November 22, 2009 - From Hoosier Pass
Our departure for Argentina was but six weeks away so the promise of even a half way decent weather day meant that G, Bob, and I had to find a spot to put on some miles, gain some altitude, and bear the pain of some cold weather. I'd read a few trip reports for Mount Silverheels and they all seemed to tell the same story when it came to a winter climb . . . cold and windy. That seemed to be just what we were looking for so we loaded up the car and left Cheyenne a bit after 4 a.m.
We made it to Hoosier Pass in a bit over 3 hours with a necessary stop to dehydrate and re-hydrate. We arrived at the pass in daylight and were pleased to see that the sun had just hit the parking area. We put on the cold weather gear and after about 20 minutes, we locked the car and crossed the highway to start up the trail on what was still a chilly 7 degree morning. I'd heard that an approach from Hoosier Pass would get us above tree line very quickly and that was apparent as we walked a well packed snowshoe/ski trail that led through a few hundred yards of woods before leading into a field of willows guarding the open slopes above.
The trail provided a direct route through the willows and within another couple of hundred yards we were above the willows and heading steadily up slope. Silverheels was still not in sight but we knew we first had to gain Hoosier Ridge before we would see the peak and glimpse the terrain we would have to cross. The route to the ridge was semi beaten down, both by wind and the foot falls of earlier climbers seeking the same summit. We zigged here and there but generally made a pretty direct course to the ridge.
I've generally heard that Silverheels is a big mountain and yes, it really is big. Not only that but it is a good distance from Hoosier Ridge to the beginning of the Silverheels climb proper. To get to that starting point, we traversed to the right of the prominent hump on Hoosier Ridge and then dropped down a southern spur to intentionally lose altitude and gain the base of the more western of Silverheel's north flank spurs. We descended to the base of Scott Gulch, crossed the frozen creek and started to climb. Once across the creek, we waged war with a small band of willows guarding the far bank and then stepped into an equally tenacious swath of knee deep powder before I was able to zig here and there to gain some ground with grass showing through.
My plan was to connect grassy patches until I made the ridge proper. The climb to the ridge is a good 1000+ feet so I picked my way through grassy zones connected by wind hammered patches of snow. We climbed ever higher through thinning snow to reach Silverheel's summit ridge. The upper ridge was a gentle snow free walk and the three of us kept up a steady pace to reach the summit around noon. The sky was blue but for a small cloud here and there and when we reached the summit, the air was nearly still . . .
We ate a small snack and after about 15 minutes it was time to head down. The wind, in the meantime, had come up right nicely, and with it, the promise of enough wind chill to freeze the mustache and make the windward eye weep a bit. We knew that a retreat down our ascent route would only guarantee us the opportunity to re-climb the long spur we had used to drop off of Hoosier Ridge. Alternatively, we could cut down a bit sooner and follow the spur and subsequent serpentine ridge that separates Scott Gulch from Purgatory Gulch. That route would also give us plenty of up and down action to further the conditioning regimen. This route was much more to our liking and soon we were dropping down a path much steeper than our ascent route that seemed well trod by the mountain goats and big horn sheep we had seen on our ascent.
We dropped to the saddle and then the wind decided to really work us over. The wind picked up as we rest stepped our way slowly to the juncture of the Continental Divide. But before, we got to the junction point, the wind convinced us to call it an afternoon. We cut a more direct route back to Hoosier Ridge and kicked a set of steps up a short section of wind hammered snow to gain the flatter ridge behind. From there we moved smartly along Hoosier Ridge, up and over a hump or two and then on back down our ascent slope to the willow and woods below. The warmth of the car now lay within sight and soon enough we were thinking more about a burger in Breckenridge than how we were going to get the warmth back in our fingers.
Our over all trip distance was about 8.5 miles and perhaps 3500 feet of vertical, covered in about 7 hours. We also found all that we were looking for . . . distance, cold, and enough up and down to work the quads in anticipation of what lies in store for us in Argentina.
The other side of Hoosier Pass . . . a bone chilling climb of North Star Mountain