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.