Backcountry Skiing in Colorado

Skiing and Hiking in the Colorado Backcountry

High on Huron (14,003′) and Speedy Too!

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Huron Shines in the Morning Sun

July 1st, 4:30am I was out of bed and in the car heading towards Chaffee county Rd 390.  I’ve taken this trip several times before since 390 feeds would-be climbers into the popular Missouri Gulch.  From here hikers can bag three 14ers, Belford, Oxford and of course Missouri.  It had been almost a year to the day that Jon Jay and I skied Missouri but this time I had a different objective, Huron Peak.

Back when I had undertaken the aforementioned climbs, I had no idea that tucked way back in this valley was Huron Peak, just waiting to be tackled.  I must admit, I hate driving the 390 since its wash-board-dirt-road rattles the crap out of my wanna be Hyundai SUV.  It’s not a short drive either.  In fact, from Highway 24 it’s about 7 miles of annoying wash boards to the Missouri trailhead, and another 5 miles to the historic mining town of Winfield and the 2WD trailhead for Huron Peak.

Winfield, Old Mining Town

From there, it’s driver’s choice whether to take the 4wd road another 2 miles to the upper trailhead.  I had read on that the road wasn’t too bad so I decided to give it a go and shorten the hike to a mere 6.75 miles.

Today I was rolling solo, you see, I had a mission in mind.  I wanted to see how fast I could climb Huron and push myself to the limit.  I’ve felt pretty strong on the last few hikes, and I have to admit, if you’re used to carrying skis up these mountains a mere hike can seem pretty easy.  My plan was to jog/run as much as I could and see what sort of time I could finish up with.

The trail began pretty flat and I took off running at a good pace.  Before long I came upon the famous Sawatch switch-backs which are pretty common on any Sawatch climb.  These particular switchbacks were pretty typical of the Sawatch… long and unrelenting.  My jog slowed to a brisk walk as I meandered through the woods.  Eventually I broke tree-line and Huron came into view along with the stunning 3 Apostles.

The 3 Apostles, South Apostle, Ice Mountain and North Apostle.

The trail remained steep longer than I had hoped and eventually flattened into a meadow.  This flat spot is only about 200 yards long and is just a tease before the real climbing begins, the 1700 foot climb up the North Ridge.  I figure it must’ve taken me about 45 minutes to get to this point, and I was hoping for a summit time of 2 hours, so I figured I was in good position.  Up until this point my legs had felt heavy (I think I drank one too many beers the night before in an attempt to carbo-load) so I didn’t know what kind of pace I would take up the North Ridge.  However, once the trail steepened, those extra carbs must’ve kicked in!  I found an extra gear and was moving fast.  I passed about 15 climbers on that ridge assault and by 1:15 into the hike, I was nearing the summit.  I decided to change my summit goal from 2 hours to 1:30 and really kicked it into high gear.  I reached a section of rock scrambling and felt the lactic acid burning in my legs as I pushed one in front of the other.  I had established a pace, but it was a pace that was just below my absolute max.  I kept glancing at my watch and knew I had to keep going.  The summit wa getting closer and the clock read 1:17, I was going to make it!  I set my sights on a lone rock outcropping and put my head down!  At 1:20 I reach the top in sheer exhaustion only to find…. SHIT… False summit!  I looked to my right and saw the remaining route climbing what looked to be another 500 feet straight up.  I had reached two climbers taking in the sites on this small hump and thought I might throw up right then and there.  Had they not been there, I probably would have.  But right as I was taking this rest, something weird happened.  I don’t know if I was suffering from slight altitude sickness or what, but when I glanced back to my right, the route seemed to have shortened significantly.  It no longer looked like 500 ft, more like 100, and it didn’t look nearly as steep.  The climber to my right said to his partner, “Well, shall we finish up?”  and before they could, I was off again.  In 4 minutes I was on top, with a summit time of 1:26.  I met a few climbers up there and dropped a few Shot Bloks (with caffeine of course) to energize.  After the break, I took some summit shots and was on the way back down.

Summit Shot

I ran down most of the north ridge except where rock made it too difficult and was back at the car in 57 minutes for a total time of 2:23 (not including my brief summit rest.)  The trip was a blast and I pushed my body harder than I have in  a long time.  I have to admit, my legs are pretty sore as I’m writing this but it’s definitely rewarding.  As long as I am able, I enjoy the inner exploration as much as the outward exploration of enjoying the mountains.  I am absolutely loving this journey and I love this part of living in Colorado.  Stay tuned for the next adventure.

P.S. I apologize for the poor photo quality.  These were taken with my blackberry and a new camera is hopefully on the horizon.


Author: ToblerX

Husband, Father and fun-lover. I love to ski, climb, hike and preferably all of them together!

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