This was my second ascent of Mount Sherman. We had climbed it several months before from the Iowa Gulch TH, which was a much shorter but also steeper route. We ended up missing the start of the trail and blazing our own trail to the summit. This climb wouldn’t be much different.
Kris and I set out from our own personal TH (as far as our 2WD could reasonably manager on packed snow) at 5 am. It was a touch later than we had planned, but it takes a solid chunk of team to gear up for a 14,000 foot climb in the winter I learned.
Despite being in the dark, the first hour of our hike was pretty easy and straightforward. We were walking on 3-4 inches of snow, but we had a packed path due to 4wd tracks all the way up to the summer TH. Along the way, we passed the Leavick Mine Site, of which only the Hilltop Mill structure remains. The Hilltop Mine produced $600,000+ in silver ore in 1888, but was shut down after the silver boom ended in 1893. To walk by this collapsing mine at the earliest break of light was one of the more haunting experiences I’ve had.
It took as a little less than an hour to get to the summer TH, where we gained our first views of the summit and started deciphering the best way to approach the summit. We stopped for a quick food and bathroom break. Water was pretty much out of the question as both of our camelbacks had frozen by this point, but we chugged down whatever we could.
Our first goal was the mining ruins we could see from our location. They were at about 13,000ft. We were currently at 12,200. Once we got the ruins we could assess which route would be better for us.
We ducked inside one of the ruins for a brief shelter from the wind, which had picked up significantly. Shortly after leaving the mines, we threw on our snowshoes for the first and only time of the hike. This was my first time strapping in and it was definitely a different feeling that led to quite a bit of stumbling initially. After getting the hang of it, it was quite nice not to be postholing up to me knees in snow.
Looking back at the summit picture I posted earlier, we chose a route to the hiker’s left of the summit, realizing that it was steep but it was relatively snow free and and it allowed us to avoid the cornice that was forming over the traditional summer route. We quickly realized this was much more challenging than we had though. I was hiking 1 minute at a time and stopping for quick breathers.
We gained the ridge and began our traverse to the summit. What had been a wide ridge on our summer hike, was now quite a bit more sketchy. Kris and I traversed it one careful step at a time. Its one of the few times I have felt like one misstep could have been it. Thankfully, that was not the case. We successfully traversed and made it to the summit.
Feeling quite accomplished that we had summitted, we attempted to relax for a little while, but the wind and sub-zero temps had other ideas. We had reached the top in 4:21. We spent 11 minutes on the summit, somewhat sheltered from the wind by a rock shelter. From there we decided to find another way down besides that ridge.
We descended the north ridge, which we would later find out is the traditional winter route. There wasn’t much of a trail, but we could see the summer TH for the entire descent so we knew where we had to be and adjusted our route accordingly. After descending the first 1,000 feet, which were quite steep, we were in a snow covered alpine meadow that alternated between soft powder and frozen snow. It made for an inconsistent but interesting hike.
The only notable incident on our descent was Kris’ attempt to make our hike more interesting. While crossing a steep (we estimate black diamond at a resort) but short slope, he took a couple steps out onto it and heard a “ka-thump” sound. Immediately stopping in his tracks, he turned, looked at me, and ran back to safety. One of his steps had triggered a break in the snow, but it hadn’t slid. Still, quite the eye-opening experience.
Our descent took 2:30, refreshingly quicker than our 4 hour ascent. The last 3 miles of the hike drug on forever though. We were safely back at our car by noon and on the road back to Denver shortly after.
While significantly more challenging than a usual summer 14er, this hike was enjoyable and certainly provided for a sense of accomplishment. It is amazing to realize how much different a mountain becomes when 1-2 feet of snow is added to it.