Mt Lincoln

13 Nov 2000 - by Kevin Craig

Well, I finally settled on Mt. Lincoln as a substitute for Pacific Pk. for my scheduled trip lead on Sunday. I didn't have time to scout anything else, and I've literally climbed Lincoln more times in all seasons than I can remember. The trip was, in a word, cold. Very cold. Sports-drinks-turning-into-Slushies(TM)-INSIDE-water-bottle-parkas, Cambelbak (not the hose, mind you; (I've got a trick to solve that), the bladder!)-freezing-INSIDE-my-pack cold.

Only three brave souls (David, Catherine, and Michael) showed up to accompany me. Around dawn, driving down Kenosha Pass into South Park, it looked like we'd have a great day for our walk up the mountain; the sky was clear with a nearly-full moon setting behind the Continental Divide painted with alpenglow by the first rays of the sun. The CAIC forecast called for cold temperatures (highs from 5 - 10 deg F) but light winds. They were half right.

At about 7:50, we left the Quartzville trailhead and headed up the old jeep road that wanders up into the Cameron Amphitheater. The temperature registered by the "Zip-o-gauge" attached to my pack was 5 degrees F and wasn't to change much throughout the course of the day except to go down. The mountains were cloaked in intermittent clouds and the slope was somewhat indistinct though whether due to fog or blowing snow was hard to tell.

The snow on the jeep road was about mid-calf in depth, but recent vehicle tracks provided easy passage up the road to treeline. Above treeline, it is possible to follow the road, but it's drifted quite deeply in a few spots. With careful route-finding however, you can mostly avoid post-holing. Once above treeline, we discovered that the light shroud on the slopes above was indeed due to wind. Not the strongest wind I've encountered, but more than enough (I would guess 15 - 20 mph) to make things interesting in light of the low temperature.

We continued up into the amphitheater taking turns breaking trail. I was keeping a close eye on snow-loading and slope-angle, but nowhere on the lower mountain did these combine to make a credible avalanche threat. In a short section along the road where it rises out of the amphitheater and onto Mt. Lincoln proper, we got a brief respite from the wind and those of us not already wearing them donned our shells and, in my case goggles (my glacier glasses, despite the brisk breeze, were fogging up too much when I had my face mask pulled up).

The mountain proper is pretty wind-scoured below the summit pyramid. There are significant (both in number and depth) pockets of snow, but it's relatively easy to pick a line that links up the exposed rock. One significant advantage of the low temperature was that all the loose dirt, rock, and scree were securely welded in place by ice. Although we had enjoyed some sunshine to this point, the sun was increasingly screened by high clouds or blowing cloud and snow on the mountain.

We continued up the mountain linking up rock bands in general line with the summit until we gained the flat area just below the summit pyramid. Both my and David's altimeters were reading near 14,700' at this point indicating either a whopping-big low pressure system bearing down on us or confirming the fact that mountains really are higher in winter (they feel that way anyway). We also noted at this point that, though the sky was clearing above us, the lower mountain was beginning to sock-in with cloud. We discussed the merits of continuing vs. getting out of Dodge, but David insisted (and the rest of us eventually agreed) that we'd gotten up way too early in the morning to forego the summit. I had brought along my Garmin eTrex GPS (as well as map & compass) to safeguard our retreat in a potential whiteout and took the opportunity to make sure it was working in the glacial cold. I'm happy to report that lithium batteries live up to the hype regarding cold weather performance (they bloody well should given the $3.50 per each price!). The LCD display, however, seemed about at its limit; still working, but v e r y s l o w l y.

Anyway, the GPS could find us, I got a rough bearing on the way down, so we headed up, keeping an eye on the developing weather situation. The line directly up to the summit had enough snow and was steep enough that I didn't want to risk a slide (despite everything being frozen solid) so we did an ascending traverse to the ridgeline and followed the ridge up to the summit (pretty much the standard winter route). This last section of snow had a very hard-frozen crust under several inches of powder. Under warmer conditions (or deeper powder on top) this could have been cause for concern. On Sunday this made for reasonable kick-stepping up the last bit. We stepped out onto the summit just after 11:15; not bad in the cold and snow (though the cold certainly motivated us to take short breaks).

Visibility from the summit was pretty much limited to glimpses of Cameron, Bross and North Star and we paused only long enough to grab a quick bite and slug down some hot chocolate. Heavily aided by the previously noted ice-welded terrain and pretty-good-for-plunge-stepping snow pockets, we made a dash for the bottom of the mountain and returned to the truck at about 2:30 without major incident. Since we opted to skip lunch on the mountain in favor of avoiding frostbite (somewhere on the way down, I noted zero degrees F on my "Zip-o-gauge"; it was getting colder!), we stopped at the Fairplay hotel (slow service, good food) for a late lunch and ended up back in Denver just about at dark (approx. 5:15).

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