14,036 Feet (46th Highest in Colorado)
Southwest Ridge from Fourmile Creek Trailhead, 11,680 Feet
13,748 Feet (126th Highest in Colorado)
6.25 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: about 2,750 Feet
Greenhouseguy (Brian) and Ian
August 9th, 2008
My trip reports usually include quite a few landscape shots, but there was not much landscape to be seen on Mt. Sherman on August 9th. Low clouds had the peaks socked in, and Ian and I were unable to even see the mountains that we intended to climb. The weather report called for afternoon thunderstorms, so we got an early start. Fourmile Creek Rd. (Park County Rd. 18) is a pretty rough road, so most people access it with their 4WDs. I have driven it several times in a passenger car, so I was not intimidated. We had the only 2WD passenger car at the trailhead.
The first relic of the mining era that we came across was the remains of the Dauntless Mine. A strong wind could easily flatten what is left of these buildings, which were probably abandoned in the 1960ís. The road to the Hilltop Mine runs right past the Dauntless Mine.
Any valuable relics have long since been removed, but there are plenty of rusting hunks of steel to be found. The remains of an ore car protruded from a pile of debris from a collapsed building.
Itís a good idea to stay on the trail in this area. There were plenty of shaft and tunnel mines, and some of the tunnels are close to the surface.
Piles of slowly decaying timbers and rusting machinery mark the former location of the Miller Shaft Mine. An elevator was necessary to move men and material up and down the mineshaft; the twisted remains of an elevator car lie on the ground on the old mining site.
For some odd reason, itís not unusual to find old beer cans around old mining sites. It probably doesnít take much beer to get drunk at 12,000 feet!
A boiler was required to run the donkey engine that pulled the elevator up the shaft. The boiler was made from thick steel plate, so it should be there for a long time. The donkey engine and cable hoist were substantial chunks of steel, and are in no danger of rusting away soon.
Just past the Miller Shaft Mine, we took the scenic detour up to the Hilltop Mine. This was once one of the richest mines in the area. An aerial tramway once carried buckets of ore from the mine to the mill at Leavick, which is a distance of about 2.5 miles. Many of the posts for the tramway are still standing, and the cable is still laying on the ground many decades after the mine closed.
On a clear day at the Hilltop Mine, Mt. Sherman is the most prominent feature in the landscape. Itís hard to miss a 14,036-foot mountain! Today, however, clouds entirely obscured the view of the mountain.
Since the landscape was less than scenic than usual, I paid more attention to other details. There were not many wildflowers on the hillside, so the reds, greens, and blacks of the lichen-encrusted rocks really stood out. The presence of lichen is usually an indicator of good air quality, but I would have preferred a little more oxygen.
When we arrived at the Hilltop Mine at about 12,800 feet, we were essentially enveloped in the clouds. Visibility was minimal in all directions. This mine building, which was built around 1880, is one of the most recognizable manmade structures on any of Coloradoís fourteeners; technically, it is not on a fourteener since it is actually on the saddle between Mt. Sherman and Mt. Sheridan.
Miners at the Hilltop Mine utilized a diagonal shaft to extract zinc carbonate from the mountain. This ore also included valuable traces of gold, silver, and tungsten.
Itís difficult to imagine doing much physical labor at 12,800 feet. Constructing the mine buildings must have required terrific stamina. The craftsmen who constructed these buildings are long gone, but the ruins still stand to keep their memory alive.
Hand-hewn joint on the Hilltop Mine shaft house is still tight after several generations of exposure to the elements
We left the Hilltop Mine and hiked up the steep saddle between Mt. Sherman and Mt. Sheridan. The visibility was limited to about 100 feet, so we could see little more than the trail ahead of us. It would have been unwise to leave the well-established path in these weather conditions.
There was no break in the cloud cover as we pushed toward the summit. Had this been a technical climb, it would have been insane to continue. However, we were in no danger as long as we stayed on the trail. Some hikers feel exposed on Mt. Shermanís narrow southwest ridge, but the exposure is more of a perception than a reality.
Visibility was frighteningly poor on the summit of Mt. Sherman. No landmark could be seen in any direction. It was like a scene straight out of The Werewolves of London.
Looking northwest towards Leadville from Mt. Shermaní summit. Visibility was about 20 feet.
It would have been difficult to imagine worse conditions for visibility as we headed back down the southwest ridge. We could see as far as we needed to see, but no farther. It was good to be on an established trail.
We dipped below the clouds as we reached the Mt. Sherman/Mt. Sheridan saddle at about 13,200 feet. We caught a brief glimpse of Mt. Sheridan before another cloud rolled in. Reaching the summit would require another 550 feet of climbing up a steep but obvious trail.
From the east and from the west, Mt. Sheridan looks like a perfectly conical mountain. When we reached the summit, however, it appeared unusually broad and flat. We followed the ridge to a wind shelter on what appeared to be the summit, but I noticed that a larger wind shelter farther up the ridge probably marked the true summit. My GPS showed that the larger shelter was two feet higher than the smaller shelter, but that is certainly within the margin of error for my GPS unit.
We hiked past the summit shelter and continued down the west ridge. This was a serious error, because I had intended to go down the southeast ridge to return to the Dauntless Mine. Visibility issues had obscured our chosen route, which would have been obvious on a clear day. We descended about 300 feet into the wrong drainage before I realized my error. Scrambling down the west ridge was enjoyable, but regaining 300 feet on that rocky ridge was miserable. I used a combination of the GPS and an old-fashioned map and compass to get us back on course. The rocks on the west ridge were interesting; some had the slick red feel of molybdenum, others had a sulfur-yellow tinge to them, and there was a bright white vein of pegmatite.
We found a faint trail on Mt. Sheridanís southeast ridge, and started to descend. We were still within the cloud cover until we were half way down the ridge. I was relieved when the Mt. Sheridan/Peerless Mountain saddle came into view.
As we approached the Mt. Sheridan/Peerless Mountain saddle, we could see the old mining road that goes from Peerless Mountain (an unranked thirteener) to the Dauntless Mine. We also spotted another mining road that descended from the Last Chance Mine. We decided to take the road less traveled.
Peerless Mountain as seen from Mt. Sheridanís southeast ridge. Note the mining road in the foreground.
We were drawn to what at first appeared to be a large pile of rocks. As we got closer, it became apparent that we were approaching the stone foundation to an old shaft house. I checked the map, and determined that this must be the old Last Chance Mine. The mouth of the shaft had been dynamited shut, but I had no urge to get too close to the old mine entrance.
We followed the mining road down towards the Fourmile Creek drainage, and passed an old garbage dump along the way. Hundreds of rusting tin cans and a few broken bottles were all that remained on the surface. I left the historical relics to return to their elements.
The mining road came to an abrupt end and we wound up having to descend a steep talus and scree slope to the road by Fourmile Creek. We came out near the Miller Shaft Mine, and started back towards the car. We saw a gaping hole in the side of a hill close to the road; this was the Badger Boy Shaft Mine. Itís unclear why anybody would leave a mineshaft open like this; this area attracts a lot of hikers, and curious children are likely to investigate such an attractive nuisance.
Since we got an early start, we were back to the car well before lunchtime. We made a scenic detour in Bailey to investigate the recently-restored Coney Island hotdog stand, which was moved here from Aspen Park in 2007. The hotdogs are among the best that can be had, but the long line made the wait unbearable. Iíll only return when the line is much shorter.
Mt. Sherman deserves its reputation as one of the easiest fourteeners to climb in Colorado; it doesnít require a superhuman effort to reach the summit. However, its reputation as an ugly mountain is undeserved. The decaying remnants of the various mines are ugly scars to some people, but they represent an important part of Coloradoís history to others.