Monday, July 13, 2015

Father Dyer Peak and Crystal Peak

Father Dyer Peak
I wasn’t able to make an ascent on Father Dyer last weekend, so this weekend I made a return trip to the Crystal Basin to climb the East Ridge. Ryan was up for a scramble so we made plans to attempt the Crystal Basin group of Father Dyer, Crystal Peak and Peak 10.  We had an early departure from the Denver area and made our way to the Breckenridge area by 7am.

From the standard Spruce Creek TH (39.436909, -106.050611) we started making our way to the Spruce Creek 4WD TH (39.428680, -106.069556).  The gate for Crystal Road (39.435797, -106.053966) was open for the first time this year, so we decided to give it a shot.  This road is pretty narrow and steep, but it does go all the way to Lower Crystal Lake.  After about a mile it was too much for my Blazer, so I found a spot to park it in the trees and that would be our trailhead for the day.  If I were to come back I would just drive to the Spruce Creek 4WD TH and start from there.  The Crystal Road is pretty bad in the steeper sections.

False Summit of Father Dyer
By 7:30 a.m. my heels were all taped up and we were heading up the road.  From our start the road was pretty steep, so we both got the blood moving pretty fast. About a mile from the start we reached tree line at around 11,300 feet.  We continued up the road to Lower Crystal Lake at around 12,000 feet.  There was one creek crossing that was still a little bit challenging, but we were able to cross without getting too wet.

It took us about an hour to make our way to Lower Crystal Lake.  Here there is a split (39.436016, -106.088639)– if you take the road to the right that is the route directly to Crystal Peak, if you take the old mining road to the left that heads to the East Ridge of Father Dyer.   So, go to the left and follow the road till it makes a bend (39.433191, -106.090134) to the east onto the rock glacier.  From here it is a cross-country route with some nice scrambling to the summit of Father Dyer.

Ryan Making His Way Up The East Ridge
Follow the edge of the rock glacier till there is a nice opening heading up the slope to the west.  After making your way through some large rock outcroppings the terrain turns more to grass and levels out for a bit.  You will soon find yourself at the base of the rocky East Ridge and this is where the scrambling starts.  We took a long break here in order to fuel up for the climbing ahead of us.  This route stays in the lower class 3 level and would be a great place to introduce new climbers to some solid rock.

We had a goal of summiting at 10am, which would have us climbing at about 1,000ft and hour.  This was a high expectation considering today was Ryan’s first day at high elevation, and we both were taking our time checking out the cool rocks along the route.  There was more than one occasion where we had to stop and rock hound the pegmatite veins.  We were pulling terminated crystals out of veins and on the surface.  Soon I found my pack was loaded with minerals and we were still on the ascent.  If I grab rocks or minerals I like to usually do it after peaking, but these were just too beautiful to leave behind.  I think both of us will be back just to rock hound the area at a later date.

Ryan Seems To Be Having Fun
Getting back to the scramble...  We stayed true to the ridge for the most part.  There were a few ledges and narrow sections with moderate exposure that required some attention, but nothing that a rookie couldn’t handle.  I would say the crux would have been climbing up and over one of the notches mid-ridge, but overall it was very basic class 3 climbing.  As you follow the rest of the route, it leads you to the large false summit that was visible earlier from Lower Crystal Lake.  As you are climbing the ridge and glance to the south there is a large arĂȘte, and that is the true summit of Father Dyer.  From the false summit it is a rocky ridge walk to the true summit of just a few hundred yards.  On the summit there is a plaque commemorating the 100th anniversary of Father Dyer of the United Methodist Church.

The view of Pacific is well worth the climb alone.  It is a very impressive looking mountain that needs to be inspected in the near future.  We took a short breather, and Ryan made friends with a couple of pikas.  Soon we were off on the ridge towards Crystal.  From Father Dyer it is less than a mile to Crystal.  The ridge is covered in large boulders which made the moving slow.  It took us a little over an hour to go from summit to summit.  As we were making our way we monitored the weather to the south.  There was a good amount of precipitation coming down on Elbert.  We got a few graupel pellets on us, but nothing more than that.  The weather didn’t look too promising so we decided to skip Peak 10 today.  I was up on Crystal and Peak 10 last week so it didn’t bother me too much.

Pacific Peak
We took a few minutes on Crystal’s summit.  I took the tape off my feet.  I think my boots are finally broken in so I can forego the tape from here on out.  We started down to the saddle between Crystal and Peak 10 around 12:30 pm.  It was a little rough making our way through the boulders but once on the saddle the terrain eased up a bit.  Another 600 foot drop had us on the trail that ends at Upper Crystal Lake.  We followed the trail till it started switchbacks then made our way cross country till connecting with the Wheeler Trail.  This saved us some mileage from following the road all the way down and was more interesting in the open country.

Once on the Wheeler Trail we followed it about half mile till meeting up with the Crystal Lake Road.  We were pretty much home free now with less than a mile down the road to the truck. Today was a great climb; one of my favorites in Colorado so far. I am still hoping to get in Pacific, Atlantic, Fletcher, Drift and North Star this summer.  The season is going well so far, and I hope to see some of you on the mountains.  Cheers!

GPS Track
Date: July 11, 2015
TH Elevation: 10,747 feet
Father Dyer Summit: 13,596 feet
Crystal Peak: 13,822 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 3,200 feet
Distance: 7.31 miles
Moving Time: 5hrs
Stopped Time: 2hrs 15min

Climbing Partner: Ryan

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Crystal Peak and Peak 10

Brian and Nick on Peak 10
My old climbing partner Brian was ready for a mini-cation to Colorado so we decided to plan a day in the mountains.  I have recently become interested in the 10 Mile Range near Breckenridge, and thought that Crystal Peak and Peak 10 would be a good choice for a climb.  These are two 13ers that can be approached from Crystal Basin by the Spruce Creek Trail Head.  We utilized the same trail head as my previous trip report up Mount Helen.  This time however we drove the additional 1.25 miles up to the upper 4WD trail head which intersects the Wheeler Trail.  The road was in pretty bad shape compared to a couple weeks ago, so I wouldn’t try heading up to the upper trail head unless you have a high clearance vehicle.
Bryan en route to Crystal Peak
We started up the trail just after 7am.  The Wheeler Trial starts about 50 yards past the gate.  We took the trail on the ascent, but came down the road on the descent.  There is a pretty bad creek crossing which took us quite some time to negotiate.  Finally we were able to toss a log across a narrow section and made it to the other side.  I would recommend taking your boots off for the crossing or just staying on the road and walking a little further around since there is a bridge.  After we crossed there was a short climb out of the drainage and we ended up in some backpacker’s campsite.  From there we just walked cross-country heading towards the peaks till hitting the main road that makes its way to Crystal Lake.  There was a lot of snow runoff so some sections of the road were pretty flooded over and crossing was bit challenging.  I was pretty good in my boots till the water made its way in from the top, and I think Brian went all the way in with his trail shoes a couple times.  Soon after that crossing we stopped and had to ring the water out of our socks.  I’m sure there are ways to avoid a lot of the water, we just didn’t take the time to scout it out too much.
Crystal Peak
Our last water crossing came when we needed to cross the outlet of Crystal Lake.  This was the most manageable of all as there were many rock islands to hop to as we crossed the 30 foot outlet of water.  After this crossing we were pretty much in the clear.  Brian got his shoes soaked in the marsh and had to squeeze the water out of his socks one more time.  After that we were good to go and were on our way towards Crystal Peak. 
We chose to follow the old road that heads to the Upper Crystal Lake.  The road is faint in places and narrows as you rise in elevation; it eventually becomes a single track trail.  This trial goes all the way to Upper Crystal Lake.  We spotted a side trail marked with a cairn that looked like it was heading to the saddle between Crystal and Peak 10.  This lead to a traverse across a boulder field, which went by pretty quickly.  Once at the saddle it is about a 500 foot climb to the summit of Crystal.  The clouds were starting to build, so we took a few minutes to refuel and monitor the weather.  I was satisfied with the weather and we started heading up the route to Crystal’s summit.
This was a solid class 2+ section, I left my poles at the saddle but Brian opted to keep his for the climb up.  I stayed on the rock as Brian hopped between the rock and the snow on the way up.  Within a half hour or less we were on the summit.  There were seven skiers getting ready to make there descent as we arrived.  I was jealous of their descent method, but I was thankful I didn’t have to carry all that equipment up this high.  Brian did very well for being a flatlander.  He lives at about 400 feet above sea level, so I definitely had the advantage today.  We took a few pictures then started making our way down to the saddle.  I was feeling pretty good heading down the rock, and for once my knees weren’t killing me.
Peak 10 East Ridge
At the saddle we checked the weather again and decided we were good to head up Peak 10.  From the saddle we only had to gain about 400 feet and the slope was much more mellow than the climb up Crystal.  This went pretty quick and I didn’t really have to stop on the ascent.  I chatted with another hiker on his way over to Crystal.  He was doing the same route we did but in reverse.  A few minutes later and I was on the summit.  There were about 10 others up there, mostly skiers that were heading down the north face into the Breck ski area.  A few minutes later Brian made it up and we were feeling pretty good that it was all downhill from here.  It there wasn’t the threat of thunderheads we were considering adding Peak 9 as well, but that wasn’t going to happen today.  After a few minutes we started making our way down the East Ridge.
The first few hundred vertical feet was on a snow covered ridge.  I think I can blame that snow on the sunburn my legs are dealing with today.  Our goal was to follow the ridge until it meets up with the Wheeler Trail.  There were a few steep snow fields that we avoided and a large boulder field we had to negotiate.  Once hitting the trail the going was fast, we were actually trotting for a good section of it.  Brian found a snow bank and made himself a snow angel.  He didn’t get any snow days living in California, so he was trying to make up for it.  I wanted to avoid the creek crossing, so we followed the road the rest of the way back to the trail head.
Today was a great day out.  I’m patiently waiting for Brian to move back to Colorado so we can continue checking mountains off our list.  I took some time checking out the East Ridge route of Father Dyer and it is looking like a great possibility for next weekend.  I hope everyone got the chance to enjoy the Freedom of the Hills over the Fourth of July weekend.  Cheers!
GPS Track
Date: 7/4/2015
TH Elevation:  10,960ft 
Crystal Peak: 13,822ft
Peak 10: 13,615ft
Total Gained Elevation: 3,240ft
Distance: 8.07 miles
Moving Time: 5:15
Stopped Time: 1:40
Partners: Brian

Picture Link: Crystal Peak Album


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mount Helen

Mount Helen
During the end of May, Paul and I made an attempt on Mount Helen.  This was not the mountain we were targeting that day, as both of us really wanted to climb Crystal Peak.  As we got back into Crystal Creek basin the snowpack was pretty extreme, so plans from climbing Crystal shifted over to climbing Mount Helen from the north.  We were not on the route of the traditional approach for Helen, so we had to tramp through the deep snow across the valley to meet up with the base of the mountain.  We were contemplating routes up the north eastern face, but the slope was extremely steep.  We gained a few hundred feet and made it into some rock bands where the technicality seemed too much for the both of us on our first climb out for the season.  We decided to turn back and come back for Helen from the traditional route in a few weeks.
Now that three weeks had passed Paul and I were eager to get back into the high country and give Helen another shot.  The best way to approach Helen is from the Spruce Creek TH.  From Breckenridge drive 2 miles south and turn west onto Spruce Creek Road.  Follow the road up a small hill and follow it as it turns to the south.  A couple miles down the road will leave you at the Spruce Creek TH.  We parked there for the start of our hike.  The road was clear at least as far as the Wheeler Trail which is (1.25 miles from Spruce Creek TH) is used in the approach for Helen.  The road was in great shape so any vehicle that made it to the lower TH could have made it to the Wheeler Trail intersection.  There is room up there for five or six vehicles.
Breckenridge Peaks
The Spruce Creek Road intersection and Wheeler Trail is where the hike of Helen will start for most people.  A couple hundred yards up the trail the vegetation to the southwest will start to clear.  Follow the opening till the route intersects with a creek.  Follow this creek to the main east face of Helen.  From there it is a simple hike up the mountain to the summit.
Paul and Nick on the Summit
I may have given you some proper guidance to climbing the mountain, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we took that route.  In my family it’s known as the “Karl Way.”  From the Wheeler Trail we passed the locked gate and hiked about 50 yards then started up the mountain.  There were a few rocky patches and aspen groves we had to fight our way through, but nothing much more than that.  We found our way to the creek and followed that to the open east face.  The north side of the creek had dry patches of dirt following the tree line that we utilized to avoid the snow as much as we could.  Soon enough the dirt ran out and we had to take our snowshoes out.
For the most part we were able to float on top of the snow, but there were sections of slush where we would drop to knee level with our shoes on.  That made for some heavy steps, but lucky for us those conditions didn’t last too long.  We climbed the main snow field to about 11,500 feet then we stashed our shoes there.  From that point to the summit the snow patches were a lot more spread out and we thought it would be faster just playing frogger in-between them.  The going wasn’t too bad, but this was the highest either of us had been in quite a while so the elevation was slowing us down a bit.
Pacific and Father Dyer
Once we got to around 13,000 feet we could see a couple of people on the summit.  Soon they skied down the hundred or so feet to us and we chatted for a few minutes.  Paul and I were pretty envious of their skis, as that would have been a great descent that day.  Another 10-15 minutes of climbing up and we found our way to the summit. 
I was feeling pretty good for this being my first peak since December.  If I had a few more peaks under my belt a trek to Father Dyer would have been awesome.  The connecting ridge looks like a fun scramble, but I will have to do that on another trip.  The Breckenridge peaks are all pretty impressive, I’m hoping to climb a few more this summer and explore some new area.  The highlight of the day may have been the glissade down.  All-in-all we probably dropped 1,000 feet vertical sliding, which is always a nice relief to my knees.  Was a good climb, now Paul and I have unfinished business with North Star Mountain coming up soon I hope.
GPS Track
Date: June 13, 2015
TH Elevation: 10,375 feet
Mount Helen Summit: 13,158 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 2,783 feet
Distance: 5.16 miles
Moving Time: 3hrs 15min
Stopped Time: 2hrs 30min

Climbing Partner: Paul
Photo Album Link:Mount Helen 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Goliath Peak

Heading up Goliath
Originally Cole, Paul and I wanted to attempt a climb of Quandary Peak today.  With the snow conditions it didn’t seem like a good idea, so at the last minute we made plans to climb Goliath Peak.  Goliath is a mountain easily accessed in the summer months along Mount Evans Road.  Since the road is shut down for the winter, I thought it would make for a nice winter snowshoe. 
To access the TH drive I70W to Idaho Springs, find a way to HWY103.  The bridge is out so the detour makes you continue up I70 for a number of miles before turning around heading back down I70E to exit 240.  Once on Hwy 103 follow it for 13miles to the parking area just above Echo Lake.  There is a large road closure sign and that is where this trip began.  The forecast was calling for mostly sunny temps around 5°F with winds of 25mph+ creating wind chills of -26°F.
As we started gearing up at the TH I didn’t think the temp was all that bad.  The reason for this was there was no wind at all.  This was a nice teaser that would soon change for us.  The trail appeared to have about 4-5inches of fresh snow, and there were tracks from the previous day.  I started just wearing micro spikes then about 100yds up the trail put on my snowshoes.  I figured why carry them when I could just wear them.  The temps were cold as expected, soon I was growing icicles on my face, and my nose had frozen all together.
Beautiful Day
By the time we hit the first mile marker the sun was starting to peak through the trees.  We rounded the corner and had the long mile and half switchback ahead of us.  We decided to stay on the road as the trees were very thick and seemed to have a considerable amount of deadfall.  That would have made for a frustrating hike, but the road was very pleasant.  There was hardly any noticeable grade, so it felt like we were just out for a walk in the snow.  Cole and Paul were blazing ahead and I soon gave up even trying to keep up with them.  I was trying not to sweat, because that perspiration would just freeze making me colder.
At the end of the long switchback we were nearing tree-line and the sun was out in full force.  We sat there for a moment, shedding a few wet/frozen layers from sweat and taking a small fuel break.  At this point we had our first view of Goliath, and we could see the wind whipping off the summit ridge.  The sky was clear so we snapped a few pictures then headed down the road.  Nobody had been up this far lately, or the snow had just filled in the tracks so we had a small sense of solitude which was nice.
Summit Shot
We passed some sort of visitor center and stayed on the road as it made its way around a few short turns.  The wind was getting crazy so we all put our shells and goggles on before making the final turn.  Once we saw where the wind swept ridge connected near the road we headed cross country to meet up with it.  We planned to stash our snowshoes along the base of the ridge and boot it up the final 300 feet to the summit.
The wind was un-relenting; I would guess sustained 40mph+ and gusts of 60mph that created white-out conditions.  After caching our snowshoes we made quick work to get on the summit.  The winds calmed enough for us to take some pictures then we headed down to our gear cache.  It was a tricky, slippery descent to the gear but nothing as bad as James Peak about a week ago.  We made our way to the visitor center building to try and find some shelter from the wind to have a beer and some food.
Mount Evans Group
We had our slush-beers and found no real shelter.  We knew it was time to bug out, so we got on the move as fast as we could.  I had my hands exposed for about a minute and I damn near froze my fingers off.  I spent the next thirty minutes or so trying to get the blood flowing again.  Nothing hurts as bad as getting the blood flowing again…makes you want to scream.  We were all in the same boat, so I’m guessing the weather forecast was pretty accurate today.  The best idea was to keep moving so that’s what we did.  Never stopping for more than a few seconds, we were on a march out to the parking lot.
On the way out we passed a few people along the road.  The trail was in pretty good by now, so I could see that this is a heavily used area.  It was about 2pm when we made it back to the car.  The lot had about 6 or 7 other vehicles and the Echo Lake lot was full of 20+ vehicles.  For being so popular we had a nice day of solitude above tree line.  It was a cold wintery hike but we all learned a lot about keeping warm when the weather gets frigid.  It’s fun to hike in the winter, but proceed with caution and be prepared.
GPS Track



Date: 12/27/2014
Starting Elevation:  10,680ft 
Goliath Peak: 12,218ft
Total Gained Elevation: 1,540ft
Distance: 7.42 miles
Moving Time: 4:20
Stopped Time: 1:30
Partners: Cole and Paul

Picture Link: Goliath Peak Photo Album




Friday, December 26, 2014

Lichen Peak

Kristi and Nick on Lichen Peak
Over the last few years I have been taking Kristi on a short Christmas hike, so it is now becoming a tradition.  This year we didn’t really have anything planned, as we sat around in the living room on Christmas morning we didn’t seem to be making much progress on any either.  Around noon we decided on a hike and started getting ready to roll out of the house.  We decided to hike up Lichen Peak which is part of North Table Mountain to the NE of Golden.
Nick at the Summit
From our location in the south Denver metro area we drove C470 north into Golden which turns into HWY93.  Follow this past Golden and a mile or so down the road there is a large sign indicating the parking lot for the North Table Mountain Park.  As we arrived the snow was trying to start, but nothing really accumulating yet.  The area was supposed to get 1-3inches in the afternoon, so we wanted to get to the plateau of the mountain before a total white-out ensued.
From the parking lot the trail we took was more of a road.  It started as an asphalt road that was covered here and there with snow in ice.  After a few hundred yards it transitioned into a packed dirt/gravel road that was mostly covered by snow/ice.  We didn’t need any traction, but by now with all the snow that has fallen that probably isn’t a bad idea.  The first half mile or so is at a pretty good grade, it covers a little less than 500ft vertical placing you at the top of the mesa bowl.  There is a quarry to the east which is used for rock climbing, for our hike we went to the NW and found the Lichen Peak Trail.  From this trail split it is less than a quarter of mile to the small summit. 
The White-Out Approaches
The Lichen Peak Trail was pretty cool, where there was a lot of difference in rock type all of which reminded me of Craters of the Moon back home in Idaho.  Kristi seemed to be enjoying herself.  I got the camera out just before starting up the Lichen Peak Trail, so Kristi became our trip photographer.  The trail was pretty mellow, after a short incline I was on top of the small summit of Lichen Peak.  Kristi was taking pictures like crazy, so I went ahead and opened my summit beer.  A few minutes later Kristi made it to the top and we took our summit selfie.
The clouds were taking over by this point and it was becoming a full-fledged white-out.  Kristi was up for hiking to another hill to make the outing last a little longer so we headed over to the southern point which I believed in unnamed. The view from this point was none other than Coors Brewery.  After a short spell hanging out in the clouds we decided it was cold enough and we could head back to the car.  It was a fun day hiking with Kristi, and hopefully I can twist her wrist and convince her to do another hike or two with me before school starts back up.  I hope everyone had a great Christmas.
GPS Track


Date: 12/25/2014
Starting Elevation:  6,013ft 
Lichen Peak: 6,567ft
South Summit: 6,500ft
Total Gained Elevation: 600ft
Distance: 2.9 miles
Partners: Kristi

Picture Link: Lichen Peak Photo Album




Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dawson Butte Open Space Park

Dawson Butte
Kristi and I wanted to get out on a short hike since the weather was so nice, so we decided to head down to Dawson Butte Open Space.  I sent a invite to Cole and Jenny and they were soon ready to go on short notice.
Nick and the Butte
Dawson Butte is an Open Space Park in Douglas County.  The Douglas County Webpage can be found here: DBOS. There are several ways of getting to the park; here is the way we took - drive south of Castle Rock on I25 take exit 174 which is Tomah Road.  Take the hairpin turn from the exit onto Frontage Rd, about a mile and a half north is Tomah Road that turns to the west crossing the rail road tracks.  Follow Tomah Rd for a few miles till you see the Dawson Butte Park sign on the right hand side of the road.  There is a large lot to park in.
The main trail is a 5 mile loop that can be taken in either direction.  There is minimal loss/gain of elevation only mounting to around 200ft or so, which makes this a nice hike at any time of the year.  The trail seemed to be used by more horses and mountain bikes than hikers, so keep your eyes out for oncoming traffic and road apples.
The Rewards
Most of the trail is single-track with a few sections that follow older roads.  The only downfalls of this hike were there was no summit..haha, and a lot of the hike follows alongside a road so there isn’t the feeling of getting away into the outdoors.  But, for a nice stroll this was a good hike.  If I were into trail running or mountain biking I would use this frequently, but for hiking I think there are more challenging and scenic trails towards the foothills of the Front Range.
GPS Track
We all had a great time, and were happy that the trail wasn’t crowded like some in the JeffCo area.  And I always love the rewards of a good hike with grabbing a pint at the local brewery with some good friends.  Cheers Everyone!


Date: 12/20/2014
TH Elevation:  6,820 feet
Total Gained Elevation: 225 feet
Class: 1
Distance:  4.56 miles
Time:  1:47 moving, 40 stopped
Hiking Partners: Kristi, Cole and Jenny

Picture Link:Dawson Butte Pictures

Thursday, December 18, 2014

James Peak

James Peak
Fall term finished up last week so it was time to get up into the mountains.  Cole and I were able to plan a mid-week climb of James Peak.  This is a mountain that I have wanted to climb for well over a year now, so I just said what the hell; let’s do it.  I picked Cole up around 6am and we made our way to the St. Mary’s Glacier TH.
There are many ways to approach a climb of James Peak.  In the winter time the easiest route I would think is the St. Mary’s Glacier route in which we took.  There are also options from Berthoud Pass, which would be wild crazy roller coaster ride, but some adventurous souls do meet that challenge.  Not I though, I have been in the wood shed so to say with school, so I had no problem taking the “milk run,” which turned out no cup of tea.

Tanglewoods Near St. Mary's Lake
The forecast didn’t look very pleasant.  I usually use NOAA since it seems the most accurate, but today I don’t know that any weather forecast was too accurate.  NOAA forecasted cloudy skies and to expect temps around -11°F with winds 15-20mph and gusts of up to 30mph, along with afternoon snow of up to 2 inches possible.  We found the weather much more pleasant than that for the most part.  The sky was clear and sunny for the first few hours of the climb then the clouds started moving in from the south west.  A breeze here and there but I wouldn’t say they were above 10 mph.  We both though the temps were around the 25°F area as neither of us had to use down jackets to warm up during the trip.  I guess my point is, never fully trust the forecast.  It is always safe to bring more than you need because you can always keep extra layers in your bag, but if you don’t bring enough for unforeseen conditions…well you may be just up shit creek.  I feel the two of us are pretty seasoned and we brought plenty of gear for whatever Mother Nature felt she wanted to throw at us.  They did forecast the snow correct…and it was a bit of a pain in the ass come the end of the day.

Cole and Me Ready to Roll
Directions: For starting at St. Mary’s Glacier TH.  From Denver head towards the mountains on I70W.  Not far past Idaho Springs take exit 238 which is Fall River Road.  Follow this road for about 10miles.  You will pass what appeared to be an old ski area where there is a big lot, continue up the road.  Look to the left and a large sign indicating Glacier TH will be visible.  Another 50 yards down the road is a small lot that requires a deposit of $5.  This is where the fun begins.
From the TH follow the trail or road as it looked up towards the first small lake which is St. Mary’s Lake.  From the car I would say this is only about a quarter of a mile or just a bit more.  Once at the lake St. Mary’s Glacier comes into view to the North West.  We followed the trail around the lake till we found a good area to cross over to the glacier.  There was a decent amount of snow at the base, but once on the glacier we could feel the crunch of the ice with our micro spikes on.  Most people like to practice their ice axe skills and glacier safety once on the glacier, Cole decided to practice once by just falling to the ice and sticking in his axe.  I sat there and laughed and said I think you will survive.  Follow the glacier to its terminus maybe a quarter mile and as it splits into a few fingers we took the left exit, but they both end up at pretty much the same place.

St. Mary's Glacier
Now that the glacier is behind us there is quite a tundra hike ahead.  We decided not to follow the trail..like we would be able to find it anyway, and just headed cross country on our way to a large rock out-crop in the middle of the flat tundra.  We took a little breather here and I thought about stashing my snow shoes as I didn’t think they would be necessary.  But, I convinced myself that I didn’t want to cache anything today since I didn’t know if we would descend the same route as our ascent.  We sat there and pondered at what route to take, I wanted to stay to the ridge to hopefully avoid any large snowfields.  When you are ‘hefty’ like me the snow needs to be rock hard for snowshoes to be worth a dam.  As we headed over Cole was taking the route more as the trail would follow, and I was on a line heading to the ridge direct.  It seemed like an eternity walking across the tundra, some areas were covered with snow drifts that I would post hole to my knee in and some snow was ice hard.  By the time I reached the base of the ridge Cole was way to the south of me and I had lost visual of him.  I decided to put on my snow shoes and my wind parka since I would be on the ridge.  I started up and the snow was pretty firm and I was able to stay on top.  I was cruising up the slope about as fast as a ‘hefty’ guy can at 12k feet.  I thought I heard some yelling but didn’t think much of it.  I figured Cole was staying to the south on a line away from the ridge, so I didn’t expect him right above me.  He must have run up the mountain, because he covered a decent amount of ground in a short period.  Once I popped up over some rocks he saw me and waited for me to catch up.
I estimated we had about 800 vertical feet yet to cover to get to the summit from where we re-grouped.  At this point I was pretty exhausted, but I wasn’t worried too much about the weather so I just took my time heading up.  We stuck together for the remaining roller coaster of a ridge.  There was a lot of huffing and puffing to be had for the next hour.  I could really feel my lack of mountain activity over the last four months catching up with me.  No amount of work in a gym can really get you in mountain climbing shape, you just have to get out there and suffer and somehow convince yourself you are having fun and make yourself do it again.

Summit At Last
This last section was pretty painful…for the both of us.  I would have kicked Cole’s ass if he didn’t admit he was hurting like I was.  At one point I told Cole there was no recovery at this elevation.  It felt like a jackhammer in my chest that never wanted to turn off. We just pushed on after every breather and kept making ground up the mountain.  The snow started to come down intermittently over the last few hundred feet as the white out tried to surround us.  With conditions like these it is really important to have experience, fellow climbing partners and knowledge of existing landmarks..and a compass or GPS. 
The last 50 vertical feet I thought was the hardest at that point.  It took quite a bit of time and energy to get up that last incline, but once we did we were finally on top of James Peak.  Both of us were pretty drained from the climb, but now we were finally able to recover.  There were no sights to see today, just mountains of clouds all around us.  The sun did peak through once or twice…I’m assuming that was the Mountain Gods congratulating us on our ascent.
We didn’t hang around too long on the summit since I wanted to at least get down to the flat tundra before the real snow started coming down.  Earlier I said I thought the last incline was the toughest part of the climb…well now I am calling my personal crux the entire descent to St. Mary’s Lake.  There wasn’t enough snow or slope for a glissade and whenever we crossed any snow it was post hole hell.  It took a long time for us to get off the ridge and back to the rock outcropping in the middle of the flat tundra.  I have no idea how our legs got us through all of that, but I can now see the days of doing squats and leg presses at the gym paying off.  By this time the snow was really falling and the light was pretty dark which kissed our depth perception good-bye.  As we started walking down the glacier we looked more like a couple drunken guys walking away from a St. Patty’s day party than anything.  Once we could finally see the lake I got a little burst of energy. 

How to Open a Brew with an Ice Axe
When we were on the summit I didn’t feel it was a good Idea for us to have our summit beers in our condition.  We were both loopy enough as it was, so we ended up deciding on having them by the lake.  Now that our goal was in sight, we just had to drop down the glacier and find a spot to enjoy some ice cold brews.  It was a great moment, the snow was coming down, the view was great and the ice axe bottle opener came through for us when we needed it most.  We knew it wasn’t far to the parking lot so we took this time to relax. 
This was a brutally challenging day for the both of us, but we never let it get to us..too much.  Though it is not technically winter, we have both agreed we are counting it as a winter climb.  An added bonus to the day was the solitude we had with a mid-week climb; we didn’t cross another person all day on the mountain.  It was almost 5pm by the time we were back to the truck, so that means we were out there for almost 10 hours.  This would be an easy climb in the summer, but this was a great challenge that the both of us can use to build on and say…well at least this is better than that trip up James Peak.  Hahaha, it’s always good even if it sometimes sounds bad, and I’ll always go back.  Happy Holidays everyone!
GPS Track
Date: 12/17/2014
TH Elevation:  10,387 feet
James peak: 13,294 feet
Total Gained Elevation: 2,910 feet
Class: 2
Distance:  7.43 miles
Time:  5:37 moving, 3:54 stopped
Climbing Partner: Cole

Picture Link: James Peak Photos