Part 2 of training hikes we’ve undertaken to get in shape for our trip to Kamchatka. Part 1 of training hikes can be found here: http://wp.me/p17pbW-bG
7. One of our favorite summer hikes is Horseshoe Mountain. With an elevation of 13,900, it’s close to a 14er. Just like the Square Top climb the previous week, this hike starts at the same place as a popular 14,000 foot peak; this time, it’s Mt. Sherman. While the masses of humanity were heading up Sherman to bag themselves an easy 14er, we met only 2 other people on our hike up Horseshoe. If you’re lucky, you might meet the resident mountain goat on the way up. We didn’t realize that we had seen the goat until we found him barely noticable in one of our photos of the mountain’s cliffs. We love this hike because Horseshoe is uniquely beautiful and the summit is always covered with Alpine Forget-Me-Nots; the flowers this year were particularly spectacular. Still plenty of snow on the ground offering some quick glissading for the descent.
8. Our last training hike for the month of July took us to one of my favorite local loop hikes: the Vasquez Peak Loop. Starting from the parking area for the Butler Gulch ski trail, we followed the Jones Pass road for a couple of miles, then walked off-road up into the headwaters of Clear Creek to the top of the Continental Divide. From here, we followed the Continental Divide Trail north for a short distance, veering off to summit Vasquez Peak at 12,947 feet. After a leisurely lunch on the summit, we headed down the east slope of the peak, reuniting with the Continental Divide Trail. Another three miles on the trail brought us back to the car on the Jones Pass Road, making for a very nice eight-mile loop hike.
9. We had other plans for this weekend so we just had time for a quickie hike on our way to visit family on the Colorado western slope. We found a perfect little walk that begins from the top of Shrine Pass. From the trailhead, the Shrine Mountain Trail makes a gradual climb to the top of Shrine Mountain at 11,888 feet. At the top of the saddle on the mountain’s south ridge, you’re rewarded with an explosion of color from the mountain wildflowers that cover the tundra. It’s now August, when the flowers usually are disappearing; because of the above-normal snowpack this winter, the flowers are just now at their peak. At the top of Shrine Mountain, you get spectacular views of the mountain’s unusual red rock crags, as well as distant views of the Gore Range to the north and the Ten Mile Range to the east. With less than 1,000 feet of elevation gain, there wasn’t a lot of training benefit from this trek, but still a nice break from the long drive to other side of the state. One disadvantage of the Shrine Mountain trail is that it is VERY popular. There was a steady stream of people going up and down the trail on a Thursday; I can’t imagine how many people are up there on a weekend!
10. After a two-week hiatus from the full-day training hikes, we’re ready to get more elevation and mileage into our hikes. Today’s climb was Pentigell Peak at 13,535 feet. The route goes along the very popular Herman Gulch trail to Herman Lake. From where the trail ends at the lake, we headed directly north to the mountain’s west ridge and then to the summit. After a week of heavy monsoon storms, we were very fortunate to have a perfect blue-sky day with not even a hint of afternoon thunderstorms. Like Shrine Mountain from the week before, Herman Gulch was exploding with wildflowers. Good thing we left early; gave us lots of time to stop for flower pictures. Once we left the trail, we began the steep climb up the drainage above the east end of Herman Lake. The climb to the summit was an interesting combination of walking on tundra, snowpack, and boulder fields. A couple of us took advantage of the snow for a nice glissade to make the descent a bit more fun. After 3,300 feet of elevation gain and nine miles, we returned to the car with more than a few sore muscles. Seems like we should be getting stronger; guess we shouldn’t have taken that break from climbing last week.
11. Last training hike before the big day! Really wanted to make it a good one, and I think I found just the place: Mount Silverheels, just north of Fairplay, Colorado. Silverheels is another example of Colorado peaks that are not quite fourteen thousand feet, but make for nice climbs with nowhere near the weekend mobs you encounter on the 14er’s. This climb was no exception: at 13,822 feet, it’s a high alpine climb where we saw only two other people all day. Valerie decided to buy a new day pack as her old one was starting to give her back and neck problems, so this will be the test climb for the new pack.
We decided to climb the peak from the South Ridge, just a couple miles north of Fairplay. Not having done this route before, finding the traihead was a bit of a challenge, but we finally figured it out. The most challenging part of the hike was using a beaver dam to cross a swollen Beaver Creek right at the beginning of the hike. After the creek crossing, we walked on a well-traveled 4WD road for about a mile. At this point, the route follows an old road that’s been closed by the Forest Service. The road peeters out just above timberline and just below a small sub-peak on the main ridge. As we followed the ridge, we passed some stately old Bristlecone Pine Trees. The hike from here was pretty straightforward; we just followed the south ridge all the way to the summit. The nice aspect of this route is you don’t have the continuous “false summit” issues you have on the other standard route, which starts west of the mountain. You can see the summit as soon as you break out of the trees, so it doesn’t seem like its running away from you all the time. About 800 feet from the summit, we encountered a herd of bighorn sheep off in the distance. No big rams in the herd; mostly ewes with babies.
We summited the peak at noon with no rush to get down as the weather was maintaining near perfect conditions. Three hours later we were in Fairplay having our traditional end-of-the-day ice cream fix, this time at the Brown Burro Cream and Steam. Mount Silverheels was a wonderful climb to end our summer training before we head off volcanos of Kamchatka; I think we’re ready. Valerie gave her new pack a big thumbs up, so it looks like it will be joining us on our Russian adventure.