Sheridan, Mt - 13,748 feet
Mt. Sherman - 14,036 feet
Gemini Pk - 13,951 feet
Sheridan, Mt - 13,748 feet
Mt. Sherman - 14,036 feet
Gemini Pk - 13,951 feet
|Triple play: Sherman Broken Loop, w/ avy analysis|
Triple play: Sherman Broken Loop, w/ avy analysis
I had hoped to title this report something like “Grand Slam, Sherman winter loop” (based on a nickname used on this site) but upon seeing the way the snow was piled up on the ridgeline going over to Dyer (as opposed to being windswept like I anticipated), I reluctantly decided I wasn’t equipped for that traverse and had to settle for just getting Sheridan, Sherman and Gemini. I approached from the Iowa Gulch side for which winter documentation seems a little sparse, so hopefully this report will be useful for future winters, or anyone heading there during the remainder of the season.
I almost put out an open invite for folks to join me on this trek but I had been debating routes and such until the last minute so I ended up just going solo.
Key things to be covered in this report:
Iowa Gulch vs. Fourmile Creek
So why start from Iowa Gulch instead of Fourmile Creek? The most basic reason is that this winter many people have reported having to add 9-12 miles to their round trip because of limited plowing on the road to Leavick and Fourmile Creek. Even in good years people have sometimes described someone having to drive backwards for a few miles because only one vehicle could get by without getting stuck.
But the road to Iowa Gulch is paved and plowed (more or less) up to the junction of roads 2 and 2B, where there is a decent amount of parking on the roadside (I say more or less because there was plenty of snow/slush on the road the day I was there but it was still drive-able for two-way traffic). This spot is only about 3 miles shy of the summer trailhead so if doing just Sherman you add ~6mi RT to a route that is only 4.5 miles RT. So getting a winter 14er in only 10.5 miles RT isn’t bad at all.
An added bonus is that, at least in my opinion, the Iowa Gulch approach is more scenic with more dramatic and varied peaks/slopes around it plus this side could theoretically have lent itself well to doing a 4 peak loop (one 14er, three 13ers, including a centennial and bicentennial) although after what I saw on this hike I think that loop would have to involve technical climbing in winter unless you got lucky with the snowpack.
For anyone interested in 13ers as well as 14ers, there are lots of different options from this approach.
Option 1: Sherman only. This simple option allows you to get a winter 14er in ~10.5mi RT (possibly less with some winter shortcuts) with only about 3,150ft of elevation gain. Potentially one of your easiest winter 14er options as long as conditions are good (see avalanche analysis section below). But almost seems a shame not to get some other easy nearby peaks…
Option 2: 14er + bicentennial. Add Sheridan on the way and (depending on what lines you take up/down the bowl below the saddle) this could potentially be done in only 11 miles with roughly 4k elevation gain. I’d recommend for this (and the following options) to do Sheridan first as it gets your largest, most continuous elevation gain out of the way first
Option 3: 14er + bicentennial + unranked 13er. Do the above with Gemini thrown in (this is what I ended up actually doing) and it comes out at about 13.2 miles with somewhere around 4,350ft of gain.
Option 4: 14er + bicentennial + 2 unranked 13ers. I briefly considered adding White Ridge in as a consolation for not making it to Dyer. Had I done so it looks like that would have been roughly 15.5 miles with somewhere near 5k of elevation gain. With the quickly rising temperatures that day and some slightly iffy looking slopes, I decided not to extend the hike.
Option 5: Full loop, 14er + centennial + bicentennial + unranked 13er. Were it viable given the questionable ridge between Gemini and Dyer, this loop could in theory be done in only about 11.5 miles (thanks to not backtracking much) with somewhere around 4,700ft of elevation gain. Again, get Sheridan out of the way first and end with a Bross-like descent off the steep scree along the south tip of Dyer – but only if it’s totally wind-blown like it was the day I was there (and don’t come down too far West where you could get stuck in the cliff bands – see screenshot in avalanche analysis section below). Another option is take the Southeast Slopes route down but you’ll likely wade through a lot of snow there.
Option 6: Deluxe loop: 14er + centennial + bicentennial + 2 unranked 13ers. This ambitious 5 peak route would run about 14 miles with somewhere around 5,500ft of elevation gain spread out in ups and downs throughout the day. It’s dependent on being able to navigate the dicey, snow loaded ridge between Gemini and Dyer (see below sections for more details on that) but has the potential to be a fairly epic day if you were up to it.
So before anyone gets too excited about any of the options above let’s do a quick reality check and point out that there are some potential dangers for all of the above options.
I put together this busy little screenshot with a route drawn for option 5 above and lots of notes all over.
The winter parking area at the 2/2B junction is pointed out for easy reference. It’s about 3 miles with ~1k of elevation gain to get from there to the summer Iowa Gulch trailhead but note that I saw remains of at least 2 slides along the road to the summer trailhead.
Avy1: The unexpected pounce
The first (labeled Avy1) is one which didn’t really catch my attention when looking at the map but which appears to have run out all the way to the road – leaving a large crown on the cliff it came down from. This was a wake-up call to me to not underestimate those seemingly minor looking patches of color that appear off the route. This was about 2 miles from the winter parking.
There were also some secondary slides near here which may or may not have been triggered together. Note that one of them is sliding directly down to the power lines but didn’t seem big enough to be a threat to them.
Avy 2: The obvious danger zone
The next one came at the SW edge of the slopes coming off Dyer at about 2.5 miles from the winter lot. I didn’t get a photo worth posting of it but this entire section along the steep slopes coming off Dyer (from about 2.5 to 3 miles past the winter parking) is an area that could present avy danger if it was loaded. The half furthest from the winter lot (past the cliff bands) was blown dry when I was there. It may be wise to drop down into the valley if this section has a lot of snow on it.
Avy2b: The sneak attack from behind as you pass
The SE edge of the ridge coming off Dyer had some buildup that looked concerning to me. Given its position around the edge of the ridgeline you might not spot this as you pass by (if you’re sticking along 2B).
This is over the spot where the trails generally branch off to go up Sherman or back to the Southeast Slopes of Dyer. The photo showing the loading of concern also shows the proposed Bross-like descent off Dyer for options 5 and 6 above. NOTE: I did not actually try those routes – it LOOKS viable (but not fun) to descend there (if you could make it over to Dyer) but attempt at your own risk. Further to the west you get blocked by cliff bands; further to the east you’d trudge through lots of snow.
Avy zone 3: The cliffs of doom (sorry, feeling melodramatic today – it’s probably low risk here… maybe…)
If you scroll back up to the route snapshot you’ll see another area where the slope angles are in the danger zone is heading over to the Sherman-Sheridan bowl (marked as slopes of possible concern). While the snow seemed somewhat wind compacted and not quite as alarming as some of the other sections, I was still a little uneasy here and after seeing some distance shots of others walking a slightly different variation of the route that hugged the steep cliffs I was a bit more uneasy.
KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN in this section and remember to watch what’s above you – adjust your course through the valley based on the snow loading you do or don’t see on these cliffs.
Avy zone 4: The Sheridan bowl flush
This was actually what had me the most concerned when looking at the route at home but which was probably one of the lesser dangers of the day given the degree to which the bowl was wind swept and compacted. However, there is one large continuous section of snow coming off Sheridan where the top portion in particular is in the danger zone for slides. I’ve heard others report that wet slides in spring can basically flush the bowl, sending anything in it down into an ugly terrain trap.
Just by visual inspection I’m guessing this section gets wind sheared pretty good at times and is likely compacted in there pretty good but under the wrong conditions this might run big.
West Sheridan Avy
This isn't directly relevant to any of the routes mentioned unless maybe you drop way, way low down into the valley but I'm throwing it in since it's a classic example of multiple avalanches coming off one peak and some really wild looking cornices.
Misc Route Notes
Having already covered a good portion of the route in the avy analysis section above I’ll fill in a few details here on a peak by peak basis.
Going up Sheridan first makes for one big continuous elevation gain at the start of the day but the peak is perfectly position for some excellent views in all directions and doing it first means you don’t have to choose between dropping back down to the trailhead vs. added another big elevation gain at the end of the day. I recommend fixing your eyes on Sheridan and not looking much at the gain up over to Sherman…
I opted to go directly up a consolidated snow band much of the way up Sheridan – not the monster lurking over the bowl but a smaller band at a lesser angle. This trimmed a little mileage off the journey. It was also one of the best tests yet of my seldom utilized MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes which finally saw some good action and performed very well for this steep, direct approach.
As you go up Sheridan you can also get some pretty good views of what lies ahead for any of the other peaks yet to come as well as get a good view of the approach from Fourmile.
In case it’s of any use to anyone, here are some photos to compare the conditions on the approach from the standard trailhead at Fourmile Creek.
The whole way up Sheridan I was avoiding looking over at Sherman except to snap a quick reference photo or two. That’s because I knew there’s a non-trivial dip and re-climb between Sheridan and Sherman. Nothing challenging by any means – just not something I wanted to dwell on while taking on the long climb up Sheridan.
I had also forgotten how long it takes to actually get up over to the real summit given all the little false summits and spots where you come to where you’re sure you’re at the top but have to keep walking over a more or less flat region that eventually turns out to be just a tiny smidge higher than where you were even though at first it seemed to be lower.
Had I to do it over again in winter I probably would have planned to forget about Dyer and add in White Ridge instead which looked like a pretty straight forward stroll over mostly barren windswept ground.
Gemini is just a little guy and unranked but, kind of like Mount Cosgriff by Elbert, it is well positioned for some great views in a remote spot near an otherwise often crowded trail. There’s a good view of Pikes Peak off in the distance from up there.
As you approach from Sherman the easiest way to gain the summit is to loop around to the right on a little ramp then come up the back. Or if you want to throw in some scrambling challenge you could try it head on. There was virtually no wind between Gemini and it’s sister hump nearby so it’s a peaceful place to relax for a bit.
It also offers good views of the ridge to Dyer so you can check out if that’s feasible before committing yourself (you only have a couple hundred feet to regain to make it back to Sherman at this point so Gemini is a reasonable scouting post if you’re interested in maybe trying Dyer).
From looking at the map I was expecting just another wind blown ridge with maybe some cornices built up on one side to watch out for. But not all ridgelines are viable in winter – at least not without getting into some seriously sketchy terrain. This ridgeline wasn’t as bad as the absolutely wicked looking buildup across the valley on the stretch going over to West Sheridan (a 12k) but it was enough to stop my loop aspirations.
The snow was built up to a perfect point on top of the ridgeline. To the right (NE) it was a continuous, steep snow field dropping as much as perhaps 1k feet at an avy prone angle. No thank you.
From the perfect point on the top of the ridgeline there were also potentially avy prone snow slopes dropping in both directions off the ridge. I briefly toyed with the idea of tightrope walking the pinnacle but if either side gave way it would have been game over (I had no crampons, ice axe or climbing gear, and microspikes just wouldn’t have done the trick – not sure I’d want to be on that ridge top even with good gear…)
So the only other option – one that I studied long and hard from a distance – was to drop down on the left (SW) side of the ridge under the steep snow fields to try to bypass that snow peak running across the top of the ridge. But there were several little cliff bands sticking out off that side of the ridge. I studied this region for a while thinking ‘well if I drop down there, cut over to that spot, up to there, over, then down, then up the side of that…’
Someone with legitimate climbing experience might have found that to be an enjoyable challenge but since I’m mostly a hiker and a gym rat I knew me attempting to solo that ridge in winter would likely end in a SAR call at best.
Plus, even if I had navigated that questionable section of the ridgeline I would have still have had to go up the steep slopes on the east of Dyer where I could see some notable cornices built up on either side of the ridge going up. Even though the slope angle is fairly shallow there it just didn’t give me warm fuzzies from across the way.
But after that it looks like it would have been a fairly straightforward stroll out along the ridge to the south and then a steep, loose Bross-like descent down the south tip of the ridge on the windblown section that avoids the cliff bands to the west as well as the snow slog to the east.
I think I’ll have to come back and get Dyer after the snow melts – maybe doing a loop with White Ridge thrown in and going across the ridgeline. Not sure how dicey that ridge might still be even in summer but I’m more daring on dry ridges…
Since I ended up doing option 3, the return involved simply re-climbing Sherman. At first I started approaching more towards the ridge but upon seeing some small little cornices above me, even though the slope is supposedly not in the danger zone, out of an abundance of caution I went ahead and swung out to the left (east) which got me away from those and put me on a slightly gentler slope too.
Then it was a straightforward backtrack with keeping an uneasy eye on the various steep slopes as the temperature shot up enough to have me peeling away most of my layers (the note in the CAIC update about keeping an eye out for wet slides did not go unnoticed, especially since there seems to have been some in the region).
13.2 miles total
10 hours 20 minutes total time (8hr 12min moving time)
5:46am start with snowshoes on from 2/2B winter parking area (by the Yurt parking sign)
8:20am moving again after pausing midway up the bowl
9:10am put snowshoes back on pack at ~13,200ft
9:25am hit the ridgeline going up to Sheridan at about 13,450
9:45am Sheridan summit
10:07am Sheridan-Sherman lower saddle
10:17am upper saddle
10:24am head along after a short break
11:26am Sherman summit
11:40am Sherman-Gemini saddle
12:06pm Gemini summit
12:24pm finally made difficult call to abandon Dyer due to ridgeline conditions
1pm put on microspikes to re-climb Sherman since snowfield was almost ice in some spots
1:17pm back on Sherman summit – chat with a couple guys.
1:23pm start down
2:03pm pause midway down bowl to shed layers
2:52pm back on 2B keeping a wary eye out for any signs of wet slides in the hot afternoon sun
4:06pm back at the Jeep!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
|Comments or Questions|
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