Tom Vervaeke and I decided to end the year with a short five mile hike in the Mosquito Pass area trying to take in the above mentioned peaks. We made it to the point on the Mosquito Pass Road where we had launched the week before on a climb of Mt Arkansas. We knew we were at the right spot as Tom was using this outing for a shakedown cruise of his new GPS unit. In the warmth of his house he had programmed the starting points along with numerous waypoints enroute to the summits and back. Our plan was to test his GPS unit and follow the route he had mapped out at home. The road was snow covered and drifted in sections, but 4WD low got us there although it may be the last time we get that high until about July.
The previous 24 hours had seen about 5 of powder fall in the central Rockies where we were, but the overall avalanche forecasts were low, so we felt we had a chance to get to the top. It was snowing as we organized our gear and about 15 degree with a steady wind. We started up the snow covered road to a point where we needed to head west toward a bench. Once we got high enough to see the mountain faces we saw fresh avalanche activity signs on the east/south eastern faces. It was probably powder sloughing off the old hard slab underneath, but it was fresh and that means don t go that way. The route we intended on following went up a bowl at the base of the peak.
Although it looked good on paper, I felt and Tom agreed that it was simply not worth the risk. We decided to head south a bit more and started up the southeast ridge up Mosquito Peak. The ridge continued to get steeper until it was about 45 degrees. We still had our snowshoes on at this point but as we were forced to get closer to the ridge crest to avoid the avalanche prone slope, it became increasing obvious that that the closer we came to the crest, the more risk we had in now sliding off the north east side of the ridge.
It was now too steep for the snowshoes, so I paused to access the situation. My snowshoe pushed the top 6 inches of powder off and I proceeded to slide down 5 feet past Tom. We both looked at each other and decided to lose the snowshoes, figuring we could kick step up using our ice axes. We both managed to gets our snowshoes off and get them on our packs without falling off then we got a rude awakening. I jammed my ax in as hard as I could and it sliced through the new powder and did not penetrate the hard slab underneath. Hmmmmm.
Tom tried to kick a few steps and found it impossible. We decided on retreat to a rock outcropping which we managed to get to without sliding off the mountain. Yes, we could have made it up with crampons, no, we did not have them with us. There were other options available to get up, but none clear of avalanche hazard. So, the smart thing to do is to bag it, and go do something else. We decided to explore a rather large mine we had passed on the way up, so we donned our snowshoes and headed down.
The wind had shifted (of course) and was now a steady 40 mph in our face. Tom s thermometer read 5 degrees so the charts say – 45 degrees wind chill. My nose agreed as I lost feeling in the tip from the cold. I had experienced my fingers freezing and the painful thawing, but never with my nose. Ouch. After exploring the mine we headed down through strong winds/blowing snow, arriving at the car fours from when we started. Did not make it to the top, but we were content we had a great day in the mountains, and we able to get back to town early for New Year’s Eve. All in all, a good way to end a long year of hiking and climbing in Colorado.