This weekend weather was supposed to be nice and ski resorts are still hurting for a couple more good storms so I decided to wander up to Mt Arkansas on Fremont Pass. Intent was to snowshoe up as high as I could then switch over to crampons if conditions were good enough and felt like climbing higher. No real set agenda or goal other than to get outside and burn some calories while simultaneously clearing the brain.
|Sun just lighting up the ridgeline of Mt Arkansas|
Rolled into the access road/parking area just a little after 8:00am and geared up. Sun had not broken the crest of the Mt Democrat ridgeline so things were still a little cold in the shade of the mountain. Put an extra layer on as most of the route I was planning would be blocked from the sun for most of the climb.
Had about 8 inches of light snow that was a couple of days old with a solid layer underneath. I worked my way up the same open glade on the western slopes that I had climbed last spring. With every 100 foot or so of vertical gain the snow depth got deeper accordingly. Before too long I was breaking trail through a solid foot of lighter snow with a firm layer underneath that was just strong enough to hold until you got your full weight on it. Then you would crash down, snowshoe and all, another foot deeper. If there was enough snow higher up this would have set off the avalanche warning signs in my head. As the case was above tree line the western slopes of Mt Arkansas were still relatively free of any snow build up. Most of the lighter powder snow that I was standing in below tree line had been swept up and over the ridgeline anywhere it was not sheltered.
|Breaking trail while still lower with Mt Democrat looking down in the background|
In fact, when I reached the same open chute that I had successfully snowshoed right up last spring to the exposed slopes above I was met with a large talus field only partially filled with snow. Snow here was just deep enough to cover all but the largest boulders. To cross this meant you would be walking blind to gaps between the rocks and surfaces at odd angles. Didn’t really feel like breaking an ankle or destroying my snowshoes in an attempt to cross. Other option was to work back into the trees and fight the willows and underbrush in an attempt to gain tree line.
Decided to work my way back down and pick a slightly different route back to the car. In the process came across a small sheltered clearing that the local elk population had used to bed down the night before. Lots of sign and multiple tracks coming in and out of the clearing meant this was a very popular gathering point for a big herd.
|Follow the Sun|
Got down to the car just as another person was pulling in. They had the same idea as I did but wanted to tele up the access road the end of the valley and back down. Gave him my snow condition report, wished him the best. Loaded the car back up and was back home by 2:00. Approx 1,200 vertical gain over roughly 4 miles round trip hiking.
|View of a snow covered Mt of The Holy Cross and the Halo Ridge from Fremont Pass|