Monday, August 17, 2009

Hope Passed, for Now...

Hope Pass Hike
Winfield/Missouri Gulch
Sat, 15-Aug
with Jessica
~5.0 miles rt, 10k to 12500, ~3 hours total

Originally, we talked about doing the Stonewall Century this weekend, but decided against it due to general lack of interest (for now). I had been wanting to do this ride since my friend Will told me about it a few years ago, and it fit the bill of the kind of organized ride I like: scenic, affordable, fair amount of climbing, small-town feel, and far enough from home to justify driving there to ride some different roads. I was a bit bummed to hear that this was the final year, but I have sense learned it will be back next year (with a new director) -- huzzah!

Instead, we looked at another hike. We can't get enough of the Sawatch, so we decided to return there. Problem was, weather was fairly unsettled across Colorado for the weekend. It looked sucky for sure in the Fort, at least for Saturday, so it would be nice to leave. Still, I ruled out some longer, all-day hikes to minimize suffering due to weather. I was still hopeful that we could do Huron Peak from Lulu Gulch. The question is, would the weather cooperate?

The answer was mixed. Heavy rain was predicted through midnight Friday night, and then some clearing and lower probability (but still ~30%) for rain. This wasn't too far off the same forecast for our last couple of trips near Leadville, which ended up having decent weather most of the morning at least. We were both kind of tired from work, and I was unable to leave early enough, so we decided to set the alarms for 2 and head off in the morning. One concern, though, was driving right through the start of the Leadville 100 Trail Race (mt. bike), which started at 5:45 AM with a fairly sizeable field, spectators, and a guy named Lance.

Luckily, this part of the plan went off without a hitch. We got into Leadville at 5:02AM, which means that "Provin' Grounds" was open with fresh coffee! I refilled my cup and headed out of town, careful to avoid light-less racers warming up on the road, and just got through before they closed Main St.
Did I mention it was 38 degrees and rain/snow over Fremont Pass?

From Leadville into Chaffee County, though, the weather cleared and I could see stars, along with a barely brightening Eastern horizon. Going down CR-390, though, there was a decent amount of fog, but also consistent dark clouds and rain sitting in the valley.

Still, we parked at South Winfield and headed up toward Huron. The trailhead and camping spots were noticeably less crowded than a few weeks ago, but still a fair amount of traffic. Once we split off the main 4x4 road up toward Lulu Gulch, though, we didn't see anyone else. But, that's also when we heard thunder, at 7AM.
Bad news.
It was distant enough and we were still well within treeline that we held out hope it would clear up. Instead, the rain intensified, and the temperature dropped. Also, this peak is known for phenomenal views, being distant from paved roads and all -- would it be worth it to get up there -- cold, wet, and anxious about storms -- only to see more clouds and rain?
We turned back and headed for the car. Discussing our options, we decided to sleep in the car for an hour or two, wait out the weather, and check on our options. I had a backup plan to hike Quail Mountain, so we headed to that (empty) trailhead, and napped.

Around 9:30, the sun was out among puffy and fast-moving but still non-threatening clouds, so we headed up Sheep Gulch, an original (but now bypassed) part of the Colorado Trail toward the saddle between Quail Mountain and Hope Mountain. I didn't know it at the time, but the pass over the saddle is Hope Pass -- the high point near the middle of the Leadville 100 Trail Run.
Also, Quail Mountain itself has been studied in the past to be developed as a ski resort. Since I've fallen in love with that area, I'm glad this nightmare never came to pass (apparently, the yearly snow totals were too low).

The trail has a steep immediacy, but is very well constructed and proceeds through dense aspen.

As we climbed, some new clouds rolled in, and moderate rain started falling, turning into small hail. We could see bits of blue to the West, and the clouds were moving fast...we waited about 3-4 minutes under tree cover, and sure enough, the rain stopped. We continued over some rockfall,
which looks like a fun way to approach toward Hope, and eventually broke out above treeline, revealing fabulous views of Missouri Gulch.

Keeping an eye on the weather, we headed up switchbacks towards the saddle. I put on extra layers before reaching the top, bracing myself for the inevitable blast of wind that comes over the Divide. Jessica joined me for a windy pic at the pass:

We took in the great views, but not for long. We decided not to climb Quail Mountain, but instead head back to treeline, as the clouds continued to threaten from the southwest.

Waves of clouds came in, but no storms. Interestingly, the weather seemed to swirl around the valley, staying mostly blue on the side above Hope Pass, and mostly grey above Belford/Oxford/Missouri/Huron. As we descended, we checked out a cool abandoned mine, that was wide enough for further exploration, but not by me, not today (La verdad: tengo miedo del muqui!)

More clouds came in but still no rain. We saw our first and only people, a friendly couple, exploring the bottom part of the trail: all in all, a great hike for views and solitude. At the bottom, we set up camp down the road, took a nap outside, and grilled up veggie burgers and corn for lunch. We hung out the afternoon reading and napping, and the weather held up, but we decided to head back that night. After, of course, a mandatory stop at Eddyline Brewpub in BV!

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