Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Signal Mountain in Winter.

I've not hiked much in calendar winter 2015- this day marked my second and last outing for the season.  I thought about doing something different.  I'd really like to have a winter ascent of Mount Meeker, but the weather conditions kept me away this day.  
It's not been long since I stood on top of this mountain, it was only five months or so ago that I ascended it for the first time along with South Signal Mountain and Pennock Peak.  I thought then that this would be a good winter option because the avalanche risk is very low most of the way.  The trail essentially stays on or near the ridge crest most of the way up, and the land isn't steep enough. 
Thus, I set out on the second to last day of calendar winter to repeat these peaks. 
You'll want to start early to avoid the ongoing construction on 43.  To get here you can take 43 north from Estes Park, or 43 south from Drake, which lies along 34.  Turn onto Dunraven Glade Road, and take it to the end where you will find the trail head.  Proceed past the metal gate to the top of the hill and follow the signs to the trail. 
A quick and steep climb is met, but it gives some interesting views of the valley below.  Things will start to level out and you'll meet a sign.  Continue straight as directed to reach Signal Mountain.
I had my snowshoes with me, but the trail looked to be pretty well packed in.  I was thinking of caching them to pick up on my way back.  But in the end, I was glad I didn't.
After some flats, the uphill starts.  I finally put my snowshoes on when the trail became steadily covered.  Up and up I went.
I first gained the small summit of Bulwark Ridge, which will be on your right before you drop down to the saddle between it and Signal Mountains.  From here I could see an area of concern.  The trail runs through the snowfields pictured above, and my research indicated this was one area that was steep enough to avalanche.
In fact, it was in this small saddle area that I heard two whoomps, both fortunately on flat ground.  The first saw a crack propagate about five feet on my right.  The second settled an entire clearing about 15 feet in diameter.  That was kind of freaky as I heard the snow settle pretty far away from me.  It looked like there was a melt/freeze crust on top of powder, and that is what broke.
The other peaks in the area.
I made it to treeline and picked a way west to stay on flatter ground.  In the end I summited South Signal Mountain first.  I stopped for a snack and looked at Pennock Peak.  
I went back and forth- the topo didn't show any areas steep enough to go, but knowing that I'd have to cover some less flat terrain and the fact that I'd twice seen and heard that dreaded sound on my way up and right below treeline was enough for me to decide to skip it.  
I set my sights on Signal Mountain. 
It was a pretty mellow walk on tundra and talus to the summit.
I curled up in the wind block on the summit and had another quick bite to eat.  I also wanted to take a photo of the register.  
Dottie McEs comment really struck me.  "77& ~ 15 times on summit.  This may be the last!:("
This statement is both a reflection on our mortality and inspiration to never give up doing the things you love.  Thank you Dottie McE.  I hope you have one more summit in you!
I looked back at South Signal Mountain.  I would have to head back toward it to avoid the steeper snow on the leeward/eastern side.  However, I spied a route that would keep me on solid ground without having to go back over the summit.
Looking back to Bulwark Ridge. 
And Longs Peak.  Last year I stood on top of it on the last day of winter.
I made my way back to my snowshoe tracks.  The route I spied worked, and I was able to avoid all the snow for the most part.
Looking back at Signal Mountain.
A final look back at the trail in winter.  A day of warming made the snow farther down a bit more slushy and sticky.  Things are definitely melting, though there is plenty of time left for winter conditions this year.
And just as a note, CR 43/Devils Gulch Road was virtually wiped out in the flood.  Construction is currently ongoing, and looks to be completed by late 2015.  From 8 am- 4 pm traffic is let through at five minutes past the hour on the hour from both directions (heading up from Drake, or down from Estes).  If you plan to hike from this trail head, get an early start to avoid it, but know that might also give you a wait at the end of Dunraven Glade Road to get back home.  There will be closures and night work as well, so check these websites for information and plan ahead.
I think this hike is a great option any time of year!  In the winter, the trail can become less distinct, particularly as altitude is gained, so that can be a factor in reaching the summit, but the route is avalanche safe for the most part.  And those parts that didn't look so good were quite easy to avoid.  Views of the Mummy Range, Longs Peak and area, and the North Fork Basin await.  There is enough elevation gain and distance to make it challenging.  But if Dottie McE can do it, you can do it!
Signal Mountain in Winter:
Bulwark Ridge, 10890 feet: 4.5 miles each way, 3090 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Signal Mountain, 11262 feet: 5.7 miles each way, 3362 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
South Signal Mountain, 11248 feet: 5.2 miles each way, 3348 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
As a whole, expect to gain around 4000 feet of gross elevation, and cover 11.5 ish miles.  Strenuous-.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mount Lady Washington Loop.

It's been a little while.  My shoulder has gone back toward better and then back toward worse.  It doesn't feel one hundred percent yet, but I think that is close.  With this in mind, great weather predicted, and calendar winter set to end in about a week and a half, I HAD to get out.
Of course, the problem is now that I have largely climbed out the east side of the park.  There are a few odds and ends here and there that I am either saving for later, or waiting for better conditions on.  In the meantime, I have been poking around on Lists of John looking for any destinations I may have missed.  And I discovered one- a small, unranked high point that Gerry Roach named Pine Ridge.  This is at the extreme northern end of the ridge that extends north east from Granite Pass, the large pile of rock that marks the intersection for the Longs Peak trail to turn up into the Boulder Field.
It seemed silly to go up just for this.  I thought it would take me no more than six hours.  As I left the house, I kept in mind the option of making a loop by adding on Mount Lady Washington.
The trail up was in pretty good shape.  I ended up taking the shorter winter trail, which basically heads straight uphill instead of switch backing.  This of course cuts some distance off, but is significantly steeper.
Soon enough I was approaching Chasm Junction and had some great views coming.  This was my first time since mid-November above treeline and I wondered how it would go.  I was feeling pretty great so I decided to go for Mount Lady Washington first, and then take the north ridge down to Granite Pass and head out to Pine Ridge.
The quality of the sights increased. 
I started up the east ridge of MLW.  Here you can see Mount Meeker, The Loft, and Ships Prow.  With mostly larger and stable talus, this route up to the summit is second class.  You pretty much go directly up the ridge, staying north of any steep stuff.  It's around 1700 feet of elevation gain and .8 mile from Chasm Junction to the summit.
Across the bowl of Jim's Grove, I got some views of the rest of the days destinations.
They are hard to pick out, so I labelled them here.
At first I thought I'd go all the way out to Pine Ridge and then back to Granite Pass to take the trail back down.  But I spied what looked like a good route heading down towards Jim's Grove. 
Here is the approximate route I took.  Nibbles?  We'll get to them later...
The summit of MLW provides some spectacular views of Longs.  Here is Lambs Slide.
And the North Face/Cables Route.
And of course the Diamond as a whole.  It is amazing how huge it looks from here.  It is truly astounding, certainly one of the best views in the whole of RMNP.
Mount Meekers' Iron Gates.  I had a quick snack.  I could not find the summit register.
Looking down the north ridge, which looks a whole lot like looking down the east ridge.  Again, larger and mostly stable talus.  I stayed to the west side to keep out of the drifted snow.  I rejoined the trail pretty close to Granite Pass, and then went around to the north side to ascend to the high point.
From here I could see out to my final goal. 
And had a good view of the peaks to the south. 
I had to marvel at the amount of snow on the mountains.  It is crazy that this will all be gone in a few months.
I've covered Battle Mountain before, but approach from the west side and then cross to the east of the high point for the easiest going.  From here just continue on to Pine Ridge.  There are two high points: it is the one on your left.
Not too amazing.
But with great views of Meeker, MLW, Longs, and Storm Peak.
I could see Twin Sisters across the way.  Note the landslide that resulted from the 2013 floods on the lower left.
These are the high points I labelled "The Nibbles" above.  I found them to be a good landmark, and since they are the only thing around, why not check them out?  All are short second class, and after a fair amount of elevation gain, provided just a small nibble.  According to my GPS, they are between 11600 and 11555 feet in elevation, and are at N 40 16.5541' W 105 35.4891', N 40 16.5425' W 105 35.4708', and N 40 16.5420' W 105 35.4545'.  Or you can just look for the three lonely high points on this ridge.
My descent plan worked out perfectly.  I stayed in the dirt/rock section for as long as possible, then passed through a short section of snow in the trees before popping out on the trail.  I took this back down.
Goodbye for now.
I have a tendency to get lost briefly up here in the winter.  I think this marked the first time I was able to find the trail easily and follow it down.  Again I took the winter short cuts, and arrived back at the car right before 2pm.
This was a fun loop, and a great way to get back into the mountains again.  Mount Lady Washington is a great peak to try as a warm up for Longs, or just for the views.  I am very much looking forward to the year ahead.  Unfortunately, I've got two plus months before Trail Ridge Road reopens.  I foresee alot of long drives in my future.
Link to Caltopo Map.
Mount Lady Washington Loop:

8.8 miles, 4026 feet gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Including (all distances as part of the loop):
Mount Lady Washington, 13281 feet: 3.5 miles via east ridge and including winter short cuts, 3881 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Granite Pass, 12120+ feet: 4.3 miles, 2720 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Battle Mountain, 12044 feet: 4.7 miles, 2644 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Pine Ridge, 11909 feet: 5.3 miles, 2509 foot gain.  Moderate+.
"The Nibbles", 11555-11600 feet: 5.9 miles, 2200ish foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Best of 2014 hikes!

Better late than never, right?
Last year I wrote, "2013 has been a big year."  Here I was just about to start this the same way.  This year I obtained 100 new destinations in RMNP as well as 101 days mountain biking.  Unfortunately, my season was brought to an end by a crash on my mtb and the resultant shoulder injury.  I have to say it's been nice to spend some time relaxing and not feeling like I have to get outside.  It's nice to sleep in to whenever rather than hear the 4am alarm.  Yet my heart longs for the mountains, and I find myself much looking forward to 2015.
Best high altitude lakes!
4.  Chasm Lake.  This lake lies in the bowl right below Longs Peak and provides astounding views of it and Mount Meeker, the second highest peak in the park.  It's a pretty popular lake and it's easy to see why when you get there.
3.  Snowdrift Lakes.  I am grouping these all together because they could all reasonably be visited in a day.  If I had to pick a favorite, I'd say Wonderland Lake.  These lakes are accessible from both sides of the park.  My guess is that you won't see anyone at them if you strive to make the journey.
2.  Lake of the Clouds.  It's fairly difficult to get to, but again, you will likely have this alpine lake all to yourself.  To the east find great views of RMNP.  Unlike most of the eastern side of RMNP, this area has alot of mining history, and it is still possible to see signs of human activity in many places.
1.  Rowe Lake.  Inexorably tied to the glacier that supplies much of it's water, Rowe Lake is the second highest named lake in the United States.  At 13100 feet, it is higher than many of the peaks in the park.  It is remote and it takes a big day to get there and back.  Even in late summer, the lake was still about half covered with ice.  A true beauty.
Best features!
4.  Castle Rock on Castle Mountain.  It's a short but steep jaunt up from the parking, but pretty scenery through large rounded boulders ala Lumpy Ridge.  Around the back find a gully that leads up to a short section of third to fourth class movement.  On top find great views of Estes Park, Lumpy Ridge, and the continental divide.
3.  Middle No Name.  One of three named but unranked peaks that stand at the end of the North Fork Drainage.  From below it looks pretty spectacular, from above it's a small high point on the tundra plains east of Rowe Mountain.  But it holds some pretty great views of the drainage.
2.  Black Pool.  This tiny body of water lies half a mile from the Fern Lake trail, which has to be one of the busiest trails in the park.  Despite that, it doesn't see much visitation as there is no trail to it, and getting there requires a creek crossing and a steep scramble up some loose terrain.  It is beautiful.
1.  Little Matterhorn.  The small highpoint lies east of the continental divide and can be accessed by a number of different approaches.  The one thing they all have in common is the absolutely fun and exposed third class scramble along the ridge to reach that highpoint.  I love stuff like this.
Best peaks!
4.  Snowdrift Peak.  This peak lies pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  The easiest access is probably to take the Flattop trail up, then loose some elevation before regaining the summit.  You can see forever from up here.  This also happened to be my halfway point in the park.  My ascent put me at 50% completion.
3.  Chiefs Head Peak.  Maybe it wasn't the peak itself (my second time atop it) but the method used to get there that made it stand out in my mind.  I started in Glacier Gorge and took the Chiefs Head/Pagoda couloir up.  It was a fun snow climb, with a cool peak at the top.
2.  Dundicking.  This is an unofficially named but ranked peak in the Mummy Range, and I walked right by it on a long day simply because it wasn't marked on the map I had.  Oddly enough, it is the only ranked peak on the entire ridge.  It took me two more tries to get here, and spring saw me taste some success.
1.  Static Peak.  This peak essentially marks the north western corner of RMNP, and the east ridge holds one of the funnest scrambles I have ever done.  Add to that the absolutely astounding views of the surrounding peaks, lakes, and valleys you have a must do in my opinion.
Best easier hikes!
4.  Lulu City.  This site lies a few miles north and not too many feet up from the Colorado River trail head.  I include this here not for what is still there, but for what was once there.  All along the trail you can see the remnants of mining operations that took place in the late 1800s.  Lulu City itself once had a population of 500.  It is hard to imagine that today, but fun to sit and think what things must have been like back then.  A great destination for families.
3.  Tombstone Ridge.  I took the hard way to get here, but you could start from Trail Ridge Road and hike a few miles with much less elevation gain than if you'd started from below to explore this rock feature.  Again, I could imagine children of a certain age having a ton of fun poking around up here.  Keep in mind the likelihood of afternoon thunderstorms and plan you visit accordingly.
2.  Kettle Tarn.  This small body of water is about five miles in, but there isn't much elevation gain to get here.  There used to be a NPS campsite here, but the flood seems to have taken that with it.  Cross the creek where you can to find this small lake.  Enjoy the quiet and solitude.
1.  Mount Ida.  Like last year, I have also included a more difficult east destination here.  The trail head starts high, so you gain treeline rather quickly.  Keep on the trail at your own pace to get to the summit of this peak.  Look down over Gorge Lakes and take a look at Trail Ridge Road across the valley.  Bighorn Sheep frequent this area- I saw more in one day than I have in my life combined.
Best epic days!
4.  Taylor Peak in winter.  This was quite a slog in snow.  I finally reached the summit and felt tired.  Going back was beyond difficult.  I had to stop quite frequently and rest as I headed back around Hallett Peak.  This was one of the days I think I was close to my breaking point.
3.  Longs Peak in winter.  The last day of winter saw me take down a unofficial goal.  I hadn't done the Keyhole Route before, but ready everything I could about the route.  In the end I made it to the top (and most importantly) back down safely.
2.  Mummy Kill.  Joined by a friend, we climbed 6 13ers and 2 12ers in one day.  This gave me a personal best for length of time hiking, as well as total elevation gained in one day.  The Mummy Range holds a very special place in my heart.
1.  Ni-chebe-chii part 1.  I started from the Colorado River trail head with some of the Never Summer peaks as goals for the day.  I ended up getting back to the car in complete darkness after spending 15.5 hours out and about.  Add nearly two hours of driving onto both sides of that.  I was beyond tired, but it was an incredible day.
Honorable mentions!
Favorite waterfall!
This isn't labelled on any map, but the waterfall from the exit of Ptarmigan Lake was certainly the most spectacular I saw all year.  It is not easy to get to.
Total mileage mountain biked in 2014:
1358.3 miles.
Total estimated mileage hiked in 2014:
369.5 miles.
Total estimated elevation gained hiking in 2014:
128,166 feet = 24.27 miles.
Number of new destinations obtained in RMNP in 2014:
100.
Number of new destinations obtained outside RMNP in 2014:
4.
Best photos of 2014 as chosen by an esteemed panel of judges:
Heading up towards Mount Lady Washington after a heavy spring snowfall.  Note the snowflake caught up close in midair.  Snowshoe madness!
A little guy accosted me for a snack on the Longs Peak Trail.  He was cute but got nothing.
Black Lake in Glacier Gorge.  This was one of my favorites as well.  It looks like it was created in Photoshop.
Otis, Hallett, and Flattop peer out from a storm on the divide as seen from Sprague Lake.
Alpine Sunflowers and Cracktop as seen from Mt. Julian.
I don't get many reflective lake photos since I don't want to sit there for hours waiting for that one minute of no wind.  Sometimes I get lucky though.  Hallett Peak as seen in Bear Lake.
A thin cloud caught in the Keyhole along the way to Longs Peak.
Pterospora, the most alien looking plant I have ever seen.  Captured on the North Boundary Trail.
The fun and exposed third class ridge of Static Peak. 
Looking along the North Inlet Trail as clouds build.  It looked bad and I ran back down to Bear Lake just in time to avoid the thunderstorms.
In the clouds on Tombstone Ridge.  
The next four photos were picked by all the judges.
Wind sculpted clouds as seen from Bierstadt Moraine.
Alpenglow strikes the Never Summer Mountains.
Hello?  Deer on Flattop Mountain.
I hiked up through clouds to capture this view down into Ptarmigan Gorge.  It was pretty cool to see the surrounding peaks poking up through the clouds.
I also wrote a somewhat differently styled year long wrap up on 14ers.com.  (click that to read it!)

Thank you for reading and your continued support throughout the year!  It is crazy to think that 2015 will see me (hopefully) near the end goal of hiking to every named destination in RMNP.  If all goes according to plan, I should wrap up in summer 2016.
In the meantime, I hope to see you out there!  Enjoy this majestic place!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Castle Mountain and area, Oldman Mountain, and Deer Ridge East.

A few weeks ago I was looking at my tally of hikes for this year.  Though I've had fewer entries here, I have been able to string a number of things together, and have, in less days, been able to nearly equal the number of new destinations in RMNP that I did last year (110 in 2013 vs 100 thus far in 2014).  
I also started counting my mountain bike rides for the year, and found that I was getting close to 100 there as well.  The late season goal became to do 100/100, and it was just two weeks ago that I was able to finish this goal off.  Deer Ridge East was my 100th destination for the year in RMNP, and an old favorite, Hall Ranch, was ridden a few days later to hit 100 days mountain biking for the year.
Unfortunately, a few days later I headed out for ride number 101 and crashed hard, breaking my helmet and sustaining a minor concussion in addition to the normal scrapes and bumps.  Worst of all I sprained the AC joint (the ligaments that hold the collarbone to the shoulder), which means I can't carry a backpack or ride.  Thus my 2014 is pretty much over.  Ah well, it's been a fun one, and at least this accident happened after meeting those goals.
I started out this day aimed at Castle Mountain.  Since I knew it would be a shorter day out, I didn't set my alarm for 3am.  Getting up later was pretty great.  When you reach Estes, continue on 34W past the Stanley Hotel.  Right around when 34W intersects with 34 Business, look for parking on the right/north side of the road.  There are two pullouts, a smaller which is before the intersection, and a larger which is right next to the intersection.  From the larger, walk east on 34 and look for the start of a trail on your left.  A trail starts directly up from the smaller parking area.  Either way, you should cross into NPS land almost immediately.
This is another area where there are a multitude of trails leading every which way, and I found it better to just pick the general direction I wanted to go and head that way.  The bushwhacking is not bad at all. 
Pretty forest and Lumpy Ridge-esque rock.
You may cross or stay briefly on an old jeep road or two along to way, but you'll generally want to head north to get the elevation and then west to head toward Castle Mountain.  It looked like some harder, cliffy stuff could be faced if you headed directly northwest from the parking.
Since this area faces directly south, it was clear of snow for the most part, and I imagine it would stay that way throughout the winter, provided there wasn't a recent storm.  
Oldman Mountain becomes visible on the left.  
And I could see what would become my 100th named destination in RMNP for the year, Deer Ridge East.  It is certainly alot more spectacular than Deer Ridge West!
Once you reach a place where the terrain starts to flatten out, you can start to head west to the summit of Castle Mountain.  Work though and around some rocky areas, and ascend to the summit from the north.  Of course I encountered some snow on this north facing slope, but it was minor.  There are some sections of second class climbing along the way, but take your time and pick a safe route and you'll be fine.
All the lumps of Lumpy Ridge.
Here is Castle Rock as seen from Castle Mountain.  This unranked high point is to the east.  It looks impressive!  Simply head back the way you came and continue toward it.  You can stay north of the rocky stuff pictured before it and avoid anything difficult.
A zoom in on one of the many post flood mudslides in the area, seen on Lumpy Ridge.
Here's another big on on McGregor Mountain.  Both of these slides ended up washing into Black Canyon Creek.  It was crazy to see the devastation.
Again, I approached Castle Rock from the north side.  The south side ends in steep cliff faces.  This gully provided a relatively stable second class walk up, but ended with a third to fourth class squeeze up a chimney, or a third to fourth class way around that, with a short climb up a slab and then a somewhat daring (in the snow that was there!) large step across the gap at the top of the chimney.
I did the slab and step across on the way up, and then dropped into the chimney on the east side on the way down.  That felt a bit more stable with the small amounts of snow in the area.
From here I could see my next goal- Window Rock.  Apparently, the easiest route to the summit is 5.0, which with a partner might be soloable.  But since I was alone...
From Castle Rock to Castle Mountain and beyond.
It looked like I could find a way up, but took that soon became too hairy for me.  I went back and down and then up and then down.  I eventually found a way up to the window.  I would say even getting to the window itself requires some third to fourth class movement with a little bit of exposure. 
The window.
Here I am standing in the window, looking straight up.  A pretty neat feature!  Glimpsing though the window to the east yielded some good views of Lumpy Ridge and Estes.
Looking west, I got some great views of the minor peaks on the east side and the snow capped peaks of the continental divide.
I looked for a different way down, but decided to return to my method of ascent.  Then it was simply head south and west as I could to get back to the car.
There are lots of interesting rock features in the area, in addition to some very hard climbing.
I got back to the car and took off for the next stage of the journey: Oldman Mountain and Deer Ridge East.
You'll want to get on 34 Business, and look for Old Ranger Drive on the south side of the road.  Turn onto this street, and follow it until the end.  You'll hit a gate with a turn around marked no parking on the left.  Turn around and park just down the street from this turnaround, taking care to get your vehicle off the road as much as possible.  Since you'll be able to get cell reception for most of the time you are up here, it would be nice to leave a note on your dash with your phone number in case.  The owners of the property beyond the gate allow hikers to pass through.  Please be respectful of this private property.
Once past the gate, pass the cabins and look for a trail on your right.  This will take up up a gully.  Near the top of this gully, look left.
You'll see this huge boulder on some slabs.  It looked a whole lot like Meatwad to me.  Head toward this boulder.  I found it easy to just head toward the high point in general.  As you get closer, you may find some more difficult terrain.  At this point, move right and circle around north.
You'll come upon this slabby crack which is the definitive crux.  Ascend this easy third class crack and find the summit shortly after.
Look north to enjoy views of Castle Mountain and area.
To get to Deer Ridge East, I headed back down the same way I'd come.  I picked up the dirt road that I left and simply headed up. 

Views of the west side of Oldman Mountain.
Continue up as the road shrinks to a trail.  You'll reach an intersection with four different options if memory serves me correctly.  You want to take NOT the left most option, but the second to left most.  It heads the wrong way from Deer Ridge and heads into forest, but does not loose elevation.  The next landmark you'll see is some heavy plastic coated electrical wire wrapped around some trees on your left.  I suppose this was used by a property owner to mark their property.  Do not cross.
In a short time and with a little bit of elevation, the trail will gain the ridge line and turn to head west. 
Deer Ridge East getting closer.
I spied Ptarmigan Glacier quite well covered in snow.
Within maybe 15-20 minutes, you will see some signs and cross into RMNP.

There it is!
If you look at a topo, you'll see that the trail curves to the north and looses some elevation around Deer Ridge East (point 8763).  When this started happening, I took off to the left up the snow covered slopes.
Again, a few second class moves are required near the top.
And there I was, the 100th named destination of the year.  A snack was had along with a few minutes of reflection. 
I could see the wind was absolutely ripping to the south on the higher peaks.
I turned back and headed down.  It felt like it took a much shorter time for me to get back to the trail than it did for me to get to the summit from the trail.  I suppose that is how it often goes.
I interspersed some jogging with hiking on the way down, made it back to the car in a very reasonable time, and then drove back down to Longmont.
This was a good day.  I think places like Castle Mountain would be good destinations if you are trying to get off the beaten path a bit yet still want some challenge in the short and steep category.  Oldman Mountain and even Deer Ridge East aren't as difficult in terms or elevation gain or technicality.  But this would be a fun alternative to access Deer Mountain.  As you can see, these minor peaks also provide greats views of many of the higher peaks in RMNP, Estes Park, and the surrounding areas such as Lumpy Ridge.  I would actually suggest Castle Mountain as an off season hike (not summer).  I imagine during summer it will be sweltering since it faces directly south.
Castle Mountain and area, Oldman Mountain, and Deer Ridge East:
Castle Mountain, 8834 feet: .8 miles each way, 1134 foot gain.  Second to third class.  Moderate+.
Castle Rock on Castle Mountain, 8669 feet: .5 miles each way, 969 foot gain.  Third to fourth class.  Moderate+.
Window Rock, 8530 feet (summit): .6 miles each way, 830 foot gain.  Third to fourth class to the window, 5.0 to the summit.  Moderate+.
Oldman Mountain, 8310 feet: .3 miles each way, 510 foot gain.  Third class.  Moderate-.
Deer Ridge East, 8763 feet: 1.25 miles each way, 963 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate.

Love!
Thank you for reading.  Look for my 2014 wrap up to come soon!