I’ve been wanting to do the ‘shoe for a while now, and had it on my list for winter 2011 ascents. It’s such a unique and aesthetically pleasing mountain from the east, and generally has little avy danger. Also, weather forecasts were not looking good across the state. Of the ones I had in mind, Horseshoe’s forecast was the best of the bunch: intermittent snow all weekend from several fast moving systems; Saturday, winds forecasted to be 13-23mph with gusts to 34, and with 50% chance of snow, high of 20. With that forecast, and since “close” actually counts in horseshoes, I think I should get credit for a true winter ascent. And since it's "close" to a 14er...
It turns out this was one of Mike Smith’s (emcee smith) weeks to be in town for work, and he was looking for something to climb. So we added a ringer to the semi-regular scab team of Shawn (Rainier Wolfcastle), Kathy, and me.
Just before 7am, I parked the Honda Fit along Four Mile Creek Road right where Anna had parked recently – that info was still good. When Shawn and Kathy showed up minutes later, Mike and I transferred to their Blazer hoping to get a little further. Unfortunately, Shawn was asleep at the wheel or something and within seconds we were in the ditch. So we took a few minutes to dig him out, and tried again to get further down the road, but ended up backing out to about where I had parked. All in all, this whole adventure cost us a good half hour. So if you're going up in the near future, you won't want to bother going past this point unless you can see that it's been plowed or has melted out. Parking just before this gate gets you to about 10,900ft and within 1 mile of the Leavick site.
In the meantime, Kathy had decided not to brave the freezing temps and wind – especially since she’d just gotten back from sea-level the night before and was operating on little sleep. So Mike, Shawn, and I set out to do better than “close” in a game of horseshoes.
The Road Approach
The road up to Leavick was mainly packed snow covered with a few inches of new snow. Still, there was no need for snowshoes at this point. About 1 mile up from Leavick, we came to the turn-off for Horseshoe. When we saw the snowdrift at the start of the road, we immediately knew the time for snowshoes had come. From here, we put in a pretty decent trench for the short distance up to the first windblown hill in the basin. The waypoints in the GPX track below mark our snowshoe caches. I kept mine on slightly longer than Shawn and Mike.
Wow! Mike has gained weight living in Houston! (JK - he's carrying a water bladder)
Jolie with Shawn (trust me - that is Shawn under all that gear)
Yours truly showing disdain for the road (Photo credit: Shawn)
From the turn-off, that's Kushrocks and gf heading up toward Sherman (Photo credit: Shawn)
Once we got out of the trees, the namesake cirque came into view. Wow! What a view! At this point, we switched from snowshoes to microspikes. We pieced together a route up to the ridge that included bits of mining roads, windblown alpine, and mostly firm, mostly shallow, low-angle snow.
Taken from my snowshoe cache, our approximate route to the ridge
The inappropriately named Peerless was but a tiny bump on the ridge. Must've been named sarcastically.
Okie did great off-leash! He earned a cheeseburger.
Given the freezing temps and strong winds, we had all started from the car wearing balaclavas and goggles. But once we got out of the trees and into the basin, the winds reached a whole new level of suck. By the time we made it to the ridge, the winds were similar to last week's on Columbia (for Horn Fork Fest 2011). I cannot confirm that they got up to the 55mph that we experienced there, but they were at least pretty close. At one point, I released my grip on my trek poles and let them dangle from my wrists. The wind was blowing them to a near horizontal position! But I wanted this summit. The winter had been a bit disappointing - I had a few nice winter outings, but I had had big plans to really get into winter mountaineering that hadn't panned out.
That spindrift doesn't bode well
Luckily, as we closed in on the summit, the winds seemed to ease up slightly, and there were even a few short periods of calm. Still, by the time I got up to the summit plain, Mike and Shawn - who had been several minutes ahead of me up the ridge - were starting to head back. None of us wanted to endure the winds any longer than we had to. Mike graciously accompanied me the 100 yards or so to the true summit to snap a couple of photos. Before heading back, I noted a summit temp of about 10F. With the winds that we experienced, the wind chill would have been about -16F to -18F - if we'd had any exposed skin.
I had planned for the option of continuing on to Peerless and Sheridan, but was tired of fighting the wind. Also, it would’ve been a solo jaunt, so I just stayed with the group. Instead, we met up again at a relatively calm spot below the ridge for a break. By this time, it was actually turning into a pretty nice day, and the balaclavas came off soon after. From there on out, it just got better for a very pleasant hike out. Burgers at South Park Bowl capped off a fine day and a well-earned centennial summit!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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