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-.


  1. I do not know what do you do for a living but I would like to have time to do all these trips...I really enjoyed your photos.

    1. Thank you! I work in the wine industry, 5 days/40 hours a week. One day off is a long hike, and the other is trying to cram everything else I need to do into one day. I only live an hour or so from RMNP so it is pretty accessible for day trips.