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 

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