Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dark Mountain and Bridal Veil Falls via Cow Creek TH.

It may be summer at the lower altitudes, but the weather this week was a firm reminder the spring still rules higher elevations. 
We wanted to go higher, had again thought about some of the peaks easily accessible from the divide, but things were not looking good up there.  But the forecast looked slightly better for this minor peak in Mummy Range.  
It started to rain just as we were getting into Estes Park, and continued as we drove past the Stanley to turn right on MacGregor Road.  Continue on this as it becomes Devils Gulch Road, and then take a left on McGraw Ranch Rd.  This dirt road will take you to the trail head- parking is on the left side of the road, so turn around and find a place.
At the parking in the rain, in full anticipation of a miserable day, in hopes that it would get better.
Even with rain gear, it was hard to get out of the car and get going, knowing this might be the last time I'd be warm for the next five or more hours.
Dark Mountain as seen from pretty early on.
Things did get better, and quite soon.  The rain slowed, and then stopped for the most part within forty five minutes or so.
The views from the Cow Creek trail are very pretty.  It cuts through a nice section of ranch land and open forest, before gaining some elevation to more heavily wooded areas.
Dried off for now.
We took the trail up to the saddle between Dark Mountain and Lumpy Ridge, and then turned north and started uphill.  We could see some cliff faces through the trees, and of course wanted to avoid those.
And then it started snowing.
At least it looked very pretty.
As we walked up, Dan remarked that it could be any month of the year, and from the picture above, I probably wouldn't have guessed May 29!
We arrived at a plateau, and could it be?  But no, there were still a few hundred feet to go.  This was probably the most difficult part of the climb, mostly due to the increasing amount of rock which was now quite wet/icy and slippery.  As we gained elevation we could hear the wind roaring around us as well.
We topped out onto a ridge, at a point which proved to not be the summit.  Though now pretty cold, the views were quite exceptional.
Mummy Mountain flirts with some low clouds.
Summits visible and hidden.
 Bighorn Mountain.
McGregor Mountain.
We very carefully made our way west to what looked like the true high point.  In addition to the light coating of fresh snow, there was a little bit of snow still hanging around from the winter.  This point did turn out to be the true summit, though we didn't spend much time there due to the wind and snow.  I remarked to Dan that I didn't expect to have completely numb fingers when hiking at the end of May (this despite wearing winter gloves).
We made a good decision on a destination for the day.  Most of the rest of the park looked completely socked in.
Cold at 10859 feet.
We decided to head back down and get out of the wind before having a snack.  When we stopped, we were in full sun and the earlier snow was melting quite quickly.   Since it melted, we lost our path up and were now navigating by sight for the most part.  We eventually made it back to the trail, maybe fifty feet east of where we had left if to head up.  Not bad navigating!
Since things had now gotten alot nicer, I managed to convince Dan to take a shortcut to Bridal Veil Falls on the way back.
 On the way...
Interesting looking rock cut and sculpted by ages of water.
This was my first time at this waterfall, and it was quite spectacular.  I imagine with all the late season snow, this will be a good waterfall year.
Getting back to the Cow Creek Trail.  Funny, starting in full rain gear plus some winter stuff to end in shorts and t-shirt.
I am glad the weather cleared up.  This is really a pretty place to hike though.
In stark contrast to the earlier photo, Dark Mountain in the sunshine filled afternoon.  
It was nice all the way back to the car, so much so it was hard to believe it had been raining earlier, or snowing, or that it was anything other than a beautiful early summer day.
It took us just over six hours to cover all this ground, which is entirely not bad.  We both felt Dark Mountain was a bit easier than anticipated, that being we thought we'd have more of a bushwhack to deal with.  In reality some downed trees were about the biggest obstacle of the day.  Plus we were the only people to be on the summit since February, at least as far as the register was concerned.  
This was a fun day, and again an illustration of the kind of destinations that I like in the park.  Yes, in the middle of summer you could head to Longs or to Bear Lake TH and run into masses of people.  Or you could go here and have things all to yourself.  
Dark Mountain and Bridal Veil Falls via Cow Creek TH:
Dark Mountain: 4.5 miles one way, 3039 foot gain (7820-10859).  Moderate+.  Some second class near the top.
Bridal Veil Falls: 3.1 miles one way, 1060 foot gain (7829-8880).  Moderate-.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Steep Mountain and Bierstadt Lake via Flattop?

Bierstadt Lake via Flattop?  Well, our original plan for this week was to ascend Flattop up to the divide, and head north, gaining some of the easier peaks there.  When we pulling into the parking lot at Bear Lake, we could see clouds hanging on the divide, but decided to go up anyway, hoping things would clear in the time it took us to get there.  
But, no such luck was had.  We broke treeline, and it got windier and colder, with blowing snow.  We could see north onto the divide now, and with previous miserable experience of being on it in full wind, plus conditions ahead looking like a full white out, I suggested that rather than press on and get a bit higher but not ascend any peaks, we turn back and go for some of the minor stuff around the area.
So we did.  
However, conditions are good on Flattop.  The trail is mostly mashed in and visible the whole way up.  It disappears around tree line, but by then you can tell where you are going anyway.  On a nicer day it would be awesome to get up here.
Dan in the wind on Flattop.
Around tree line looking south.  Based on our elevation compared to surroundings, we got to over 11500 feet before turning around.
We took the connecting trail from Flattop to Bierstadt.  When we got there, we circled most of the way around to find a good vantage point to look up to the peaks.  Things were still not looking good up there, and the wind coming of the lake cut through our clothing.  A short bite to eat and we got back to the trees.
High peaks over Bierstadt.
Bierstadt via Flattop= alot of elevation gain and subsequent loss. 
Otis Peak.
Looks nice.  Bierstadt isn't too difficult to get to and certainly offers some great views.
It was still relatively early in the day, but we were feeling the gain and loss of several thousand feet, and had several hundred feet of loss and gain and back to get to Steep Mountain.  Dan said he was game if I broke trail.  We were relatively close, so we went for it.
Breaking trail did not prove to be a concern for the most part.  The trail down to Mill Creek Basin was in relatively good shape though still snow covered, and from there we took the trail toward Cub Lake, which for the time we were on it, was completely dry.  We took this trail up until things somewhat flattened out but before reaching the high point, and turned east to head for Steep Mountain.
There are several obvious high points that you'll pass pretty early on, but none of these are the true summit.  From some of these you might be able to see through the trees a sandy plateau to the east.  This is where you want to aim yourself.  Though it looked far away, there wasn't all that much bush to bushwhack through, and it didn't take all that long for us to get to the summit.
And what a summit it is!  While only being 9500 feet in elevation, this peak offers a grand view of vast areas of the park.
From Longs and friends...
To the high peaks on the divide...
Stones Peak and a look at some of the Fern Lake burn area...
Points north- Mummy Range...
And a little closer in.  When done from Hallowell Park or even as an add on to Bierstadt, I could see this peak being within the realm of ability for many. 
The summit block.
Again the wind was ripping here, and a quick snack was all that was needed before we headed back down and then back up...
On the way back to Bear Lake we saw a few footprints, but it wasn't until we got back to the Flattop trail that we started to see some people.  Tourist season has definitely started, as the empty parking lot at 7am was now teeming with people.  I always find it fun to see how many different state license plates are there, and who has come the farthest.  I think the visitor from Ontario, Canada won on this day.
In short, if you don't feel like going on a huge hike but still want something with a little challenge that will provide great views, add Steep Mountain to your list.
Steep Mountain and Bierstadt Lake via Bear Lake TH:
Bierstadt Lake: 2 miles one way, -34 foot gain (though the up and down makes this harder than it sounds).  Moderate-.
Steep Mountain: 3.4ish miles one way, 88 foot gain (again the loss and gain makes this harder).  Moderate.
Along the way you'll also pass though Mill Creek Basin, a pretty place to stop for a snack.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Number 100: Chiquita Lake and area.

I am beyond happy to say that I was able to obtain my 100th named destination in RMNP yesterday, that being Chiquita Lake!  I started bright and early from the Lawn Lake TH.  The going is relatively easy at first, with the trail offering some pretty good views and hiking through lush forest.
After a few miles, you'll reach the turnoff for Ypsilon Lake.
Fairchild Mountain as seen from the footbridge over the Roaring River.
I had selected Ypsilon Lake and the area around it thinking it is a pretty popular hike, and the trail there would be pretty well mashed in and defined.  At first it was, but as you gain altitude on the moraine, the trail grows less and less well defined.  Make no mistake, winter conditions are still here at altitude.
Trail finding becomes looking for a slight depression in the snow, errant footprints, and the occasionally sign that you are on the correct path when you posthole into someone elses posthole that has been covered by a small snow bridge.
A hare in winter colors.
Eventually I lost the trail, or it ended, or both.  From here on out, I had to rely on visual cues.  Fortunately, I was now high enough it altitude that I could see Ypsilon Mountain, and determined that I was almost directly in line with Donner Ridge.  I continued in this direction, gaining altitude all the while.
As I started to hit some clearings and got some clear views of the surrounding area, I had a decision to make.  It looked like I could just gain altitude on the east ridge of Mount Chiquita and contour around it to the lake, or drop down to Ypsilon Lake before continuing up.   I was also planning on going for Spectacle Lakes and Fay Lakes, but it became apparent that those would not happen today since the routes up to both had recent wet avalanches in them.
Starting to see through the trees.
Ypsilon Mountain.
Looking back to Bighorn Mountain.
Since I had yet to actually see Ypsilon Lake from where I was, and could look east and tell I was somewhere in elevation between the 11254 of Mount Tileston and the 11483 of Bighorn, I decided to just stay on and contour around the ridge.  This provided some obstacles as there was some deep snow at times, and seeing avalanches pretty much all around made me very cautious.  I strapped on my crampons, and continued to find my way up and around the slope.
The view from where I stopped for lunch.  Not too bad!
Ypsilon Lake finally became visible at the base of Blitzen Ridge.
Though I did have to pick my way carefully, this plan worked out quite well, as I crested the ridge and saw the lake lying approximately 100 feet below me.
First views of the lake and Mount Chiquita above.
I had to loose some altitude here, by my estimate the high point of my hike was around 11500 feet, and the lake lies at 11340.  But no worry, the going was pretty easy here.
Almost there...
Corniced snow on the ridge between Ypsilon and Chiquita.
And there I was.  A plateau followed by another short drop down brought me to destination 100!
What a place to be!  This will surely be in my top three high altitude lakes of the year.  It's surrounded on three sides by the steep cliffs of Mount Chiquita, which lies less than a mile and almost 2000 feet higher than the lake.  This high alpine bowl is definitely worthy of a visit.
Approximate route.

Here I am.
Looking back at the ridge of Chiquita, my traverse route.
And down to Ypsilon Lake.  I was worried about the possibility of avalanche in this gully, but careful observation showed no slides, and the slope didn't look steep enough in general.
This is what falling rain looks like when seen from elevation- grey streaks in the sky.
Plunge stepping down the gully was quite fun, and it seemed to go by quickly.
Looking up the standard ascent route to Spectacle Lakes.  At the current melt rate, this should be good to go in another 2-3 weeks.
Looking down and across to Bighorn Mountain from above the waterfall above Ypsilon Lake.
Here I encountered some tricky snow, going in up to waist deep at times.
Ypsilon Lake.
On the other side of Ypsilon, looking up.
My next goal was to find Chipmunk Lake.  My only clue was that the trail that I had lost goes right by it.  I gained some leg bursting elevation back up in search of this lake.  I had a hard time- the shadows on the snow made me think several times that I was seeing a body of water through the trees.  Ironically, it was one of these that brought me to Chipmunk Lake.
Just starting to melt a  little.
I continued up the trail until I came upon my tracks up, and followed them down.  Eventually I did stumble onto a few signs that someone else had been part way up the trail this day.  A few footprints...
And this snowman that had been knocked over on my way up was rebuilt.
It was slush city on the way down.  The snow is melting, but it will still be awhile before the trail is clear all the way up to the lake.
Longs Peak, Mount Lady Washington, Storm Peak, and Half Mountain became visible from the trail back down.
When I got back to the truck, I decided to go for a few of the minor destinations in the area.
The Alluvial Fan and Horseshoe Falls are right up the road, and a perfect destination for those with very small children or those just wanting a glimpse of the true power of nature and man- these features came into existence after the failure of the Lawn Lake dam in 1982.  The resultant flood of water gouged away hundreds of tons of earth in minutes.
You can leave the paved trail to scramble to a better view as the people above did.
Fan Lake lies slightly west and south of the Alluvial Fan, but it looked like it was almost completely dried up, with just a little bit of marshy area there.
Sheep Lakes are right next to the road.  Just park, step out of the car, and you're there.  This is so named because bighorn sheep will apparently descend from Bighorn Mountain to hang out here.  Go figure!  All I saw was one lonely elk.
And that was my day in RMNP this week, well seized I'd say.  Chiquita Lake is a spectacular destination, the main difficulty is the almost 3000 feet of elevation gain required to get there.  Once the snow melts, it will become a bit easier, but this would be a pretty solid day by itself.  Ypsilon Lake is pretty cool as well.  If I were you, I would walk around to the south side for a nice view up to the higher peaks.  The waterfall above it is pretty cool, and relatively easy to get to as well.
Chiquita Lake and area via Lawn Lake TH:
Chiquita Lake: 5.5 miles one way, 2800 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Ypsilon Lake: 4.7 miles one way, 2000 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Chipmunk Lake: 4.2 miles one way, 2120 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Alluvial Fan: .2 miles one way, 60 foot gain.  Easy-.
Horseshoe Falls: .3 miles one way, 320 foot gain.  Easy-.
Fan Lake: .1 mile one way, -20 foot gain.  Easy-.
Sheep Lakes: view from parking.  Easy-.