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.

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