Monday, August 22, 2011

Mt. Meeker via Horse Creek Trailhead.

To get here you'll want to be on route 7, which will be left coming up from Lyons or south headed down from Estes Park. In the tiny town of Meeker Park look for CR113N on the west side of the road. It's very easy to go by. Drive along this for a little over a half mile (yes your car can make it). There are supposedly occasional signs that say trail and point ahead, but I only saw one of those. Eventually you'll see some places to park on the sides of the road, followed by a sign for the trail pointing to your right. Park in one of the places along the road, taking care not to block any driveways.
Now the adventure begins.
This is an unofficial trail head that actually starts in Roosevelt National Forest, so there are no accommodations. Lisa Fosters excellent RMNP The Complete Hiking Guide states that this is a steep hike, but for the first little bit of the trail I was thinking it wasn't so bad. Then it turns up!
A mellow start...
Follow the trail along, crossing several small streams along the way, and pausing for rest whenever your legs can't take it anymore. I tried to capture the steepness of it in a photo, but you can't really tell...
Then the steep stuff.
After a little over two miles and 2000 feet or so of gain, you'll arrive at a plateau that looks different. Sandy soil, thicker and shorter pine trees. The trail from here will be delineated by rocks, sticks/logs, and/or cairns, so keep your eyes open. When you hit a clearly defined rock arrow pointing east, you can follow the cairns up to Lookout Mountain as I did.
I found this path to be fairly well marked, and Lookout truly does give you a good vantage point south into the heart of Wild Basin. When I arrived at Lookout, the first thing I said to myself was, "This is class 3?!?!?". It is. To find the class three top out, circle around to the eastern facing side of the cap rock. It is a few committing moves with good feet and marginal hands in places, but no sweat as long as things are dry.
Horsetooth and Twin Sisters from Lookout.
Wild Basin.
Crazy looking twisted pines near the summit of Lookout.
Now I must tell you I hadn't planned on doing Mt. Meeker on this day. In fact, all I had planned was Lookout and Horsetooth since I wanted something shorter. But I arrived at the farthest and highest of my daily goals in only an hour and a half, and wanted something longer than that!
What to do? I didn't want to go back down and drive somewhere else. There wasn't really anything else immediately accessible in the area... except...
Well, why the hell not?
I started down Lookout, quickly losing the cairns and going overland. I arrived back in the sandy plateau area, thinking I was at the same place as before, only to discover later that I had gone north on my way down. I was looking around the area and saw a trail that left in the general direction of Meeker and decided to follow it. It is alot easier to follow a trail than bushwhack in my opinion.
This trail is obviously unmaintained, and for a time pretty well beat in. It does cross some rocky sections where cairns mark it pretty well. Going up it seemed like I was getting to tree line due to a thinning and shortening of the forest, only to go up a little farther and be right back in it. But it did come soon enough.
Talus and Meeker ridge.
Looking back down at Lookout. On your way back down, skirt all the way to the left of the rock faces pictured here to find the trail.
Now the fun begins. There are several false summits on your way up, but it is usually pretty clear that there is still more to go. Enjoy the beautiful tundra and the great views. Maybe you'll even see some wildlife up here...
Spot the two critters in this picture.Copeland, Ouzel, Mahana, Isolation, Tanima, Pilot, Alice.
Are we there yet?
Meeker has two summits. This route will take you to the eastern summit which is around forty feet lower than the true western summit. By surprise, I happened on another hiker at the east summit. We talked a little bit and took pictures of each other. From the eastern summit we could see a bunch of people on the top of Longs Peak.
He was of the opinion that Meeker was harder than Longs, and I could see that since you do more gain over a shorter distance. And while a summit of Meeker might not have the prestige of Longs, it is certainly a worthy challenge and definitely a less populated route.
Atop the eastern summit.
Sandbeach Lake way way down there.
Longs Peak and Mummy range in the background.
Looking west along the class three ridge to the true summit.
And back east to the eastern summit.
The knife edge ridge that you have to traverse from the east summit to the west summit is very exposed third class. However, it was not difficult at all, and there was not any time that I felt in danger. Immediately following the east summit I would recommend staying south, and once the ridge gains some sharpness, stay to the north of it. There is a huge ledge for your feet and great hand holds the whole way across. That being said, a fall here would result in serious injury if not death, particularly on the north side of the ridge.
On the summit of Meeker 13911 feet with Longs Peak in the background.
Closeup of the blocky head of Longs Peak from Meeker. You can just barely make out a person standing atop it (I think!).
Looking west along the ridge to the summit. Stay to the north or right side of this for great feet and hand holds.
Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak from the east summit of Meeker.
The view from up there is great. You can really see forever. And what a sense of accomplishment in summiting my second thirteener! But alas, I had to get going back. It seemed like the hike back to treeline took alot longer than going up, but I think that was just my want to get back down.
Along the way I learned two very important things...
One- always look around. When I broke treeline and got above the rock faces pictured in the photo "Looking back down at Lookout", I didn't make note of where I should be to head back down. Obviously I knew the general direction, and probably would have taken the line of least resistance until I hit the trail, but it is quicker and easier to just find the trail from the get go. I spotted the guy I had met on top on his way down and followed him. This saved me some time for sure.
Two- if you change or add destinations mid hike, make sure you are prepared for it. In this case I ran out of water above treeline on Meeker ridge and was dry for about an hour and a half. I didn't panic since I knew once I got back on the trail down from Lookout to the trail head I would be passing some streams that I could pump out of. But if the only source of water was at the trail head, I could have had some real problems. Always take note of your surroundings, even if you might not need the resources offered at the time.
The cairns were not as well placed on the way down, with several knocked over that I rebuilt, and, at times, none at all it seemed. I just followed the general direction they were indicating and did find the trail, though it took some time.
I was so thirsty heading down and majorly looking forward to the stream. I got to the first one that was so shallow I had to dig a little hole in it for the end of my pump to sit in. But damn did that water taste good. I filled up and headed down. I got back to the car and ate a few snacks before leaving. What a day! If I am remembering correctly, it took me nine plus hours to do this hike.
Lookout Mountain via Horse Creek trail head:
2.5 miles one way, 2015 foot gain. Class 3 to gain the summit of Lookout. Moderate+.
Mount Meeker via Horse Creek trail head:
5 miles one way, 5211 foot gain. Exposed class 3 between the east and west summits of Meeker. Strenuous+.

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