Little Horn Pk - 13,143 feet
Little Horn Pk - 13,143 feet
|Little Horn Peak|
Little Horn Peak
5290' elevation gain
I was planning on taking this weekend off considering I've done multi-day trips the past 4 out of 5 weekends, but then I saw the weather forecast and couldn't pass it up. Temps in the twenties, minimal wind, clear skies even at 13k' was too tempting. I packed up my gear Friday afternoon and headed for the Horn Creek trailhead down in the Sangres.
I had some bold plans to link up 6 peaks that surround the Horn Lake basin starting with Little Baldy Peak. Was going to follow the horseshoe around and hit two unnamed points, Mt. Adams, Fluted Peak and lastly Little Horn Peak. I was in the Sangres three weeks ago and deep snow prevented me from getting very far, but I thought since it hadn't snowed much recently and was unseasonably warm the snow would be much more manageable. I was wrong.
Left my car and started the pack out Friday around 630pm. It was only 2 miles and 800' to my camp but it beat the crap out of me. I haven't let my body recover from all the trips I've been taking and I was definitely paying for it. I was on the Horn Creek trail the entire way, heavily used until I turned West into the drainage, then it was all trenching from there. By 11pm I had my pit dug, tent set up, and I was in the bag. I'll admit, this pit wasn't nearly as pretty as the one I dug last weekend in the IPW but it got the job done.
I set my alarm for 3am and tried to sleep - it was pretty windy and I couldn't fall asleep. Got about an hour of solid rest before my alarm went off. I was off and running by 415am. I stayed on the trail which was surprisingly easy to follow in the deep snow. Directly on trail I would only sink 6-12" into the snow, but as soon as I stepped off I was up to my hip. The snow was pretty awful, anywhere from 2-4 feet of absolute slush. Snowshoes were helpful on trail but useless everywhere else, I would posthole through and bring a shoe-full of wet snow up with me on every step. My plan was to head West into the drainage and at a clearing I found on google maps head South up to the ridge of Little Baldy. I knew when I planned this it would be a brutal posthole slog for about a mile and 1500' but I figured it would still be manageable. When I reached the clearing I made it about 200 yards towards the ridge before I realized Plan A was not going to happen. It was way too exhausting moving through that slush, would've taken hours just to gain the ridge.
I returned to the much more manageable trail and continued West into the basin. I was hoping to find a fault in the treeline on Little Baldy's North slopes for an easier route but never found it. I briefly attempted to gain the ridge of Little Horn's South slopes but the snow was even deeper on that side. At this point I all but gave up on grabbing any peaks, but I was there so I figured I'd go into the basin and check out the lakes anyway. I knew the standard route up Little Horn was pretty mellow so that option was there if I could make it.
As I continued on, the trees opened up and I was greeted by a godsend:
I knew the couloir wasn't safe - the snow was crap and going directly up the middle would be asking for a slide. However, both sides of the couloir seemed to show easier terrain than the slush I was trenching through, so I headed up to check it out. The snow at the bottom of the col was awful, I postholed all the way up to the exit. Just below the exit the snow consisted of a 3-4" consolidated slab on top of several feet of loose slush. I really didn't feel like going for a ride that day and this just confirmed I needed to stay away from the center of the col. The right side was largely bare rock, so I headed up that side while avoiding any snow in the middle or on the edges.
There was only 30-40' where I had to leave the rock and skirt around the side of the snowpack, the snow ranged from waist deep slush to bulletproof ice just in this small section.
Not sure if this col has a name or not but it's a pretty cool route, would've been even better if I could've stuck to the center of it. At the top the slope remains the same, about 45-50 degrees but the terrain opens up. There's a false summit directly above the col, and heading left over the shoulder of the summit you're presented the first good view into the Horn Lake basin.
The col itself was a little less than 1/2 mile and 1000' gain. You can see Little Horn's summit from the shoulder at the top and is a little disheartening when you realize it's another 1200' gain to reach it.
I pressed on, but my body wasn't too happy to be working this hard again... After over a month of hard climbing and lifting, and only an hour of sleep the night before, my body sort of shut down. I hit a wall pretty hard and sat down to take a break. I almost immediately fell asleep - being that my original plan had already fallen through, I figured I'd just take it easy and enjoy myself the rest of the day (it was only 1030am). I set an alarm and took a nap in a comfortable little rock hole I found.
I woke up around noon, had a snack and felt much better. I headed up to gain Little Horn's ridge at a much more comfortable pace as I knew I had all day to relax and enjoy a calm climb. I gained the ridge quickly and saw my path forward - several false summits, rock ribs, mini towers and a lot of fun scrambling up to the peak.
Little Horn's East ridge is a lot of fun - there's plenty of class 3 and 4 scrambling to be had, some 5.fun if you feel like it, and you can easily keep it class 3 if that's more your style. Not very exposed unless you look for it on the South side. I thoroughly enjoyed scrambling at a comfortable pace rather than going balls-to-the-wall like I normally do. Approaching the true summit I ran into a gaggle of Bighorn Sheep (or is it a flock?).
I was on the summit a little before 1pm and sat down for lunch. It was downright warm at this point, more than 30 degrees even up at 13k' and it was almost uncomfortable. I ate my lunch and had a photoshoot, came away with some great shots:
The basin looks even better in black and white:
I packed up and headed back around 2pm. There was no easy way down - I had no desire to return down the col I came up nor the standard route down into the Basin. I decided to head East down the windswept ridge until just above my camp, then directly down the steep South slopes into the drainage. This was the least amount of trenching and deep snow of any of the three options.
I knew descending that slope in deep snow wouldn't be very fun but at that point it was the best way through. I took the ridgeline East until I hit treeline and began my descent. The snow did not disappoint. I quite literally fell down the majority of the slope - the snow was so loose and slushy I couldn't keep my footing. Between that and all the brush I did quite a bit of rolling, swimming and cursing through the snow. 1200' later I was finally back to my trench and couldn't be more relieved. Back at camp by 530pm.
On my way back I found what was left of a coyote - a cougar had gotten one less than a quarter mile from my camp and ate it right on the trail. It wasn't there when I left in the morning, so it happened sometime while I was out climbing. All that was left was a pile of fur and a tail. At least he wasn't hungry anymore.
I hung out by the fire for a while then proceeded to sleep for 12 hours straight. The wind really picked up that night and I still slept right through it.
So another character-builder in the books... As much as I hate trenching I still find myself doing it every weekend. Definitely going to take some time off and just sit around and wait for Spring. Or maybe do some reckless shit with CaptCo in two weeks.
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