The Indian Peaks of Colorado’s Front Range are spread out below Longs Peak
The third time was the charm for our last day of winter attempt to climb James Peak in the James Peak Wilderness Area. It’s actually a hike, but winter conditions make for a much more adventuresome outing. We had tried twice before this winter, and were slapped down hard by fierce winds each time. There’s a natural funnel in between James and neighboring Parry Peak that forces all of the western wind through a small gap, only to gather strength as it runs down Saint Mary’s Glacier (which is really a snowfield). This time around, temperatures were at least reasonable and gusts were only supposed to top out at 44 mph… a few blew Marla sideways, comic relief in adverse conditions. Our friend Marc joined us for our half-baked idea to be on top for sunset and moonrise of the over-hyped “supermoon.”
We slogged our way up the snowfield’s 35 degree slopes on sastrugi to a rock outcropping at 11,500′ where the wind was really howling. We left the snowshoes behind in favor of Kahtoola micro spikes, a great call for the mixed conditions. There was a little postholing, but the most annoying thing with the footing was the windblown layer that worked against us like sand. Marla said sometimes her footsteps were right next to each other even though she thought she was moving forward. She’s a strong and determined climber and led the summit push anyway. Once you get accomplished at the art of suffering, you realize that although you feel like crap, it won’t get any worse. So, we all faced the wind and made it to the top about an hour before sunset. Supermoon was behind a low cloudbank over Denver and sunset would be nixed by more clouds to the west. Who cares? We had the whole spine of the Rockies to ourselves for a little while and headed down with light to spare, winter ascent accomplished.
What’s the conservation connection? All of the Denver/Boulder water supply for 2011 lies in the snowpack, ready to be released in May and June.
Intrepid winter explorers L to R: Marc, Marla, and me