Peaks Climbed: UN 13,500 & Twining Peak

Peak Heights: 13,500' / 13,711'

Route: SW Ridge / Traverse

Difficulty: Class 2

Location: Sawatch Mountains, Colorado

Trailhead: Hwy 82 E side winter gate

Mileage & Gain: 14.2 mi & 4,000 ft RT

Date Climbed: January 9, 2019

I hadn't thought about attempting these peaks in winter until last weekend when I climbed Mount Champion from the Highway 82 east side winter gate. I observed two pairs of snowmobiles coming down the lowest switchback as the road begins it's climb to Independence Pass in earnest. How far had they gone? Judging by the abundance of bold sled tracks I'd seen over the weekend in the area, my guess was they'd gone all the way to the pass... and the topo map suggests UN 13,500 should be an easy and safe climb from there.

It's a good 7 miles from the winter gate to the top of Independence Pass. The road does a few monstrous switchbacks and if one was able to cut them several miles could be saved. Unfortunately, given the heavy-duty trenching required below treeline at the moment, that is likely not the most efficient or sane option, at least on the way up. Perhaps on the descent?

I was disappointed to find that the small storm that had blown through in the few days since my last visit had deposited 4-6 inches of new snow, and drifts had formed that were significantly deeper in the open areas. The trek up the road was a little slower and more laborious than I'd anticipated. I cut the first big switchback a little bit, but the toiling was probably not worth the 0.4 mile worth of distance I saved.

The road crosses a few major avalanche paths but conditions were good enough to feel alright about that. The CAIC was showing a green light below treeline and the multitude of snowmobile tracks inspired even more confidence. That's not to say I didn't pick up the pace significantly through those sections though! The lowest switchback, which is a shelf road of sorts, was particularly interesting and the snow had sculpted funky drifts along it. I can see this section of road completely filling in with snow and becoming one big avy slope later in the season.

Just below 11,800 feet I left the road, cutting the final switchback and heading directly for the southwest ridge of UN 13,500. Going all the way to the pass seemed unnecessary, at least in current conditions. The ridge was straightforward; one jog to avoid a steep snow slope and a smidgen of scrambling near the top.

The out and back traverse to Twining was easier and faster than I'd expected, taking no more than 1:30 with a summit break included.

On the hike out I was able to cut the lowest switchback, a savings of about two miles! It was no picnic though. First a very steep descent through the trees in bottomless powder and then a little battle through the willowed flats to regain the road. Worth it though I think.

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