is used much for an ascent of the 14er Mt Elbert.
In Roach's guidebook, he mentions the beginning of this trail is steep, but since the trail is well built, it does not feel steep.
Heading up the Black Cloud trail...
We followed the well defined trail to 11,000' and continued N/NW deeper into the Black Cloud Creek drainage. Once at the lowest part of the E/SE ridge of Bull Hill, we turned up on climber's left of Black Cloud Creek and started our ascent on the treed ridge.
In the Black Cloud Creek drainage, with clouds building overhead...
The snow was ankle deep, in places mid-shin deep, but there was no need for snowshoes (which we left in the car anyway).
As we made our way up the lower portion of the ridge, we went with the path of least resistance.
We also came across some (human-oid) foot prints. They looked somewhat fresh, probably from the previous day or two is what I assumed.
Rhonda, Cindy, Eva, and Carson approaching treeline. Take note of the sky overhead to the E/NE...
The skies to our S/SW….
La Plata Peak (14,336')
As we came closer to treeline, comments were made about the building clouds.
"Nah, I'm not worried about those. We'll be fine," said I. (But what do I know?)
"Was that thunder?!"
And then there was more thunder.
"What the Hell? This is November!"
La Plata is losing its top….
We discussed some options, for instance sitting there for a bit longer to see what develops, or, go a little higher, slowly, to see what happens.
"I just saw lightning!"
"Oh. Maybe we should go down."
We're turning around and heading back down the ridge to the Black Cloud Creek drainage.
A little more thunder.
Grapple started falling.
And disbelief ran through our minds as we made our way down.
As we dropped into the drainage, I wasn't ready to continue all the way back to the trailhead without at least extending our hike a little bit. We drove too far to not do anything!
I suggested maybe we hike up into the drainage a ways to explore, and see what the weather does.
At this point, the thunder had stopped, and the grapple had also stopped.
It could clear up.
So we started hiking through deeper (& consistently shin-deep) snow, heading NW into the drainage. We didn't get very far before we started to see blue skies again to our south and to our west.
I looked at Rhonda, and mentioned the possibility of going back up.
She had a sparkle in her eye, and an excitable grin came across her face. I think I knew what her vote was going to be!
I asked everyone else what they thought, and they were up for it.
So I lead a "Baker Direct" back up the slope to regain the ridge, and to our original track.
(Note: I'm borrowing the phrase, "Baker Direct" from Kevin. Also, if you're keeping track, he and I are not related. He's probably thankful for that. ;) )
At 11am, we were back at our original turn-around spot, and La Plata was getting sunshined on...
We broke treeline above an old cabin on the S side of the ridge. We could see the wind whipping up some snowy delights up higher, so some of us stopped to layer up a bit more.
Also from this point, we had the tracks from the previous hikers to follow, so their staircase up the slope made the going a little easier for us.
And there is our "Hill"…
Rhonda is all smiles to be above treeline….
The wind chills were just that, chill(ed).
I put on goggles and a facemask, and plodded along toward the summit.
All the while loving the views the entire way!
The summit was attained sometime around 1pm-ish.
Casco Peak (13,908')
French Mountain right of center (13,940')
Mount Massive (14,421')
"Lackawanna Peak" (13,823')
The Ladies with Mount Elbert (14,433') on the left…..
Carson approaching the summit, with the views to the S/SW….
It was still windy, and cold, on the summit.
According to the new summit register, placed the day before, their weather was conducive for wearing sports bras.
Who do you think that was? ;)
Thankfully, the two that left the register (which was a map) the day before, I was also able to pinpoint where I was at that moment (i.e., "you are here"), and, where I could visually locate a Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, among other important shopping locations. Phew!
I was lost until that moment. That's no Bull.
Thanks Doug and Susan! Seriously, that's a clever register you left.
(But I think you forgot to point out Bongo Billy's in BV!)
We left the windy & cold summit, and retraced our steps back down the ridge.
On our descent, we followed the trail that goes by the cabin, where we took a short break and took some pictures.
One more of La Plata….
After our break at the cabin (which is at ~12,000'), we continued down the trail but eventually lost it somewhere.
So, we bushwacked east until we came upon the trail we were on earlier in the day.
We were back to our cars at 4:15-ish.
Thanks for reading,
Purple: re-ascent after our "aborted" lightning incident
Yellow Arrow: approx. where we got "weathered" off
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):