Monday, April 9, 2018

Milton Seaman Reservoir loop.

I suppose with the hiking end of RMNP being near, I've been directing my sights elsewhere.  I just don't know how many people are interested in reading about sub-8000 foot peaks in Larimer county, so I've not been writing up anything.  Consider the MOST climbed peak in this report, 6712, has 38 registered ascents (counting 2 repeats by one person, and 4 by another) on, while the most climbed 14er in the state has nearly 1300, and that site is probably not used by the vast majority of people climbing Mount Bierstadt!  So it's a low summit that doesn't see much traffic.
But this day a few weeks ago was too good to not mention, though it was not an easy outing to visit three  lowly 6ers.  Rugged and challenging but rewarding terrain, bushwhacking, just a touch of scrambling, and adventurous route finding?  Check!  And I didn't see a single person until I got back to the dam.
I started at early o'clock, as I hoped to beat the traffic north through Fort Collins from my home in Longmont.  During the day it's always slow, and this way I'd only have to sit through it once.
I started on peak 6176, right near the mouth of the Poudre.  By now, I've driven by it numerous times, but funny that I've only been up the Poudre before once ever, and that was only last year.
This summit lies on state lands, and as signed at the pullout, dedicated for use for hunting only.  I suppose there might be some penalty for not hunting there, but it doesn't say what you have to be hunting (do summits count?), and I arrived pre-sunrise, so I felt ok going for it.
I missed a nice trail going up in the dark, and after a rock and scrub filled gully, exited north onto a nice grassy slope with a bit of talus to the broad summit area.  There were a few candidates, and no cairn or register, so I made sure to pay attention to them all.
Sunrise near the summit.
I stood for a few minutes and enjoyed the view down to the plains to the east.  What a big world it is, and how pleasurable to see another sunrise.
I headed back down but took the trail, which starts or ends behind the "Don't go here unless you're hunting" sign previously mentioned.
I headed up to Hewlett Gulch to run... only to discover it was closed for this one day only.  Argh!  I stopped at the next pull out and looked at the map- I had a quarter tank of gas and knew that would get me back to civilization from where I was, but didn't know how much farther up the canyon I could go and get back, and at this point it would have to be pretty far to visit something new.  I also knew if I went that far, I'd take CR27 back so I wouldn't have to drive through Fort Collins, which meant I'd be away from potential gas for longer if I was to run low.
A few months ago I visited Gateway Natural Area with the dogs to do the hike I'm about to talk about, but could not do it due to construction which was supposed to be over by the time I was there.  I'm glad it didn't work out, because this would've been a pretty hard day for them.
So I headed back downhill to Gateway, where I was the first vehicle in the parking lot shortly before 7am.  I was freezing at first, but knew I'd warm up once I got some sun, and I didn't want to carry an extra layer all day for 10 minutes at the beginning.  I crossed the now completed bridge and started up the Black Powder Trail.  Once it flattened out, I turned east, hopped the first (unsigned) barbed wire fence of the day, and started up for real.
Above the reservoir.
I'm sure some of these fences mean something or once did- most of the land covered over the day was public (though of varying ownership), and most seemed to be relics of another time, with the wooden posts rotted enough to fall over, the barbed wire badly rusted, and gates left wide open.
I was feeling alot of joy when I took the photo above.  Though I'd started with my teeth chattering, I'd now warmed up enough to appreciate the cool breeze blowing, the early morning sun, and the songbirds in the area were filling the morning with music.  It was pretty perfect!
Some Pasques just starting to bloom.  There are one of the first flowers of spring.
I hit the ridge, and began the undulating hike to 6823.  Along the way I encountered more of the same style fencing, most in disrepair.  In some places the barbed wire was no longer attached, but rather looped around on the ground.  A good place to keep your eyes open!
The terrain was a bit more open here, so I was able to jog a bit.  My legs were already well scratched up from the scrub I'd encountered up until now.
I got to the summit and was unable to find a cairn or register.  It was hard to tell with certainty, but it looked like the high point might actually be slightly east of where it's marked on the map.  
The hills of Larimer County.
Looking west from the summit of 6823.  You can see all the scrubby stuff as well as the striking Greyrock Mountain, my photographic muse for the day.  
The next part of my plan involved descending the long west ridge to the inlet of the reservoir.  It was easy enough, some runable, some not, again mostly due to thick scrub.  I'd had enough of it here and my legs were pretty mangled already.  Fortunately, the other side of the valley looked like it was clear of this, or it was at least avoidable.
I got down to the water.  Man, what a beautiful place.  Much to my surprise, there was a thin trail running along its edge on the east bank.  I headed upstream, looking for a point to cross and feeling happy that I'd come to be at this place at this time.
About half way to Obenchain Draw, I encountered some rocks, but there were not enough to rock hop.  Ah well, I got my feet wet and waded a bit, scaring two ducks who took off in the process.  Again, I was impressed by how much this short loop to three 6ers had delivered.  Why would anyone want to climb a 14er?
After the initially steep uphill, the terrain flattened out nicely and I was able to jog/fast hike most of it, scaring a herd of deer in the process.  I followed an animal trail around the north side of 6377 and then basically stuck to the ridge from there to the summit of 6945.
An extremely pleasant meadow I passed through on the way.  I was seriously about to go full on "the hills are alive" and skip through it singing, but I somehow restrained myself.  It was just beautiful!
Greyrock Mountain, standing proud and a story for another day.
I ran out of water near the summit, but was not concerned in the slightest.  I would've brought my filter, but since I planned to do something else I didn't have it with me.  Ah well, only a few more miles to go, or so I thought!
The rocky summit of 6945.  I took a few minutes to enjoy the scenery, and dropped south to the creek below.
My plan from here was to cross the creek, and ascend up the other side of the valley, going by point 6632 and then staying on the ridge until I intersected the old Wintersteen Trail.  The scenery would change abruptly on the other side of the creek, as it is a forest fire burn area.
As I've said about everything, the creek was awesome!  How many people have had the privilege to stand here and listen to it, feel the coolness of it's water?
I decided that I should fill up just in case, as I always keep tablets in my backpack for that very reason.  That turned out to be a good call as I was alot farther from the car than I thought, and I would've been dry for some time until I'd gotten back.
Forest fire burn area and deadfall.  Unfortunately, the deadfall was too much to make this area runable, but I was still feeling great.
A closer up view of Greyrock.  It looks improbable that there's an easy trail to the top, but there is!
I don't know if I would've been able to find or follow the Wintersteen Trail without the mobile app that I have.  It was not very distinct and covered in deadfall at these higher elevations.  There were some cairns which certainly helped.
A cairn leading the way. 
While in the area, I looked for the old Brinkhoff mine that you see on the topo and think I eventually found it WSW of where it's marked.  It's not much to look at, just a channel dug into the hill.  I did not locate any buildings or anything.
Using the mobile app and all of my bad trail recognition tools, I was able to follow the trail into the saddle north of 6712, where I left it direct for the summit.  This one was a little challenging due to the steepness and looseness of the burned area.  But really a quick up and down.
The summit area.  An enchanting view was had of the Poudre Canyon to the west from the top.
Said view.  Could the day get any better?
Well, it was all downhill from here (literally).  I'd yet to see a single person.  I had food and water (fortunately).  Things were pretty great!
The Wintersteen Trail got better.  Someone or someones maintains this section, so most of the deadfall was cut or had a textured flat cut into the top in the case of the bigger trees.  Still not super obvious, as I would soon find out.
More kind of trail.
Somewhere after this, I lost it.  Since I didn't plan on doing this day, I didn't have the Laporte Quad saved on my phone.  I lost the trail where I started follow an old animal trail which must've looked more obvious.  It didn't take long to figure out that I was not going the right way and guess where the trail must've gone from where I was. 
A quick uphill through some more scrub and I was back on it, and moving a bit quicker, as it was now dirt and easily visible.
Getting close to the Seaman!
Back above the reservoir.
The outlet was pretty cool, and I saw the first people of the day here: a girl walking her dog, and a guy fishing.  There were a number of people out enjoying the day that I passed as I made my way back to the car.  What a great day! 
I got back to the car a few minutes later, changed, and started for home. 
I drove home feeling fortunate to be here, and was pretty happy that I spent the day on three lowly 6ers.  A really fun thing on concentrating on a county peak list is that I've gone to places I never would've otherwise, or didn't even know existed.  Gateway Natural Area and the Seaman loop delivered in a big way. 
Almost all days outdoors are great, and this one was particularly memorable.  How lucky I am to live in the place, and have these hills in my backyard (or just a short drive away!).
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.
Milton Seaman Reservoir Loop:
6823: 3.65 miles, 1473 foot gain.  Second class but bushwhacky.  Moderate+.
6945: 7.65 miles, 1565 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
6712: 11.1 miles, 1332 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
As a whole, this day covered 14.6 miles with 4519 feet of elevation gain though some splendid scenery.  Strenuous-.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Red Deer, Sawtooth, Algonquin, and Coney Island from Beaver Reservoir TH.

There is something to be said for sitting down and reviewing summer hike photos three months later.  I think this is the last of my overdue trip reports.  Though these peaks are all summitted from the same trail head, the days described took place about a month apart, on August 15th and September 21st this year.  Thus, they are described as two separate outings in this TR, though they could easily be grouped together.  Also described is my Boulder County and Indian Peaks Wilderness finisher, both fun lists to pursue.
I'd never been to the trail head before, but it was pretty easy to find.  It's on the Peak to Peak Highway between Route 7 and Ward, though closer to Ward.  The street sign is for County Road 96, and you should see a sign for the Tahosa Boy Scout Camp.  It's on the west side of Peak to Peak.
Drive along the dirt road, and go about halfway around the reservoir to find a small parking area on your right, a little past the wide concrete paved area.  There is some additional parking just a short way up the dirt road, and it looks like most vehicles should be able to make it though I didn't try in my normal car.  Note that the reservoir itself (and immediately surrounding land) is private property, and signed as such.
The first few miles of hiking aren't the most mentally stimulating, on the 4WD Coney Creek Road.  But soon enough (on the way up, it feels like it takes forever on the way down) you'll reach the Coney Creek TH.  Stick to the boardwalk on your left to cross the wide creek.  Things are a little confusing here, as the area is pretty open.  Continue ahead and to the left to find the trail. 
Early morning and the promise of a fun day ahead.
And a fun day it would be, as I was in Indian Peaks where dogs are allowed and my best dog friend was along with me.  His is a story of triumph, as he was such a scared dog when we got him.  I distinctly remember them telling us he might never be able to go on a hike.  But he's showed them!
You can just barely see Sawtooth Mountain poking up beyond the trees here.
We passed the Coney Lake trail pretty early on, and continued on the Beaver Creek trail to the Buchanan Pass trail.
As we got to treeline, movement seemed a bit more difficult to me, though it didn't seem like Gunner was slowing down at all.  
Looking back down into the valley.
I could hear the wind roaring above, so we stopped for a snack and water break on the east side of the Continental Divide.
Gunner looking extremely happy!
We crested the divide and it was windy and therefore a good bit cooler.  I put on my wind/rain jacket, and figured out a way to tie/zip my fleece hoodie onto Gunner as he now looked a bit less happy.  We headed north and got to the summit of Red Deer Mountain quickly.
Looking around from the summit, where there is a nice depression to allow some time out of the wind.
Dog impressively back lit on the summit of Red Deer Mountain, 12391 feet.
My buddy!
We looked over to Sawtooth Mountain.  From points west, its easy to see how it got that name, but from here it looked like just a lump on the tundra.
Sawtooth Mountain on the left, with Algonquin and others behind.
It was a little bit of talus to the top, but it comes easily enough for a dog.  I felt like I was sucking wind. 
Audubon and Paiute in the background with Algonquin ahead.  That grassy ramp cutting left was my planned descent route. 
Still happy on Sawtooth.
Algonquin is the highest of these three at 12574, and it's also a bit of distance out.  It's primarily tundra between the two, but turns back to straight talus at the summit.
Algonquin and even better views of other Indian Peaks.
I had warmed up significantly, so I took the hoodie off Gunner who seemed as happy as ever to be there.  We ran out of water up here, or rather he ran out of water and then I gave him my last, knowing we'd find an ample supply upon descent.
The route I picked was fine for human travel, but not the best for dogs.  As I'd discover a few weeks later, it probably would've been better if I'd let him off leash to pick his own way.  I know he'll stay with and follow me anywhere, and this loose talusy descent proved that.
We were around 11000 feet and the best option would've probably been to descend to Coney Lake, but I still had it in my mind that we'd do Coney Island to finish off the area.  So we headed north and up the gully, stopping at the small body of water below Sawtooth to rehydrate and have some snacks.  We feed him twice a day normally, on these big hike days he also gets a third meal interspersed throughout the day with some special treats mixed into his normal diet. 
Gunner looking regal.
Sawtooth impressive from the pond.
I looked wistfully at Coney Island.  Yes I wanted to do it today, but I had to be back at a certain time for a meeting.  The weather prediction had now gotten to the possible bad part of the day, though things still looked good where I was.  Coney Island was only 500ish vertical feet, but it looked like loose talus the entire way.  
Loose, though not that much up.
And I felt a little guilty for making Gunner descend the loose stuff already.  Though I knew he'd follow me willingly, I didn't feel like going up this slope was a good idea.  So we headed back.
Still above tree line, the scenery in this area was awesome. 
Gunner agreed.
It was pretty easy to find a way down back to the trail here.  For awhile it seemed like we were following a very old human trail.  A few animal trails had us cross the creek and pick the official trail back up.
Of course, we had to stop at Coney Creek to eat some water and hang out a bit before heading down. The road felt like it took forever to get down, but we got back to the car soon enough.  Gunner will normally get in and pace around, circling a few times before he finds his spot.  This time he got in, immediately laid down, and did not move the entire way home.  I looked at my GPS tracker to find that we'd done a little over 19 miles and a little less than 5000 feet of elevation gain.  No wonder!
My buddy.
After some rest and other hiking adventures, we headed back to the same place a month later with an easier and shorter day planned.  I'd made a pretty big push in August and September, and here I was, about to finish Boulder County and Indian Peaks on the same day.  
I'm looking at Gunner sleeping on the couch next to me as I write this.  He's a pretty amazing dog.  He's been a great hiking buddy over the years, though with all the time spent in RMNP, he hasn't always been allowed to come along.  I feel bad about that, particularly in light of the death of our other dog earlier this year.  So now my goal is to make his time as high quality as possible.  
He's been with me more than any other being on Boulder County peaks, so it seemed appropriate that he'd be my only companion for the day. 
Beaver Reservoir at sunrise. 
The approach is exactly the same for the most part.
Another break at Coney Creek to eat some water.
Peaks in the distance.
I made one navigational error.  It looks like you should leave the trail to start up Coney Islands long east ridge before you cross the creek, but it will be much easier to stay on the trail for a few minutes longer, cross the creek, and then head up.  There isn't really a much of a creek, but the trail is wet, and you'll be in a small clearing.  Some bushwhacking awaits.
Dog looking pensive. 
I knew he enjoyed hiking, but I never knew how much of a mountain goat he was until today.  We stopped in a slightly sheltered talusy area for a quick snack, and he was doing something like this.  Well, he was only two feet off the ground, but he had his front two paws pushed into the side of a large rock, and one of his back paws doing the opposite with his fourth leg just hanging there.  Impressive.
Treeline is reached, but there's still some scrubby stuff and plenty o' talus.  We continued on as the day got windier.
Nearing the summit.
Back down to the valley.
Sawtooth from near the summit. 
Finally I could tell we were almost there.  I got the camera ready.
At the summit with the talus slope we'd descended a month prior on the lower left. 
Dog at the top.  We didn't stay long due to the wind.
On the summit, my 87th of 87 Boulder County peaks, and 37th of 37 Indian Peaks Wilderness peaks.  I was pretty happy, and said a few words to remember my dog Jersey, who had done the second most Boulder County peaks of any being with me.  In his memory.
To get down we headed back a short distance the way we'd come, and then descended directly north.  I let him off leash to do this, and found he was quite capable at picking his own way safely, though he always stayed within ten or so feet of me.  After a short leap from boulder to boulder near the bottom I heard him yelp.  I checked his paws to find he had an injury and was bleeding a little.  Fortunately, his ability to walk did not seem to be effected at all, and when we got home and I cleaned his paws, I did not find any wound.
Looking as happy as can be.
This is the official Buchanan Pass trail head, at the end of Coney Creek Road.  We started back, and the road didn't feel any shorter this time.
But of course, we had to stop for a quick dip in and drink from Coney Creek.  
We got back to the car and he did his normal routine to settle in, then stuck his head out of the window for the first part of the ride home.  He curled up on the passenger seat, and laid his head on my lap until we got home.  
This is a story of triumph and of a lasting friendship, yet another forged in the mountains.  I think back to the day we met Gunner at the Boulder Humane Society.  He was so scared he wouldn't even come out of the room he was in to meet us.  I had to pick him up and carry him to the car because he would not budge.  We often talk about the warning given that he would never be a dog to take on hikes.
It didn't take long for him to come around.  Peanut butter, love, and a little time was all that was needed.  Now he is an exceptionally loyal dog.  He would follow me to the ends of the earth.  As my wife noted one night when I came home from work as she was feeding him, he loves me more than food, as he left his dinner to come greet me.  I know Jersey liked us alot, and loved us in his way.  When Gunner looks at me I see something beyond love in his eyes.
It was awesome to share these two days with him.  It was great to have him along for this major list finisher, even though he has no concept of what that means.  I felt extremely happy to stand on the summit of Coney Island, to think back on all the early morning wake ups, the sunrises, the miles out and back and the feet up and down.  
These were two fun days, and certainly within the capability of the intrepid explorer to do in a day.  After all, you do pass back by Coney Island on the way down from Algonquin, or it could be done in the opposite direction.  From research and the experience of others, the north face of Coney Island seems like the best approach either up or down to add on, with cliffs to the west and south.  The north side is steep and loose in places, but not cliffy.  Great fun for humans and canines alike, though make sure your pup is part mountain goat!
Link to hike map and GPX on Caltopo.
Day 1:
Red Deer Mountain, 12391 feet: 7.5 miles, 3241 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Sawtooth Mountain, 12304 feet: 8.6 miles, 3154 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Algonquin, 12574 feet: 10.3 miles, 3424 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
As a whole, this day covered 19.3 miles with 4128 feet of elevation gain in up to second class terrain.  Strenuous.
Day 2:
Coney Island, 11580 feet: 6.5 miles, 2430 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
As a whole, this day covered 13.5 miles with 2661 feet of elevation gain in up to second class terrain.  Moderate+.