Thursday, September 29, 2011

Copeland Mountain!!!

This was certainally one of the most satisfying hikes that I have done thus far. I had tried for this summit three times before, only to turn back or be shut down.
The first time was last year, and I decided it would be easier to approach from the Pear Lake side, as the Ouzel Lake side looked like more bushwhacking than I wanted to do. However, I spent most of the hike to the lake feeling pretty bad. I was pretty tired and my stomach wasn't feeling so great. When I got to the lake and saw the forest I'd have to go through, I decided that with the way I was feeling, it would be better to save it for another day.
The second time was when my sister and her boyfriend came out to visit this summer. We crossed Ouzel Creek and started up, but turned back shortly after. We went too far around the lake and were on some granite benches at the base of Copeland. In retrospect, this was a fairly difficult hike, and even if we had gotten past this area, we probably would have turned around at some point.
The third time was just a few weeks ago. There was some light rain as I was driving up rt7, but I was hoping it would blow over. As I started up the trail, I could see sunlight to the east and was hoping it would find its way to me. Unfortunately it started raining right as I dropped down to Ouzel Lake. I still tried to go up the slope, but when the rain got heavier, the ground got slipperier, and I got wetter and colder, I decided to head back.
With three attempts and three failures, there was alot of emotion tied up in this hike for me, and I left the house yesterday determined to summit no matter how long it took or what difficulties I would face. I had pretty much all of the outdoor clothing I owned, plus crampons and my ice axe, plus my normal survival gear and water pump. I brought a fair amount of food with me, more than enough needed for the hike. I was going to do it.
I started off from the Wild Basin trail head at 615am. I was feeling pretty good. I had off the day before and got to bed at a very decent time. The weather was going to be sunny all day long, and in fact, it already felt relatively warm. I started up the Thunder Lake trail.
Aspen changing to gold along St. Vrain creek.
More aspen.
A good view of Mt. Alice from the Bluebird Lake trail.
My eventual goal.
I reached Ouzel Lake in around two hours. I crossed the creek a little bit below the lake and set off around it. There is a pretty well delinated trail most of the way around the lake. I had decided from studying the north side of Copeland that it would probably be easiest to start up and find one of the rocky gullies cascading down. While this would entail alot of talus hopping, it would certainly be easier than bushwhacking up the slope.
I think in my last two attempts, I started up the slope at the wrong point. With my sister, we were nearly to the inlet creek to Ouzel Lake and this was too far. The next time I left the trail too early and was somewhere on the huge eastern flank of the mountain. This time I went most of the way around the trail, but started my bushwhack before reaching the inlet, but definitely after my last attempt. I crossed a small stream almost right away and was thinking I might have gone too far around, but stuck with it.
In only half an hour I broke treeline into one of the rocky gullies and started up in earnest. Bushwhacking in this area was particularly difficult since there is really alot of undergrowth and a large amount of dead fall to navigate around and over. I think finding one of these gullies was a good choice because the going was easier, though still difficult due to the steepness of the slope. It was so steep that I was jokingly thinking of strapping my crampons on just to go up the grassy areas.
Up up up!
Jet contrails.
Looking east to Chiefs Head Peak, Pagoda Mountain, Longs Peak, Mount Meeker. All over 13000 feet.
Crampons for grass? Since the hill is at least a 45 degree angle, it seemed like a good idea...
I finally broke treeline for good, and started up the talus fields. This mountain is rife with false summits. I would orient to the highest looking point, but before even finding myself there, would see a new, different high point. My familiarity with the surrounding landscape allowed me to roughly calculate how high I was and how far I had yet to go. Therefore, in looking up I could see the high point ahead of me couldn't be more that say 12700 feet, so I had to veer more west.
Finally I got the the flat plateau of the mountain...
Looking west to the true high point.
I cannot describe the elation I felt at this point. I finally did it! I was beyond happy and think I may have even cried a little bit. I ran the last few hundred yards and let out a yell of joy. I was there at last!
I took off my pack and had a look around. Copeland truly offers a great view of the entirety of Wild Basin, some of the more northern peaks in the park, Indian Peaks wilderness to the south, and the continental divide and higher peaks in RMNP to the west. I found the summit register intact, and with a log and pencil inside, and added my name. I also added the name of this blog, and if you found me from this, thanks for stopping by!
Then it was picture time...
Looking down to Bluebird Lake, Lark Pond, Pipit Lake, Isolation Lake, Mahana Peak.
Isolation Lake.
Cony Lake.
Ogalalla Peak, the only 13er in Wild Basin I have not done.
Elk Tooth and Ogalalla overlooking Cony Lake, with Indian Peaks Wilderness in the background.
To the north, showing Mt. Alice, Powell and McHenrys Peak (I think), Chiefs Head Peak, Longs Peak, and Mount Meeker. All over 13000 feet above sea level.
Isolation Peak to the northwest, also over 13000 feet. Ouzel Peak on the left, continental divide along the ridge line.
Upper Hutcheson Lake as seen from Copeland.
Elk Tooth and Indian Peaks Wilderness.
On top of Copeland, 13176 feet. I could get cell phone reception up here, and sent a text to my wife and sister, letting them know I was ok and had reached the top.
Finch Lake, and the plains far behind.
Ouzel Lake, seen from the descent of Copeland.
The steep cliff faces on the north side of Copeland.
On my way up I was west of these faces and it was second class the whole way. On the way down I descended through some of them and it was third class. I could have went more east to avoid this and make it easier, but as it is, it wasn't bad. The descent took me almost as long as the ascent. Again the steepness and looseness of the talus comes into play.
Back at Ouzel Lake, Mahana Peak behind.
I stopped before crossing the creek and ate. I found myself pretty hungry over the day. I headed back down, snapping this picture on the Bluebird Lake trail...
Aspen changing.
I got back to the car around 430, giving me around ten hours of hiking. Phew.
Copeland was something that I had to get done. It was a great feeling to stand on top. It is a fun hike, offering great views from the top. The hike after Ouzel Lake is fairly difficult- you gain around 3200 feet in 2 miles or so. Add to that the bushwhacking and talus hopping needed to gain the summit and you have a fairly challenging hike. It is second class as long as you stay east of the cliff faces on the north of the mountain, though it could be third or fourth to find your way through them (or fifth to climb them directly).
All told, this will go down as one of the most memorable summits I have done, as well as being the most satisfying.
Copeland Mountain, 13176 feet:
7ish miles one way, 4676 foot gain, second class once you pass Ouzel Lake. 3200 feet or so of that gain comes in the last two miles, after Ouzel Lake.
Strenuous hike due to bushwhacking and elevation gain.
Other sights along the way:
Ouzel Lake, Ouzel Falls, Calypso Cascades. Great views of Meeker, Longs, and Mt. Alice from the Bluebird Lake trail

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mahana Peak.

With the hiking season rapidly winding down and quite a bit still left to do on my list for this year, I had planned a long long day hiking in the park this week. I was able to leave work early and got to bed at an ok time (considering my alarm was set for 345am), but like a kid the night before Christmas, I had trouble falling and staying asleep. I woke up when my alarm went off and didn't feel rested, but got up and got ready to go...
Early morning from Thunder Lake trail.
Meeker and Longs.
Tanima Peak and Mt. Alice.
Mount Copeland. I was not happy to see snow on it already.
Wild Basin in the early morning.
First sun strikes the land. I could see frost on many of the low lying plants, and everything was glittering in the dark as I used my headlamp.
The trail splits and I stayed right to go to Bluebird Lake. Left would take you to Ouzel Lake.
I saw these deer above me. Two ran, and one kept a sharp eye on me as I passed.
The Bluebird Lake trail is steep and definitely more difficult than the trail proceeding it. I was happy that the trail had been cleaned up from the avalanche over the winter of 2011. There was a part that was hard to pass.
This area is something to remember because it looks like the lake will be right after it. But it won't. Still a little more to go.
Looking back.
The snow cave cut by Ouzel Creek had finally collapsed.
When you see this area you know you are almost there.
Bluebird Lake in the early morning.
Since I wanted to do Mahana peak, I crossed Bluebird at its outlet, and headed around. Supposedly there are cairns marking the way up to the higher lakes, but like last year I didn't see many. I should have taken a picture, but look for a large boulder with some overhung sections on the right. Head up the talus to the left of this, cutting west and north as you are able. This will take you above the granite benches on the north side of the lake and you will avoid all of the trees and most bushwhacking.
Above Bluebird Lake.
The tiny Lark Pond overlooked by Ouzel Peak.
Pipit Lake and Ouzel Peak.
Being above Pipit Lake will allow you an 'easy' ascent up into the saddle between Isolation and Mahana peaks. There is a short scramble up some talus. I made this hike up last year and it is just silly how much better shape I am in this year. Last year I remember feeling fairly like I was dying. This year I could feel a little burning in my legs and quickening of my breath and pulse, but no more.
Copeland and Ouzel as seen from the foot of Mahana Peak.
Shortly, you top the rocks and see Isolation Lake. This lake has got to be one of the highest in the park at 11980 feet, and at around 8 miles in with a 3500 foot gain, truly one of the most isolated.
Ouzel Peak as seen from Isolation Lake. A nice place to stop for a high altitude snack and great to pump water from- it'll be ice cold!
From here you head north up into the saddle. Head west to get to Isolation Peak or east for Mahana.
Looking up into the saddle.
The climb up the talus is not bad really. The time of year made it a bit trickier. There was not enough constant snow to put on crampons, but my shoes were slipping all over the place. I played it safe and stayed on rock only. There is one false summit, but the real summit is shortly after. I took a long break here.
Mount Copeland from Mahana Peak.
Ouzel Peak and Pipit Lake from Mahana.
Longs and Meeker.
Isolation Peak as seen from Mahana Peak.
North along the continental divide you can see Tanima Peak, Boulder Grand Pass, Mt. Alice, Chiefs Head Peak, Longs Peak, and Mt. Meeker.
Panorama showing five peaks over 13000 feet- Isolation, Mt. Alice, Chiefs Head, Longs, and Meeker.
Panorama from Copeland to Isolation.
Panorama from Isolation to Copeland.
Your somewhat cold friend on Mahana Peak, 12632 feet.
I had planned for a somewhat longer hike here. I was thinking of ringing the bowl of Ouzel Creek and Cony Creek atop the continental divide. But I hadn't planned on the snow! Just two weeks ago there was no snow on Copeland and the divide south of Mt. Alice was clear three weeks ago. Looking across at a fourth class descent with some snow on it did not inspire me to attempt this.
I wasn't feeling so hot either. I think the lack of sleep from the night before was getting to me. Now, if I had known before I had ascended Mahana that my day was going to end there, I probably would have done Isolation first and then Mahana. But I wasn't feeling great, and thought it would be in my best interest to start back. I decided to take Mahana ridge down east and rejoin the Bluebird Lake trail near Chickadee Pond.
The tundra hiked well. There was already intermittent snow up to two feet deep in places, in addition to snow from last year that hadn't melted. In fact I encountered a large snowfield in my way and decided, for a cheap thrill, to glissade it. The old snow was smooth sailing, but the newer, softer snow on top of it put the brakes on and I actually had to use my ice axe to propel myself forward! Ah well.
Glissading down this was not all that thrilling but it was cheap- only cost me a wet butt.
To give you some scale the snow field above is the highest and largest one pictured here, to the right and above center of the image.Sandbeach Lake as seen from Mahana Ridge.
Chickadee Pond and Ouzel Lake seen from above.
A good look at the entire forest fire area.
Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker from the ridge.
Three pictures of the same view? I thought it was about the best I got on my hike.
Back below tree line. This was in the forest fire area, and at the altitude there has been little regrowth. It was kind of creepy to walk through- like a tree graveyard. Going was easy until I started to hit the bigger trees, a large portion of which have now fallen over. This made navigating a pain. In addition the hill down to Chickadee Pond as recommended by the book is very steep. For those reasons if you would like to do Mahana Peak I would recommend the approach via Bluebird Lake as described above.
At Chickadee Pond overlooked by Copeland.
Back up from farther down.
I kept seeing these discolorations in the fire area and though it was soil erosion or something. When I got closer, I could see it was Aspen groves that are changing color.
After a long day I finally made it back to the car. This hike took me around eleven hours, but really could have been much shorter. The descending the ridge took much more time than the longer ascent. But oh well. As always a fun day in the park.
Hiking to Mahana Peak will allow you some great views of surrounding peaks, lakes, forest, and the continental divide. It seems to be a hike that not many do, but it is fun and the reward is high.
Mahana Peak(12632 feet) from Isolation Lake:
8.1 miles one way, 4132 foot gain. Easier strenuous hike due to gain and distance.
Other destinations:
Isolation Lake:
7.8 miles one way, 3480 foot gain.
Pipit Lake:
7.2 miles one way, 2920 foot gain.
Lark Pond:
7 miles one way, 2840 foot gain.
Bluebird Lake:
6.3 miles one way, 2478 foot gain.
Chickadee Pond:
4.8 miles one way, 1520 foot gain.