Sunday, July 17, 2016

Comanche Peak and Area.

Last year I looked wistfully towards the Comanche Peak area, but in the end, time ran out.  I was pretty excited about the idea of ringing the bowl of peaks above Mirror Lake, a big day above tree line.  I was not excited about the prospect of the long drive to get to the trailhead!
But the time had come.  Just the week before I'd spent some time in the Mummy Range, eventually working my way to Mirror Lake.  The view of the peaks above was exciting and enticing.  With a great weather prediction, I set out for a long day.
To get here, from east or west: get on Co 14 and head the appropriate direction to Pingree Park Road.  Turn south on Pingree Park Road (also signed as 63E).  It's about 15 miles to the trailhead from there, on a dirt road where the speed limit is 25.  You'll pass a bunch of Forest Roads- the one you want is 145 (also signed as Tom Bennett Campground), which will be on your right shortly before you reach CSU.  Turn right onto 145 and continue past the campground.  The trailhead is on your left approximately .25/mile after the campground.  All that marks it is a sign.  A road continues past the trailhead, so don't block it.  If you have 4wd and high clearance, you can continue on this road for another half a mile to a parking area with a green gate.  There isn't a toilet at the th, so if you need to go, use the one at the campground.  Please note that if you live south of Fort Collins, Google will suggest you take Buckhorn Road (44H), which is a 4wd road.  Even if you have 4wd, this way may take longer than going around.
It took me about 2.5 hours and close to 90 miles to drive from Longmont.  I don't get car sick, but all those twisty roads in the dark had left me feeling nauseous, and my plan to jog some of the flatter areas of the trail early on went out the window.
Even after the green gate, the trail was obviously once a road, and is pretty easy hiking.  Eventually it narrows, and you reach a intersection.  I went left to take the Mummy Pass Trail.
Somewhere along the way, you enter Comanche Peak Wilderness.
The trail has some steeper sections lower, but feels pretty mellow most of the way up.  It's pretty neat to hike up and see the forest thinning and trees growing lower to the ground.  
The views are pretty great the whole way up, with Stormy Peaks and others visible to the south.  As you gain altitude, views of Fall Mountain, Comanche Peak, and the Mummies to the south become more prominent.  
A rocky point (which would come into play later in the day) and Comanche Peak.
I read a trip report which suggested the best way to approach Fall Mountain may be from the south, because from the east you do need to go over the rocky point to the east of the summit.  Thus, I originally planned to continue on the Mummy Pass Trail, and follow that suggested method.  But when I got to the east of Fall Mountain, the rocky section didn't look too bad at all, and certainly appeared more favorable than loosing a few hundred feet of elevation to have a less rocky route to the top.  
Past the rocky bits, Alpine Sunflowers galore!  From here it was a short jaunt to the summit.
Fall Mountain, 12,258 feet with Comanche Peak behind.  It took me two hours and forty four minutes to get to the summit, which meant I was moving pretty well.
I left the summit after a snack and signing the register.  From here I headed northwest toward Comanche Peak.  This summit is one of those that looks impressive from below, but isn't much more than a collection of indistinct rocky high points from above.  In fact, it was pretty difficult to tell which of those was the actual summit, though LoJ says it is the farthest southwest point.    
Comanche Peak, 12,709 feet.  
Looking northeast from here to the other contenders.  I visited all three high points just in case.  
The last one, closest to the valley below, provided a great view point down into a bowl I would visit much later in the day.  Emmaline Lake is the larger body of water on the left, and Cirque Lake is the farthest away from this view point.
I could see Ramsey Peak from here, and thought of the struggle I had on that one.  It doesn't look too bad from this side!
Great views of Fairchild Mountain, Ypsilon Mountain, and Desolation Peaks.
From Comanche Peak, I headed to the Comanche Peak Wilderness Highpoint, another unspectacular pile of rock.  At 12,716 feet, this would be the highest point of the day.  
At the summit.
Looking back to Comanche Peak, with the high point to the right.  Hard to tell!
One of two registers on top.
I left this summit and headed almost directly west to the low point between it and point 12,308.  There is a thin trail here, and the going was pretty easy.
Above Mirror Lake, Mount Ikoko on the right.  
Looking toward 12308.  Once I neared the summit, I climbed one of the rocky outcrops to see where the high point was, and then headed to that.
At the summit of 12,308.  
Mount Ikoko looks pretty spectacular and imposing from below, but wasn't much of anything from this vantage point.
Summit register from the Kirks.  These always put a smile on my face.  They've suggested the name Kokomo for this peak, and I am happy to stick with that.  The only bad thing was that this got a Beach Boys song in my head!
Looking east to a great view of where I'd already been.
The tundra was nice and flat here, and I was able to move to Ikoko in a jog.  
Close to Ikoko.
Across the way.
I got to the summit fairly quickly, though I actually think the summit was the stack of rocks near the lower left corner here, not the cairn.  There was a register here, lying on the ground.  I signed in and secured it within the cairn.   
A view down to Mirror Lake.  Note the wind blown pattern on top of the lake.  I was feeling it all day.  I took the grassy/scree slope on the right just past the snow to descend to the lake, which worked fairly well. 
Descending.  A day earlier I was doing some research on these peaks, and discovered that Joe Grim had suggested a name for the higher one.  Since he is a published author and I was pretty close, I decided to visit the lake.  It was worth the short detour.
At Looking Glass Lake, 11,060 feet.  It was a short talus hop to and from the lake.
My descent route, to the left of the snow.
A parting glimpse at Mirror Lake and Mount Ikoko.  I jogged down the trail, meeting six people along the way.  I headed left to go toward Mummy Pass, and enjoyed some nice trail... for now.
Up next, I wanted to visit Flint Pass.  While I could find a few photos of it from a distance online, I couldn't find any of it from it.  I'd say very few people pass through here, as there really isn't any reason to.  There isn't any trail to it, and there isn't anything on the other side but Hague Creek. 
I left the Mummy Pass trail at an appropriate point, and simply headed up and over to descend down the the pass.

Nearing the pass.
Truly spectacular views to the west.  There aren't any trails in this drainage, and nothing named to visit, but I bet it is great.
The view to the west from the pass.  I was seeing some clouds which had me a bit worried, but they were all dissipating and not building into anything. 
From here I descended north and east to try to find Mummy Pass.
The National Geographic Topo has a GPS coordinate for Mummy Pass printed on it.  Here, my backpack marks that coordinate as close as I could get.  However, a pass is a low point between two or more high points, and the true location of Mummy Pass is slightly south and east of here...
In this marshy and willowy area.  I made my way through this area to get to the NGS point.  It's not too bad, but certainly a place you may get wet feet.  Either way, if you have hiked this trail I think you can say you have visited Mummy Pass.
Back on the trail, I headed up.  From here it was an interesting exercise to find the trail.  At times it was very well put in, sunk nearly a foot below the level of the surrounding tundra.  Other times it was nothing more than a thin line of matted down grass.  More than once it went through willows, some up to chest high.  Be prepared to do a little route finding.
Trail.
The area around here is truly spectacular and wild.  Unfortunately I had yet to see a single animal.  But the scenery couldn't be better.
The south side of Fall Mountain does look easier and less rocky, though with more gain. 
Trail?  You really had to pay attention!
Looking back toward Mummy Pass.
A very well weathered sign.  The text was just barely legible.
This is a good look at the rocky point to the east of Fall Mountain.  You can see the trail is much more distinct here. 
I noted that rocky outcrop near the beginning of this page.  This is where I started descending to visit Cirque and Emmaline Lakes.  Well, I guess descending, then ascending, then descending.  
Down into the valley over rock and tundra.  Mostly stable, a few third class sections.  
Great views up to Fall Mountain from this valley.
Up the other side was ok, with a few downed trees to deal with.
From the top I could see the lakes, and worked over some looser rock toward them.  This was the most time consuming travel of the day, and after being able to move quickly for most of it, it felt like I was crawling.  
But I eventually came down a short valley to find Cirque Lake.  It was a tremendously beautiful blue color, and not very deep even in the middle.  
From above.
I was happy to see this sign and know I was on the trail again.  I headed up to Emmaline Lake.
It was windy enough here to lift some spray off the lake, but it felt good.
I ate, changed socks, and prepared for the hike back to the car.  I'd hoped this day would be in the 12 hour range, but it was now 4:30 and making back to the car in an hour seemed unlikely.  
Close to the lakes, the trail is actually steep and switchbacky.  Though there are some pretty sights right next to it.
Like this body of water with small islands of grass.
Eventually I reached Cirque Meadows.
A great view of the peaks above from here.
It seemed like it was taking forever to descend, and I was trying to jog as much as I could.  But my hip flexors got pretty sore and eventually I just went with hiking as fast as possible.  Fortunately, my hiking as fast as possible on a downhill is 3+ mph, and I got back to the car at 6:34 pm.  Now I only had a 2.5 hour drive ahead of me!  But at least it would be in light.
On the way back, I took 14 all the way into Fort Collins, and out to 25.  This was a little bit longer distance wise, but took a little less time.  It was kind of fun, since I hadn't mapped this way and didn't quite know where I was for awhile. 
What a great day this was, and one of the last big multiple destination days I have left in the park.  Ringing the peaks above Mirror Lake was the pleasure I thought it would be a while looking over last year.  Ranked or not, the peaks all have great views in every direction, the lakes are all beautiful, and the passes sublime.
This also marks the first time I've broken a marathon distance in a day hike.  It's about time!  I've gotten close on many occasions.  
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
Comanche Peak and Area (distances as part of the hike):
Fall Mountain, 12,258 feet: 6.4 miles, 3298 foot gain.  Second class+.  Strenuous-.
Comanche Peak, 12,709 feet: 8.2 miles, 3749 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Comanche Peak Wilderness Highpoint, 12,716 feet: 8.8 miles, 3756 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Kokomo, 12,308 feet: 10.7 miles, 3348 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Mount Ikoko, 12,232 feet: 11.5 miles, 3272 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Looking Glass Lake, 11,060 feet: 12.5 miles, 2100 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Mirror Lake, 11,020 feet:  12.8 miles, 2060 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Flint Pass, 11,630 feet: 16.4 miles, 2670 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Mummy Pass, 11,260 feet: 17.1 miles, 2300 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Cirque Lake, 10,940 feet: 20.8 miles, 1980 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Emmaline Lake, 11,020 feet: 20.9 miles, 2060 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Cirque Meadows, 9,780 feet: 23.3 miles, 820 foot gain.  Moderate-.
As a whole, this hike covered 26.5 miles with 6870 feet of elevation gain.  Some second class terrain is crossed, as well as some bushwhacking to reach Cirque and Emmaline Lakes (if you go that way!).  Strenuous.