Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best of 2011 Hikes!

Best waterfalls!
3. Ouzel Falls. The winter of 2010/2011 deposited a ton of snow in the mountains, and when it melted Ouzel Falls looked like a mini Niagara. Add to that the accessibility of getting there, and you have a great waterfall to visit any time of the year.
2. Trio Falls. To get here, head to Lion Lake, walk around, and follow the inlet creek up to Lion Lake 2. There is a taller fall at the top, with two smaller ones farther down, and many cascades along the way. A pretty place to stop for a picnic.
1. Thunder Falls. I felt this was the prettiest waterfall I set eyes upon this year. Head down along the outlet of Lion Lake. There is no trail, but only a short hike awaits you. You'll likely have it all to yourself also.
Best high altitude lakes!
3. Keplinger Lake. With no trail and both approaches requiring long and arduous bushwhacks, it's no easy feat to get to this lake, but you should set aside a day and add it to your list. You'll get great views of Longs Peak and Pagoda Mountain, and the lake is high enough that you can actually see relatively far into Wild Basin.
2. Bluebird Lake. This is a fun hike, but like many of the destinations in Wild Basin, pretty far in. However, there is a trail right up to it, and you are rewarded with great views of Ouzel Peak, Copeland Mountain, and Mahana Peak. Check out the outlet, where you can see remnants of a dam constructed in the early 1900's.
1. Isolation Lake. Aptly named, as getting here entails a long hike with the last few miles being off trail. It is easier going than some others, as these last miles are around and above tree line, so there is relatively little bush to hold you up. This sits in the bowl between Isolation and Mahana Peaks, and offers prime views of Copeland Mountain, Ogalalla Peak, Indian Peaks wilderness to the south, and the continental divide.
Best Peaks!
3. Mount Alice. I did this one of those days when I didn't feel great, but I got there and the reward was worth it. This 13er is deep in the park, with all approaches being long and grueling. Some third class awaits you if done from Lion Lake, but nothing too bad. Again, great views of all of RMNP await you.
2. Mount Meeker. The day I did this peak, I set out only for Lookout Mountain, which is really a high point on Meekers east ridge. I got to that destination in around two hours and just wanted more. With not much else in the immediate area, I set off west. This is a steep one, gaining 5000 feet over five miles if done from the Horse Creek trail head as I did. There is some scary but easy third class from the eastern summit to the true western summit. You can see forever from here, and hiking up and down the tundra was pretty fun. Next season I hope to be able to do this and Longs in one day.
1. Copeland Mountain. I first tried for this peak in the fall of 2010 but wasn't feeling good on that day and decided to turn around. After two more failed attempts this summer (once from weather, once from hiking companions not feeling it), I finally had a day in the fall full of sunshine, with no storms forecast. I set out early with enough food for days. It was Copeland or bust! There is nothing more than second class along the way, but you do gain around 3000 feet in the last two point something miles after Ouzel Lake. The tundra seems to go on forever, with numerous false summits. But the feeling of elation and reward I felt when I reached the final summit plateau was something else! Needless to say, I was pretty happy to cross this 13er off the list, and I do look forward to returning to it one day. This is a prime viewing spot as you pretty much have an unobstructed view of the whole of Wild Basin.
Best Features!
3. Mount Orton. While not so much of a peak on its own, this high point on North Ridge is a fun hike. Head north around Sandbeach Lake and follow some unofficial trails up the slope. Break tree line and head for the high point. You'll end up looking right at the south side of Meeker and Longs. Wow.
2. Boulder Grand Pass. There are a few ways to get here, and it is accessible from both sides of the park. This slightly rounded area of tundra gives you great views of course. I will never forget looking down to the Lake of Many Winds from this point. It is beautiful, peaceful, and at the top you can literally straddle the continental divide, the line that marks the point at which all precipitation to the east will eventually end up in the Atlantic, and all to the west in the Pacific.
1. The Cleaver. While you are at Boulder Grand Pass, head south and check out the Cleaver! This feature is around 12200 feet high, and you can sit on the edge and hang your feet over a steep, steep drop off overlooking the west side of RMNP. There is some highly exposed third and fourth class along the way, making this an adventurous hike. This is another view indelibly etched in my memory.
Best easier hikes!
3. Finch Lake. This one starts out steep, but once you gain the top of the moraine, a really fun moderate but longer hike awaits you. The trail passes through some very pretty meadows, some great view points north, and the 1978 forest fire area before arriving at Finch Lake. This is a unique lake in RMNP as there is no permanent inlet or outlet. From here you can head on to Pear Lake or call it a day and head back.
2. Twin Sisters Peaks. This was a fun one that I did early in the season. The hike is around eight miles long, and starts and ends higher than Finch Lake. The peaks lie on the extreme eastern side of RMNP and you can see all the way to the plains from here. Look west for Meeker and Longs Peak.
1. Sandbeach Lake. Again, this one starts steep, but levels out once you summit the moraine. The trail passes though some pretty scenery in Wild Basin, crossing several smaller creeks and Hunters Creek. Sandbeach was another that was dammed in the past, with the high water ring still visible. You also get great views of Meeker, which seems to take up the entire view to the north.
Epic hikes of 2011!
The snowy winter season and late start to the hiking season meant I had some long days in the park, as I attempted to get to as many destinations in a specific area as possible. These are the most memorable in my head.
3. Tanima Peak and area. This was the only hike of the year that I started and ended with my headlamp on. I set out around 6am from the Wild Basin trail head, heading for Thunder Lake. I got there, and headed up Tanima Peak. From that summit, I went west to Boulder Grand Pass, and then south to the Cleaver. I headed back north and descended to Indigo Lake, hitting Box and Eagle Lakes on my way down. Up next was Mertensia Falls, another long bushwhack. From here it was back to the Thunder Lake trail and back to the trail head. I ended the day with around 13 hours and 20ish miles under my belt.
2. Keplinger Lake. First I headed to Sandbeach Lake, then around this and up the slope to Mount Orton. I kept along North Ridge after that before dropping down to the unnamed lake south of Keplinger. From there I went east though some difficult terrain to arrive near Dragons Egg Rock. I followed the couloir back down to Hunters Creek and hit Lyric Falls on my way back down. Another long day in the park!
1. Mount Alice. I started around 5 am for this one, heading up the Thunder Lake trail before splitting off on the Lion Lake trail. I headed up from here and got to Castle Lake before hitting Lion Lakes 1+2, Trio Falls, and Snowbank Lake. From there I headed up hourglass ridge to summit Mt. Alice. I headed south from here and got to Boulder Grand Pass and from there descended to Lake of Many Winds. From here I went to Falcon Lake and climbed up next to Fan falls, to end up on some flat land above treeline east of Mt. Alice. I got back to Lion Lake 1 and headed down to Thunder Falls. I cut back to the trail and hit Castle Lakes on my way back down. I got back to the car almost 13 hours later, with an estimated 20.15 miles and a gross gain and loss of over a mile for the day. Whew!
Thanks for stopping by! I look forward to seeing you out there in 2012!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ouzel Lake in the winter.

Last week brought me what will most likely and unfortunately be my last hike of the year. I will be heading out of town on the 23rd, and will arrive back late on the 29th. I am sad that this great hiking year has ended; I look forward to more adventure next year.
My goal was Bluebird Lake. I have to say that this is my favorite "easily" accessible lake in the park. Easily in quotes because while there is a trail to it, it is a difficult hike, particularly after passing by Ouzel Lake.
I set out a little later, and found that I didn't need snow shoes or any traction devices for that matter while walking from the winter parking lot to the Wild Basin trail head. My feet were slipping a little bit though, so I did stop there and put my crampons on, knowing there was some less flat terrain ahead.
Fortunately, the park had cleared all of the downed trees up until Ouzel Falls, and this made going alot easier. I stopped shortly after the falls and took off the crampons and put on my snowshoes as the trail seemed a little less packed. There weren't many trees down and I felt like I was making good time.
A early rest point.
The trail beyond Ouzel Falls.
The area after the split of the Thunder Lake and Bluebird Lake trails was more difficult, steeper and I could see it hadn't been used as much so far this winter. When I got to the plateau in the forest fire area, there were places where the trail was actually completely visible due to the action of the wind. I took my snowshoes off for a bit and walked. Got some good pictures along the way...
Mount Copeland.
A clear day and views of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker.
Tanima Peak and Mount Alice.
Earlier in the day I had run into a guy who said his buddies were going for Mount Copeland but he turned back because he wasn't feeling it. I kept looking up the face hoping to see someone and I am pretty sure I did.
The trail was easy to follow until it started to hit some deeper snow. I was following the footsteps of those few ahead of me, though at times I got off the trail because I thought they might not be going entirely the right way. I managed to find the sign for the split to Ouzel Lake, and headed on towards the Bluebird.
The foot steps I had been following cut out left, and without those, trail finding became alot harder. I just relied on my familiarity with some of the boulders in the area, and kept an eye on the general direction I wanted to go. However, the going got tough. Knee deep powder and sometimes but sometimes not crusted snow that could support my weight loomed ahead.
I had stopped several times, looking at the sun going down, thinking I should turn back but willing myself to keep going. I was relatively close after all.
Somewhere on or near the Bluebird Lake trail.
Looking back east.
Looking towards Ouzel Peak in the forest fire area.
Mount Copeland.
Eventually I decided to turn back. On the drive up I noticed ice on the road on route seven south, and I didn't want to be driving on that in the dark. At this point I was beyond Ouzel Lake, but looking down I could see its frozen outline in the forest. I set a new course, and went there.
Ouzel Lake from above.
Copeland over Ouzel Lake.
Ouzel Lake in the winter, defined by trees.
It was pretty neat to see somewhere that I had been to or by several times in the summer looking completely different. And it made a good scene for some photographs that would otherwise be impossible in the summer, at least not without getting wet.
Copeland, Ouzel Peak, Mahana Peak.
Close up.
Standing in the middle of Ouzel Lake, possible only a few months out of the year.
The outlet to Ouzel Creek.
Ouzel Lake documented, I turned back and made my way to Chickadee Pond, and then up the hill a brief way to intersect with the trail back.
I felt like I was motoring on the way back. Sure, it is easier to go downhill than uphill, but the snow really does fill in all the obstacles on the trail and flattens it out. No steps to go up or down, no rocks to walk around. I kept my snowshoes on most of the way down, finally stopping and going back to just boots near Copeland Falls.
The lower trail is pretty well packed and plenty wide.
One last look.
I got back to the car, and made it safely down route seven in the waning light. Another great day in the park.
This has been a great year of exploration and fun hikes. I didn't meet all of my goals this year- I wanted to hike to every named destination in Wild Basin- but I did get pretty close, tagging 75%. The heavy snow of last winter really gave me a late start, so I am hoping for less snowfall this year.
Next year I hope to get to the rest of those destinations, and to start to hike in other areas of the park. I have some pretty epic hikes in the planning stages, one of which may even come with a short film in addition to still photographs. I am hoping to write a year in review post before or shortly after the new year comes.
Until then, be safe, have fun, and enjoy the splendor and natural beauty that is Rocky Mountain National Park.
See you again soon.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Ouzel Falls in Winter.

This past week marked my first ever time snowshoeing. I was just a little over ambitious as I was thinking I could get to Cony Lake. That sure didn't happen, but I did have a fun time anyway.
I started bright and early at the winter trail head for Wild Basin. The dirt road will be closed about a mile or more from the normal trail head, which will add some difficulty to any adventures you plan here.
I parked just as then sun was rising. I strapped on my snowshoes at the gate and started off for the Finch Lake trail head.
In winter with snow.
By the looks of things, only one other person had hiked on this trail recently, only in boots, and it was not broken in for snowshoes, which made the going pretty hard.
One of the beautiful 'glens' you pass through once you summit the moraine.
I was following the persons tracks, and eventually I came to a place where they must have camped for the night. From there on, they used snowshoes, but the going didn't get any easier. There were a ton of trees down, and navigating those in waist deep powder with snowshoes strapped on was pretty difficult. Even the act of walking was hard, as the shoes would still sink in to around mid-shin to knee depth, requiring a hard pull up to get your foot out.
Mount Meeker as kind of seen from the trail.
Eventually I reached part of the forest fire area and discovered that whomever I had been following decided to turn around at a pile of downed trees. I decided to press on.
The going got even more difficult, with even more trees down over the path, harder wind, and deeper snow. I have to say, that of all the physical activities I have done, this has been the hardest so far. Just having each step sink in and having to pull your foot up and out was so tiring and strenuous. Eventually I got to more and more dead fall and finally decided to turn back and take the trail to join the Thunder Lake trail and head to Ouzel Falls.
As far as I got on this day.
Stopped for a quick snack on the way back.
The trail between Finch Lake and Thunder Lake trails was totally unbroken, save for the person whom I was behind. It was hard going, even generally headed down. But when I got to Thunder Lake trail, it was pretty well broken and the going got alot easier.
I stopped at the familiar sight of Calypso Cascades, made unfamiliar by being draped in a blanket of snow.
Looking up the cascades. Quite a difference a few months makes.
From here it was pretty easy going up. The packed snow really takes all of the steps and rocks out of the trail and greatly smooths things out. Downed trees were still an issue though, and it seemed to take a long time to get to the falls. I think my fatigue from the earlier trail was setting in.
Ouzel Falls.
Thick ice.
The great lookout slightly above Ouzel Falls.
Looking up from the bridge to the falls.
Still a little bit of water flowing, can't be much longer until it's all ice.
It has been pretty neat to see Ouzel Falls at different times of the year this season. From the early spring light flow, to the early summer torrent of water, back to a more moderate flow in the fall, and down to almost nothing now.
Ouzel Creek on the way down.
The first crossing of Ouzel Creek, below Calypso cascades.
Near the bottom.
Back at the Wild Basin trail head. Phew!
Snowshoeing was tons of fun! It is pretty awesome to see the same terrain I have been looking at the whole summer in a much different way. And it is great exercise. I would highly recommend to any fans of hiking in RMNP that you find some snowshoes and try a winter hike.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lion Lakes and Snowbank Lake.

I wish it were summer again. With the weather as of late, and the lack of a car of my own, I have not been hiking in a month now and I am dying to get back out (albeit in snowshoes most likely). I was just looking through some of my pictures from this summer and remembered there was one hike I have not written about here yet, though I have covered parts of it here.
I hiked to Lion Lakes and Snowbank Lake pretty early in the season (I would say early July if memory serves me correctly). Just the week before I hiked to Thunder Lake and on my way back ran into a guy who said he tried for Lion Lake but lost the trail in the snow. I was not surprised when I set out and found some snow shortly after the junction of the Thunder and Lion Lake trails.
Rather sedate trail at first, it gets alot steeper when you hit the junction of Thunder and Lion Lake trails.
Mt. Orton from Lion Lake trail.
The first signs of snow, and much more to come.
Higher elevation and yet more snow. The trail did get a little hard to follow with definite trail finding needed.
The tenacity and fragility of life: this tree was growing atop a boulder from no more than a handful of soil.
Pilot Mountain and Mt. Alice from the trail.
Panorama showing Copeland Mountain, Mahana Peak, Tanima Peak, Pilot Mountain, and Mount Alice (behind tree).
Tanima Peak.
Despite lots of snow, I did see some flowers along the way here and there.
Pilot Mountain, Mount Alice, and Chiefs Head Peak as seen from near Lion Lake #1.
The closer I got to Lion Lake, the harder the trail was to follow, and hiking it a few months later once the snow had melted, I could see that at times I had gone off but I did manage to find my way there eventually.
Mt. Alice over Lion Lake.
Chiefs Head Peak over Lion Lake.
Heading up along Trio Falls to Lion Lake #2. Here the trail got alot harder to follow due to snow, but since I could see the top waterfall in the trio, I just pointed myself in that direction and went. The 'yaktrax crampons' I had with me definitely helped in this area.
I could hear the rushing water, but I couldn't see it until I found this hole in the snow. I tried to enlarge it with a rock or two, but didn't have much luck.
To get to Lion Lake #2 you have two choices. My recommendation would be to cross Trio Falls creek at some point and find your way up from the south side of it. However, this was my first time up and I stayed north and found my way up through the steep rock faces. This necessitated a crossing of Lion Lake #2 near its outlet, and yes, it was very cold (though it felt good on my feet, they went numb pretty much instantly). This will also make it easier to get to Snowbank Lake.
Lion Lake #1 from near Lion Lake #2.
Chiefs Head Peak from Lion Lake #2.
Snowbank Lake. Aptly named I would say. This snow field was present and not much shrunk even in late summer.
Panorama from Snowbank Lake showing (l-r) Mahana Peak, Pilot Mountain, Mt. Alice, and Chiefs Head Peak.
Yours truly, "smiling" at Snowbank Lake.
Krumholtz formed by wind near Snowbank Lake.
Panorama with Chiefs Head Peak. A finger of rock extends into Snowbank Lake.
Wildflowers at Snowbank Lake.
Wildflowers and Chiefs Head Peak.
Looking down to Lion Lake #2. As you can see the day was getting increasingly cloudy, and when I heard some far off thunder west of the divide, I hastily made my way back to treeline.
The top fall in Trio Falls.
Farther down and looking back up at Trio Falls. You can see the waterfall pictured above near the top of the photo.
Nearing Lion Lake #1 and the relative protection of tree cover.
Clouds engulf Copeland Mountain.
This was the last picture I took that day for two reasons. The first is that on my way back I totally lost the trail in the snow, stumbled upon some fresh footprints and followed but shortly lost these. I knew I wasn't going the same way as I had come up. In just a few minutes I knew I was totally lost, on top of a ridge somewhere and I stopped to get my bearings. Ahead of my was Mt. Alice, and with this landmark I was able to reorient myself and head the correct way.
I consulted my map and decided that I was probably somewhere closer to Thunder Lake trail than Lion Lake trail and thus continued south east. I ran into a trail and took it east, however I wasn't until I had crossed a creek over a small footbridge that I knew 100% where I was and where I should go.
This just taught me to be aware of my surroundings. I should have noticed that I was headed the wrong way before I did, but when things seemed not right to me, I was able to stop and get a pretty good idea of where I was and then point myself in the correct direction.
On the way back the far off thunder that I heard caught up with me, and at first it was awesome. I brought rain gear, so I was able to stay relatively dry through it and at first it was pretty cool to hear the thunder echoing through the valley. But as the storm caught up to me it went from neat to terrifying. I decided I should seek some shelter and since on the way up I had marked some overhanging boulders in my head (just in case), I huddled next to one of them. But this inspired me to find better shelter when I saw the flash of lightning and heard the loudest bang of thunder in my life in the same instant. I waited a few seconds and headed down the trail to hide under a roof like boulder for around 45 minutes. This was about the scariest 45 minutes of my life!
But finally the storm passed, and I headed on back to the car. A few more miles down the trail I ran into several inches of hail around 1/4 inch in diameter. I was glad I missed that. I got back to the car, and was happy to be out of the elements.
I learned two important lessons that I will take with me on this day. One: if you are not entirely sure where you are going or that you are going the right way, it is time to stop and figure things out. If I hadn't wasted that time wandering around, I may have been back to the car before the storm rolled in. Two: be aware of storms! If the weather looks threatening, get back below treeline. Be aware of your surroundings and note places that could offer you shelter if needed.
I am not sure when I will be able to get out again. At this point, I will hope for twice a month, but I will have to be happy with once a month. As always, have fun and be safe!
Lion Lake 1, 11080 feet- 6.3 miles one way, 2580 foot gain. Moderate.
Lion Lake 2, 11420 feet- 6.9 miles one way, 2920 foot gain. Moderate+.
Snowbank Lake, 11521 feet- 7.1 miles one way, 3021 foot gain. Moderate+.