Trip Report: Lone Peak Winter Ascent, 5th annual

Lone Peak Winter Ascent, 5th annual
By Robert Ging
SNOWSHOE 01/24/2009 MSD

I arrived at the Orsen trailhead at 5:35AM to an empty parking lot wondering if I had missed the email stating the trip was being postponed due to weather. Five minutes later another soul showed up, and then Grizz. After trickling in and signing up we had 14 individuals out of 20 that originally committed, half from Summit Post. We left the parking lot at 6:00 AM sharp in a light rain and 40 degree temps. I have only been up Lone Peak once in the 15 months I have lived here and it was from the Ghost Falls trailhead so I was unfamiliar with the first few miles of the hike. We wandered around in the dark finding and losing the trail and at one point it looked like all 14 of us were going in separate directions as headlamps were scattered all over the mountain. We all funneled back together as we reached the continuous snow line. The weather changed as we marched through the range of weather zones from rain to freezing rain to sleet to snow pellets. Upon reaching the ridge we ducked behind one last rock to add layers. I opted to just add glove liners to my gloves and kept only a light long sleeve capilene shirt and an un-insulated rain top on. It was chilly when we hit the windy ridge but I wanted to save my layers for a dryer zone higher up. It was light out now but with the clouds and sleet could only see 50 or so feet. We were making good time and most of the group was together. We stopped under a group of large trees for a quick break. Some more layer adding, a bite to eat and a feeble attempt at thawing wet and frozen hands. Quinn commented that I was carrying an extra five pounds of ice on my pack. There were nine of the fourteen left, two of which would turn back shortly due to frozen hands. I retrieved a pair of chemical hand warmers from my pack and put them in my gloves. They must have been old because they provided zero heat. I guess I need to check the date codes on my supply when I get back home. My hands would alternate between bitterly cold and completely numb for the rest of the day. The liners were so wet I had great difficulty getting my hands back in and much of the day my fingers were balled up in the palms of the gloves which makes it a bit difficult to hang onto poles. We pushed forward in almost zero visibility and after a few more hours I started to drop back from the main group. Getting up even the shortest steep sections was exhausting. There was 12-18 inches of light snow over a hard crust so every time I reached a steep section the snow would slide underfoot. I couldn't do my normal kick step because the underlying crust was so hard. All I could manage was to slip in place until the first layer of snow slid off then lean forward and dig in with my toe cleats. This was a big mountain hike with serious big mountain conditions. As Grizz would later say, "Lone Peak by instrument". If it wasn't for the people ahead of me that knew the mountain like the back of their hand AND a hundred GPS waypoints stored, we would have turned back hours ago... or walked off a cliff. I had no idea how far ahead the group was as I couldn't see more than 20 feet. I watched snow I kicked up tumble out of site off the steep slopes I was traversing and wondered if there was a 2000 foot cliff just below me. Even though my pace was slow I was determined to follow the footsteps in front of me. Was the group 100 feet ahead or 1000 yards ahead? No one could tell. I thought I heard a voice and was hoping that it was the group coming off the summit. I could imagine them saying it is just another five minutes ahead. It was the group but not coming off the summit. They were huddled by a large boulder, I assume trying to get a fix on where we were. We were at the elevation of 10,700 feet, 500 hundred feet from the summit. After 5,900 feet of elevation gain we decided we wanted to live another day and turned back. We stopped under the same trees on the way down where we ate lunch (well after I needed to eat lunch). Dmitri was talking about a recent trip to the Grand Canyon, hiking naked, and constipation. I think something was lost in translation! As we got down to lower elevations I peeled off a layer... my rain jacket, being too lazy to take off the layer underneath. Of course, we walked into the rain zone 30 minutes later. We finished the hike at 4:00PM. Everything on me was waterlogged with the exception of my feet. I'd like to thank the Asolo boot company at this point. The previous week I had done a snowshoe with the club up Wolverine, one of the fellows had jeans, cotton t-shirt, and a windbreaker. With the moderate temps, sunshine, no wind, and the fellow dressed for the beach, it didn't feel like we were in the back country. The Lone Peak trip made up for that and more.
Can't wait until next year.