4,000 meters is an unrecognized altitude threshold within the United States. However, it is as well known where the metric system is used, as 14,000 feet is known in the US. This page is dedicated to climbing those peaks in Colorado that rise above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Giddy Up! Horseshoe and Peerless Peaks, Mining History, and Rugged Beauty All In One (or Two, or Three) Stops


I have been wanting to climb Horseshoe Mountain for a couple of years now. Its characteristic cirque and proximity to other scenic peaks always made it a “must do.” And finally I was able to do it…Climb it I mean.

Originally, I had planned to climb Quandary with a Spring WTS student. I have climbed Quandary before but I think it’s a fun peak and looked forward to climbing it again. Apparently, her schedule did not line up as we got closer to the date and she was not able to make the climb on Quandary. As I had already set aside the time I redirected my goal to Horseshoe Mountain and was able to recruit another Spring WTS student, Pat Dunlap.

On Friday afternoon we headed down to Fourmile Creek near the Mount Sherman trailhead. Pat and I checked out the Fourmile Creek Campground and saw that there were several unoccupied spots. So we headed off up the road past the Leavick Mine site to scout the trailhead. The directions to the Horseshoe trailhead are a bit confusing and contradictory.

I had read directions that indicated that you turn at Leavick Mine and some that said you turn after the mine. All seemed to indicate that you turned left from Fourmile Creek Road at a four-way intersection.

Pat and I did see a road from near Leavick Mine but it was not clear how one accessed it. We traveled past the mine for a short way and found a four-way intersection were we turned left (Southeast). We climbed up a relatively good mining road to near tree line at 11,800 feet. We were in the correct place according to my GPS. There happened to be some hunters up there scouting game and they confirmed we were indeed on the correct road to Horseshoe Mountain.

Pat and I hopped back in the truck and headed back to claim a camp site. The camping area is pretty nice overall. But the individual site are not that great. They suffer somewhat from a lack of level ground, although they do have fire rings and tables…a homey touch. There were a few “better” sites but they were already taken. We eventually found site 12 and set up. We noticed that there seemed to be the remnants stream flow pretty much through the center of the site. Pat and I were able to find a couple of tent sites and set up.


A Sunset View of Sheep and Lamb Mountains from Fourmile Creek Road

We set up out tents just as it started to sprinkle. There were a LOT of mosquitos. Fortunately, I brought mosquito repellant – Pat. Pat was not so much as a repellent as an strong attractant. Those bugs went after him like a fat kid on a Christmas ham. And by default, left me mostly alone.


Campsite 12 at the Fourmile Creek Campground. Pat Huddles Against the Mosquitos.

Around 9:30 pm we retired to our tents with a 4:45 am wake-up call. The monsoon had been in place for nearly two weeks and showed signs of blocking but we wanted to get an early start anyhow…cause starting early is always the smart thing to do.

In the morning we were up and around running…amazingly…early. We drove up to the trailhead and were hiking up into the morning light and Horseshoe Basin by just a smidge after 6am.

Let me say right up front that any sort of trail description can be tossed out the window right now. After you ascend up to around 12,000 feet there a zillion roads, trails, paths, etc. Trying to follow a “published” route description is a waste of time.


A Morning View of the Vast Horseshoe Mountain Cirque. It Really is Amazing.

The best strategy after arriving at 12,000+ feet is to look at the chaos of mining roads lying before you in the basin and simple take what appears to be the most efficient route. I mean, you can see abundantly clearly where you need to go. Its not like it is real hard or anything. Most any route/road will get you to the “base” of Horseshoe. But there are some routes that are more efficient than others. Pat did an amazing job of route selection and was able to get us to the Horseshoe Ridge with an economy of motion.


Mining Activity Near the Top of the Ridge. These are the Remains of the Peerless Mine.

There is literally mining activity ALL OVER this area. Everywhere. Structures. Junk. Old tin cans. Prospect pits. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting some evidence of mining in this basin.

Its amazing to think that these structures have lasted as long as they have. I am assuming from around the late 1800s. Pat and I noticed tin cans that used (lead) solder and rough hewn nails. Remarkable…And the best was yet to be discovered.

We climbed up through the mining area and onto the vast arcing saddle/ridge that makes up the mass of Horseshoe Mountain. The remaining climb is just a matter of walking up the ridge on well consolidated talus and scree from the ridge to the summit.


The Ridge to the Summit on Well Consolidated Talus and Scree. The Trail Can be Seen Snaking up Just Below the Rightmost Snow Field.



Looking North from the Saddle. Peerless Mountain Right Foreground, Sheridan Left, and Sherman Far Right Background.

Pat and I continued up the relatively gentle slope towards the summit. We had made pretty good time as it was barely past 8am. The weather looked great and thankfully, and quite unusually, the winds were light.

There were animal tracks along this portion of the trail (up the final ridge). Some sort of cloven-hoofed animal. I can’t really ID animals unless they are standing in front of me. And sometimes even then its hard unless it’s a dog, cat, or perhaps a bunny. Amazingly up the trail and all of the way to the summit the were substantial portions of the trail that were mushy from melt-off. There is still a lot of snow in the mountains. And even up to the very summit there are areas that are quite damp.


Pat Makes His Way Towards the Final Summit of Horseshoe in the Distance Encircled with Snow and Capped with a Cairn

We made the summit at about 8:45am. Not a bad time for me (about 2.5+ hours). We were the only people there. The wind was calm. The skies blue, And the views vast and magnificent.


Pat Stands on the Summit of Horseshoe Mountain

Pat and I took off our packs to relax and eat/drink and rest up from the climb. I read in an old book, “Colorado’s High Thirteeners, A Climbing and Hiking Guide” published 1989, 1992, Mike Garret and Bob Martin by Johnson Books. There is a sentence, “There is an old cabin near the summit of Horseshoe Mountain.” And damned if there isn’t. I had sort of forgotten about that obscure sentence until we noticed a roof sticking up just off the summit. When I say, just off the summit, I mean like just ten feet of so. This cabin is basically at 13,890 feet. Who the heck could work here? How could this cabin stand the years and years of brutal winds and weather and still be (mostly) standing? It is remarkable to me that these guys worked in these conditions.


The Mining Cabin just Below the Summit at About 13,880ish Feet



The Other Side of the Mining Cabin Looking Back Up Towards the Summit

Pat and I hung out on the summit for a while looking at Mount Sherman, Peerless, and Sheridan in the distance. We fueled up. Tanked up and headed off the gentle slopes towards Peerless.


Me (left), My Nose and Teeth (center of face), and Pat (right) Relax on Horseshoe’s Broad Summit

Peerless is a rather diminutive summit once you have already gained the ridge connecting Horseshoe and Peerless just above Peerless Mine. It rises only about 130 feet from the saddle.


The Rocky but Short Pitch to the Summit of Peerless Mountain



Pat Summits Peerless Mountain

We topped out on Peerless, which is really a high point along the ridge. Pat wanted to go over and tag Sheridan. I didn’t. He came up with a very reasonable plan for him to continue on to Sheridan while I descended our ascent route. He would then drop off of Sheridan and into the basin that hosts the trail heading up to Mount Sherman. From there, he would continue down to Fourmile Creek Road and head towards the gate. I, in the mean time, would head back to the truck and drive up Fourmile Creek Road and meet him.

I headed off of Peerless and dove down into the mining area and threaded my way back through all the mining roads back towards the truck. We had radios and were able to (sort of) communicate as long as we had something approaching line-of-site.

I made it back to the truck with no problem. I switched radios because the one I was using was not working very well. With the new radio I reestablished radio contact with Pat and we both headed towards each other along Fourmile Creek Road. Incredibly, and quite by coincidence we both made it to the gate at the Sherman trailhead within two minutes of each other! I was glad to see Pat. I was uncomfortable splitting up but it could not have worked out better.

This was as good as it gets in the Colorado mountains. I finally stood on the summit of Horseshoe with a good friend on a great day. I look forward to our next hike. We saw only one other group of four people on Horseshoe. When I picked up Pat at the Sherman gate it literally looked like school had let out as floods of people were disgorging off the trailhead after, hopefully, summiting Sherman.

Horseshoe GPS Track - Copy

GPS Track. Red is Ascent. Blue is Descent.

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