Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mt Sherman and Mt Sheridan

A year and a half has passed since I last climbed a 14er.  14ers tend to get a lot of visitors, especially in the summer months.  I don't always enjoy sharing a mountain with a lot of people.  If I'm seeking a high altitude escape, I usually climb 13ers.  They are just as scenic as most 14ers and they see a fraction of the people.

Recently I was talking to my friend, John Drew Petersen, about mountains and hiking.  He was surprised that I never climbed Mt Sherman.  Mt Sherman is a 14er located in the Mosquito Range between the towns of Leadville and Fairplay.  Even though it stands above 14,000', it is known as a fairly easy mountain to climb.  Majority of the hikers visiting Sherman do so from the Fairplay side of the mountain.  The Leadville access from Iowa Gulch sees a fraction of the people.

John lived in Leadville in the late 70s and early 80s.  With easy access from Leadville, Mt Sherman is his most visited 14er.  He suggested we climb it.  As a bonus, several 13,000' peaks are nearby and can be climbed with Sherman.

On July 10th, we made the drive up to Leadville to climb Mt Sherman and its neighbor, 13,748' Mt Sheridan.  The Iowa Gulch trailhead sits above treeline at nearly 12,000'.  Unfortunately, the area thrived on mining.  As a result, the area around the trailhead is not the most scenic.  A powerline runs up the gulch and eventually up to 13,000' over the saddle between Gemini Peak and Dyer Mountain.  Roads and other mining remnants are visible just above the trailhead.

From the trailhead, the trail drops into Iowa Gulch.  Quickly, you pass under the powerline.  Once past the powerline, it's easier to enjoy the scenery.  Mt Sherman's long ridge runs 2000' above, atop a nearly sheer drop littered with scree and cliffs.  Mt Sheridan looms straight ahead. Unranked 12er West Sheridan is probably the prettiest mountain in the immediate area with grassier slopes.  Centennial 13er Dyer Mountain climbs directly from the trailhead to the north and is littered with mining ruins and is adorned in endless talus. Iowa Gulch had a pretty good flower bloom, particularly of columbines.

Sun shining on Mt Sheridan

Looking up at Mt Sherman's ridge


The trail skirts its way under the cliff and talus slopes of Mt Sherman.  Soon it reaches a ravine that climbs between Sherman and Sheridan.  The route is littered with scree, but a well worn trail helps avoid the loosest rock.  Old power poles from the mining past climb along the trail for a short distance.  After climbing just over 1000 feet in a mile or so, you reach the saddle between Sherman and Sheridan.

Looking down Iowa Gulch toward West Sheridan

Lots of talus and scree

Continuing toward the Sherman/Sheridan Saddle

Old power poles running along the trail

The remainder of the route generally follows the ridge to Sherman.  Numerous herd paths lead up the ridge, all seemingly ending up at the same place.  Finally the ridge narrows.  The trail follows a somewhat narrow spine for a short distance.  After negotiating the narrow section, a long, flat stretch appears to be the summit.  The actual summit is at the far end of the flat ridge.

Looking toward Sherman from the saddle

Looking across the upper reaches of Iowa Gulch
toward Dyer Mountain

The narrowest part of the ridge

A lingering snowfield along the flat upper ridge

Mt Sherman has a reputation as one of the easier 14ers.  Although the Iowa Gulch route is not the standard route, it is quite short.  From the trailhead to the summit, there is only 2.25 miles of hiking and  just over 2000 feet of elevation gain.  The west side of Sherman is a steep drop with numerous cliffs and covered in scree.  Heading east from the summit is a large flat area.  The summit is flat enough that a Cessna 310 made a forced landing on the snow covered summit in the winter of 1967 and nobody received more than minor injuries.

Tomcat on Sherman

Because of its location in the Mosquito Range as a dividing line between South Park and the Upper Arkansas Valley, Sherman's summit makes for a great vantage point.  The entire Sawatch Range is visible from Holy Cross to Ouray and nearly every peak in between.  The two highest peaks in Colorado, Elbert and Massive, seem very close just on the other side of Leadville.  Cloud cover moving in blocked most of the Elk Range further to the west with exception of Mt Sopris.  The entire Mosquito Range is visible from the Buffalo Peaks to the Kite Lake 14ers.  The Tenmile and Gore Ranges are visible to the north.  Much of the Front Range is also visible with Pikes Peak and Grays and Torrey being the most easily identifiable.  On a clearer day, I'm sure the Sangre de Cristos would be visible but it was a bit hazy to the south when we were there.

Looking north from the summit

White Ridge

 I think this is view toward Mt Massive

I think this is Mt Elbert

Because of its reputation as an easier 14er, don't expect to get Sherman to yourself.  There were only a few cars at the Iowa Gulch Trailhead and we didn't see anyone on our way up to the saddle.  Once we reached the ridge, we passed a fairly steady flow of hikers coming from the main trailhead on the east side.  There were a handful of groups at the summit as well.

Making our way back toward the ridge

We descended back to the Sherman-Sheridan saddle quickly.  From the saddle, Sheridan is quick 650 feet or so climb to its summit.  Several herd paths make their way up its slopes making for a pretty straightforward walk-up.  We made it up Sheridan's summit pretty quickly and had the summit to ourselves.

Sheridan with the Sawatch Range beyond

Sheridan is just out of view to the right

Looking up Sheridan from the saddle

Sheridan offers similar views without the crowds, maybe even better scenery.  Directly south of Sheridan is Empire Gulch.  Unlike Iowa Gulch, Empire Gulch doesn't have the ugly mining infrastructure visible apart from one barely noticeable cabin which appears to be in pretty good shape.  Above Empire Gulch stands Centennial 13er Horseshoe Mountain.  Although not looking at the large cirque that gives Horseshoe Mountain its name, the mountain looks impressive from Sheridan.

A look back toward Sherman

Horseshoe Mountain

Empire Gulch

Cabin in Empire Gulch

Looking toward Sherman

Dyer Mountain

I think this is Mt Harvard

Turquoise Lake below the mountains

Tomcat traveling between high points on Sheridan

Looking across Sheridan's summit

After strolling across both high points of Sheridan, we made our way back down toward the trailhead.  Since the return was around 2 miles, it seemed like we made it to the trailhead in short order.  We took our time as we made our way through Iowa Gulch.  I stopped to take photos of the abundant columbines and other flowers that were in peak bloom.  As we reached the truck I looked back at the summit of Sherman.  I notice something bright colored against the face of the mountain.  A paraglider was making its way down from the summit.  The pilot landed in Iowa Gulch after a few minutes of flight.

Heading back down Sheridan

West Sheridan



Rosy Paintbrush

Down at flower level

Closeup of columbines

A look at the columbines from ground level

If you are looking for an easy 14,000 foot peak to climb, Mt Sherman is a pretty good choice.  From Iowa Gulch, the climb is just over 2000 feet with less than 5 miles of hiking roundtrip.  The entire hike is above treeline, which is a nice bonus.  If you are looking for natural beauty with no signs of man, this may not be the best place to hike.  There are plenty of remnants of the areas mining past including the powerlines that run near the trailhead.  Once away from the powerlines, the views of numerous mountain ranges make the quick outing worthwhile.  If you are looking for solitude, Mt Sheridan is the better option of the two peaks.

Descending Sherman toward Sheridan

The distant Sawatch Range

Closeup of a columbine

View from trail level

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