Friday, September 2, 2011

Mt. Alice via Hourglass Ridge.

This week brought me the longest hike of the season so far. With the hiking season quickly winding down and a good amount of things still on my list to get to, I knew I'd be having some long days coming up.
This one started at 345 am when my alarm went off. I was tired and it took me a little longer to get going than normal, but I was on the road by around 415. I arrived at Wild Basin shortly after 5. The first thing I did when I got out of the car was look up. The night sky is awe inspiring, and from up there, you can see everything. Even the Milky Way galaxy itself.
I got my back pack on and took off. It was different to be hiking the Thunder Lake trail in complete darkness, lit only by my headlamp. All I could hear was the sound of the rushing St. Vrain creek only several feet away from me.
But eventually the sun started to come up...
Since my goal today was near Lion Lake, I took the shortcut campsite trail, thus cutting .7 mile off my trip.
A still morning.
First sun hits Copeland Mountain.
I got back to the Thunder Lake trail where the campsite trail met it and after a little bit I found myself here...
This is where the business starts, as the trail takes a turn uphill.
A small meadow with late summer wildflowers.
The final meadow right before you reach Lion Lake 1 was completely snow covered last time I was there (mid June). Chiefs Head Peak in the distance.
I had a few other goals for my day, one of which was Castle Lake. The book recommends going all the way to Lion Lake before turning around and hiking up over the ridge. I got to near the end of the pictured meadow and turned right, heading overland. Just when I thought maybe I had missed the lake, I topped one more ridge and found it.
Castle Lake is unique for the granite island in the middle. There are several trees on it, and it looks like you could wade out to it as long as you could stand the cold water.
Highly reflective...
From here I turned around and made my way over a few ridges back to Lion Lake.
Tanima Peak.
Pilot Mountain and Mt. Alice.
To see the difference a little time makes...
Tanima Peak.Pilot Mountain and Mt. Alice from Lion Lake 1.
Here the trail ends. Follow Trio Falls up, looking for the cairns marking the way.
Cross the creek as soon as you can. There are a few good places.
The rock bench just to the right of the creek is where I took this picture from. It was the only view of the water.
Shortly you'll arrive at the top water fall.
Still some snow here, but not nearly as much as before.
Looking back down from near Lion Lake 2.
Lion Lake 2.
From here, head up once again to get to the aptly named Snowbank Lake.
Looking back from Snowbank Lake.
A different camera setting emphasizing the sky.
The snow bank has shrank from this picture a few months ago, but is still entirely present.
Mt. Alice as seen from the lake.
Head west and south from the lake to gain the ridge, and then head west on that. As you get closer to Mt. Alice, it looks scarier and scarier. I was saying 'that's only second class?!?!' to myself. I actually considered turning back. But I pressed on.
The ridge will take you to the top of the Continental Divide. This is the point at which all water that falls/originates to the east will eventually end up in the Atlantic, and all water to the west will eventually end up in the Pacific.
Turn south and follow the ridge line to Mt. Alice. There is some highly exposed second class in this area, but it's really easy. At some points the ridge narrows to only a few feet wide, and it just boggled my mind to think that I was standing at a place that can reach both oceans, though it is so far away from them.
I got to the base of Mt. Alice and looked up. It still looked hard and imposing. I went for it, and helped by frequent rests, gained the summit around 1030 am. I am not sure why, but I wasn't feeling great and the idea of turning around was in my head the whole time I was climbing up. I kept looking up, hoping that what I was seeing above me was not a false summit, such as I encountered on Mt. Meeker or Isolation Peak.
And then I made it! I was happy to see that there was indeed no false summit, and what I had been looking at was the top.
The view east. Thunder Lake way down there.
At 13310 feet, Mt. Alice is my third thirteener.
The summit marked by a cairn. The summit log was broken open, as was Mt. Meekers, while Isolation Peaks contained nothing.
I ate some food and was able to get three bars on my cell phone and sent Katie a text to let her know I was on top of the world and ok. My hike plan called for me to descend via Boulder Grand Pass so that I could get to some of the higher lakes in the area, before heading overland back to Lion Lake 1.
Looking south along the continental divide. Boulder Grand Pass, Tanima Peak, Copeland Mountain, Isolation Peak.
I got to Boulder Grand Pass with a quick and pleasant hike over the tundra. Looking down from here I could see how the Lake of Many Winds got its name, as it was constantly buffeted by wind from every direction it seemed, making unique patterns on the surface.
Lake of Many Winds, with Thunder Lake behind.
Boulder Grand Pass was fun but difficult to descend due to the large amount of loose soil and rock. I am sure that sliding down parts of it didn't help the situation, but at the same time I felt like walking it was out. I made it to the bottom, shook out my shoes, and for the second time in the day strapped on my crampons to head across the snow at the west end of the lake. While it wasn't technical snow, a slip would have resulted in sliding into the frigid lake which was something I wanted to avoid. I took in the sights, and turned north east to hike over the ridge to Falcon Lake.
As I approached Falcon Lake, I was amazed by the sight of many house sized boulders in the area. However, most looked like they had too little surface to be climbable. I stopped to eat yet again, and had to pump some water to fill myself up.
This was the view east from my dining spot, and I pumped water from right next to the snow. Deliciously cold.
I stayed on the south side of the lake, following what at times looked like a trail. I headed down a little bit and got this picture...
Waterfall exit from Falcon Lake.
I headed north east from here in an attempt to get to Fan Falls. The book described a path from the lake to the falls, so I assumed there would be an actual path, but I didn't find one. Ahh, the joys of bushwhacking. I could periodically see the falls through the trees, and when I reached a stream that seemed to be right below it, I followed it up.
Fan Falls. At this point I think I was too tired to really enjoy it and it was a little difficult to get closer.
I looked at the ridge and took the line of least resistance over. This was upper class 3 to lower class 4. On tundra above Fan Falls, several small unnamed ponds.
The jagged ridge of Pilot Mountain and a different perspective of Mt. Alice from near tree line south of Lion Lakes.
I headed toward Lion Lake, and again I kept expecting it to pop up any time, but it was a little farther than I had anticipated. At least here there was less bushwhacking as I was around tree line. All I had to deal with was the occasional krumholtz.
Lion Lake 1 from the south.
I hit Lion Lake and wrapped east around it. The outlet was easy to hop over and then I was off trail again, following the creek down to Thunder Falls. Thunder Falls is not the highest or most magnificent waterfall I have hiked to, but there is a nice serenity to it, and with it being somewhat difficult to access, I could very well have been the only visitor to it in the past month. At this point, I'll put it down as my favorite RMNP waterfall.
This was the last picture of the day as the battery in my camera died, but I wasn't done yet. Next up was Castle Lakes, two smaller lakes that are about .75 mile down from Castle Lake. I found them, and then in going back, lost the trail for awhile as it happened to turn away from me. I did find it again eventually and after so much off trail hiking in one day, I was about ready to kiss it. But I managed to restrain myself.
I hit a little rain, but nothing too bad. I stopped on the campsite trail to pump water. When I was around Copeland Falls, only .2 miles from the end, I saw the first and only persons I had seen the whole day. I made it back to the car at 610pm, giving me 12hours and 55 minutes of hiking, covering an estimated 20.15 miles, with a net elevation gain of 4810 feet, and a gross of over a mile I am sure.
If someone asked my what I had done on my day off, I would have said, "I went for a walk in the woods." But I don't think that quite covers it.
Mt. Alice via Hourglass Ridge:
8.8 miles one way, 4810 foot gain. Second class once you get to Mt. Alice. Strenuous due to length and elevation gain.
Other Destinations:
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 (but harder).
Snowbank Lake, 11521 feet- 7.1 miles one way, 3021 foot gain. Moderate (but harder).
Boulder Grand Pass, 12061 feet- 10 miles via Mt. Alice, 7.8 heading up from Lake of Many Winds, 3561 foot net gain. Strenuous due to elevation and distance.
Lake of Many Winds, 11620 feet- 7.5ish miles one way via Thunder Lake, 3120 foot gain. Moderate (but harder).
Falcon Lake, 11060 feet- 7.2 miles one way via Thunder Lake, 2560 foot gain. Strenuous due to required bushwhacking.
Fan Falls, 11160 feet- 7.4 miles via Thunder Lake, 2660 foot gain. Strenuous due to steep bushwhacking required from Thunder Lake.
Castle Lake, 11140 feet- 6.6 miles one way, 2640 foot gain. Moderate.
Thunder Falls, 10900 feet- 6.6 miles one way, 2400 foot gain. Moderate.
Castle Lakes, 10620 feet- 5.4 miles one way, 2120 foot gain. Moderate.


  1. Andy,

    Thanks for the great blog providing a lot of good information for those coming behind you!

    I attempted this hike on Friday 2.5 weeks ago. I thought I might get a break in the weather especially if I hit the trail early. (I live in Longmont and was on the trail at 4am.) Unfortunately I had to abort just as I was getting to the continental divide due to weather.

    This was my fourth solo hike where I had a good two hours walking in complete darkness other than my headlamp. Other than making noise (whistling, singing) on the trail, especially around moving water, do you have any other precautions to recommend to deter any wildlife like mountain lions? I've never gotten completely comfortable being all alone like that in the dark; however, it is awesome to have it all to yourself!



    1. Hi John,
      Thank you for the kind words!
      I agree on hiking in the dark. It seems to be a necessary evil. Obviously a second person to talk to can make a difference but when alone the mind wanders. I've never done any more than what you have described to hopefully ward off creatures in the dark. I suppose to make constant noise you could attach a bell to your pack so it continually jingles as you walk- though that may be enough to get on your nerves as well!
      There was one time I started from Glacier Gorge in the dark, and as I was heading up thought I saw eyeshine in the trees ahead of me. My heart started to race, then they moved and I realized it was actually a far away car on Bear Lake rd. Ha!