Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ni-Chebe-Chii Part 6- The last lake in RMNP!

The Never Summer Mountains, called Ni-Chebe-Chii (literally never-no-summer) by the Arapahoe, are simply one of my favorite places in RMNP.  The very nature of the terrain makes movement difficult, but the peaks are extremely fun to visit.  This day marked my sixth (previous: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) outing to the area, and though I was motivated for a longer day, the weather didn't cooperate and in the end, I just wasn't feeling it.  
Unfortunately, I didn't sleep well the night before, tossing and turning for a fitful maximum of three hours of "sleep".  I woke up to the alarm wondering if I'd actually even gotten to sleep or not.  It certainly didn't feel like it.  Yet, the promise of a long day in that place kept motivation high.  
I noticed on the drive over Trail Ridge Road how windy it was, much more so than predicted.  I entertained ideas about going elsewhere, but things seemed to have calmed down quite a bit by the time I got to the trailhead.  
I started from the Colorado River Trailhead at 5:28 am.  I have hiked the Red Mountain Trail several times now, and knew I could make pretty good time on it.  I arrived at Grand Ditch one hour and six minutes later.  From here, I decided to head south to the Valley View campsite, and start up from there.  That way I could keep my feet dry on the ditch crossing!  
This route worked pretty well, with some bushwhacking over and around dead fall. 
I reached a rocky clearing, a good but short representation as to what the rest of the day would be like.  In this photo, the lake is just beyond the rise past the trees. 
I made my way up and up, and soon enough I was there!
Pinnacle Pool, 11300 feet, and the last of 141 named bodies of water in RMNP for me to visit. 
Some great views! 
While I know many focus on peaks, and usually those within a certain elevation range, I really must opine that visiting all of these lakes has been a tremendously worthwhile effort!  I'd say the approach to some of them has been equal to if not more difficult than the approach to some of the peaks, with longer distances involved, and at times, more elevation gain.  While this one might not be on that list of the most difficult, there still isn't a trail to it, and good navigation skills are needed. 
Another look at Pinnacle Pool.  From here, my plan was to head up the valley and find a route to gain the summit of Howard Mountain.  Easier said than done.
The loose rock started right on the far side of the lake.  While I don't have a good photo of it due to the sun, from above, the rock looked almost like it was flowing downhill like a glacier.  In this area, I would encounter some of the most unstable terrain I've ever found, nearly resulting in injury.
Pinnacle Pool from above.  It looks tiny.
My plan was to make it up to the ridge on the right.  At first it seemed like a good idea to do this asap, but the distinct point looked like it would offer some difficult climbing, so I aimed to join the ridge after that.
But along the way, I was going up a rocky slope, and felt something move underneath me.  Not the thing I was standing on, but something deeper under that.  In short, I had about a ten foot circle of loose rock that I was directly in the middle of shift and move down about 8 inches.  I was terrified!  I quickly exited right before the movement even stopped.  Phew!  I resolved to be more vigilant as I continued upwards, but it's not like you can predict those things. 
And once again, as I neared the ridge, I had a sizeable rock move and fall on my left foot.  Fortunately I was able to extricate it, and despite a hard hit and my initial feeling, my toes were not broken! 
I bring these two incidents up to illustrate the nature of the terrain here.  What if I had gotten caught in rockfall the first time?  What if my foot had gotten stuck the second?  In either case, help would be a long time coming.  Thus, I'd suggest avoiding this area altogether.  There are better ways to get to Howard Mountain.  If you do go up this way, and are with a partner, make sure to spread out.
Finally safe on the ridge, Lake of the Clouds and peaks.
Some of the loose rock en route to Howard Mountain.  Though there was almost a trail put in here, and route finding was easy and stableish for the most part.
Looking south from the summit of Howard Mountain. 
And looking north, where I was planning to go.  Unfortunately, as soon as I left the leeward side of the peak, I was full on exposed to a ripping wind.  I headed down to Mount Cirrus, but found myself having difficulty walking in a straight line.  I was stumbling like the village drunkard in an early Irish novel!
Looking back to Howard.  As I made my way up Cirrus, I was already thinking I should maybe call it a day and go for something else.  I was thinking ahead to the exposed fourth class traverse between Lead and Tepee Mountains.  Already heady and dangerous, what if a gust of wind happened to hit right when I made the short leap of faith? 
For now, I continued on.  The route between Cirrus and Hart Ridge looks improbable, but there is a thin trail through the loose gravel that makes up the summit area.  Loose gravel...  sounds familiar!  At least if a piece fell on my foot, it didn't hurt! 
The terrain gets more solid as you move north, and head up and down the various bumps of the ridge.  The true summit of the ridge is on the last bump encountered before you drop down and make up some elevation to Lead Mountain.
Looking out to Never Summer Peak from near Lead Mountain.
From the summit of Lead Mountain, I looked down the fun and exposed third class east ridge to Never Summer Peak.  I'd come up this before, but hadn't gone down it.  Without crossing the fourth class terrain to the north, this was my only bail option. 
But I decided to see if the wind felt any better, and kept north.  It actually felt pretty reasonable at the summit of Lead.
Looking back to Lead Mountain and Never Summer Peak, here on the left.
I was starting down the fourth class ridge, and right at the top, when I was hit by a tremendous gust of wind that not only gave me pause, but instantly chilled me to the bone despite wearing every piece of clothing I'd brought along.  I wanted to go on, yes, but I made the call here.  I didn't feel like it was safe.  I found a small spot on the leeward side of the ridge and warmed myself in the sun.  I sat here for almost an hour, waiting for the wind to die down.  But it didn't.  Back to Lead Mountain it was.
Never Summer Peak and Lead Mountain from that small place of respite on the Lead-Tepee ridge. 
Back at the summit of Lead, I took a sizeable break to relax in the sun once again.  I felt fine to climb the third class ridge down, because it would be out of the wind.  As I said above, I've gone up the ridge before, taking the path of least resistance.  For this descent, I decided to stay directly on the ridge as much as possible, which turned out to be for almost all of it.
The rock here is solid: the only things that move do so because of their smaller size.  It was a very fun climb! 
At the saddle between Lead and Never Summer, I had decided to head down to the south.  But this looked like it would cover some more loose terrain, albeit that filled with smaller rocks that the drainage south of Howard.  Or maybe a little redemption for cutting the day short- Never Summer Peak is only a bit over 400 feet of gain from this saddle, and the terrain on the other side was known to me to be more solid and grassy... 
Looking from Never Summer Peak to Lead Mountain. 
And to Mount Cirrus and Howard Mountain in the background.
The descent here is actually pleasant, mostly on tundra and through some well animal trailed forest lower down.  Soon enough I was in Hitchens Gulch, found the trail, and was on my way down.
I joined the trail a bit too late to get one of my all time favorite views, but this one was pretty similar. 
While movement was very slow on the peaks and ridges above, I was able to move quickly once on trail.  One interesting thing that I have noticed multiple times this year is that I am now so quick going uphill I literally have to run whilst going downhill to equal or better that time.  This day was no exception- despite using gravity and jogging downhill at times, it took me above five minutes longer to go down the Red Mountain Trail than it did for me to go up! 
I made it back to the car with some daylight left, and enjoyed the drive back over Trail Ridge.  It's pretty amazing now to see all the places I've been, and alot of them are visible from this road. 
It's always a fun and adventurous day in the Ni-Chebe-Chii.  I know the reputation of the area has for loose stuff, and I definitely encountered some of the loosest stuff I ever have on this day.  Yet, some of the ridges are completely solid and some of the best and most fun climbs in all of RMNP. 
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
Ni-Chebe-Chii Part 6- The last lake in RMNP(distances as part of the hike):
Pinnacle Pool, 11300 feet: 5.4 miles, 2260 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Howard Mountain, 12810 feet: 6.7 miles, 3770 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Mount Cirrus, 12797 feet: 7.5 miles, 3757 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Hart Ridge, 12500 feet: 8.05 miles, 3460 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Lead Mountain, 12537 feet: 8.8 miles, 3497 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Never Summer Peak*, 12438 feet: 10.7 miles**, 3398 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.
As a whole, this day covered 18.8 miles with 6096 feet of elevation gain in up to third class terrain.  Strenuous.
*= Foster refers to this peak as Jiffy Pop Peak in her book.  I've also heard it called Cloudview Peak by some Estes locals. 
**= This figure does include the out and back to look at and think about the ridge between Lead and Tepee Mountains. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Gable, Cub Lake, Cub Creek Beaver Ponds, Thousand Falls, and Cascade Lake.

Another day in RMNP- unfortunately, my longer plans got cut short by weather, but this gave me some time to visit a few things I hadn't planned on.
According to the description in Fosters book, I had previously visited The Gable with my friend Dan.  But some more research on LoJ made me realize I hadn't!  We'd visited the highest point at the end of the ridge extending out from Gabletop, which is actually Gable Gate.  Foster does not distinguish between the two.  The Gable is actually slightly lower in elevation, lying just below 11000 feet, and a marked step up in difficulty- class 4 versus class 2.  Thus, a return trip was in order.
I started from the Fern Lake trailhead at a more reasonable time, just as the sun was rising.  I was able to make quick upward progress, and neared Fern Lake in an hour.  Rather than take the trail up to Spruce Lake and beyond before heading up, I stayed on this trail until the campsites, took this branch, and headed up through forest and over rock to make a more direct approach.  This approach worked just fine, though it is important to stay more north on the ridge.  On the way down, I went a bit too far east and faced a few more difficult sections of down climbing.
The movement was steep, over dead fall, rock, and through brush, and it took me one more hour to reach the base of the short pinnacle.  Now, how to get to the top?
It took me alot of time to find the best route.  Many looked like they would go, but I backed off when things got too steep and handholds got too bad.  In the end, and after several attempts, I ended up going east to stay between The Gable and the shorter prominence east.  I made my way up a rocky gully, and then turned west to stay on the ridge.  It brings some exciting exposure, and make sure you are wearing shoes you have confidence in- a delicate smear is required to make it to the top. 
The summit of The Gable, looking east.
Looking west toward Gable Gate.
And a unique and possibly vertigo inducing perspective on Odessa Lake.
This was a nice little summit perch, with room for just a few, and great views of the area.  I had planned to continue west to the continental divide, but...
I saw these clouds to the north, and decided it was wise to head down and stay below treeline.  This proved to be the right call.
The summit of The Gable, with increasing clouds behind.
The Gable from below.  While I went to the left here to find an easier way to the top, this side would certainly go.  It was beyond my comfort zone to solo, but would be a fun climb with gear.
Notchtop from near The Gable.  This is the only summit in the area I have left to do!
I headed back down to Fern Lake.  As I mentioned above, I got a bit too far east and faced some more difficult terrain and down climbing.  I made it back to the trail and started down to The Pool.
Since I start early and go far in, I am not used to seeing as many people as I saw on this day, but everyone seemed to be in good spirits.
At The Pool, I turned left to head to Cub Lake.  With the location of this lake, it seems odd that I haven't visited it yet.  Well, I'd been saving it as a possible last, a thing to finish this project on.  But I've decided on something else, so it felt like a good time to visit the lake.
Above the lily padded Cub Lake.  There was quite a crowd here.
This is one of two lakes that holds a bunch of lily pads, with the other being Nymph Lake, which is also quite accessible.  I continued down the Cub Lake trail, passing by Cub Creek Beaver Ponds.  
A very pretty meadow, with grass starting to turn all shades of ocher.
Looking to one of the ponds.
I did hear some thunder over the day, so the right call was made on descending.  I also got rained on a little bit- just enough to have me get out my rain jacket once or twice.  But it wasn't long before it stopped.
The weather did bring some interesting clouds.
I stayed on the road and headed back to the parking, walking by several people I saw going the other direction.  Back at the car, I took a look at the topo.  It was early enough that I still had plenty of time to do something else, so why not?
I decided to head for the last waterfall I had to visit in RMNP, and in Fosters book, Thousand Falls.  While close to a trailhead, it definitely takes some work to get to it.  And like many other falls in the park, it is less of a distinct fall and more of a series of cascades.
I headed back toward Horseshoe Park, and then took a left to take Old Fall River Road to Endovalley.  You'll want to drive to the back of the parking area and find a space.  Find a thin trail that leaves from the western most parking space in this area, and follow it as it moves along Fall River.
But, a note here- Sundance Creek is actually farther west than show on the topo.  The easiest way to find it is to cross Fall River as soon as you can, and then head west along it until you reach the creek, then head up.  Fortunately, you'll only have to gain about 300 feet, as the going is tough.  Foster mentions an old trail on the east side of the creek- I did not find any trail.  Make your way up over lots of dead fall and over some rock.
The base of the falls, with elevation GPS verified. 
Another look up.
Back at Fall River.
It was easier going back down, though still time consuming due to the terrain.  I crossed Fall River, and headed back to the car.  One more thing to go....
I started heading east on 34 towards Estes Park.  I wanted to visit an anomaly of sorts.  Both the National Geographic topo and USGS topo show a lake that was not mentioned in Fosters book.  The USFS topo shows no lake in the area, but it still shows the name of the lake on the map.  If you haven't guessed by now, it's Cascade Lake!
To add to the mystery, I took a close look at several different satellite photos, and it certainly looked like there was no longer a lake in the area.  But, I had to go see for myself of course!
I parked at the last paved pullout on the right before 34 starts to loose elevation and takes a sharp turn to the north.  I moved over to Fall River, and followed a thin trail downstream.  I kept looking at my GPS unit, until I reached a point where I was "in" the lake.  Here is what I found...
Looking upstream from this point.
Looking downstream, where you can see some man made construction in the river downstream.  This is also visible in satellite photos.
Perhaps this lake was wiped out in the Lawn Lake flood.  But I can confirm it no longer exists.
A few minutes later I was back at the car and on the way home.  While not the day that I planned, this was yet another fun and rewarding day in the park.  And I actually got to see a few people!  That doesn't seem to happen all that often.
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
The Gable, Cub Lake, Cub Creek Beaver Ponds, Thousand Falls, and Cascade Lake (distances as part of the hike when applicable):
The Gable, 10940 feet: 5.9 miles, 2729 foot gain.  Fourth class.  Moderate+.
Cub Lake, 8620 feet: 11.3 miles, 470 foot gain.  Easy.
Cub Creek Beaver Ponds, 8120 feet: 13.3 miles, -30 foot gain*.  Easy-.
This leg of the hike covered 15.7 miles with 4075 feet of elevation gain in up to fourth class terrain.  Moderate+.
Thousand Falls, 9160 feet at the base of the falls: 1.75 miles round trip, 679 foot gain.  Moderate-.
The area formerly known as Cascade Lake, 8463 feet: .55 miles round trip, 102 foot gain.  Easy-.
*= This destination will have about 40 feet of gain from the Cub Lake th, but the Fern Lake th starts higher.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Peakbagging the Eastern Perimeter of RMNP.

With not great weather predicted for this week, I decided to spend another day safely below treeline.  I would take on some of the peaks listed in the "Eastern Perimeter" section of Fosters book, none of which are actually in RMNP, but nonetheless, provide captivating views of the park and the larger Estes area.
I won't name the first peak of the day, but I'm sure you can figure it out with a little research... 
Pre-dawn view from the top of Mount ??????.
The summit of said peak.
This provided a fun and short scramble up to the top.  I was up and down in 36 minutes.
From here, I headed to the next goal of the day.  This peak is one that is overlooked in the area, perhaps because it is only 8808 feet in elevation.  But it is the place that a man named Enos Mills took this spectacular photograph from....
This is a view of the Estes Valley taken from Mount Olympus in 1909.  Things sure have changed.....
From the summit in 2016.  But how to get there?
Find this small pull out off of 34 (40.442401, -105.378370).  It's on the right side when you're headed down from Estes to Loveland.  Note the National Forest sign.  It's about 3 miles outside of Estes Park.
From the parking, look for this steep "trail".  There isn't really much of a trail, and the travel is bushwhacky.  I did find some cairns along the way, but not enough to mark a distinct route.  I tried to stay on a rock rib most of the way up.
Here is one of those cairns.
A small meadow with a view down to Lake Estes.
An interesting face in the rock near the summit.  
Right at the top.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the summit of this peak lies on private property.  However, this summit gets a fair amount of visitation, and since the property lies in the valley on the other side, I'd say the risk of getting caught here is minimal.  And you could always claim ignorance, as I would have.
Looking south to Mount Pisgah, Kruger Rock, and others....
I signed the register, and set my sights to Noel's Knob.  This 8460 foot summit is unranked, and not in Fosters book, but while I was in the area I decided to take a look.
Noel's Knob from Mount Olympus.  I read on LoJ that this peak was anywhere from 5.0 to 5.4.
The bushwhack continued as I approached the peak.  At the base, I circled around, trying to determine the easiest way to the top.  I'd read the eastern side held the 5.0 approach, but it looked a little slabby, and as though there might be a notch along the way.  The south side was too steep, as was the north.  The west side looked slabby.  The the northwest approach, described here by Brian Crim, looked pretty solid at 5.4.
This route ultimately proved to be the key to unlocking the summit.  I felt the hardest moves were the first few, just getting off the ground.  From there it was some easier scrambling interspersed with some climbing.
The route I took up and down.  I found the remains of a sling that wasn't slung to anything, and packed that out.   
The summit register was in poor shape.  I wish I'd read Brian's tr a bit better, because I could have brought a new jar along.  It was open to the elements, with the paper inside looking moldy, and no writing implements in view.  If you go, a completely new register might be in order.
Mount Olympus from Noel's Knob.
Looking back down the ascent route- I went exactly the same way down as up.  This was a fun little summit, and certainly worth the time and trouble to get there if you have the skill to climb to the top.
I descended towards Olympus until I hit a dirt road.  I turned right on that and stayed on it for a short time before heading off onto a bushwhacky contour around Mount Olympus.  This was the most intense bushwhacking of the day, with fallen timber and thick undergrowth.  Some rock prevented easy movement here and there.  But I eventually made it back to the car.
This leg of the hike took me longer than I thought it would, but I was still back at the car reasonably early in the day.  Onto the next leg!
I continued down 34 until I got to Drake.  I turned left onto 43, and drove about 2.1 miles up to find the Garden Gate trailhead on the left side of the road.  Well, I drove by it the first time because I thought there would be a sign or something.  It's just a dirt pullout, with a trail going through a fence.  Here is what it looks like....
There is parking for several vehicles.  There is a sign up the trail a short ways, but nothing here.  My goal here was the high point of the day, the 9250 foot Crosier Mountain.  While in the area, I also planned to visit West Crosier, 7778, and Sullivan Point.  Again, these are not in Fosters book, but close enough to where I was that it made sense to just put in a little extra effort now, rather than come back in the future.
This mine shaft lies right off the trail pretty close to the start.
The trail offers pleasant hiking through pine forests and rock.  Despite the relatively low altitude of the summit, I knew it wouldn't be too easy- you start at around 6400 feet, so there's nearly 3000 feet of gain over ~5 miles.
Interesting texture of tree bark.
Almost there!
As I approached the summit, I found the register wasn't actually on top of the peak, but stashed near a tree.  I signed in and took a break. 
The true summit.
From Crosier, I headed nw and then finally cut west to get to West Crosier.  This brought some slabby, rocky terrain, but the navigation wasn't too bad.  Once in the saddle between the two peaks, simply head up over some dead fall.  The summit comes soon enough.
West Crosier, 9020 feet.  There was a small old rusty can on top of the cairn that had some extremely fragile paper in it- there was nothing written on it that I could tell. 
I found the neat remnants of a tree on descent.
This fence and gate marks some private property that lies between the peaks.
Going back up Crosier was a bit of a challenge.  I thought it was actually worse than heading down.  I eventually got to a point where I was stuck, and had to traverse to an easier gully.
West Crosier and clouds.
A great view of RMNP from the resummit of Crosier.
The bench mark on top of Crosier.
Heading back down was easy enough, though the trail is quite rocky in places. 
A pleasant meadow on descent.
At this point, I was feeling pretty tired and my motivation to continue on to 7778 and Sullivan Point was low.  But as always, I did the math and decided that an hour and a little bit to go out and back was ultimately easier than spending a whole day to come back up and visit these points.  Thus, I turned off from the Crosier trail at an appropriate place, and aimed towards these points.
While the topos show a trail from Sullivan Gulch that connects with the Crosier trail, I didn't find any evidence of it, despite apparently being quite close to it.  I did find a thin, matted grass trail when I got closer to these two points. 
7778 from Sullivan Point.
There is some debate here, as one of these peaks is ranked, which means the shorter one wouldn't be.  7778 gets the nod on LoJ, and has been measured by someone there and estimated to be several feet higher.  Another person noted that they found a register on Sullivan Point (I did not), but not on 7778.  But by interpolation, the elevation of Sullivan Point is 7780.  I used my phone and GPS device to take a measurement on both peaks.  At Sullivan Point I got 7769 and 7773, which rounds out to be 7771.  On 7778, I got 7772 and 7784, which rounds to.....  7778!  Thus, I would say that 7778 is the ranked peak, and Sullivan Point is not.  This is in line with what others have found.
Sullivan Point summit.
Looking back to Sullivan Point from 7778.
The summit of 7778.
Which ever is higher, both provided fun but short scrambles to the summits. 
I headed back down on the matted grass trail, which crossed another trail and continued up.  I followed the up for a short time before the trail seemed to end, and then turned north and slightly west to get back to the Crosier trail.
Brooding weather....
Cacti along the way.  I did see a cairn or two, but no real signs of a trail at all.  However, I was largely in meadow and grassy areas, so the going was pretty easy.
Looking back to Sullivan Point (L) and 7778 (R).
Back on the trail as the evening started to come.
Close to the trailhead, and close to nightfall.   
I made most of the drive back in darkness feeling a little tired.  I think some overlook these lower peaks in favor of 14ers.  I love them all, and enjoy days like this.  All in, I covered 23.47 miles with 8501 feet of elevation gain without ever breaking treeline or going higher than the 9250 foot summit of Crosier Mountain.  I saw one person all day, and, with a few short drives in between, spent all day- sunrise to sunset- in the mountains. 
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.
Peakbagging the Eastern Perimeter of RMNP (distances as part of each segment of the hike):
Mount ??????, 8630 feet: 1.38 miles roundtrip, 886 foot gain.  Third class.  Moderate-.*
Mount Olympus area:
Mount Olympus, 8808 feet: 1.15 miles, 1503 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate.
Noel's Knob, 8460 feet: 2.64 miles, 1105 foot gain.  5.4.  Moderate+.
This leg of the hike covered 5.12 miles with 2067 feet of elevation gain with plenty of bushwhacking and movement in up to 5.4 terrain.  Moderate+.
Crosier Mountain area:
Crosier Mountain, 9250 feet: 5.75 miles, 2635 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
West Crosier, 9020 feet: 6.8 miles, 2605 foot gain.  Second class**.  Moderate+.
Sullivan Point, 7771 feet:13.8 miles, 1356 foot gain.  Third class.  Moderate.
7778: 14.15 miles, 1363 foot gain.  Third class.  Moderate.
This leg of the hike covered 16.93 miles with 5548 feet of elevation gain in up to third class terrain.  Strenuous-.
*= Again, this peak lies on private property, and the owners are apparently not open to sharing it with anyone.  Climb at your own risk.
**= While second class from the saddle, you may find some more difficult movement when descending Crosier Mountain.