Monday, August 30, 2010

Mt. Sherman and Sugar Loafin'

After our last camping and hiking trip to Kite Lake at the end of July I began planning another trip into the wilderness. I was eager to hike another 14er and had so much fun with all our friends in the great outdoors I knew I wanted a repeat weekend. I began researching campsites that were near 14ers and found the Sugar Loafin' campsite ( Unlike our previous camp ground at Kite Lake this one had level campsites, water at each site, heated bathrooms and showers, nice fire pits and a front desk/general store complete with fire wood for sale and an ice cream social every night at 7:30. While it was a bit pricey ($29 a night plus a lot of add on fees like extra person and extra car they don't tell you about until you get there) it was luxury compared to Kite Lake and I knew some of my friends would appreciate that. I sent out an invite and the only people who could go were my friends Malia, Lyndee and her fiance Mark and of course my husband Chad.

Having a small group, especially this group of people turned out to be ideal. Malia had a sprained ankle at Kite Lake and couldn't do much of anything except sit around. Lyndee and Mark arrived too late Friday night to find us and seeing as we were all hiking Saturday morning they ended up fishing and leaving. This was really a make-up camping trip for them since they all missed out in various ways the last time around. They were all going to attempt their first 14er as well with me and I picked out Mt. Sherman for them to attempt. It's an easy class 2 hike and more important was about a 10 minute drive from the campsite.

After meeting up Friday night we all caravaned to Leadville, Co. Since Lyndee and Mark weren't able to find us the previous camping trip and cell phone service can be spotty at best in the mountains they decided to follow us and Malia and Chad were both able to take off work early. We arrived at the campsite at about 7pm after stopping along the way in Climax, Co for some road side stand beef jerky. If you ever see a road side stand for beef jerky in Colorado you should definitely stop, as it's some of the best I've ever tasted.

We checked in at the front office at the Sugar Loafin then were shown to our campsite "O". The Sugar Loafin' is also an RV park but they keep the RV's separated from the regular tent campsites. While the campsites were very nice and had everything as promised by the website, they were a little close together. Luckily no one was directly on either side of us but there were some very loud rude people up the hill which liked to party all night and kept us up. If you like your remote camping sights I do not recommend camping here. However, the trade off is we didn't have to bring tons of fresh water and it was nice to have heated bathrooms close by. We went to the ice cream social both nights which was $1.75 for all you can eat ice cream. They set it up in a back room with chairs in a circle which reminded us of being in school. The one advantage to this is that fellow campers came in so you got to know your neighbors so to speak. Of course, us girls were never ones to turn down ice cream so it was a nice treat especially after hiking.

We made a simple dinner of hot dogs Friday night then went to bed early in preparation for the hike on Saturday. Since we were staying in Leadville we didn't have to get up until about 5:45am where Chad cooked an amazing breakfast of eggs and bacon. When you are hiking a 14er you need your energy and a good breakfast is very important. We used our propane coleman stove to cook on which works better than going through the task of starting a fire. I brought bread and peanut butter to make sandwiches for the hike and after loading up on water and power bars we were on our way.

You can actually see Mt. Sherman from the Sugar Loafin' campground so we knew we didn't have too far to drive. While most people hike the Southwest Ridge from FourMile Creek, we were hiking the West Slopes from Iowa Gulch. Even though the West Slopes trail is shorter by a quarter mile, you gain 50 more feet of elevation from this side and it's quite a bit steeper. The tradeoff is this route is closer to Leadville and less crowded.

(picture: getting ready to hike. With mt. sheridan a 13er in the background)
We set off at about 7:45am and all quickly settled into our own pace. Since this was my 10th 14er I was quite a bit more acclimated to the hike than Lyndee, Mark or Malia. Chad started out in the lead but after about an hour of hiking he ended up in the back coaching Malia along while Lyndee and Mark stayed behind me. We all were pretty close to each other in distance until we reached the saddle. From the saddle you could see down the FourMile Creek trail and the old mining houses that dotted that path.

It was a shame we didn't get to see some of those places up close but after seeing how many people were headed up that path I was glad we took the Iowa Gulch side. I hate hiking behind large groups of people especially as the trail gets steep and you can't pass anyone on either side.

(picture: the beginning of the rocky part)

(girls at the midway point of the hike)

Once Malia got to the saddle it was hard to convince her to keep going but Chad did an excellent job helping her. She was succumbing to the altitude and didn't know how much further she could make it. I ended up way ahead of everyone at this point because I wanted to push myself to the summit and get a good ways ahead of the mass of hikers coming up behind us. The final ridge is pretty steep on either side and juts up like a knife edge so I found that most of the families hiking with little children seemed to be turning around when they got to that point. True to most 14ers, the route looks worse than it actually is and I found there to be plenty of room hiking up the final ridge to the top.

(picture: part of the remaining ridge of the hike)

I reached the summit at about 10am, with Mark and Lyndee 15 minutes behind me and Malia and Chad 15 minutes behind them. The wind was starting to pick up at the top so I was glad I had brought gloves and extra layers. There are several wind shelters made from rocks on the summit so I sat behind one of those and waited for the rest of my friends to arrive. The summit is quite large which is nice because there were lots of people on the top. I know Mt. Sherman is an easier mountain to hike and given the fact it was a Saturday you knew you could expect a lot of people. Once all of us were on the summit together we ate a snack and took pictures then headed back down. Some of our group didn't have gloves so it wasn't ideal conditions to stay up top for long.

The hike back down was a bit harder than it had initially been on the climb up. The route we took had a lot of scree which made for a slippery hike down. Mark and Lyndee did fall on their butts a few times while I had the hiking poles to help level me out. Malia found it a bit difficult as well since her legs were shaky from all the work climbing up. Chad as usual, was way ahead of all of us and ended up probably waiting on us at the bottom as long as I waited for everyone at the top. The best way to handle scree is just to hike slow and hope you have hiking poles to stabilize you so you don't fall on your face!

At about 12:45 we were all in the car and headed back to camp. We made a pit stop at the grocery store for more firewood and hamburgers to cook for lunch. Now that we had the hike behind us we could relax for the rest of the day and agreed naps and adult beverages never sounded so good. We had a gorgeous day to enjoy the campsite and it only rained for a brief moment that night while we were at the ice cream social. Unlike Kite Lake, we were only camping at an elevation of 10,000 feet (instead of 12,000) so we didn't get burdened by afternoon rain showers or heavy cloud cover. We had a great fire going that night and it wasn't even that cold out to be miserable. Camping when it's a little chilly out is definitely better in my opinion than trying to sleep in the heat and humidity.

Although Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert were near us, I couldn't convince anyone to hike them with me Sunday so we all ended up sleeping in. After a final camp stove cooked breakfast we made our way to the nearby Turquoise lake to check it out before heading back to Denver. The lake was gorgeous and made a nice backdrop to the surrounding Sawatch mtn range.

I couldn't have been more proud of my friends for coming out to hike and camp this weekend. None of them are really campers and adding a hike like Mt. Sherman into the mix was sure to scare them off. But they all committed and finished the hike and enjoyed the camping making it a great weekend for all. I was a little scared they would hate me but now they are all looking forward to their next 14er (even though I heard a few grumblings of, "never again!" while hiking). I have only been in Colorado 5 years and my home state constantly amazes me at how much beauty there is around. I'm just so thankful I could share my weekend with such great friends and hopefully we can summit another mountain together next summer!

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