Peak(s):  Silverheels, Mt  -  13,822 feet
Date Posted:  12/14/2012
Modified:  12/15/2012
Date Climbed:   12/14/2012
Author:  B[3]

 Racing the Storm  

Route: North Spur from Hoosier Pass
Distance: ~9 mi
Elevation gain: ~3500 ft
*Distance and elevation are approximate because I tracked my route both Wednesday and Friday and they overlapped. I kept Wednesday's route on the GPS in case Friday's route didn't track as a whiteout seemed to be a distinct possibility.*
Start (12/14): 6:15am
Finish (12/14): 2 pm


Mt. Silverheels. It dominated the skyline on my hike down from Clinton Peak last week, and I have been dreaming about the peak ever since. I have been obsessively checking the weather forecast, and Wednesday and Thursday this week looked like my best bet. I decided on Wednesday, since another storm was predicted for Friday (today). My reasoning was that the winds would be higher closer to the incoming storm. This turned out to be a mistake.

Wednesday was beautiful, but the winds were horrendous (just as forecasted). I struggled on past the power lines and up again to about 12,600 ft and turned around (over 7 mi hiking round-trip). I didn't regret my decision, as it took a ton of energy to fight through the wind and get back to the trailhead. When I got home, I checked the forecast again--apparently, I should have picked Thursday. I was too tired to go back on Thursday, so I decided to get an early start today (Friday) in attempt to beat the incoming storm.

I was hoping for some nice sunrise views this morning, but it was too overcast.


Soon, it was snowing hard, and the winds picked up. I considered turning around, but then realized that the wind was from the south; great--maybe Silverheels would block it when I got over the ridge. This did turn out to be the case.

*It was hard to get pictures of the route today, given the conditions, so I have included pictures from Wednesday's (12/12) hike. The pictures from 12/12 have mostly clear skies.*

A look at the route from Wednesday's high point:


Lots of wildlife today:


Leo watches as the herd takes off:


Given the weather, I didn't get any good pictures looking up the steep section of the ridge. I was disappointed that the talus was not frozen in place, as I did alot of sliding on this section. When I was able to find and follow a trail, the going was easier.

Frosted hikers at the summit:



We quickly headed back down:



Somehow, I have a much easier time spotting trails on the way back:


At last, some blue sky!



Quandary plays hide and seek:


Thanks to my recon on Wednesday, I knew I didn't need snowshoes, an ice axe or microspikes. Snow conditions changed somewhat between Wednesday and Friday (less snow on the developing snow fields and more on the high talus). I encountered some ice underlying the snow today, which made the talus slick in places--I had packed my microspikes just in case, but there wasn't enough ice to warrant digging through my pack for them.

Note: Not much new snow fell today while I was hiking--probably between 0.5-1"

Lessons I learned from the trip:

1. Prior experience with a route helps when there is limited visibility. When the clouds rolled in at regular intervals and obscured the route, it was hard to contour around the basin. I was glad I had an idea of where I was heading, as it kept me from losing additional elevation.

2. If the weather forecast isn't good enough to take the dog, I probably shouldn't go either. I left Leo home on Wednesday, since the forecast called for wind gusts of 50+ mph and a wind chill of -13 degrees F. I found the conditions on Wednesday to be quite challenging (getting blown backwards towards the edge of the ridge was a new experience, which I don't care to repeat).

3. Winter hydration is challenging. I'm still perfecting this and have been reading the recent thread with interest.

4. Additional navigational tools are a good idea. I like the tracking feature of the GPS, but it does funny things sometimes. Since I expected whiteout conditions, I brought a spare set of batteries for the GPS, several topo maps, and a compass.

5. Summer boots aren't the best for December hikes. I love my Zamberlan boots and am much happier hiking in them than my Koflach boots; however, they just weren't designed for the winter. I go snowshoeing in my Zamberlan boots every year, and every year my feet get so cold I feel sick. This happened on Wednesday when I was breaking the trail, but I wore them again on Friday anyway. (Apparently, I still haven't learned this lesson).

I loved watching the clouds moving through, and wanted to include one additional photo (Lincoln was pretty shy):


It's still funny to look back at the pictures from Wednesday and Friday and realize Friday (which had minimal views and obvious weather) was the summit day. Guess that's how December hiking goes.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
Brian C

12/15/2012 04:57
Looks cold!


Not as cold as I expected!
12/15/2012 15:53
The air temperature was colder than Wednesday, but it wasn't too bad. I was able to stop, take my gloves off and fish my nalgenes out of my pack at regular intervals (I really need to get a better winter hydration system going). It was pretty windy at times, but then the winds would die down and it would have that peaceful quiet you get after a snowfall.


Winter hydration
12/17/2012 04:30
I stash 2 x 1-liter nalgene bottles in OR bottle parkas in my pack. I run the water as hot as it will get out of the spigot and fill up the bottles. I'm out in sub-zero temps quite a bit and it seems to work like a champ. I was on Pike's Peak on Saturday in snowy, windy, whiteout conditions that kicked in right as we hit the saddle on the northwest slope and had no issues with water freezing. I will tell you that the 1/2 liter thermos of hot chocolate on the descent was CLUTCH. Calories and warmth, all rolled in to one made a huge improvement in morale.


Winter hydration
12/17/2012 16:28
I stashed my water bottles in my winter parka in my pack, so I had no problems with water freezing. I just need to get some kind of insulator so that the water bottles are more accessible (or else better-fitting gloves that I can actually keep on my hands as I rummage through my pack ). I'll look into the OR bottle parkas and see if I could attach them to the hip belt of my pack. Thanks for the suggestion.

I like the idea of taking a thermos--in all of our years winter camping and hiking in the Adirondacks and White Mountains we never tried that.

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