Climbing plans and the actual climb rarely meet eye to eye. Today was no exception. I had an idea of combining up to four peaks on this outing, but Mother Nature had other plans for me. With our Thanksgiving trip to Idaho coming up the following week I wanted to make sure to get out on a mountain this weekend. The weather was calling for windy conditions, will a high around 0° near the summit with the wind chill factored in. I thought this would be a great day for a winter gear test, so I packed it all, my heavy down jacket down to my plastic mountaineering boots.
I wasn’t able to convince anyone to head out with me this week, so I was going solo for the first time in quite a while. Luckily I was still able to find motivation to get up when my alarm went off at 4:30am and was off on the road by 5am. Today’s drive was easy; take C-470 to I-70 up to exit 218 into the Herman Gulch TH parking lot. Once off the freeway the dirt road was only a couple hundred yards to the parking area. This was nice not to have a bumpy 4WD approach and to within an hour from home.
Just after 6:30am I was off on the trail. There was a light snow falling and most of the high mountains were covered in clouds. I planned my start time just right so I wouldn’t need to dawn a head lamp today, because nobody likes hiking alone in the dark. I chose my plastic mountaineering boots today and was quickly reminded of how unforgiving they are on the dirt trail. These boots are made for snow and cramponing up glaciers. In the first mile my feet and shins were already sore, but that was just something I was going to have to deal with today. I had already removed my parka, gloves and switched my snow cap for my ball cap. I was heating up like a furnace with all my winter gear on. It was still better to be too warm than too cold.
As the trail made its way around the SE flanks of Mount Machebeuf and started gaining its way up Watrous Gulch there was more and more snow on the trail. The Bard Creek Trail marker was at 1.45miles according to my GPS. As I stood there taking in the views I noticed a shelter made in the wooded area to the SE. I guess if the end of the world comes on December 21st I have a new place to call home. I marked the trail split on my GPS then headed up the snow covered trail. As the wind started picking up and I kept saying to myself that I should stop and put my parka back on, but I continued for another half mile or so before I actually stopped.
My first break was more of a gear change, I still wasn’t too hungry but tried a pumpkin cliff bar….barf! Stay away; I don’t know why I even bothered to try it since I’m usually a snickers man. There was a nice log on the side of the trail so I sat down and had a break. I was looking at the map wondering how far I would be able to go today. At this point I knew I would give up on the Parnassus-Bard leg of the loop and was planning on doing the Woods-Machebeuf loop. As I said earlier, nothing ever goes completely to the plan. Climbing mountains is a series of adjustments and if all goes well you will at least get up a mountain. I was looking at the map and was pretty sure I would be up for the Woods loop, but solo motivation is something that can turn quickly. Just as I was getting ready to leave a bird flew down on the log right next to me. Looking in a book at home I believe it was a GrayJay aka Camp Robber. I was thankful he was willing to pose for some pictures, but he was probably disappointed when I didn’t leave him any food to eat. Soon his partner flew down to join him, so I took a few pictures and was on my way up the trail.
Not long after my break there was another break in the trail. It looked like the main trail went to the NW and a Climbers Trail went to the NE. I knew the saddle I was heading to so I took the Climbers Trail to the NE. The terrain started to open up as I was about to leave the tree line and as that happened the wind also picked up. I was moving slow wearing the big plastic boots. They felt like they were about 10lbs on each foot at times. My legs were getting tired already so here I was changing plans again. I didn’t decide at this point to only do Woods but I thought about it as I was gaining on the saddle between Woods and Parnassus. The wind was beating the crap out of me and at times pushing me around. You know it’s an impressive gust when it almost knocks a guy like me down. By the time I was near the saddle I had decided only to climb Woods today. I think if I wasn’t in my winter gear at this point I would have turned around. But the one good thing was those plastic boots kept my toes nice and warm.
It took me almost three hours to make the summit from the parking lot. It was a windy and cold, but a beautiful summit. The clouds had lifted on the high surrounding mountains so I had a good chance to take some pictures. I was surprised that I was able to name most of the peaks; I guess those hours of looking at maps is paying off. The conditions were cold, but I didn’t bother pulling out my down jacket. My layering system of thermal underwear, fleece sweater and heavy parka shell were good enough to keep me warm. My fingers froze as usual as I was taking pictures so I warmed them up in my down gloves for a few minutes to thaw them out. Most of my snacks were frozen and I didn’t have a hunger at all so I just drank my slushy Gatorade and started to get ready to head out of the wind.
As I was putting my pack on I noticed my belt buckle was missing on one side. I thought; am I going crazy? No, it wasn’t there. I searched the grounds for a few minutes and found the busted plastic piece. This was not going to be a fun trip down I could tell already. I tied the belt as best as I could, but it didn’t work too well. As I was hiking down the first 500ft of the mountain I started to get feeling back in my fingers, and that is the worst. When that blood rushes back to your fingertips it is so painful, almost makes you want to scream. But, the good thing is that means they will be back to normal soon.
It took a bit to make it back down to tree-line, but I was glad to be out of the wind. I took a nice long break shedding layers and eating a bunch of snacks. As I sat there another climber and his dog made their way up the trail. We chatted for a while and I warned him of the cold winds and we parted. I felt like I was moving pretty good down the mountain, the descent on the snow trail was nice since there was a little cushion but that soon ended. A slow steady pace brought me back to my car a little before 1pm. It was a good hike staying class 1 the entire way, I look forward to coming back to this easy access area since there are so many options of different mountains to climb. Now I’m off to Idaho so hopefully I will have a couple trip reports to post next week! Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!
Starting Elevation: 10,300ft
Woods Mountain Summit: 12,940ft
Total Gained Elevation: 2,6409ft
Time: 3:55 moving, 1:46 stopped.
Climbing Partner: SoloPicture Link: http://s282.photobucket.com/albums/kk243/nickkarl72/Woods%20Mountain/