2007 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
 
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  SUMMITING MT. SHERMAN

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 8

 
"This isn't even kite-flying weather by Sherman standards.
- response by local climber re: the strong wind on Mt. Sherman's ridge
 

 

Cody and I bagged another 14er today! It's one of the "easier" ones, I'm guessing, but it counts in MY book: a 2,036-foot climb in two-plus miles on a Class 2 trail = lots of rocks and a moderately steep grade, especially since most of that climb comes in less than two miles. The wind above the Sherman-Sheridan saddle gave us some extra points, too.

I've been wanting to climb some more 14ers while we're in the Leadville area but the weather has been pretty crappy the last couple days. I think we've had rain every day since we left Silverton. We got spoiled down there with all the sun and warmth (relatively speaking, since we were camping at about 9,700 feet). All the thunderstorms really make you think about climbing above tree line, so I've been waiting for the perfect-weather day.

It certainly wasn't yesterday. The bad news is that parts of Colorado have been flooding this week. Leadville got so much rain our camper was surrounded by puddles of water a couple days recently  and the dogs got to spend all day in the camper because they didn't have anywhere else dry to lie down:

The good news is that the fire danger is reduced significantly in the wet areas of the state. And today was absolutely GORGEOUS, the clearest the air near Leadville has been in weeks. It's even in the 70s finally (those of you who are sweltering in the eastern half of the country can all collectively groan now -- our neighbor told Jim today that it's 101 degrees there). Yesterday's high in Leadville was about 56 degrees, so we're loving today's sunshine and "heat."

Jim was totally bored yesterday with all the rain, especially after several days of it. In the morning he went up 5th Street to the mining district to acclimate and decided to drive a bit farther and climb up Ball Mountain (about 12,300 feet) before it began raining. He had good views under overcast skies of Iowa Gulch, Mt. Sherman (14,035 feet), Mt. Sheridan (13,748 feet), West Sheridan (12,962 feet), West Dyer Mountain (13,047 feet), and Dyer Mountain (another 13er).

He called me from the top of Ball Mountain to tell me he and the dogs had just done an easy climb. I was jealous. If I'd known he was going to take a hike, I'd have gone, too. So he promised me we'd go back out later and do it again.

It was raining too hard when he returned for me to have any desire to climb a mountain or go for a run, so we went for a ride instead. We'd been to the trail head for Mt. Sherman on the Leadville side several years ago, but couldn't quite remember how to get there. Jim printed out information about the approaches and trails up the mountain from www.14ers.com and off we went, just to have something to do. The intention wasn't to climb, since there was lightning around all afternoon, but to find the trail head and remind ourselves of the lay of the land.


Not a good day to climb Sherman

It's a seven-mile drive from Leadville to the Sherman trail head, much closer than the trail head going up from the town of Fairplay east of the mountain. We drove through California Gulch, which I remembered from running the Mineral Belt Trail around Leadville last year (2006 journal, August 27 entry). It goes through the former Oro City and several  abandoned mines from the 19th century.

NOW THE TIME IS RIGHT

I was hoping for a clear day today so I could climb Sherman with Cody while Jim and Tater acclimated at 12,000 feet at the trail head at the end of Iowa Gulch. The sky was clear blue with no clouds at 7 AM, so it was a go. The only surprise was that Jim wanted to climb it, too! He's made comments before about LT100 runners climbing too many mountains too close to the race and not resting adequately, so I was surprised. It's "only" four and a half miles round trip, however, so I didn't worry about his decision.

The trail goes down into some "willows" (sub-alpine shrubs) and through a wet area with millions of beautiful flowers at the upper end of Iowa Gulch.

Then the trail climbs through a very rocky area to a gully between Mts. Sheridan and Sherman. In the photos above and below, the trail goes left between the mountains.

This was the roughest part of the course, and within half a mile it was clear that the rocks were too much for Tater to handle. We didn't have to hoist her over any of them, but they were so difficult to negotiate that she had trouble walking over them  So did I. I was very happy that the rest of the trail was easier to walk on even though a lot of it was scree and talus (i.e., it moved underfoot).

Jim decided to find a place to sit among the rocks and acclimate right there at 12,300 feet for a while with Tater. He encouraged me to go on with Cody. I don't feel bad about that because the trail became much steeper and I'm not sure it would have enhanced Jim's training any. I do hope he can climb Sherman with me the next time we're here, just earlier in the month. I enjoyed myself so much, partly because of the wonderful weather, that I'd do it again tomorrow if someone suggested it!

There are several trails going up through the gully (drainage area) to the saddle between Sherman and Sheridan. I just followed the longer main trail that switch-backed more because in some places it was so steep that I slid on the loose gravel and rocks. There were cairns along the entire trail, even the alternate ones, to the summit.

Although there are huge power lines going through Iowa Gulch, I was surprised to find small poles and wire, no longer used, on the way up through the drainage.

Partway up to the saddle I got this photo back down to Iowa Gulch and Ball Mountain, where Jim was standing yesterday:

The trails all end up at the saddle, where I had my first view east down Horseshoe and Little Sacramento gulches. I could see relics of the old Hilltop and Peerless mines:

I could see nice dirt roads on the east side, where there is also a trail head to Mt. Sherman. That trail looks less rocky than the one I came up on the Leadville side, although the elevation gain is probably about the same. Too bad it's a loooong drive to get to that side from Leadville.

PLENTY OF COMPANY

A family of four from Austin, TX started out just before we did from the Leadville side. We passed them before the nasty rock area but didn't talk much. Jim talked to them more when they came up on him after he stopped, and discovered that Chris, the father, began section-hiking the AT this year. He told them about my trek two years ago, and to look for me up the mountain.

We saw another hiker coming down through the rocky area and he told us about a bunch of 12-year-old girls that had summitted this morning from the Fairplay side. I saw them descending to the saddle but they were already going down the east side by the time I got there. Everyone else I saw going up or coming down was doing it from the east (Fairplay) side. I saw at least four dozen people on the mountain today, all but five from the saddle to the summit of Sherman. Several were kids, to give you an idea of the "climb-ability" of this mountain.

And three were sturdy dogs, including Cody! We met one dog as we were just coming down from the summit. His owner said the dog has climbed 14ers about 150 times (he gave an exact count, but I don't remember it). This is the guy in the quote above. He lives near Fairplay and obviously has mountain experience. While I was concerned about getting blown off the mountain, he was telling me how "calm" the wind is compared to other times he's been up there!

It was very windy all the way from the saddle to the summit, where it was surprisingly UN-windy. Several climbers told me that on their way down, but it was hard to believe considering how the trail and mountain are situated. After the saddle, I was mostly on the eastern side of the ridge and expected the wind to be blocked, but it wasn't. On top, with nothing visible to block the wind, it was nearly windless. Go figure. I really enjoyed spending time at the top.

It's nothing but scree and talus getting up there. Again there are some various trail options until reaching the very narrow ridge a third of a mile from the summit. I was able to run down some of it, though. It was the larger, unstable rocks near the trail head that were the biggest problem for me.

When I saw this narrow ridge trail, I nearly turned around! Oh, my. It was the only place where a slip could mean a really, really long fall down the mountainside. It looks like the Knife Edge Ridge on Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Scary. However, I was more concerned about a sudden wind gust blowing me off the ridge than I was about falling.

But I'd come this far and really didn't want to turn around so close to the summit. I found a niche in some rocks to place Cody's pack, my hand-held bottle, and my trekking pole (I use only one pole). I figured the lighter we went, the better. I still had a bottle of water for Cody and me in my single-bottle waist pack, which I kept on.

The view below and ahead of me was just awesome:

Now I could finally see what I thought was the summit of Mt. Sherman (right, above).

Cody and I climbed higher and higher, and the trail actually got wider the closer we got to the top. Cody found a couple of snow cornices on the east side to play in. There was no snow anywhere on the trail, just at the top and a little bit in the gully up to the saddle.

I kept following rock cairns from the first bump on top (not quite the high point) across the fairly flat summit to what I assume is the highest peak at 14, 035 feet. There was a rock seating pit or two on top, and a metal pipe trail register that I wanted to sign. However, there was no pen or pencil and just wadded up pieces of paper in it that people had written on. Oh, well. I didn't sign the one on Elbert either. I know I was there.

Two people were just leaving the summit when we got there so Cody and I got to enjoy it all by ourselves for about fifteen minutes. What gorgeous 360-degree views!

And it was so clear, I felt like I could see forever in every direction: west toward Leadville, Turquoise Lake, and the Sawatch Range (Elbert, Massive, etc.),

southwest over Mts. Sheridan and West Sheridan toward Hope Pass and Twin Lakes,

east toward Gemini Peak and Fairplay:

At that point, I was really sorry Jim wasn't there to enjoy it, too. Next time.

I peered over the west side of the ridge and looked down to where we parked the truck. I wondered if Jim had seen Cody and me make our way up the narrow ridge with the binoculars, but he didn't know when we might be there and missed us. It looked like a pretty quick trip straight down through the talus to get back to the trail head, but I'm not that stupid!

It took me 1:50 hours to get to the top, 15 minutes there, and 1:20 carefully maneuvering unstable rocks coming back down, for a total trek of 3:25. I felt very energetic today after several days of minimal running, and each 14er feels easier and easier to me. 'Course this one didn't have 4,700 feet of gain, either. We'll see how I feel after 6,000 feet of gain when I do Belford and Oxford (and maybe Missouri) next week! I figure I may as well climb some more 14ers while I'm acclimated.


Cody says we should move back to Montana; he misses the snow.

The next pictures are on the descent from Sherman. For some reason, the ridge wasn't as scary going back down as it was climbing up. Guess I knew I'd done it once and could do it again.

The drop-offs were still huge on either side, however, so I walked very carefully over the rough surface:

Cody found his pack at the lower end of the narrow ridge and wagged his tail until I caught up to him. Sometimes I think he hates it, but he readily accepted it back for the rest of the trek down. Maybe he felt nekkid without it!

Soon the trail widened out, and I had choices again. That's Mt. Sheridan in the background on the other side of the saddle:

I took a hundred photos and talked to everyone I saw on my way up and down. I spent about ten minutes talking to Chris, his wife, and two girls about the AT and Colorado Trail. Chris has been up Sherman before, but not his family. They seemed to be having a great time. We wish Chris well in his goal of hiking the entire AT in three more sections. I forgot to get a photo of them while I was talking to them, but here's a shot as they continued climbing up Sherman (there are others in the distance, too):

 

I reached the saddle between Sherman and Sheridan and kept dropping through the gully, the rocky area, and the flowers at the upper end of Iowa Gulch near the trail head:

 

 

Jim had already returned to the truck with Tater and was taking a nap when we got back, happy with our little  excursion. Jim got to acclimate for several hours and I got to climb another mountain.

Summary:

  • Except for a quarter mile of tricky rocks between the trail head and gully, I thoroughly enjoyed this run/hike on Mt. Sherman and I'm eager to go again when the weather is nice.
  • I would never intentionally go up there when it's wet; not only is it all above tree line, the rocks would be even more treacherous if they were slick.
  • Sherman is one big pile of rocks. You won't find much "dirt" or flora except near the trail heads.
  • The high ridge isn't as scary as it looks.
  • Take water for your dog.
  • Enjoy the top. There is lots of room up there for lots of people, unlike Elbert and Massive where it gets crowded on a sunny summer day.

Next entry: more of Jim's recent LT100 training runs.

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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