Peak Climbed: Bull Hill

Peak Height: 13,761'

Route: NE & SE Ridges

Difficulty: Class 2

Location: Sawatch Mountains, Colorado

Trailhead: Black Cloud

Mileage & Gain: 8.4 mi & 5,000 ft RT

Date Climbed: January 4, 2019

Bull Hill is a high 13er in close proximity to Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest 14er. Even though it would require over 6,000 feet of elevation gain, I considered hiking up Mount Elbert and then running the ridge out and back to Bull Hill so I could take advantage of the heavily beaten track laid down by the 14er masses for most of the way. In the end I decided to suck it up and try the much shorter and more usual approach from the south via the Black Cloud Trail.

As luck would have it, I found a good track to 11,000 feet. Beyond that it was very tough and slow going. I was usually breaking in more than knee deep. My goal was to gain Bull Hill's southeast ridge near the toe, but somehow I got sucked toward the small drainage west of Black Cloud Creek. Even though I hadn't gone that far off route by the time I realized it, I didn't want to throw away all the hard work I'd done in getting there. Instead I did a tedious ascending traverse back toward Black Cloud Creek.

But that's not the end of it. After traversing for a long while I was tricked again and started up some other drainage prematurely right before I would have reached Black Cloud Creek. Perhaps I was just anxious to get above treeline as quickly as possible because the going was so difficult (and in hindsight this was probably not a bad thing).

I ended up climbing a relentless 2,000 feet up the south slopes of what is known as "South Elbert". Even though I hadn't planned on bagging a 14er today I didn't mind the extra 1,000 feet of elevation gain because I'd never been on top of South Elbert. Climbing peaks by accident is always fun.

The connecting ridge to Bull Hill was sort of cool but a little slower than I'd anticipated. I had to keep snowshoes on the whole time, which was slightly awkward in a few places.

I descended Bull Hill's southeast ridge, my intended ascent route. Oh boy! Below treeline I was confronted with what might have been the hardest downhill trailbreaking I've ever executed! I was nearly crotch deep in what felt like bottomless powder for much of the way. I'm not sure I could have fought my way UP this stuff, so that long detour I took earlier might not have been so stupid!

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