9.20.2006

Even More Wintry Conditions

The cooling trend has continued, and the snow levels keep getting lower. This past weekend snow got almost all the way to Beaver Creek Village, and this coming Friday it is expected to snow in my town overnight. Despite these conditions, I have still worked to get myself out in the mountains, if only to keep some sanity as our project reaches its deadline. Of course madness must have taken over for me to have still climbed on last Saturday. We had been planning a 14ers.com gathering for some time, and as the day got closer the weather started to look more and more like it was not going to cooperate. There were still a good group of people willing to give it a try, and I drove down to meet them at the trailhead the moon and stars were out, giving me hope that we would have a good day. We met at the trailhead at 6am with our sights set on climbing Harvard, the 3rd highest peak in Colorado at 14,420' above sea level. As we started up the trail the flurries started to fly, and the higher we got the heavier the snow, and the more the accumulation on the ground around us. We met up with two others, a man and his 4 year old son, at their campsite, where I set up my tent and put gear in there that I wasn't going to need for the climb. My original hope was to camp and climb Columbia on Sunday. We regrouped and started up the trail, our 4 year old companion leading the way. Now I know you must think his dad is nuts, but truth be told the kid could hold his own and has already summited several peaks, refusing to be carried. He insisted on trying to go to the top of Harvard despite the snow. Still his dad would ask if he wanted to turn around, and still the little guy would say no. We started to break above the trees and now the winds started to come into play. It was forecast to be a windy day, and it was living up to the forecast. The blowing snow was making visibility difficult and making all of us cold. All except for our 4 year old friend, who was short enough to stay sheltered by the bushes. The second we got above the bushes though it was too much for him and he asked his dad to go back. Our remaining group of 6 kept going, we weren't sure if we'd make it, but we at least would try. The visibility remained a problem, but the majority of the wind was at our backs and we were able to stay reasonably warm. The trail was hard to see at times with the snow drifting across it, but we kept on and soon began reaching steeper terrain. As we got closer to the top, we lost 3 of our group who could no longer bear the wind, but me and two others decided to keep trying. After all, turning back would mean heading face into the wind, maybe if we held out longer it would start to clear. It didn't, and as we got closer to the top we saw many others coming down, none of whom summited. We now were at 14,000' and starting to climb into the clouds where the wind and visibility issues multiplied. Right below the summit we reached the crux; a steep, rocky block that we had to scramble up. We had finally reached the summit, the first (and only) party to do so that day. The winds were howling, the snow was horizontal, and we didn't stay long before we decided to head back. Coming down was worse! Face first into sustained winds of close to 50mph as we were pelted with snow. I wish I would have had my ski goggles, but other than my face I was still rather warm. It felt like January, but I was dressed like it was January, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The lower we got the more the weather died off, and by the time we reached tree line it was beginning to get sunny of all things! Welcome to the wild world of Colorado weather I guess! I decided to break camp and go home, especially seeing as no one else was camping either. It was a rough one, but in the end we were successful. It goes to show that with proper planning and clothing even the freak September blizzards can be conquered!

Conditions on the way up:



And then the sun comes out on the way down, less than 2hrs after the other image was taken!