The first time you summit a 14,000′ is a milestone and often leads to other pursuits…more summits, high mtns, dreams realized. The last time we lived in Colorado, I was selfish, climbing on my own and with other friends. Ben and Kate were young, perhaps too young to gain a summit, but I don’t know as I never gave them a chance. Now back in Colorado as a family, with Ben and Kate all grown up and stronger than me, we decided to get a 14er under our belt. I suggested Mount Sherman, at 14, 036′ north of Fairplay, Colorado.
Kate and Ben both said they were ready so on Sat we left Colorado Springs very early and headed up to the trailhead at almost 11,200′. The Xterra performed well in 4WD and had no problem ascending to what is a very high trailhead to begin the hike. The weather was perfect…blue skies, crisp, and zero wind at the start. Ben and Kate are always take the path less traveled in everything they do so I was not surprised when I asked them if they wanted to follow the mining road or ascend via the ravine I remembered going up with Tom. Guess which way they picked?
We ascended up the ravine, carefully picking our way up one snowfield, while ensuring we did not step on the flowers in the alpine grass.
We made good time, but Kate was just lagging behind a little. By the time we reached 12,800′ and the mine building ruins, Kate was even farther behind. But as we rested in the calm inside the mine buildings from the growing wind, she caught up and joined us.
The next phase of the hike was essentially to ascend toward a saddle, cross diagonally across a large snowfield to the ridge proper. Once on the ridge it was going to be fun as I thought when I first climbed it I had been surprised by the steepness and narrowness of the ridge on parts, leading to a football size summit of Mt Sherman.
We continued up to the snowfield crossing where I mentioned this was a no fall zone as none of us had an ice axe and could easily self-arrest if we were to tumble down the snow. The crossing went flawlessly and we gained the ridge for the first time. The amount of people on this 14er this Sat was more than I could have imagined. What a difference 10 years makes… my future may be on beautiful 13ers and 12,000′ peaks where same challenges with less people. We leap frogged several small groups, some including small children who obviously were not on their first mountain.
Kate was finding her legs at this point and forged ahead, feeling better with each step. Ben, always strong, was making great progress as well as being the resident photographer. He would often stop to take pictures as we ascended the ridge. The views were extraordinary the higher we got and the wind rose with each step. Ben and Kate took the lead as the summit plateau opened up and we took the final steps along the cornice to the summit.
As we reached the summit, we were all happy and took a minute to record their first 14er ascent by signing the summit log tucked in a plastic tube underneath the summit rock. We then thought it prudent to descend the other side of the summit by about 30′ to get out of the wind where we enjoyed a small lunch, while sun bathing.
I made the unpopular decisions to suggest heading down after about 30 minutes and with the great weather, Ben and Kate wondered why we had to move down so quickly. I made the suggestion because I knew what the puffy white clouds that were not building at about 1030am would bring in about two hours. Later as we descended we heard the distant rubble of thunder…
Ben and Kate and I started down and as we did, the wind continued to escalate in speed and “pain in the rear” factor. By the time we had descended 800-1000′ the wind was now gusting to 40 mph just as we were on the most tricky portions of the ridge. Kate was leading and we were all moving quickly because the temperature was also dropping. Our hands were numb at this point and I grew concerned that Kate, the lightest weight member of the group by FAR, would be blown off the ridge. Women make the best descenders IMHO, and Kate reinforced that by nimbly hopping from rock to rock down the ridge, leaning into the wind when necessary.
As we neared the saddle we had a decision to make; continue to the saddle and recross the snowfield or descend straight down an established scree slope that would allow us to quickly lose 1000′ to the relative safety of the circle at the mine buildings. Easy decision in those conditions… Ben and Kate learned scree descending 101, taking large steps and sliding down the steep slope. Certain parts were tricky, less scree, bigger chance to catch an edge or heel and fall forward. With the wind still whipping over the ridge, it was an interesting time. I fell once and so did Kate I think. Ben stayed up right and within 10 mins we were at the bottom near the min buildings in pleasant sunshine and hardly any wind.
We sat down in the meadow and emptied our boots of scree, then headed over to the mining buildings. Kate took a path less traveled going down (go figure! 🙂 and Ben and I hiked down the mining road, exploring flowers, lakes, and old mining relics along the way. In about an hour, we were near the Xterra and were happy campers with our first collective 14er under our belt. Of every partner I have ever hiked or climbed with, nothing beats going up a mountain with your children. I hope this is the first of many high mountains we do together and the first of many for them on their own. Mt Sherman was our first together and will always be a fond memory for me!
Beta: 9 Miles, 2750′ gain, Southwest Ridge from Four Mile Creek