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On Walkabout On: Mt. Sherman, Colorado via the Leavick Trailhead

Basic Information

  • Name: Mt. Sherman (Mosquito Range)
  • Max Elevation: 14,036 ft / 4,278 m
  • Where: Fairplay, Colorado
  • Distance: 5.5 miles
  • Time: 4-6 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 2,012 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • More Information: 14ers.com

Route Up Mt. Sherman

Mt. Sherman Route

 

Topographic Map of Mt. Sherman

Mt. Sherman Trail Map

Elevation Data

Mt. Sherman elevation graph

Narrative

At 14,036 feet and with gentle rolling slopes Mt. Sherman is considered the easiest of Colorado’s 14ers to summit.  I have been taking my best friend and his wife hiking a few times to get them confident in their skills and endurance before attempting a 14er.  This month they felt like they were ready to try a 14er.  I have been holding off on hiking up Mt. Sherman just to save it for them when their were ready to try a 14er so we could do it together.  So over the 4th of July weekend I met up with my friends in Fairplay and headed over to the Mt. Sherman trailhead.  Mt. Sherman is very easy to access from Fairplay since it is just about a 10 mile drive on the 4 Mile Creek Road from the small town:


View Larger Map

4 Mile Creek Road is a bumpy dirt road, but we saw a number of passenger cars that made it to the trailhead with no issues:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

We reached the trailhead at 6:30 in the morning and it was quite obvious how popular of a hike Mt. Sherman is considering how many cars were parked there.  However, it was still no where near as packed as what I saw last month when I climbed Grays and Torreys Peaks which was just a madhouse.  This was quite tame in comparison.

The official trail up Mt. Sherman begins at the iron gate that from what I have read is usually locked, but for whatever reason it was open the day we hiked up the mountain:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

As soon as we passed the iron gate the remains of historic mining activity came into view on the slopes of Mt. Sherman:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Here is a closer look at what appeared to be a large storage shed or cabin just below where the major mining activity begins:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

The first major mine that can be seen is the Dauntless Mine that is backdropped by Mt. Sherman’s neighboring mountain, the 13,748 foot Mt. Sheridan:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

The first miners arrived in the Mosquito Range where Mt. Sherman is located in the 1860’s.  Considering this was the post-Civil War period it should not be surprising that Mt. Sherman as well as its neighboring Mt. Sheridan were named after famous Union generals from this war.

According to the book “A Climbing Guide to Colorado’s Fourteeners: Twentieth Anniversary Edition this valley once boasted two mining towns by the names of Horseshoe and Leavick.  Leavick was the bigger of the two towns and was established in 1873.  The town was home to a few hundred people and had its own hotels, post office, mill, shops, and other businesses.  Today only a few structures from the town are still visible with most of them being mine structures.  The Dauntless Mine near the start of the trail is very well preserved, where the sluice box that was used to separate the silver mined from this valley from other rocks can still be seen:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

The Dauntless Mine remained in operation until 1893 when a silver crash caused many silver mines across the country to cease operations such as the one in Shakespeare, New Mexico I toured a couple of years ago.  However, a few years later the mine operators found a market for zinc and the mines reopened:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

In fact the zinc production became so profitable that the South Park and Pacific Railroad built a 10 mile rail line into the valley to ship out the zinc ore in 1901.  Grade from this rail line is still visible today in the valley, but the only rail tracks that remain are at the Dauntless Mine where tracks used to move ore cars on can be seen leading to the sluice box:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

It was easy to imagine the miners moving the ore cars to the sluice box and dumping them.  There was even the remains of what appeared to be an old engine to move the ore cars at the mine:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

The railroad operated into Leavick until 1938 when it was closed down and along with it the mines and the town closed down as well.  Now up this valley is just the remains of this abandoned settlement.  Here is a structure I saw a short ways up from the Dauntless Mine that I figure is a mine office where the wood stoves used to heat the building can still be seen:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

It was easy for me to imagine the miners coming into this building to warm themselves up around this stove during the winter mine operations.  These miners had to be some very tough people to be able to work this high up in the mountains during the winter.  The weather must have been unbelievably cold at times not to mention the extreme snowfall these mountains receive.  Here is a view looking down on this structure:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Here is a view looking down the valley with the Dauntless Mine visible in the foreground:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Something besides the mining activity that was very noticeable on the way up the mountain was the amount of wildflowers blooming everywhere:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

The slopes of Mt. Sherman up to about the 13,000 foot level was just covered with various wildflowers:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

It was really nice to see all the color interspersed with with all the drab gray rock surrounding the trail:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

As I continued to hike up the valley I came to a small lake that was stunningly backdropped by Mt. Sherman:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

The view from the lake was really the first time I could get a good look at Mt. Sherman since it was obscured by another mountain since the start of the trail.  I made sure to get a picture of myself in front of this dramatic view of Mt. Sherman:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Here is a panorama photo from the small lake that shows Mt. Sheridan to the left and Mt. Sherman to the right.  For those that look closely the Hilltop Mine is visible in the middle of the picture:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

As I continued up the trail I also took this picture of Mt. Sheridan with this same lake in the foreground:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

The trail became a little steeper as it ascended up towards the saddle between Mt. Sherman and Mt. Sheridan.  The most prominent thing to see on this stretch of the trail though was not the surrounding mountains, but instead the remains of yet another mine on the mountain, the Hilltop Mine that loomed above:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Here is a side profile view of the Hilltop Mine from further up the trail:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

As cool as seeing this historic mine was; I still made sure to take in the view of the surrounding valley as well:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Just above the Hilltop Mine the trail leveled out and I once again had a really nice view of Mt. Sherman with a beautiful meadow in the foreground:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

From there we began the steepest portion of the hike which was to gain the saddle between Mt. Sherman and Mt. Sheridan:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

There was a few snowfields that were quite slick that we had to cross over, but overall it was pretty easy to gain the saddle between the two mountains:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

From the saddle we had our first views looking towards the west where Leadville was easily visible in the distance:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

From the saddle we then began the climb up towards the summit of Mt.  Sherman.  At this point this is where the trail often bottlenecks and many times we found ourselves waiting for exhausted climbers to make their way up the mountain:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

During these bottleneck breaks it gave me a chance to take pictures such as this one that shows the highest mountain in Colorado and the entire Rocky Mountains the 14,433 foot Mt. Elbert:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Though it is the highest mountain, it is not that hard to climb since like many mountains in this area it has a fairly rounded shape that makes for good hiking.  I definitely plan on hiking this mountain sometime this year.  Here is another photo I took looking back towards the east and the valley we ascended up Mt. Sherman from:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Here is the view looking southwest back down the mountain towards Mt. Sheridan:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Here is a view from just below reaching the summit:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

After about 3 hours of hiking we finally reached the summit of Mt. Sherman that still had quite a bit of a snow cap covering it:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

We were far from being alone on the summit of Mt. Sherman because due to its popularity of being an easy 14er to hike, I estimate there was probably close to 50+ people on the wide summit of the mountain:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

I was a bit surprised how wide the summit of Mt. Sherman was because to reach it you have to climb a narrow ridgeline that causes so many bottlenecks due to the number of hikers on the trail.  However, at the summit the mountain opens up and looks like the width and size of two football fields:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

In fact this summit is so big that in January 1967 a Cessna 310 piloted by Jimmy Williamson crash landed on the summit of Mt. Sherman after experiencing violent down-drafts during an unexpected storm.  He was flying a charter plane to Aspen when the violent storm hit.  None of the passengers were seriously injured during the crash landing in the deep snows that cover Mt. Sherman during the winter.  It ultimately took 20 hours for a rescue team to reach the downed aircraft by helicopter.  Everyone was rescued and Williamson ended up having the unexpected honor of being the first person to land an airplane on a 14er!

The views looking to the west and of the neighboring Sawatch Range were the best from Mt. Sherman:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

To the northwest the most prominent feature was the pyramid shaped peak of the 13,855 foot Dyer Mountain:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

The mountain is named after John Lewis Dyer who was a Methodist preacher who traveled to Colorado in 1859 from Minnesota due to a life long desire to see Pikes Peak.  He eventually opened a church in Breckenridge and became a well known figure in this part of Colorado due to the frequent trips who would take across the mountains.  Here is a brief history about Father Dyer from 14ers.com:

“John Lewis Dyer was a Methodist minister from Minnesota. As a young man, he fought in the Black Hawk Wars and worked as a lead miner in Wisconsin. He was “called by God” in middle age to preach, and began his career in Minnesota. Originally coming to Colorado in 1861 to see Pikes Peak, he decided to stay and preach to the settlers and miners of the region. Settling in the town of Buckskin Joe, Father Dyer established himself over the next 29 years and became a frontier legend. Carrying the word of God over the mountains, he crossed 13,000 foot Mosquito Pass several times per week in all weather conditions. He fashioned long ski-like foot covers for the long winters and called them “snowshoes.” He preached against many of the favorite activities of miners – gambling, drinking, and prostitution. He married, attended the sick, and gained a reputation as a truly selfless individual. When he needed money, he carried mail to and from the mining camps on preaching trips. A rugged, sturdy man, he wasn’t above giving a miner a good thrashing when he was heckled. Father Dyer has become part of Colorado legend. He is immortalized in the Colorado State Capitol building in a stained-glass likeness along with 15 other founders of Colorado. There are two mountains in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range named for him – Dyer Mountain and Father Dyer Peak.”

Father John Dyer – the The Snowshoe Itinerant. He also happens to be a full inductee in the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame.  [14ers.com]

Over in Fairplay they actually have Father Dyer’s old church that shipped piece by piece from Montgomery, Alabama on display that is well worth checking out as well.

Anyway Dyer Peak is an impressive sight and I wish I had time to hike over there and check it out, but there was a storm on the way and the summit was now getting hit with very high winds.  So I knew we needed to get off the summit and down the mountain soon.  So I continued to take in the views for a little while more.  Here is the view looking north towards what is known as the DeCaLiBron which is four 14ers that can be hiked in one day:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

The 14ers, Mt. Democrat, Mt. Cameron, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Bross are all visible in the above picture and for those fit enough they can be hiked in one day.  Also visible in the far distance in the above picture is a mountain I hiked back in May, Quandary Peak.

As I continued to scan to the north the summit of the 13,951 foot Gemini Peak which is a sub-summit of Mt. Sherman also came into view:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

As I looked to the northeast I could see the various peaks of the Front Range come into view as well:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

The most prominent were the twin summits of the 14ers, Grays and Torreys Peaks that rose up in the distance:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Even further out in the distance I could just make out the summits of the 14ers Mt. Bierstadt and Mt. Evans:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Looking to the southeast, I could see my favorite Colorado 14er Pikes Peak rising up all by itself in the far distance:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Looking towards the south the haze was the most apparent.  The haze in the pictures is being caused by the West Fork Fire in the San Juan Mountains that of this typing has burned over 109,000 acres and is only 25% contained.  The fire has been burning for over a month, but since it is in such a remote area there has been no loss of life and little property damage.

Here is the view looking towards the southwest where Mt. Sheridan can be seen in the foreground with the peaks of Colorado’s largest mountains in the Sawatch Range in the background:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

I am hoping to climb a couple peaks this summer in the Sawatch Range in order to get familiar with it, but I expect next year to really be the time I will focus on climbing mountains there.  The Sawatch has a total of 14, 14ers and 4 of the 5 highest mountains in Colorado are in this range.  Below is another look towards the west where Leadville and the 2nd tallest mountain in the state, Mt. Massive can be seen in the background:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Finally here is a panorama shot I took from the summit looking to the west:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

It was actually extremely difficult to keep my iPhone 4S straight to take this panorama because of how bad the wind was blowing.  I attempted it three times and this was the best image I was able to take.

My friends and I spent about 30 minutes on the summit before deciding to go down because of how bad the wind was getting.  Because of the wind the temperature had dropped significantly and we put on extra clothing to keep warm.  This below picture may not show it, but the wind was so bad as we descended that we had a hard time standing:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

I was thankful I had by trekking poles to keep my balance with because of the wind.  My friend and his wife grasped arms together to help each other keep their balance as they descended down the ridgeline.  Soon enough we found ourselves back at the saddle between Mt. Sherman and Mt. Sheridan:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Once we descended off of the ridgeline the vicious wind we had been dealing with instantly stopped.  It was now quite warm and you could see all the other hikers now stopping to take off all the gear they had put on before to keep warm.  Something that amazed me while we were descending the mountain was how many people were still going up it despite the wind and the obvious storm clouds coming in.  Additionally some of them had little kids with them.  The youngest we saw was a kid probably about 2 years old in a baby backpack being hauled up the mountain by his dad.  One kid we saw that looked about 7 years old was crying and telling his dad he wanted to go down, but the dad kept pushing him on.  I look forward to taking my kids up a 14er when they are old and ready enough, but there is no way I would force them up a mountain like this in such cold and windy conditions.  It just seems that it would cause them to not want to hike any more if they are so miserable going up the mountain, but maybe that is just me.

Anyway on the way down we took sometime to hike over to the old Hilltop Mine and check it out:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

I love checking out this relics of Colorado’s mining past and just try to imagine what it must have been like for the guys that lived and worked here over a hundred years ago in the shadow of Mt. Sherman?:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

We spent about 20 minutes checking out the ruins of the mine before continuing our descent down the trail:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Soon enough we were back at the ruins of the Dauntless Mine:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Then we were back at the trailhead where I noticed this waterfall near where we had parked that I did not notice earlier in the morning:

Picture from Mt. Sherman, Colorado

Conclusion

In total we completed the hike up Mt. Sherman in a little less than 5 hours to include breaks and time on the summit, and gained just over 2,000 feet in elevation along the way.  The elevation gain of the hike is really depended on how far up the road the vehicle you have is able to park.  Also the 5 hour time we hiked in was based on the speed of my friends who are first time 14er hikers.  Anyone that is fit and has prior 14er experience could likely complete this hike in less than 4 hours.

Now that I have done this hike I can confirm that this is a great mountain for first time 14er hikers to checkout.  The distance and elevation gain is not very extreme and the best thing is that the slopes and trail conditions are very moderate.  My friends actually told me they thought the hike we took up the 13,626 foot West Spanish Peak was much more difficult than Mt. Sherman.  They felt Mt. Sherman was about as difficult as climbing the 12,347 foot Greenhorn Mountain.  I tend to agree with them that Mt. Sherman is very similar to hiking up Greenhorn Mountain except Mt. Sherman has much larger crowds to deal with.  All in all though Mt. Sherman was a fun hike and it also provided an interesting glimpse into Colorado’s mining past.  So for anyone looking to get into hiking Colorado’s 14ers I highly recommend starting with Mt. Sherman.

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