Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best of 2012 Hikes!

What a year!  This year brought the end to my focus on Wild Basin exclusively and a move to other parts of the park.  It was a great feeling to stand at the summit of Ogalalla Peak and to look to the north and east and know I have been to almost everything I can see.
Though I did hike more than last year, I still feel like I didn't get out as much as I wanted to.  But oh well.  There is always next year, and the mountains and lakes will still be there. 
Below you'll find some of my absolute favorites of the year, though any day in the park is a good day.  Silly though it may sound, these are hikes and destinations that I revisit in my mind with some frequency.  Can't fall asleep some night?  Think about hiking to Cony Lake...
Best High Altitude Lakes!
4.  Frigid Lake.  A pretty long day to get here, but worth it in my opinion.  Once you get past Thunder Lake there is a pretty good chance you'll see nary a soul the entire day, and the solitude and beauty of Box Lake and Eagle Lake alone are worth checking out.  The grass ramp on the south side of Eagle Lake offers a relatively easy walk up with just a little bit of bushwhacking as things level out.  Press on to get to this aptly named lake.
3.  Green Lake.  Glacier Gorge is a place I hadn't hiked before, but after spending just one day here, I know I need to go back.  If you start early enough, you'll be able to beat the crowds to Mills and Black Lakes, and then follow the trail up to the higher lakes in the area.  Longs Peak looms over the whole drainage, and it's pretty neat to see it from a different side.
2.  Junco Lake.  You're going to see more of this below, but there are many who go to Bluebird Lake and probably turn and go home.  This lake really isn't much farther beyond or higher, and its pretty!  The thing that really struck me as unique was the drainage.  In this case about twenty feet wide and maximum two inches deep.  Yes, I was able to walk down right in the middle of it without getting my feet wet.
1.  Cony Lake.  As mentioned above, this is one that I will revisit mentally from time to time.  I am happy to say I got to hike down this entire drainage twice this year, once as a destination on its own, once on return from Ogalalla.  I am sure many of you who have hiked to Pear Lake have seen the trail that goes off past the sign.  It it worth following.  This drainage is one of the most beautiful, and offers a number of different environments to move through- from lush forest immediately above Pear Lake, to grass, scree, and brush along the way.  Sitting on a small rock next to the ice covered lake in the middle of June was one of those small pleasures in life.
Best Features!
3.  Dragons Egg Rock.  This one was high on my list for this year since I had tried and failed to get to it last year on a very long and arduous day, of which the farthest point was Keplinger Lake.  I was able to make it in early April, wearing snow shoes, shortly after crashing hard on my mountain bike and still being a bit sore.  This is a high point on the south side of Mount Meeker.  The snow conditions definitely threw a wrench in the works, but a fun day none the less.
2.  Eagles Beak.  I am calling this a feature rather than a peak, because, while it is a standalone high point, the difficulty, inaccessibility, and lack of height of it makes it something that is probably less desirable to most.  But as I said above about Frigid Lake, which lies at its base, you're very likely to see no one else up here.  It is exposed no fall third class to the top, but the view is spectacular- a unique eagles nest view of a good part of Wild Basin.
1.  Pilot Mountain.  This is the true definition of a feature.  It is on a easterly stretching arm from Mt. Alice and is certainly not the highest thing around.  It is hard to get to, requiring bushwhacking, route finding, scrambling, and some airy fourth class.  Not many venture to it, and the summit register has been there since 1974.  I was only the sixth ascent this year!  I love things like this- there is certainly less 'prestige' than something like Longs, but the difficulty is higher, there is room for maybe two people on the summit, and the views are incomparable.  I'd take this any day.
Best Peaks!
4.  McGregor/MacGregor Peak.  I have yet to write this one up, but Dan and I did this epic 10er a few weeks ago.  We started at the Lumpy Ridge trail head, and enjoyed a few miles of not too hard trail to get to the base just west of The Needles.  From here it is a steep scramble up, up, and up over and through fallen trees, with alot of slab climbing on the way up.  We decided the difficulty was anywhere from third class up to easy fifth at times.  A fun and memorable 10er that is more difficult by this method than some 12 and 13ers.
3.  Chiefs Head Peak.  While not technically in Wild Basin, the standard route to climb this 13er starts at Sandbeach Lake trail head, putting it high on my to do list.  Dan and I did this peak the week after hitting the high lakes in Glacier Gorge.  How could we not?  It is pretty mellow until Sandbeach Lake, after which you leave the trail (though there is an unofficial one that could be followed in summer) and take off up the hill.  Gain North Ridge and follow to the peak.  Not too difficult, and very pleasant hiking on tundra for a few miles before reaching the base of the peak and turning up.  This peak has the highest gain in RMNP when done by its standard route.  You can literally hang your feet over the edge into Glacier Gorge.  Pretty cool.
2.  Horsetooth Peak.  I like hiking from the Horse Creek trail head in Meeker Park.  Again, you're likely to not see much of anyone if you do.  This peak is not too difficult, with some second and third class near the top, but you do gain about 1000ft/mile on the way up.  The thing that really made it memorable is that my wife joined me for a real hike for the first time ever.  Yes, we've hiked a few times with my parents, but all to easier stuff.  This was her first glimpse into my world of long off trail days.  It was awesome to have you along Katie.  And a true joy to share something that I love with someone that I love.
1.  Ogalalla Peak.  The last peak I had to do in Wild Basin, done on an epic day in tandem with Elk Tooth.  Summitting Elk Tooth was definitely in the second to third class range, while the majority of ground to cover between it and Ogalalla is third at least.  At times, your traverse six inch wide ledges with several hundred feet of air underneath you.  It felt great to stand on the summit and know that this was it- I had now hiked to every named destination in Wild Basin.  And now on to the rest of the park:).
Best Easier Hikes!
3.  The Pool.  We did this when my parents were in town.  A relatively flat hike through some cool scenery- I love the large boulders you pass through shortly before arriving at The Pool.  A good place to stop and take a break when on a longer hike to places farther up, or a good destination in its own right for older/younger ones.
2.  Meadow Mountain.  This is decidedly harder for an easy hike, but worth a try.  There is a trail almost the entire way up, with only a short off trail jaunt up to the high point of the mountain.  But by that point you are above tree line, so there is no bushwhacking to contend with.  I could see this being a good day hike for someone with less experience or conditioning, and the views from the top are entirely worthwhile!
1.  Mills Lake.  This hike can be done from Bear Lake or Glacer Gorge trail heads, and is a fun and very worthwhile easier hike.  Starting at a higher elevation means you can end up higher with less total gain.  This lake is simply stunning in its beauty. 
Best Epic Days!
4.  Eagles Beak/Frigid Lake/Moomaw Glacier.  It is a long but worthy day to get to these points.  I've described it a bit above, but you'll cross the output of Thunder Lake, and circle around the base of Tanima Peak.  Pick up a trail and follow it around to Box Lake, and then Eagle Lake.  From here the trail ends, and it is find your way up a pretty grass ramp to a plateau which leads to the lake.  A third class gully leads to the top of the peak and great views into Wild Basin.  This is definitely one I'll get back to- it looks like you could head north from Isolation Lake, gaining the saddle between Isolation and Mahana Peaks and drop down to this as well.  That would be a fun but equally long day!
3.  Bluebird Lake in the Winter.  I have been to Bluebird Lake plenty of times now, either as a destination by itself or in passing to the lakes and peaks above.  It is funny how something so familiar can be rendered so unfamiliar by a thick layer of snow.  Eventually you'll get to a point where the broken trail ends- this was right around the time you enter the forest fire area for me.  I thought I'd be able to pick up the trail once I passed Ouzel Lake.  Boy was I wrong.  I never saw the trail again until I arrived at the lake and started to make my way back.  The difficulty of doing miles of unbroken trail in snow shoes plus the amount of navigation needed made this an epic day for sure. 
2.  Elk Tooth and Ogalalla Peaks.  High in my memory for this season was this hike, which brought completion of Wild Basin.  Both offer great views not just into Wild Basin, but Indian Peaks to the south as well.  Elk Tooth is difficult by itself, but consider the .7 miles between it and Ogalalla contain at least .5 miles of third and fourth class.  And even upon gaining Ogalalla there is still a fourth class descent of Cony Pass yet to come.  This one took me 14 hours and I was able to see the sun both rise and set from the trail.  A good day in the park.
1.  Isolation Peak/Ouzel Peak/Cony Pass/Junco Lake.  This one stands out above all others as THE epic of the year.  On paper it doesn't look too bad.  But consider spending half of the day above tree line, ascending a 13er and a 12er, an almost fall on a fourth class descent, and then, at long last, a close encounter with two bull moose.  I remember stopping at some point and just standing there being able to feel my muscles firing in my legs, like they were trying to jump out of my skin.  My legs were sore for almost a week after this one, but the good news was that they didn't get anywhere near as sore at any point for the rest of the year.  I wanted to give up.  I had to stop and give myself a pep talk on the way back to the car.  This is the most physically and mentally difficult hike I have ever done.
What a great year it has been!  Thanks for reading, and as always, hope to see you out there in 2013!