26 October 2009

Mount Silverheels, Part 1

1 January 2004

This report was going to read, “Black Check! Black Check! Black Check! I rang in 2004 with my first calendar winter summit!"

I belong to a mountain climbing group with an online peakbagging checklist. Black checkmarks are awarded for calendar winter summits of 14ers and centennial 13ers. I wanted a black check. Almost everyone else in the group had at least one black check, and I, like a teenager obsessed with the latest trend, wanted a black check of my own.

However, I didn’t reach the Centennial peak I set out to climb. I did bag Pt. 12,282, Palmer Peak and Pt. 13,004. I did them in winter, and I did them alone. I had the entire mountain to myself on a beautiful day. I got a great workout, and I had glorious views. But alas, no black check for me. At least not today.

I camped near Florissant after shooting the fireworks on Pikes Peak from a lovely moonlit perch in Garden of the Gods and awoke an hour later than intended for the drive to the Beaver Creek trailhead.

After loading necessary gear in my pack, I headed north on the standard trail at about 8 a.m. I carried my snowshoes even though the southern slopes of Silverheels appeared wind-scoured. I didn’t want to take a chance on turning back due to unseen and nonnegotiable drifts. I wanted this peak!

The entire route was relatively snow-free, with the exception of occasional drifts and lingering accumulation in shaded areas that were easily bypassed. I never used the snowshoes. When I did posthole, my feet went only two to three inches deep. One drift was so firm I traversed it without sinking.

Above treeline, the wind picked up but was not the typical tundra blast to which I’ve grown accustomed. Throughout the day, the wind shredded cirrus and stratocumulus tatters from the western lenticular blanket to keep me alert to potential oncoming weather changes.

I quickly got off route upon reaching the skeleton forest on the wind-swept south slopes near treeline and spent most of the rest of the day tundra whacking due to the plethora of photos begging to be snapped. I’d been to Kite Lake three times but had never seen Democrat, which I'd summited in zero visibility on Labor Day weekend. From the slopes of Silverheels, I had magnificent views of the entire DeCaLiBro, Quandary, Little Baldy, the Tarryalls and the Buffaloes.

Upon reaching Pt. 13,004, Silverheels still seemed so far away. I didn’t want to return to my car in the dark with the oncoming storm and not really knowing the trail proper, since I hadn’t taken it. I sat on a rock, drank an orange juice and ate my still warm oatmeal. It was a good day, a great hike and a calendar winter summit. Just not a black checkmark on my list.

At the end of the day, when I reached Beaver Creek, I crossed to the right of the road, where the ice appeared thicker and less slippery. Just as I stepped back onto the bank, the ice broke, and the foot still on the creek took the proverbial polar plunge. My knee (the bad one, of course) smashed into the sharp ice edges. Fortunately, my ski pants prevented the ice from ripping through my skin, and fortunately, the temperature of the water temporarily deadened all the nerve endings in that leg so I could make it back to my car without limping too much. I am now the proud owner of phenomenal shades of green and purple epidermis.

And now… The REST of the story...

At the beginning of the day, I aimed for the summer trailhead and crossed Beaver Creek in my car, trying to cut down on mileage and preserve my bad knee. The 4Runner high centered on a chunk of ice when the weight of the vehicle busted through the frozen water. I got my first chance to use my ice ax. Cold, but FUN. I was hacking away like an ice ax murderer!!! It was almost like a snow cone-making event. I was chipping ice shavings EVERYWHERE! Completely coated the back of my car!

The rest of the tale, however, is not humorous. Even now, years later. I was too humiliated to tell the unpleasant and embarrassing truth back in 2004, and there may be elements of this story that help someone else. That is my hope.

to be continued...


  1. you are amazing mountain hiker! I am so amazed. Thankfully, you took such a beautiful picture that I don't have to climb the mountain myself to witness it :-)

    p.s : you have an excellent camera, was looking for one to replace my old camera, any thoughts?

  2. The secret behind good photos is the person pushing the shutter button, not the name on the piece of equipment. :) You are quite the photographer yourself! I think the Canon you are considering will suit you just fine. You can't go wrong with a Canon or a Nikon. Keep shooting!


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