Sunday, February 13, 2011

Winter Shermanator

Mt. Sherman, 14036 ft
2850ft gain from Leavick Site

I had been wanting to summit and ski something high this winter, but most weekends had either bitter cold, snow, or both. Finally, this weekend shaped up to be sunny and warmer, albeit still with high winds in the mountains. The previous couple days had settled the recent snowpack somewhat, but avalanche danger was still "Considerable" on the CAIC website. I opted to check out Mt. Sherman, as I had some familiarity with the different route options and some ideas on how to avoid the riskiest avalanche terrain (namely, the cornice on the saddle towards Sheridan). Also, it is generally pedestrian and considered "easy" in the summer, so it is correspondingly crowded; ironically, this is the only one J and I turned around on due to snow and wind in November.

I brought my skis. The real 14er ski studs are pretty adamant about skiing from the summit, but I was going to see how far up/down I could get.

I went up solo, though when parking at the Leavick site, I met a group of 4 on snowshoes and their dog. They were going to evaluate either avoiding the cornice to the right of the standard route, or heading up White Ridge. I had the same ideas in mind, and headed off up the road, glad to have some company in the vicinity, though we never met up for the rest of the day.

But there were also mountain goats:

The wind was steadily direct straight at me as I hiked up past the lower mines and the cabin. Here, I evaluated my options. White Ridge had less snow and would be an easier hike on foot -- ultimately the other party took that route. Otherwise, there was a continuous layer of thin snow from the summit, but I didn't know how stable it was. There was more mellow snow and scree to the climber's right of the cornice. I decided to take this route up so I could evaluate the snow options for the decent.

However, I made slow progress up toward the ridge as the wind intensified. The skis were a liability, as they would catch any gust and twist me sideways. I could only imagine it being more difficult on the ridge. Plus, I wasn't overly enthusiastic about skiing solo on variable snow in windy conditions anyway, so I stashed the skis halfway up.

Climbing without the skis was remarkably easier. I was glad to have my ax with me for some of the steeper pitches, as well as Microspikes which fit nicely over my boots. Finally, I reached the ridge, which was as windy as advertised, a constant jet engine roaring in my ears.

By staying on the back side of the ridge, of course, it was easier to stay upright in the wind. Occasionally, I crossed back onto the top, and a gust would knock me down to my knees again.

Finally, I got over the false summit, and then onto the summit itself. By lying flat on my back, I could escape most of the wind. I had some great banana bread and still-warm coffee!

Now I headed back down the ridge, as carefully as before, and then back down to my skis. Downclimbing in the wind was even more disconcerting as heading up. I finally reached my skis, but didn't have a good spot to put them down, so I ended up downclimbing further until I was in solid but mellow-angle snow just above the cabin.

Finally, I was able to use the skis and wind to my advantage, as the road and creek below the upper cabin were a solid layer of skiable snow.

So I didn't get to ski anywhere near the summit, but still enjoyed a winter hike with mixed climbing and skiing. Just hiking above the cabin would have been much faster, but the ski down was considerably faster and more enjoyable than walking. This is even a good spot for a mellow ski or snowshoe outing, as I saw a couple of other folks doing, without heading to the summit.

Frostbite? Windburn?

Although I made great time up and back to the cabin, I took more time in between, and ended up back at the car after 5.5 hours. I was glad to relax and get out of the wind.

At some point later -- not immediately -- my watch felt somewhat uncomfortable, so I took it off. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that it was swollen and sore underneath. Within minutes, literally, a dime-sized patch of purple formed on the bony protrusion at the end of my ulna. Not 10 minutes later, that patch disappeared, as it turned bluish-white, though remained swollen. Remembering back, I had fallen lightly while skiing and landed on my wrists, though it wasn't that unusual; and, my gloves and clothing don't fully cover my wrists from the wind if I'm not careful.

A few hours later, it looked more like a swollen bruise -- nowhere near as nasty as most of the frostbite pictures online, but still out of the ordinary. That area of skin still has full sensation.

By the next day, a thin, jagged purple line appeared across the top of my wrist. I can move my wrist in any direction, pain-free, but bumping the bruise is painful.

Even stranger, the wife 'encouraged' me to shave. When I did, I noticed some reddish-purple, slightly painful blotches under my chin(!). I had a facemask on all day, and thought I did a good job of keeping everything covered and warm (my fingers and toes felt fine all day). However, I also had my ski helmet on, and I even buckled it at some point.

The only full explanation I can come up with is that the elevation induced some swelling which constricted bloodflow further at my watchband and helmet strap, made even worse in areas that had some exposure to the cold and high wind. Perhaps I had some trauma to my wrist from falling at some point, but the lack of bloodflow prevented proper inflammation and some of the blood kind of pooled there, only to disperse later.

That's all I can think of on another weird and obscure injury, but yes, more lessons to be learned. Glad to be on the summit of a mountain, but looking forward to warmer, non-windy days!

EDIT: This sounds more and more like windburn, based on some reading online. The skin is quite dry, and it's likely that somehow the sweat and constriction from my watch and having that wrist uncovered more may have affected it. There is also a small patch (much less dramatic) on my right wrist as well. But it appears to be healing somewhat.


  1. No idea what the purple patches are! That shot of the goats up high is awesome!

  2. That's pretty wild. Whatever the phenomenon is, hopefully it goes away soon.

    It was definitely windy this weekend, I could see snow blasting HIGH off the Indian Peaks from a distance. But down here, even up on Green in Boulder it was T-shirt weather. Barely :)

  3. Just out of curiosity I checked some Weather Underground historical data near Alma this weekend (data from 11k feet), and it was 30 degrees max and ~20 mph winds. It's not inconceivable that exposed at 14k with higher gusts you were in frostbite territory.

  4. Thanks, GZ, I had no idea about the goats until I had a sensation of being watched, and there they were! They moved down a bit by the time I fumbled with my camera.

    mntrunner, I saw your IP spindrift pictures. The predicted winds were 20-25mph sustained, gusts up to 34. I actually picked Sherman over Quandary, which had gusts up to 50(!) predicted.
    Someone measured 41 on a nearby lower peak, and the consensus is that ~35-40mph is 'knock you down' territory (esp. wearing bulky clothes).

    I thought I was prepared for that, but I think that wearing constricting items at elevation factored in (which, if you read about climbing, frostbite, etc., is a common warning all over the place!)

  5. Leaning towards windburn now, based on pictures online. There was a small patch on my right wrist as well that wasn't immediately obvious, and the chin patches were the small section that wasn't covered up on my face. The left side is probably from checking my watch occasionally and not pulling the glove back; and the left side of the chin is worse than the right.
    ; and the left was the side more exposed to the wind on the ridge when upclimbing (twice as slow as downclimbing).

    I like consistent theories!

    I've certainly skied all day in colder temps with no problem before; ridden/run in constant wind; but the low humidity, cool temps and constant wind combination must've done it.

    Lesson learned: cover up and/or use a moisturizer I guess.
    Or: just SOOTFW!