A Peace of Huron
A Peace of Huron
Peace: rest for the soul. The sound of wind through the trees or a rushing stream, a field of wildflowers or a moss covered forest floor, laying in an alpine meadow surrounded by majestic mountains… all this sounds like dreams of hippies, but to me it feels like a gift. In these places my soul is arrested and captured, not to prison but to peace. This describes where I spent the weekend in June in Colorado.
I made my way to the upper trail head to the northwest slopes of Huron Peak just a short distance from Winfield an historic ghost town from the days of Colorado prospecting in the late 1800’s. The gravel road quickly turned into a 4WD path, a fun two-mile drive in the Jeep, which ended in a nice valley along Clear Creek. It is surrounded by many 13ers: Virginia Peaks, Grizzly Peak, the Apostles, Ice Mountain, and many more unnamed peaks. The prize to the southwest is Huron Peak which reaches 14,003 feet, a 3500 feet elevation gain from where I set up camp.
Shortly after I set up camp and filtered some fresh mountain water from the creek I heard some whooping and hollering near the trail head. A few ladies were just finishing their summit of Huron. I thought they might be celebrating, but it sounded a bit more desperate. I went over to meet them to ask about trail and peak conditions. It turns out that they had been frightened by what they swore was a wolf tracking them. I suspect they may have seen a coyote, as I heard a couple of them crying just prior.
Another group came down an hour later. One of the young men had blown out his boots, toes exposed. They had spent the past 16 hours on the trail and were headed to Buena Vista for a quick shoe repair before heading back up the next day.
Both of these groups suggested that snowshoes were absolutely needed above tree line. I generally don’t want to carry any more gear than necessary to keep me safe and prepared for conditions. It was apparent from the witness of both parties that I would need to suffer the extra weight for the sake of a successful summit.
A dinner of rehydrated homemade lentil stew complemented by a bottle of Belgium beer in the company of the setting sun behind the Virginia Peaks put me in the mood for some rest before my 3am rise time.
Why so early? Unless it’s a fresh snowfall, Alpine snow is typically crusted and is easy to walk across except for when it starts getting warmer. Warm snow means post-holding (sinking in the snow) sometimes waist deep – not fun. It was the time of year when it gets warm enough by late morning where snowshoes will help prevent some of the post-holing and make the trek much easier. And so an early start means a late morning finish, avoiding the dread of post-holing. Takeaway: post-holing = bad: smart people start early.
I was at the trail head by 3:30am and crossing the deep snow filled basin below the summit by 5am, just in time for the early sun to expose the glorious mountain views. It turned out that half way through the basin the snow was already soft enough for me to put on my snowshoes. There was about 6 inches of water below the snow. As you might imagine, wet boots at 14,000 feet this time of year is probably not the best situation, even if the boots are water resistant.
By 8am after a mild class 2 climb through the granite scramble I was on the summit eating a snack and taking a few pictures. The view of the Apostle Peaks and Ice Mountain is majestic from here (or from anywhere). To the east is Missouri Mountain and Mounts Belford and Oxford. The Collegiate Peaks are also part of the skyline. Needless to say, it was amazing!
The summit was covered with snow, part of a massive cornice that had already partially broken off. Keeping to the right of the cornice (the windward side) is the best choice. If the cornice broke off with a person standing on it, that person would become part of the terrain forever.
For my descent I had a decision to make. Should I also climb Browns Peak, a 13er that is about three-quarters mile away and a few hundred feet elevation gain along a class 2 trail? It would mean I couldn’t glissade down the North West slopes because by the time I was finished summiting Browns the snow would be too soft to glissade. Plus there was one snow patch along the ridge that looked very dicey. I decided that Browns Peak will be there next time, but the perfect glissading conditions may not be. Glissading won, and it was AWESOME! It was a little less than a half-mile run and about 500 feet of elevation.
A couple tips for glissading: Secure all items on your pack in a way that nothing can come loose; your pack will push up as you sit and ride (sometimes roughly) down the mountain. You don’t want to walk back up the hill to fetch lost gear. The second tip: always, always, always use your ice axe to control your speed. No, trekking poles won’t work; they will easily snap leaving the mountain to decide your fate. Glissading speeds can quickly leave you out of control and crashing into an outcropping of rocks or simply in a limb-breaking tumble.
The basin was very soft on my way back across, once again proving the witnesses and the value of the snowshoes. I was back at camp before noon, stopping several times along the way to talk with fellow climbers and to enjoy the view of the many waterfalls in over flowing creeks.
I thought I might nap in the tent before breaking camp and heading home, but my tent was in the sun and too hot. So I took off my boots, kicked up my feet in my chair in the shade and cracked open another Belgium brew. It was a warm day, but the mountain breeze was cool and the scenery was still as great as it was the night before. I closed my eyes for a minute to take in the peace. Ahhh, rest for the soul.
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