We left COS at 0430 hoping to scale our first 14er of season and started with the relatively easy, but always enjoyable Mt Sherman because of it's proximity and our knowledge of the mountain. On the road in, we saw some local fauna just after dawn.
The road in was in generally good shape, but soon after we encountered snowpack, it dead-ended into a snowbank. A few cars had arrived ahead of us and the road was fairly blocked with cars. We turned around in our Jeep to prep for the exit later. I'll check my GPS and update later, but the dead-end was easily 1.5 miles from where one can usually park for a summer climb.
Temps were just a few degrees before freezing and the winds were variable with a few solid gusts. The skies were blue and it was a beautiful morning. We departed at 0645.
We decided to start off with microspikes because the snow looked well-packed on the trail, but we soon shifted to snowshoes due to post-holing. We knew a few climbers had departed before us and could see them ahead as we headed up the trail past the old mining mill.
The summer trail was unfollowable once you approached the typical starting point, so we followed a couple of other hikers straight north up a snowy slope, to the east of the usual trail. The snow was holding well and we were making pretty good time.
The climb was really broken into three snowfield ascents going straight north--the first one I just described and then the second that took us to the bunkhouse.
Once we reached the bunkhouse and were joined by a climber from Monument named Rick, we looked for a good line that would take us to the ridgeline that leads to the summit. The saddle between Sheridan and Sherman was very imposing with a corniche that must be 20 feet deep and ready to collapse at any moment. That was clearly out, so we decided to head directly up the face, following another climber who was also in snowshoes and breaking the trail a little.The snow was again quite good and we had no trouble getting a good grip with our snowshoes and poles. At some points the snow was packed quite hard and there was no "trail breaking," but rather just shoe teeth gripping into the face of the snow field.
We caught up with Mike from Denver (originally Wisconsin) at the top of this snowfield and relaxed for a few minutes. The trail was much clearer now towards the ridgeline and we took off our snowshoes, left them at that spot and donned microspikes for the final ascent.
The winds had buffeted us on our snowfield ascents, mostly from the northwest, but with directions highly variable—the sort of thing you’d expect on the lea side of a strong wind when “rotor” turbulence can cause some screwy effects. As we neared the ridgeline, that all changed and the winds became stronger and more sustained in direction and magnitude.
By the time we reached the first little saddle between the series of false summits towards Sherman, the winds for easily blowing at a sustained 45-50mph and probably stronger. I could barely stand. The temps had dropped, too, as you would expect for a rising wind—as opposed to the downslope that kept things fairly mild on the earlier ascent.
I decided to try to move to the north side of the ridgeline and stay lower to avoid the wind, but it continued. At the next false summit, I tried the leeward side of the line and found no relief. My fellow hikers were lagging about 50-100 meters behind me and were obviously having trouble with the wind. I tried to steer them toward the sunny (south) side of the ridgeline, but that didn’t help.
With ice crusted on the rocks, the winds not abating, more snow ahead, etc I decided that I really didn’t need to summit Sherman for the 8th time to have a fulfilling day. I turned around and headed down the mountain. My fellow hikers joined me with one exception—Mike decided to keep going. He was well-equipped but alone. I hope he comments on how it turned out. Rick joined us and we headed down.
We returned quickly to where we’d left our snowshoes and decided to have a beer—not a summit soda per se, but rather a consolation ale. Another hiker joined us for a few minutes. He asked about conditions and we told him. He decided that he wanted to try anyway and we wished him luck. In the meantime, we could see Mike near the summit, but moving very slowly. He seemed to crouch several times and didn’t move for several minutes. We did see him move on from that point, though, and hoped he made it.
Two skiers also passed us going up. They were determined to summit, or at least go higher. The wind was whipping their skis strapped to their back pretty well and they were moving very slowly.
The snow was softening quickly now on the south side of the mountain and we decided to try our hand at a little glissading. Two of us managed to slide for maybe 100m, but in the end the snow was too soft and the slope too gentle to get any speed.
We trudged down the rest of the way, waiting too long to shift from microspikes back to snowshoes. By now the snow was like wet concrete and though we were making good time, the effort level required was high.
As usual, we really underestimated the time and distance needed to accomplish the full descent. By the time we made it back to the car, we were wiped out and ready to go. I’d expect the trail to improve rapidly over the next week or so and I hope that a grader gets in their soon to move the effective trailhead up another half-mile or more. I’d also like to be there (at a safe distance) when that cornice finally gives way between Sheridan and Sherman. It should be awesome. In the meantime, NO ONE should be beneath that massive amount of snow—or traverse it.
We’ll be looking for another summit in the next two or three weeks to be our first. All-in-all, though, it was great fun, a superb workout, a beautiful (albeit windy) day, and a SAFE journey. May all of yours be the same!
All of the photos from the trip can be found at: http://martyfrance.zenfolio.com/p1023569421
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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