Thursday, March 14, 2013

Joe Mills Mountain and Mount Wuh in the winter.

March 12, 2012: I had another fun hike in full on winter conditions, joined by Dan this time around. 
We survived the predicted "blizzard" over the weekend, and when it started to snow lightly on Monday evening, I didn't think much of it.  Weather said it was supposed to end by 9:45 PM, so imagine my surprise when I woke up and it was still snowing!  I think this storm dropped more snow than the blizzard.
Anyway, I drove to meet Dan in Lyons, and it was snowing the whole way up to Estes Park.  It was snowing when we reached the Bear Lake trail head.  Dan opted to start without snow shoes, while I decided to strap mine on right away.
The going was not too bad at first, maybe up to six inches of powder over a packed trail.  There were a few places where the trail runs along a steep hillside, which took some extra care and caution to pass safely.
We were the first two up the trail and kept remarking at how beautiful it looked.  Like a Bob Ross painting almost.  
Happy little trees.
If you look on the topo map I have below, you can see a place where the trail goes through an area without trees.  With the wind blown snow in deep piles and visibility low, this is where we lost the trail.  But no fret, we knew we just had to follow the curve of the hillside above us around, without gaining or loosing too much elevation, and then head down.
So off we went.
Stopping in some trees for a snack was a good idea until the wind blew, covering Dan with a liberal dose of snow.
We were on the northern flank of the hill when the wind died for a brief moment and Joe Mills Mountain swam into view.  We decided to try to head for the saddle between it and Wuh before heading up.  In reality, we made a more direct ascent of the south face of Joe Mills.
The going was, of course, quite tough.  But having two people to switch off trail breaking duties did make it easier than last week.  The snow conditions were better as well, with a more liberal coating over everything in our path.
We made it up to a high point, which we hoped was the summit.  But in moving past it, we saw another place that was definitely higher, and then another.  We were fully exposed to the whipping wind now, and the blown snow didn't feel too great on the exposed skin of my face.  Time to add another layer.
Shortly thereafter, we got to the summit.  I am told it normally has some pretty spectacular views- on this day you could JUST make out Odessa Lake.
Dan at the summit cairn.  We didn't bother looking for a register. 
I think this may be looking back the ridge we came up to get to the summit.
We quickly descended, following our trail back until we were in some trees and out of the wind.  Here we had a snack and debated as to whether we should continue on to Wuh or not.  It seemed like were were both pretty noncommittal either way, but in the end we decided that we had come this far, we had tons of daylight left, conditions were likely to improve from this point on, and while we'd still have to break trail, the majority of it would be downhill or on level ground.  So off we went. 
Heading down Mills to Wuh.  We spied Round Pond through the trees and aimed in a direction slightly to the right or south of that.
A brief moment of clarity on the slopes of Joe Mills Mountain.
The downhill was fun, but the saddle seemed to drag on forever before we started heading up again.  But up again we went.  The snow was a mix of crust under the powder that would often but not always support your weight, which kept us on our toes! 
Dan doing the Mount Wuh shake.
By now we could see the sun and some blue skies.  I assume that snow had stopped falling, but the wind was picking up what had fallen (particularly from higher elevations), and the day still looked like this. 
I couldn't even really see what I was shooting here.
On Wuh.  Again, we stayed briefly before turning back and getting to lower and more sheltered elevations for a snack. 
Snowshoe heaven!  We took a look at a map and decided we were somewhere around or between the 'd's' in Round Pond, and we should head directly south from here.  Dan got out his compass to find south, and off we went.  He remarked that though visibility was low, this was the first and only time we used anything to route find.
Not too long after that we crossed Mill Creek, and were able to find the trail.  We again briefly lost it in the area without trees, but were back on it in no time.
The skies finally started to clear in earnest, and we made our way back down.  We debated as to if we'd see anyone or not, and we did eventually, as well as seeing signs that someone had followed our trail part of the way up to ski back down it. 
Back at Bear Lake, where we saw a fair amount of people. 
Hallett Peak just barely visible.
Red shows approximately where we left the trail and made our way up Mills, blue from Mills to Wuh, and green back down to the trail.
It took us seven hours to complete this hike, which was probably somewhere around seven miles in length.  About 2/3 of that was over unbroken terrain.  Yes, I slept well Tuesday evening!  I would expect this hike to be a good bit easier to do in the summer.
This marks my ninth and tenth peaks in the park so far this year!  Not bad!
Joe Mills Mountain and Mount Wuh in the winter:
Joe Mills Mountain: 2.9 miles one way, 1628 foot gain (9450-11078).  Second class.  Strenuous- in winter conditions.
Mount Wuh: 2.7 miles one way, 1311 foot gain (9450-10761).  Second class.  Strenuous- in winter conditions.

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