Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Powell Peak via Andrews Glacier.

I have had some great days outdoors this week.  Monday I got up to some higher altitudes for some fun mountain biking.  I found myself ripping downhill on ten inch wide single track through a meadow of wildflowers and wondered if life could get any better.  Well, I had to head to work after that, so no!  But it is those moments of perfection that I seek, where everything comes together even if only for a second.
I didn't sleep much that night since I had to close.  Bleary eyed to answer the 4:15 alarm, I slathered on sunscreen, put in my contacts, made some food, and started the drive up to Estes Park.  A few thoughts for the day had run through my head.  There are a few snow climbs I would like to accomplish this year.  But the look at the mountains from my highpoint on Monday told me it might still be too early for these.  So what to do?  
I started from the Glacier Gorge trail head at 6:15.  I took the Fire Trail both ways.  Alberta Falls is nice and all, but I've now seen it multiple times in every season.  
Working up to The Loch.  In the winter, you can just stay down in the valley.
The Loch was quite pretty, just as always.  I happened to make it up early enough on a low wind day and got a few nice reflective photos.  Directly ahead you can see the flat face of the peninsula of land that juts out from the Continental Divide and holds The Sharkstooth amongst other features.  To the left, find Sky Pond, and to the right you can see the top of Andrews Glacier.
Since I'd never been up here before, I somehow ended up staying on the mashed into the snow trail a little bit longer than I should.  The crampons were put on and I faced what would be the steepest snow climb of the day as I made my way uphill and into the basin holding Andrews Creek.
You can see some footprints here, and I could see footprints in places for most of the day.  Simply head up to reach Andrews Tarn.  I was feeling a little bit better heading up than I was last week.  Hopefully some of that fitness is coming back to me.  
I found the snow slope lying below Andrews Tarn to be steeper than the glacier itself, maybe 30+ degrees.  I stopped to take a picture of The Sharkstooth.  It looks pretty awesome sticking up by itself there.  Note the sliver of moon in the upper right corner.
I stopped at the tarn and had a snack.  There had been a little bit of slide activity on both sides of the glacier and I could see the footprints went around it.  Like always, it looked steeper and more imposing than it really was.  I felt I could have gone up in microspikes, but of course, better to be safe than sorry!
Contrary to earlier, I felt like I was dragging up the glacier.  The late turn cost me some time and energy.  All I could do was go at my pace.  In the end, I topped out the glacier about three hours and fifteen minutes after I left the car.
Taylor Peak loomed large.  All I could do was think about the last time I was here and how bad I felt then.  I started up, keeping the crampons on for the time being.  
Looking back at how much snow there is.  Fortunately, it is melting and consolidating, and largely held my body weight.  Postholing could have turned this day into a real slog.  The weather was great, with a nice cool wind blowing to offset my uphill energy.  I wore a tshirt the entire day.
I felt alot better ascending Taylor.  It is a little less than a mile from Andrews Pass and around 1200 feet of gain.  It offers some great views of Longs Peak.
Powell Peak still looked very far away.  I couldn't remember how far, or how much loss and gain would be needed to get there.  If I stayed close to the edge of the divide, I could stay on snow most of the way and minimize the elevation loss.  I started descending on talus and took off my crampons soon enough.  The traction simply was not needed on the snow and they were more of a hassle than an asset on the rock.
Taylor Glacier, Glass Lake.
I felt as though I was moving well, though again I was not going very quickly.  But I could finally see the summit of Powell Peak, with McHenrys and Longs in the background.  At some point during the hike, I realized that this could be my last ranked 13er in the park.  I ran through a mental list and found that it was indeed, with a few unranked points above 13k left to go, such as SE Longs and Glacier Ridge.
From what I could see from the summit, McHenrys Notch looked difficult but reasonable.  Once out of the notch, it looks like some easier terrain awaits to the summit, before entering some third class on the descent on the other side.  
Snow everywhere.  The Rabbit Hole Couloir of Mount Alice had been a thought for this week.  Maybe in another week or two, as there is still alot of snow up there.
I had a snack on the summit and planned to lounge around for a little bit.  That turned into a get packed and get going quickly when I heard thunder.  None of the clouds I could see looked threatening, but better to be on the safe side and head back.
I stopped at Andrews Pass for a snack and to trade the hiking poles for an ice axe.  I thought I heard voices, and looked up to Otis Peak, where I saw two people descending toward the pass.  We met up and talked.  It is always nice to run into people out there in what is essentially the middle of nowhere.  We shared some stories and took a few photos and were then on our way.  The descent was quick- I ran down and attempted to slide once, but the top layer of snow was so soft I could not get going.  Back at the tarn I looked up...
I thought these photos would turn out well, but this might be the single best series I have ever taken in the mountains.  Click to zoom in and find the two black dots on the upper left side of the glacier.  These are the two people I met descending.  
Seen here in close up.  
A pretty wonderful place to be!
I was able to glissade the slope below the tarn, and felt like I created a minor slide of my own as the top layer of snow was pretty slushy.  I stayed down in the basin and followed the footsteps down to get back to the trail in the right place.  As it turned out, the turn off wasn't obvious, but I still feel I shouldn't have missed it.  Ah well.
Back at The Loch I had a snack and reveled in another windless photo opportunity.  I started to see some people around The Loch, and passed a few on my way back down.  On the Fire Trail yet again, I enjoyed the quiet and solitude of the forest and thought about life for awhile.  Back on the official trail, I saw a few more people but avoided my favorite question- "How far?"
The trailside philosopher in me always wants to reply to that question by asking, "Does it matter?", but I usually give some time or distance guess, or the vague, "You're getting there", or something of that sort.
I got back to the car at precisely 3:36, giving me nine hours and twenty one minutes to do this hike.  I loved every second of it.  Despite only sleeping four and a half hours the night before, I felt rather chipper.  'If only I had my running shoes,' I thought.  'And more water.'  'And a big plate of food.'
The drive back home was uneventful and punctuated with a trip to the grocery store.  Not five hours before I had been lounging in sunshine at 13208 feet.  Life was perfect for a few hours.
All in, this is not a very technically difficult hike.  Andrews Glacier is pretty mellow in grade, though it should be noted it can still form crevasses, and as it terminates into frigid water, a uncontrolled slide down could result in a potentially life threatening situation.  Thus I would recommend the usage of an ice axe or hiking poles as an aid to control the speed of your descent.  Taylor and Powell are no more than second class on grass and scree in the summer months, or some combination of those and snow in winter.
Powell Peak is named for John Wesley Powell, an early explorer of the west.
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
Powell Peak via Andrews Glacier (all distances measured using the Fire Trail, add about a mile if not):
The Loch, 10190 feet: 1.7 miles each way, 1040 foot elevation gain.  Moderate.
Andrews Tarn, 11390 feet: 3.3 miles each way, 2150 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Andrews Glacier, 11650 feet (approximately the middle): 3.6 miles one way, 2410 foot gain.  Moderate+
Andrews Pass, 11980 feet: 3.8 miles one way, 2740 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Taylor Peak, 13153 feet: 4.7 miles one way, 3913 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Powell Peak, 13208 feet: 6.1 miles one way, 3968 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
As a whole, this hike covered approximately 12 miles with 4800 feet of gross elevation gain.  Strenuous. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Mummy Mountain via Lawn Lake Th.

I read somewhere it rained 28/31 days in May, which means the mountains got a lot of late season snow.  Last year I did this hike to get to Hagues Peak.  This year I repeated it just to get out, gain some elevation, and work hard.  A training hike of sorts.  Since I have been to Mummy several times, I won't cover the trip in detail, but just wanted to give some general conditions photos for the area.  Of note, I was there May 28, 2014, so all links that go to last year were photos taken on that day.  For reference, these photos were taken on June 2, 2015.
Near the trail head at dawn.
Intermittent snow was first encountered around the intersection for Cutbank campsite, which is about 3 miles in.  This became more continuous as elevation increased, but at times was minimal due to exposure.  Starting early meant it was still pretty solid and able to support body weight.  It was definitely softer and more likely to post hole on the way back.
Mummy from the trail.  I could already see there was a lot more snow than last year.
Nearing the base of Mummy Mountain.
Looking up into the bowl of Lawn Lake and Crystal Lakes, surrounded by three 13ers (last year).
Mummys east ridge.  The snow and general fatigue made travel slow (last year showing much less).
Longs Peak and friends.  
Tiny alpine wildflowers.
Nearing the summit of Mummy Mountain (last year).
The summit cairn.  I was not able to find the register, even with digging out the snow a bit (last year).
Looking toward Hagues.  I was thinking of adding this on, but decided to turn back due to the large amount of snow and my general slowness up to this point (on this ridge last year).
Ypsilon and some huge cornices.
Leaving the summit.  
Back up into the bowl.  Crazy to see how much more snow there is this year.
Longs and friends behind Mount Tileston and Bighorn Mountain (similar view last year).
Fairchild and snow (last year).
Due to all the rain, the Colorado landscape is green and lush, and we still have all this snow yet to melt.  After some intense storms this week, it looks like some nicer weather is ahead.  Hopefully the sun will help to melt out this snow.  I am already counting down how many possible weeks I have to get out, how many days that equals, and what I have to get done.  I am looking forward to the season, and know already it is going to be a big year.  Most of what I have left to do is on the west side of the park, which means longer drives and longer days.  But I am looking forward to seeing some places in the park that are rarely visited.  I hope to meet you out there.  Thank you as always for reading.
Mummy Mountain, 13,425 feet, SE Ridge via Lawn Lake Th:
7.2 miles one way, 4885 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.

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+.