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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Lee

Pennsylvania Mountain

Updated: May 12, 2023

May 11, 2021

Pennsylvania Mountain (13,006 feet)

Route: Alltrails (Southeast Ridge)

4.7 miles; 1444 feet elevation gain

Total time: 2 hours 27 minutes

It was my 30th birthday and all I wanted was to summit a mountain. It is mid May, that should definitely be possible right? Well, Colorado spring weather laughed at me and had other plans. Monday afternoon through Tuesday evening called for a winter storm warning with rain, snow and winds across the state. The storm was targeting north of this area but it still meant a spring snow fall was in the forecast. After checking the forecast 62810475 times between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday morning we decided to go for it, but be mentally prepared for a failed attempt.

A weather tangent, since it was such a huge part of this climb. My favorite weather website for mountains is But I do check multiple other sources too. Because this isn't a popular mountain it doesn't have it's own forecast. Based on the closest 14er and/or well known peak was Mount Sherman, so this is what I went off. I spent so much time checking the hourly forecast for 2 days leading up to Tuesday, monitoring how much snow they were getting and if there would be a break in the storm. I like this website specifically` because you can look at the hourly forecast and see so many different details including temperatures, snow fall, wind speed, cloud coverage and more at varying elevations. The weather continued to change between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday which is why it's important to check as close to your climb as possible. For example, on Sunday there was up to 9 inches of snow predicted. On Monday morning this had decreased to around 7 inches. By Monday evening it was down to 5 inches. Also in our favor was the high winds on Monday night, which would blow the snow around rather than accumulate heavily. Based on the hourly forecast on Monday night, right before I went to sleep, we had a window of opportunity from 7am-11am. This window looked like light cloud coverage with some sunshine, no snow and low winds (5 mph).

Another very important thing to note about this climb is the avalanche risk. This entire route is very low avalanche risk, no steep slopes, which is why we selected it for after a snow storm. I would not have climbed many mountains after fresh spring snow. I use the CalTopo app and the most recent information from CAIC for this information. However, it is important to stick to the outlined route so that you don't accidentally end up in risky terrain.

So, we woke up at 5am and were on the road by 5:30am. Not how most people would spend their birthday I know haha! I had Kane with me since Nyx had a long hike the day before and Brittany had Gryff. As we drove down 285 towards Fairplay we were in very dense and low clouds the entire time. We couldn't see any mountains at all...not a great sign. As we turned off 285 to head north the clouds started to lift and we briefly saw blue skies and snowy mountains as we approached the trailhead. We arrived at the trailhead to a few inches of fresh snow on the road but lifting clouds, yay!! Snowshoes on by 7:30am, we set out into the trees. There was probably about 4 inches of fresh snow on the entire route, more in the trees. Because of this, there were no tracks to follow so we relied on our downloaded map for a lot of the route. However, once you are out of the brief tree section it is very clear where you are heading. It is wide open and the first false summit is very visible from the start (yes - I said the FIRST false summit).

As we reached the first false summit paused to evaluate the clouds. There were some dark ones forming in the distance but they weren't moving or getting larger so we continued onwards. The false summits on this climb are mentally taxing for such a short hike. As we approached the second false summit the dark clouds in the distance still had not moved or grown but there were wispy clouds forming and moving in on our left, covering the neighboring peaks. The wind was on our side today and was keeping most of the clouds stationary. I have never felt so little wind on a mountain. We kept shedding layers and were sweating a lot!! We checked the weather on our Garmin inReach Mini which still said 0% chance of snow. We decided to go for the summit but picked up the pace as much as snowshoes would allow. The concern at this point wasn't the snow clouds as much as the possibility of getting off trail in a white out. With our maps downloaded, full phone and inReach battery and wide open mountain we were not as concerned. If I was on a mountain ridge or something more technical I would've turned around at this point. With very high heart rates and sweat dripping off us, we reached the summit. Yes, we did spend 90% of the ascent discussing clouds and weather! We didn't get many views on the actual summit but we had beautiful views for the entire ascent. Brittany surprised me with a can of sparkling rosè for my birthday on the summit. We enjoyed this while we snapped a couple of pictures. We then began our descent as those wispy clouds came down on us.

As we descended we lost all visibility of the surrounding peaks and the temperature dropped, but could see our path clearly and follow our tracks. The clouds were low and the snow was starting, but light at first. We never lost close visibility or felt uncomfortable. We did descend as fast as possible as it became obvious the snow was rolling in a bit sooner than expected. As we reached lower elevations and went into the trees the snow started coming down hard with massive snowflakes. We reached the car at 10am and were in a full blown snowstorm. We could not have gotten more lucky with our planning and timing! A quick 2.5 hour hike, absolutely beautiful climbing conditions and a birthday summit.

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