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Colorado Mines Peak

November 14, 2010 - from Berthoud Pass


As a graduate of the Colorado School of Mines, I guess it was inevitable that I would climb Colorado Mines Peak. I'd never gone along on any of the climbs during my tenure as an undergrad and that really was not the point of this climb either. We had to cross over Mines Peak to get to Mt. Flora, an adjacent 13'er that would give us a few hours on a high ridge in comparison to a few hours sitting at home on a mediocre weather day thinking we should have gone climbing.

We left Cheyenne on snowy roads and the promise of the CDOT web site that most of the route would be dry. Just south of Wellington that came true and we did not find snow or ski traffic obstructing our route until the U.S. 40 began its climb to Berthoud Pass. We pulled into the lot and I made use of the restroom/warming hut to get the climbing gear on and then joined Bob in his car for a final warm up before we began to climb. The route is simple . . . leave the parking lot and climb more or less straight up, hit the pole line and follow it , more or less, to the summit. The summit is festooned with communications towers so it is far from pristine or a destination unto itself. But, it would give us the start point for a mile plus ridge walk to the 13'er we really came to climb.

The weather was fine along the front range, lots of blue in the sky but Berthoud Pass was overcast and more than a little snow was falling. We left the warmth of the car and climbed for about one third of the way before the snow was sufficiently deep or more accurately, the tracks of the guy ahead of me were sufficiently filled in, to justify the snowshoes that we had on our packs. The wind was supposed to be a 10 to 15 mph affair, which it was but for the gusts that blew snow and ice against our backs and sides. We put the shoes on and kept going, soon breaking out of the scrubby tree line and taking the full force of the wind and its snow and ice crystal load.

The snow was deep, the snow was shallow, the snow was wind hammered, you name it we saw it over the next third of the climb but soon it trended mostly toward a thin wind hammered layer. The wind intensified for the last quarter mile and left some doubt as to whether we would continue on from Mines Peak. Actually there was little doubt that the gig was up as the visibility had gone to heck, I'd set a few c.y.a. gps points and we could only now and then see the towers on the summit. We crossed the drifted access road a final time and trudged to the summit proper, I guess, we figured the towers were the high point and if there is a natural summit we never saw it. We took a break in the lee of a building for all of a few minutes and then turned to face the low visibility, stinging wall of ice and snow that we would descend through to get back to the parking lot.

We made good time going down as the price for not doing so would be frost bite on the face for sure. The balaclavas were over the noses and hoods snugged for what we knew would be a fast drop to the tree line, but still one that would hurt for most of the way. We likely made the trees in just ten minutes or so and the wind broke, the snow softened and we jaunted on back to the car, feeling good but knowing that the conditions up high we far different from those at the pass proper.

We got all that what we ask for in the winter, a chance to get out, some sporting conditions and . . . if you get a summit, you've done well, if not, well then . . . you got out of the house. Now I just have to explain to my wife what that swollen stripe is on the side of my face . . .