Saturday, February 23, 2013

Emerald Mountain, Thunder Peak, Lightning Peak in the winter.

Dan and I met up early on Tuesday, February 19 to go for some of the outlying and unofficial peaks on the eastern side of the park.  After arriving in Estes, we continued for 3 miles on CO 66 to arrive at the East Portal trail head.  After parking on the shoulder, we set off for Emerald Mountain. 
We were atop within forty minutes or so, and were greeted by a great view of the Central peaks - Flattop, Hallett, Otis and more all visible. 
The clouds to the east of us prevented sun from hitting any of the peaks this early.
Thunder and Lightning Peaks as seen from Emerald Mountain.
From here, we went back the way we'd come, and caught the Wind River Trail for a brief time before turning off, crossing the frozen river, and starting the bushwhack uphill to Thunder Peak.  As far as bushwhacking goes, the ascent isn't too bad- most of it is through relatively open forest, with a little talus here and there.  But you do gain about 900 feet per mile, putting this in the pretty steep category.  
There are a few false summits, but the true high point comes soon enough, and offers great views.
Closer to the peaks, now hit by sunshine.
Longs just starting to stick its head out.
South to Lightning Peak and Longs Area.
Panorama from Thunder Peak.
A loss and regain of several hundred feet between the peaks is of course, something you can't avoid.  We simply chose a way down that looked less rocky and easier to hike.  We quickly arrived at the saddle between the two peaks, and after a change of clothing for me, started up the snow covered hillside of Lightning Peak.
The snow did complicate travel upward somewhat, adding in some slipping and sliding, but not enough that we used traction devices.  We arrived on the summit ridge somewhat northwest of the high point, and had to make our way over.  There was some second and third class along the way, but this could be avoided with a different route selection.
This little peak truly is a gem, offering a great and unique view of a good portion of the park. 
Longs Peak and area.
Otis, Hallett, Flattop.
Battle Mountain and Longs.
Estes Cone seen from Lighting Peak.
Awesome views!

Twin Sisters Peaks.

The way down was pretty fun hiking/sliding in the snow, through sometimes unique forest as pictured above, with thin but closely spaced trees.  Eventually we were able to pick up our footprints up and follow those down.
We made it back to the car in about seven hours, which does mean that our average speed was pretty low.  But of course factor in the off trail time (which is most of the hike), and lots of elevation gain and loss and there you go.  Lightning Peak was the highlight for me- a fair amount of difficulty in ascent rewarded with great views from the top.  Dan was even bold enough to proclaim it his new favorite 10er.  That's enough to make me want to get back!
Emerald Mountain, Thunder Peak, Lightning Peak from East Portal TH (all distances measured from TH):
Emerald Mountain: .8 miles one way, 977 foot gain.  Moderate.
Thunder Peak: 2 miles one way, 1874 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Lightning Peak: 2.3 miles one wat, 2307 foot gain.  Moderate+/Strenuous-.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Finch and Pear Lakes in the winter.

A week ago Dan and I met up in Lyons early one morning and made the drive up to Wild Basin.  We were going to try for Finch and Pear Lakes, something that I had set out to go for on my first ever snowshoe adventure last year.  At that time, I made it to the forest fire area, where I met with deep powder and lots of down trees.  Eventually I turned back, so I wanted to return this year.
We started from the Allenspark Trailhead this time, and it was quite pleasant.  This way will take about one mile each way off the journey to either, making it four miles to Finch Lake and six to Pear.  It also starts about 500 feet higher, so there is less total elevation gain.
Snow conditions were good- well packed trail with just a dusting of powder.  We both set out in our snowshoes, though in reality they were probably not needed until after Finch Lake.
Not much in the way of views to start, but this changes once you meet the Pear Lake trail and can see north.  Pictured above- Pagoda Mountain, Longs Peak, and Mount MeekerDragons Egg Rock visible on Meeker.
Finch Lake was relatively easy to get to since the trail was already broken.  A far cry from last year!
About the most snow either of us had seen in the mountains this winter.
We also found ourselves fortunate that someone or someones had been from Finch to Pear Lake already, and the trail was relatively broken in.  I'd still take snowshoes for these two miles though. 
Elk Tooth and Copeland Mountain from Finch Lake.
Elk Tooth from Finch Lake.  I have very fond memories of climbing it last year. 
From farther out.
St. Vrain Mountain as seen from Finch Lake.  This peak actually lies on the same ridge as Elk Tooth and Ogalalla.  Click here for a similar view as seen in the summer.
Back from whence we came.
There wasn't much to see until we got to Pear Lake.  The light winds we had encountered at the lower elevations were ripping here, and we didn't stay long.  This is the sign that you go around to head to Hutcheson and Cony Lakes.  Buried.
Elk Tooth looking ever more impressive as we get closer to it. 
Elk Tooth and Copeland looking over Pear Lake.  Click here for a similar view shot in the summer.
Copeland in the winter.  Click here to see it in the summer.
Great views at Pear Lake.
A bit chilly in the wind, but loving it.  After not being able to make it to the lake last winter, it was a great feeling to have success this time.
We followed our prints back down and had a wind sheltered snack before heading back.  We both stopped in the forest fire area to remove our snow shoes. 
Wild Basin, my home away from home.
I can of course only speak for myself here, but I had a great time doing this hike.  I have been to these lakes plenty of times in the past, and I will definitely visit them again in the future.  In fact, some of my fondest RMNP memories thus far are from this drainage.  If the trail is broken for you as it was for us, it should remain not that much more difficult than it is in the summer.  This is truly a wondrous place, and somewhere awesome and awe inspiring to visit any time of the year.
Finch and Pear Lakes in the winter via Allenspark TH:
Finch Lake: 4 miles one way, 977 foot gain. Moderate.
Pear Lake: 6 miles one way, 1647 foot gain.  Moderate +.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Estes Cone.

While still enjoying some nicer weather, last week I set out for Estes Cone.  I arrived at the Longs Peak trail head around seven, and set out up the trail. 
On the way you pass Eugenia Mine, which as you can see, produced more dreams than gold.
I had read that one could follow the stream here up the hill to find the actual mine, now closed by the park.  I did find the rusting boiler used to drive machinery, and after wandering around in a good bit of avalanche dead fall and two or so feet of powder, I decided to head back down.
While I was walking down, I came upon a very odd looking erosion, and upon looking up the mine when I got home, discovered this was actually one of the abandoned shafts.  Of course there was not much to see, and I'll have to get back to it in the summer.

On the trail, which was mostly packed snow with a touch of ice and bare soil here and there.  I used traction devices on the way up, but nothing on the way back. 
After passing through Moore Park, the trail takes a hard left and starts heading up hill.  The total gain for the hike is around 1500 ft, with the vast majority of that gained near the end.
You'll arrive at a junction with the trail from Glacier Basin.  A sign marks the way to the top of the cone.  You'll gain over 500 feet in the next .7 mile, so prepare!
It took me a few minutes to actually find the high point when I got the the top.  To save you some time, continue to head south.  The true summit is the southern most block of stone. 
If you click to embiggen, you can see the Longs Peak parking lot above the larger empty space in the middle. 
It wasn't too sunny, in fact I was in cloud cover most of the day.  These lower clouds were engulfing the high peaks of the park.
Zoomed out to see it all- Meeker, Longs, Mt. Lady Washington, Storm Peak, Battle Mountain
Looking north to some of the peaks in the park. 
Again, cool to see the low clouds playing with the summits.
Mummy range.
Twin Sisters as seen from Estes Cone.
Points east.
Clouds finally take Meeker and Longs away from us. 
Love you too Rocky Mountain National Park!
Well, above I'd captured the parking lot from Estes Cone, here is the opposite view.
And a little more zoom in.  The cliffs on the south and eastern faces sure look intimidating.  I was back to the truck in around four hours, which included the time spent wandering around looking for a mine.   No gold was found.
I thought this was a pretty mellow hike overall, something good for those who want to do something easier, shorter, or less technical and still get a good view from the top, as well as the feel the reward of summitting a pretty cool peak.
Estes Cone via Longs Peak TH:
3.3 miles one way, 1606 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate.
Other destinations you'll encounter along the way:
Eugenia Mine:
1.4 miles one way, 508 foot gain.  Moderate-.
Moore Park:
1.8 miles each way, 360 foot gain.  As you can see, you do gain and then loose some elevation to get here.  Moderate-.