Fremont County Highpoint Trip Report

Bushnell Peak (13,105 ft)

Date: May 7, 2005
Author: Kevin Baker

southwest ridge

After reading a successful trip report from April, I decided to give a shot at Bushnell, the Fremont county highpoint. I knew that this was a steep grunt with avalanche concerns but the southwest ridge would avoid these issues with stable snow. The weather over the course of two weeks prior to this climb was unsettling, as quite a bit of snow had fallen. We were not sure what to expect but the forecast called for only scattered showers. Pat, Risa, and I got a couple rooms at a Holiday Inn in Salida on Friday night, while Layne, John, and Renata met us at 5:30 am sharp at the hotel.

Everybody made it on time, so we set out for the trailhead. We made a couple of wrongs turns on the confusing ranch roads leading to the Brook Creek drainage but found our way up the proper road to around 8500 feet, where I decided the road was a little rough for my low clearance SUV. Bushnell was socked in with clouds and there were snow showers to the west so we were not sure if Bushnell was in the cards this day. We set out at 6:50 am with temperatures probably in the upper 30's.

We made our way up the forest road into the Brook Creek drainage amidst scrub oak and aspen. We maintained a leisurely pace and enjoyed the easy section as we knew the pain would be coming soon. At around 9500 feet, we donned our snowshoes, forded the creek, then tackled a steep north facing slope to the southwest ridge of Bushnell. John and Layne led the way as we plodded up the solid snow to gain the broad ridge at around 10,700 feet. From just above this point, the climb to the summit is 2300 feet in one mile, a depressing statistic indeed!

Once on the ridge, the wind picked up as expected so we donned our shells and other winter gear. The ridge has a few rock outcroppings that can be easily skirted around. We could see recent evidence of avalanche activity in the drainages on both sides of us but, as long as the snow was stable on the ridge, our route was safe. The weather was marginal most of the rest of the climb, as intermittent graupel and snow showers would pelt us, but fortunately the winds were to our backs on the ascent. We broke the final 2000 feet into sections of 15-20 minute pushes, as the snow conditions were great until about 12,000 feet. At this point we ran into a layer of fresh snow sitting on top of the consolidated snow, making for a slippery mess. We stayed on exposed rocks when feasible but this was beginning to really wear us down.

The last 1000 feet or so to the summit is pretty much a sustained 40 degree slope, so switchbacks in the snow were in order. Layne led us up the tough stretches, until Layne and I came to a difficult rock scramble amongst the loose snow, which would be a piece of cake with no snow. After struggling up this short section, we finally gained the ridge, which in spots was only 3-4 feet wide. The drop down the east face was a little unnerving to me but we carefully pressed on as the summit stick was in sight. There were a few cornices to be wary of on this ridge, so I kept walking on what I knew for sure was rock! Layne topped out at around 11:37 and I staggered behind him a few minutes later. The weather had not improved as the snow and wind was swirling. John, Risa, and Renata did the rock scramble, saw the ridge, and decided to save Bushnell for a better day.

Layne and I made our way back down to them leaving at noon, then we began the descent which was a mixed bag of weather and snow conditions. Pat met up with us a few hundred feet below the summit and he decided it wasn't worth the effort either. Layne and I got in some nice glissades down various sections of the ridge but I couldn't get going very well as my snowshoes were dragging behind my pack. Layne and I took about an hour lunch break at around 10,800 feet, while the rest of the gang took a break higher up. We met up again and began the bobsled run back down to the road. T he snow had softened up but the post-holing wasn't too bad. After a few wipeouts here and there in the snow, we found our tracks and leisurely headed back to the cars. We arrived at 4:05, happy for a safe climb amidst difficult conditions.

Bushnell was my fortieth CO county highpoint.

Climb statistics: 7.0 miles round trip from 8,500 feet, with 4,675 feet of elevation gain.