Sunday, August 30, 2009

8/28/09-8/29/09 Winfield Peak, Virginia Peak, Quail Mountain

Winfield Peak (13,077), Virginia Peak (13,088)
~8 miles
~3,500 vertical
Jeff, Allison and Sierra Valliere

After sitting out most of July and all of August due to a broken foot, I was looking forward to a 3 day camping/hiking trip to Winfield to try and salvage what little is left of the summer hiking season.

We got a late start Thursday morning and arrived in Winfield a little after 2pm and found a quiet camp spot along the turnoff just beyond the cemetery. After setting up camp, we spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring up the valley toward the La Plata TH. My foot felt good, but I was still a bit apprehensive about how it would feel hiking a peak for the first time in so long the following day.

With only a rough idea of the names of the peaks surrounding camp, we decided to take advantage of the old mining roads that zig-zag up the N/NE slopes of Winfield Peak. After a leisurely morning sleeping in and getting ready, we began at 8:45am. We crossed the N. Fork of Clear Creek, soon after emerging from the trees into the meadow, roughly 3/4th of a mile up the road from the cemetery. The road that ascends the peak is not used anymore and overgrown, so is a bit reclusive. We bee lined up the hill through the open grass in an avy path and soon intersected with the road, although the up direction went down hill and looked too circuitous. Feeling good, we opted to avoid the road for a bit and continued up the ever steepening slopes to the left of the creek/avalanche path and before long intersected with the road once again.

From here on, walking the road was easy street and the ever expanding views across the valley toward La Plata really started to open up. The morning was crystal clear, warm, calm, my foot was feeling great, beyond my high expectations and I was absolutely ELATED to be back in the hills with Allison and Sierra. I was going somewhat slow, just soaking it in and taking pictures, when all of a sudden we happened upon a small raspberry bush in the middle of the road with ripe raspberries. I stooped down to devour the small, but oh so tasty berries, then noticed another bush, then another, then a long stretch of bushes lining the road, all with plump, juicy red mouth watering berries.

This fortuitous find came close to costing us the summit. I am a berry fiend and can get seriously sidetracked and lost in time harvesting handful after handful, stripping each bush clean before moving on to the next and the next. We spent quite some time here and managed to completely devour just about all the ripe berries in sight. Now satiated, with stained hands and mouths, we continued onward and upward, completely enjoying the perfect day.

Soon we were in a nice basin to the NE of Winfield Peak and departed from the road, in favor of the steeper, yet more direct route up the grassy, but very steep slopes to the NE ridge. My thighs were burning going up this, but my foot still felt good and my cardiovascular system felt hardly taxed, nor was I feeling the altitude, which I attribute to 3 weeks on cycling and a few bike trips up Mt. Evans.

We reached what we hoped to be the summit, but was indeed a false summit, less than 100 vertical feet from the true summit and 2/10th of a mile distant. On just about any other day, this would be no biggie, but the ridge was much rockier than I had hoped. Instead of a casual tundra walk, it was instead a jumbled mess of talus and I was unsure how I would hold up balancing from rock to rock and putting uneven pressure on my healing foot.

I started off slow and cautious, testing the waters so to speak, but was still feeling good, so we continued on. At the summit, the ridge over to Virginia Peak, about ¾ of a mile distant looked similar to what we had just ascended, but no worse. The weather was perfect and we were in no rush, so we headed in that direction, taking our time and enjoying the expansive views. This was the moment I had been waiting for all summer, for what seemed like an eternity, now was a blip on the radar screen, being above tree line, cruising ridges with my two best friends after a long hiatus is more than I can put into words.

Though I felt great mentally and physically, I was well aware that I needed to continue to exercise caution, as my balance and dexterity on the rocks is not 100%. We spent a long time on Virginia, lounging in the warm sun, taking pictures and enjoying the moment. Reluctantly, we decided we had better head back to camp.

Instead of backtracking our ascent route, we decided to make a loop out of it by descending the East ridge of the sub-summit between Winfield/Virginia, then dropped into and followed the drainage just to the North. This turned out to be a good/bad move. Good in that it allowed us to take in some awesome new scenery, but bad in that the descent back down to the valley floor got quite steep and made for a challenging bushwhack. Once in the valley, we found another abandoned mining road that lead us back to Winfield, making for a 7 hour day at a leisurely pace.

Quail Mountain (13,461)
~6 miles
~3,500 vertical
Jeff, Allison and Sierra Valliere

After packing up camp, we decided to head up Quail Mountain on the way home. We got off to another cracking 8:45am start up Sheep Gulch toward Hope Pass. Having hiked the other side of Hope Pass when climbing Mt. Hope a few years ago, and having heard so much about the Leadville 100, I was eager to see this infamously steep section of trail. As advertised, the trail kicks up within a few hundred feet of the parking lot and keeps on going, up, up and up through lush forest and thick stands of aspen. I kept imagining humping it up over this pass during the race with 55 miles behind me and 45 to go…. Ouch!

Feeling good, we maintained a steady, but not too pressed pace to the pass, where we took a long break and fueled up for the final push up the remaining 900 or so feet to the summit. Allison and I simultaneously started racing up the final pitch, but there was no clear winner, as I went to what looked to be the highest point and she went to the summit cairn which was very nearby, but there was some debate as to which is higher. I’ll just call it a tie. We were surprised by the several, mostly intact cabins hiding just over the East side of the summit.

Talk of food, building clouds and a chilly breeze with snowflakes mixed in discouraged us from lingering too long, so we beat a hasty retreat. The trip down was very scenic, as we noticed all kinds of things that we somehow missed on the way up. Just as I was marveling at how we had not seen another person on any of our hikes, up comes a lone hiker, the only one we would see over the course of our weekend. Gotta love the lack of people on peaks under 14k. On the opposite end of the spectrum, passing the Missouri/Belford/Oxford TH, I was amazed, (though not entirely surprised) by the lot being packed to capacity, plus overflow parked along the road, perhaps 30 cars in either direction.
I did not keep close track of splits, but I think we made the summit around 11am (~2:15 up) and the RT turned out to be 4 hours even. I am very encouraged that I felt better than the previous day and feel like I am ready to continue to hike regularly (although my quads are really sore a day later), however, I will still wait a few more weeks until I start running and pushing myself.


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