Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spruce Lake in the winter.

I started off solo this week, shortly after seven AM at the Fern Lake trail head.  Getting here was a little bit of an adventure.  I didn't think much of the 1/8 inch of new snow covering the roads in RMNP since I could see that others had been before me.  But as I braked to turn right into Moraine Park, I started to slide.  I let off the brake but my front wheels had engaged enough that I started to turn.  I ended up sliding right off the road.  Fortunately, there weren't any rocks or trees for me to hit, and I was able to turn right and after some wiggling make it back on the road and continue on.
It was 25 degrees when I started, but the day already felt warm.  There isn't much gain on the way to The Pool, but shortly after I took my winter jacket off and made most of the way up in long sleeves only.
Arch Rocks are on the way to The Pool.  A pretty cool place to stop and look around.  Maybe you'll even see some professional climbers out in the wild.
The Pool in winter.  In warmer months it looks like this.

I didn't really notice much effect from the Fern Lake fire.  I could smell it for sure, but only saw some burn area here and there.  It was alot easier to tell on the way back down when some of the snow had melted.
After The Pool, you reach Fern Falls.  It is right off the trail (on your left) at a prominent switchback.  Of course this time of year it's frozen.
Some of the burn area is visible in the background here.
Fern Lake with Mt. Wuh in the background.  While looking quite spectacular in the winter, it probably looks just as good in the summer.
Framed by trees.
Higher points in the background.
I had a snack here and then went back down the trail to get to the Spruce Lake trail.  Up until now I hadn't put my snowshoes on.  It looked like someone had been up to Spruce Lake since I could see a depression in the snow, however I soon lost this and made my own way.  Ahh, the joys of breaking trail...
Of course with no trail to follow it was navigation time.  I stopped several times on my way up to look at a map and make sure I was going the right way.  Aided by identifying several of the higher peaks, I went on, though I stayed up too high and had to drop down to the lake in the end.   
The aptly named Castle Rock as seen from Spruce Lake. 
Castle Rock and Stones Peak.  I ate again here.  I decided to see what the conditions were like to try to head up to Loomis Lake. 

Or back the way I'd come?
This time, things actually looked better the closer I got. 
But as I started up the slope the snow started falling heavier, and the snow beneath my feet was deep.  I actually dug all the way down to the earth below to assess the snow pack.  I could see about two feet that looked like the typical icy spring time melt, with maybe a foot of powder atop.  This along with the slope being steep enough to avalanche, led to me turn back.  But at least I wasn't seeing slabs forming.
I'll be back!
I took my snow shoes off after rearriving at Fern Lake.  On my way down, I could definitely feel the snow was melting- my hiking poles went in farther and were harder to pull out, with wet snow often clinging to the tops of the buckets. 
Back at Fern Lake.
Note the deforested hills. 

A wide burn strip through the forest.  The snow was melting rapidly, and from shortly before The Pool to the entire rest of the way down, it was slush city, with up to several inches of standing water on the trail at times.
The burn area became alot easier to see with the snow melting.  There are still alot of trees standing in the immediate proximity of the trail, both Aspen and Pine.  Hopefully some of these survived.  It does look like most of the smaller ground cover type plants are gone though, which means erosion could be a problem this summer, yet I have faith the smaller plants will be back and we will see significant regrowth this year alone. 
Right next to the road.  The smell was actually kind of appealing to me- like some of my favorite Islay Scotches.  
More burn area to the south of the Fern Lake parking. 
When I got home, I made sure to rehydrate with some of this stuff!
Fern Lake was pretty fun, and not too difficult.  It would be high on my list as a recommendation for an entry level hike in the park.  Spruce Lake is probably alot more accessible in the summer months as well, with an unofficial trail right to it.  I am sure I will be back up here at some point once the snow is gone, so I can make a better judgement then.
The quickly melting snow in the afternoon helped bolster my spirits- spring is definitely coming.  I am sure some snow pack will remain at the higher altitudes, but as that starts to melt it'll get more solid.  There is no place I'd rather spend my days off, and I am very much looking forward to spending alot of time in the park this summer!
Spruce Lake in the winter:
Spruce Lake: 4.8 miles one way, 1510 foot gain (8150-9660).  Moderate in summer conditions.
Fern Lake: 3.8 miles one way, 1390 foot gain (8150-9540).  Moderate.
Fern Falls: 2.6 miles one way, 650 foot gain (8150-8800).  Moderate-.
The Pool: 1.7 miles one way, 150 foot gain (8150-8300).  Easy.
Arch Rocks: 1.2 miles one way, 70 foot gain (8150-8220).  Easy-.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Loch Vale in the winter.

I met up with Dan in Lyons again this past Tuesday.  The drive up to Estes was pretty mellow.  Our plan was to attack the entire Loch Vale drainage, ending up at Sky Pond.  
Some of our talk on the way up centered around the avalanche last weekend that killed one person and left author Lisa Foster injured.  Of course, always a reminder that even the most experienced persons can get into trouble.  We decided to proceed and keep an eye on the slopes around us with avalanche conditions listed as considerable.  My condolences to the family of Mr. Laurienti and wishes for a speedy recovery to Ms. Foster.
Also weighing somewhat heavily on my mind was the passing of a friend and someone who has been a major inspiration in my life last Saturday, the 15th.  After a long fight with an incurable genetic illness, he ended his own life.
Alberta Falls, not falling.
Views await....
Fortunately at our lower and more sheltered elevation, we were not exposed to the full force of the wind.  Looking at the snow blown off these peaks makes me feel chilly!

This is the final part of the hike to The Loch.  Shortly after, you'll reach the lake.
At the lake the wind was ripping, and we quickly made our way around it to find some shelter in the trees for a snack.  Up until now, there had been just a few inches of new or blown snow over an obvious packed trail.  We were just in boots the whole way up.  But the packed trail was less defined on the other side of the lake, with more snow on top.  Postholing ensued.  Soon we stopped and put on our snowshoes.
Last week I didn't feel great, but this week my legs were ready, and I was happy to take a turn in the front and break trail.
Saw this frozen boot print standing at a 90 degree angle to the snow surface.
Looking back down the gorge.
We got to the part of the trail that would normally require a short scramble up some rocky stuff to continue on.  The standard route here was looking worse and worse the closer we got.

In the end, we identified 3 possible routes up.  The standard in blue had corniced snow and scrambling, the red and green both crossed steep snow fields.  We talked and both agreed Sky Pond would have to wait for another day.  It's disappointing to not be able to obtain a goal, but of course it'll be there next time, and it's better to err on the side of caution.
The Loch from above.
Back at The Loch we started to see a few people.  The wind had calmed down a bit and I was able to get a few photos.

Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
The surface of the lake was mindbending.  Frozen, cracked, melted, refrozen.
At this point we decided to take a trip over to Mills Lake.
Shortly after, at Mills Lake, aka "Sexy Lake".  Seriously, search Google Images for the phrase sexy lake.  This is one of the few actual sexy lakes that comes up!
But all jest aside, this really is one of the most beautiful and accessible lakes in the park.
Traffic picked up on the way back to the parking lot.  I love seeing families out, little kids with snowshoes strapped to their feet.
This cool looking tree was along the trail on the way back.
We got back to the parking lot, which was now almost full!  I guess that will only get worse as the season goes on.  But, not really a concern for me since I am usually there by dawn.
Despite not obtaining our ultimate goal for the day, it was still a fun day in the park, as I'd say pretty much any day in the park is.
In loving memory of Shannon Larratt.
The Loch via Glacier Gorge TH:
2.9 miles one way, 1000 foot gain.  Moderate.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Joe Mills Mountain and Mount Wuh in the winter.

March 12, 2012: I had another fun hike in full on winter conditions, joined by Dan this time around. 
We survived the predicted "blizzard" over the weekend, and when it started to snow lightly on Monday evening, I didn't think much of it.  Weather said it was supposed to end by 9:45 PM, so imagine my surprise when I woke up and it was still snowing!  I think this storm dropped more snow than the blizzard.
Anyway, I drove to meet Dan in Lyons, and it was snowing the whole way up to Estes Park.  It was snowing when we reached the Bear Lake trail head.  Dan opted to start without snow shoes, while I decided to strap mine on right away.
The going was not too bad at first, maybe up to six inches of powder over a packed trail.  There were a few places where the trail runs along a steep hillside, which took some extra care and caution to pass safely.
We were the first two up the trail and kept remarking at how beautiful it looked.  Like a Bob Ross painting almost.  
Happy little trees.
If you look on the topo map I have below, you can see a place where the trail goes through an area without trees.  With the wind blown snow in deep piles and visibility low, this is where we lost the trail.  But no fret, we knew we just had to follow the curve of the hillside above us around, without gaining or loosing too much elevation, and then head down.
So off we went.
Stopping in some trees for a snack was a good idea until the wind blew, covering Dan with a liberal dose of snow.
We were on the northern flank of the hill when the wind died for a brief moment and Joe Mills Mountain swam into view.  We decided to try to head for the saddle between it and Wuh before heading up.  In reality, we made a more direct ascent of the south face of Joe Mills.
The going was, of course, quite tough.  But having two people to switch off trail breaking duties did make it easier than last week.  The snow conditions were better as well, with a more liberal coating over everything in our path.
We made it up to a high point, which we hoped was the summit.  But in moving past it, we saw another place that was definitely higher, and then another.  We were fully exposed to the whipping wind now, and the blown snow didn't feel too great on the exposed skin of my face.  Time to add another layer.
Shortly thereafter, we got to the summit.  I am told it normally has some pretty spectacular views- on this day you could JUST make out Odessa Lake.
Dan at the summit cairn.  We didn't bother looking for a register. 
I think this may be looking back the ridge we came up to get to the summit.
We quickly descended, following our trail back until we were in some trees and out of the wind.  Here we had a snack and debated as to whether we should continue on to Wuh or not.  It seemed like were were both pretty noncommittal either way, but in the end we decided that we had come this far, we had tons of daylight left, conditions were likely to improve from this point on, and while we'd still have to break trail, the majority of it would be downhill or on level ground.  So off we went. 
Heading down Mills to Wuh.  We spied Round Pond through the trees and aimed in a direction slightly to the right or south of that.
A brief moment of clarity on the slopes of Joe Mills Mountain.
The downhill was fun, but the saddle seemed to drag on forever before we started heading up again.  But up again we went.  The snow was a mix of crust under the powder that would often but not always support your weight, which kept us on our toes! 
Dan doing the Mount Wuh shake.
By now we could see the sun and some blue skies.  I assume that snow had stopped falling, but the wind was picking up what had fallen (particularly from higher elevations), and the day still looked like this. 
I couldn't even really see what I was shooting here.
On Wuh.  Again, we stayed briefly before turning back and getting to lower and more sheltered elevations for a snack. 
Snowshoe heaven!  We took a look at a map and decided we were somewhere around or between the 'd's' in Round Pond, and we should head directly south from here.  Dan got out his compass to find south, and off we went.  He remarked that though visibility was low, this was the first and only time we used anything to route find.
Not too long after that we crossed Mill Creek, and were able to find the trail.  We again briefly lost it in the area without trees, but were back on it in no time.
The skies finally started to clear in earnest, and we made our way back down.  We debated as to if we'd see anyone or not, and we did eventually, as well as seeing signs that someone had followed our trail part of the way up to ski back down it. 
Back at Bear Lake, where we saw a fair amount of people. 
Hallett Peak just barely visible.
Red shows approximately where we left the trail and made our way up Mills, blue from Mills to Wuh, and green back down to the trail.
It took us seven hours to complete this hike, which was probably somewhere around seven miles in length.  About 2/3 of that was over unbroken terrain.  Yes, I slept well Tuesday evening!  I would expect this hike to be a good bit easier to do in the summer.
This marks my ninth and tenth peaks in the park so far this year!  Not bad!
Joe Mills Mountain and Mount Wuh in the winter:
Joe Mills Mountain: 2.9 miles one way, 1628 foot gain (9450-11078).  Second class.  Strenuous- in winter conditions.
Mount Wuh: 2.7 miles one way, 1311 foot gain (9450-10761).  Second class.  Strenuous- in winter conditions.