Huron, Bloody Huron


Our drive, hike & climb to Huron Peak summit

One more time. Brian and I thought we’d back to the Clear Creek Reservoir Road, this time to collect Mt Huron. We knew going in that it would be a 10+ mile hike in the snow with a 4000′ elevation gain due to the winter road closure, but we were on a roll and Huron was next on the list. The only problem would be the inevitable snow storm; the previous week it snowed all the night before. And, it did so again.

It was Brian’s turn to drive; we left his place in Golden @ 7:45pm on Friday (April, 23, 1999) heading toward Leadville.  The Bronco is a slow beast, but it works wonders on poor backcountry roads. Along the way, we were pleasantly surprised to find the roads in better shape than the previous week (when we did Missouri Mountain) despite the heavy new snow in the front range. We figured we’d gotten lucky on the snow distribution.

Brian picked the East Slopes route. At the time I figured it was the worst thing he could find, but in hindsight I suppose it might have been because Dawson wrote that the East Slopes generally have more snow. Well, we did have plenty of snow.

Aiming for the Clohesy Lake trailhead, we pulled off US Highway 24 onto Clear Creek Reservoir (dirt) Road. We immediately knew we had been mistaken about getting lucky with the snow; the accumulation was much worse than the previous week.  We drove past our previous camp at Vicksburg and to the Rockdale townsite where we turned onto the 4×4 road heading toward Clohesy Lake trailhead, but only managed to get 1/3 mile up the 3-mile road before the snow was too deep to drive even for the Bronco.  And, believe me, that means something. A determined Brian forced his way cross Clear Creek before giving up on the drive; that crossing was much more interesting than I like at 11:30pm.

We setup camp as quickly as frozen fingers allowed. And then sleep came quickly, and so did 5am.

The first thing we noticed was the temperature.  It was way too warm.  Crap, it was going to be a hellish, soft snow day.

The initial hiking over the 2.7 miles remaining of the 4×4 road was rather flat; we started at 10,000′ and took 1.5 hours to gain 800′ of elevation. I hoped in vain that it would be a nice downhill glide 10 hours hence. Still, it was an easy start, for me anyway. Brian broke trail; and for a change, he actually made a trail I could use instead of gliding across the surface like a modern day Legolas. It was odd to hear him grumble.

Once we cleared the treeline, we could see heavy snow covering the ridges descending from Huron.  It was still early and already a slide had occurred, nearly reaching our ascent path.  We kept our distance from the snowy slopes as best we could, and we tried to hurry to minimize our exposure.  But it was a long curving path to reach the couloir ascent to the summit ridge.

Detail on the final stretch to the summit

The final couloir was very steep and icy. So, we didn’t have to fear an avalanche, but the skins were only marginally up to the task of ascending such a steep, slick surface. We slowly worked our way up until about 3/4ths of the way up we had to exit into the rocks on the right to make the saddle.  The climb certainly would have been better with crampons and an axe.

The weather had looked bad all day and continued to do so.  We tried to hurry to the summit, but the snow on the ridge was too soft. I literally had to swim across the sections without rocks to step on. This misery was compounded by my agreeing to bring the skis to the summit, where we sat for only as long as it took to eat a quick snack.

I carried the skis up to the summit and then carried them back down to just above the saddle.  When I dared put them back on, the snow stuck to the base like tar.

Fortunately, by the time we reached the top of the couloir, the skiing returned to a normal state for the day…merely terrible. A few turns into the descent, I hit a rough, icy section and lost it. I hit face first and cartwheeled down the slope, bashing my brains in on every flip. My self-arrest ski poles allowed me to stop after a few flips, but not before mutilating my nose. And this only 2 weeks since making a pact with God to take better care of my nose after allowing me to keep most of it after some frostbite on a cold, windy day on Mt Silverheels.

I bled continually and fell frequently as I attempted to escape Huron with my life and the remainder of my health (and nose).

Once we made it past the lake and reached the 4×4 parking area, the snow had softened enough to become impossible. In the last 3 miles, I fell through the snow 6 times. One time I could not get back up; it was a sort of quicksnow. I finally had to resort to rolling to escape the pit I dug for myself.

We made it back to camp at 6pm for an 11.5 hour day covering 4000′ of elevation gain and 10+ miles of soft snow slogging.  And, I was a bloody mess.

Some trips it is hard to remember that I do this because I love it; but it is important that I remember it.

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