A Colorado Thirteener on the Continental Divide
07.11.2009 -10 °C
Snowflakes gusted past my car window as I left the hotel in Idaho Springs and turned up the valley. The blue patches in the metallic grey sky held out some hope but since I'd arrived at Denver, 2 days before in warm sunshine, winter seemed to have returned to the Colorado Rockies.
I followed the I-70 through a heavy snow shower which ended abruptly just after Georgetown revealing my objective for the day. The pyramid of Mt Sniktau rose ahead over the left side of the valley, its snow covered upper slopes reaching up to the grey ceiling overhead.
Snow showers at valley level didn't bode well for attempting my first ever 13000 foot summit. The route I was planning was an easy walk - in summer - but though it was almost June, it was a none too summery 3C at my hotel back down the valley. Leaving the interstate just before the Eisenhower Johnson Tunnel, I followed the winding road up through tall conifers towards the Loveland Pass. I saw no cars on this stretch but the road was completely clear of snow as I ascended the pass. Once above the timber line, the view of the surrounding mountains opened up. The air was remarkably clear between the snow showers and allowed distant views. At the top of the pass I pulled in at a small parking lot. There was only one other vehicle there, the occupants of which ventured outside for all of half a minute before getting in out of the cold. Probably a sensible option!
As I prepared to set out, an intrepid cyclist rode into the parking area. He was in training for some up and coming races and was a huge fan of Lance Armstrong whose recent exploits in the Tour de France had boosted the sport's popularity in the States. I'd have to get my bike out again when I got home, I thought to myself as I set out up the trail.
The path followed a wide easy ridge leading up a thousand feet or so to the East. This was actually the Continental Divide and it led up over open slopes to a breezy summit named on my map simply as point 12915. I took it slowly going up as I was a little breathless from the altitude. At the top I stopped by a cairn to admire the view behind. A wide landscape of bare mountains flecked with snow and the darker greens of the valleys across which drifted the snow showers like grey veils. Closer at hand could be seen the runs of the A-Basin ski area just across the valley.
Not far to the North rose 2 summits, the further of which was Mt Sniktau. Leaving the first top, I set out towards them, the going easy down the frozen turf and stones of the ridge. In what seemed like no time I was at the base of the first top and the altitude kicked in again as I made its ascent, the path now partly hidden by patches of snow.
More weather looked to be approaching from the North West and it began to snow again, the tiny flakes gusting across the ridge in the icy wind. I reached the first which had the equally imaginative name of '13152' on the map. From here the rapidly disappearing summit of Sniktau was visible half a mile away.
The ridge was straight and easy to follow so I went on. It should be easy to find my way back if the weather became worse. The last pyramid gave no difficulty and in a rising wind I soon reached the highest rocks. The view was intermittent as the cloud base was skimming the peak and the windblown snow was increasing by the minute. For a while I could make out the I-70 far below in the valley then this too was gone. I bet this is a great spot in clear weather but it was starting to get grim so I hastily set off back down the ridge. Walking back into the wind was harder and it was so cold that any exposed skin became instantly numb. I made my way down in what was almost a white out, turning back to the wind every so often to let my face thaw out. Should have brought a balaclava! I managed to stay warm though and afterskirting round point 13152 and cutting the corner off where I'd visited the first peak - the visibility was better down here - I rejoined the path I'd ascended from the pass.
The view had gone but it wasn't as bad here, the snow was starting to whiten the ground as I arrived back at the pass but the wind wasn't quite so strong and the cloud had lifted. It was still a relief to get back to the warmth of the car though.
Pete Buckley May 2004
Essentials >>> Up 427m >>> Down 427m >>> How Far? 5.5km >>> How High? 4034m/13234ft