Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Apache Peak via Queens Way couloir.

A hikingrmnp field trip this week, south to Indian Peaks Wilderness.  Our goal for the day- a snow ascent of Apache Peak, which at 13441 feet, is the second highest peak in the area, behind North Arapahoe Peak.  Throwing a wrench in the works was the fact that the summer trail head is still not open.  We threw our bikes in the back of the truck and met up way too early, in hopes of some still solid snow.
In a short time, we were around Brainard Lake and on our way to Long Lake.
There was still a fair amount of snow on the trail, and the first sketchy place we encountered was a steep field around Lake Isabelle.  Dan was kind enough to take the lead and kick/chop in some steps across it.
At this point he put on micro spikes and I put on crampons.  It was mostly snow from here on out.
Up and up.
Nearing the unnamed lake above Lake Isabelle, a pretty, high altitude body of water.
And here we are.  We took a snack break here, and I started to get very intimidated.  The ascent above looked incredibly steep.
Looking up an ascent route to Shoshoni Peak.
But in reality, the snow slope wasn't so bad.  Dan favored a switchbacking approach, while I went straight up. 
Navajo Peak and (hilariously named) Dickers Peck.
Once above the unnamed lake, we continued up towards Isabelle Glacier.  From here a turn south to ascend into the couloir.  It was warm and the snow was showing it, increasingly softening on the way up.  We decided for efficiency sake to take turns in front and follow in the steps of the other.  This worked out very well, as it was much easier to follow than lead. 
Dan did have his camera out, and got this shot of me ascending the couloir, which again looked much steeper than it actually was.  I on the other hand, was not about to fish around in my pocket to get my camera out of its case and then take a photo. 
At the top of the snow we took another snack break.  There was a single puffy cloud hanging over the drainage we'd just ascended.  From here it was a short scramble to the top of the peak.
We just had to follow this ridge, and in no time at all we were on the summit.
The view from the summit was great, with great views all around.  Here I am looking south to Jasper Peak and Mount Neva.
East from whence we came. 
Dan on the summit, his 51st 13er!
I promised myself I would take more photos on the descent of the couloir.  It seemed easier from above.  After some plunge stepping, Dan started a sitting glissade down.  He is the small dot in the middle of the couloir here.
I followed down a few minutes later, plunge stepping and then glissading down.  What a fun and quick way to descend 1000 feet.  It probably took us a little less than an hour to get up, and about three minutes to get down.  The only price was a wet and cold butt.
Dan in Isabelle drainage. 
We were able to glissade down this slope as well, as pictured from the unnamed lake.  Again, it looks super steep. 
We stopped for a snack again here, and got to meet some of the locals. 
Pretty cute.
Back above Lake Isabelle on the way down. 
Since the summer trailhead was not open, we encountered very little traffic on the way down on this normally very populated trail.  In fact, we only saw two other parties of two.  We reached our bikes and headed back down to the winter parking.  Once we hit Brainard Lake, we began to see many other people, including some other cyclists, who had ridden all the way up here (gasp!) from the winter parking.  And there I was, riding down on my late 80's-early 90's Monty Ot Pi replica trials bike with a 40 pound pack on my back. 
Despite the early wake up time which had us both dragging hard on the way back, this was a very fun and rewarding hike.  Apparently this couloir stays snowed in most of the year, so don't forget your crampons and ice axe!
Apache Peak Via Queens Way couloir:
5ish miles each way, 3281 foot gain.  Strenuous -.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sky Pond and Glacier Knobs.

I'd been wanting to go for something big this week, but when the suggestion of Sky Pond came up, a shorter day felt ok.  Plus I had two attempts and two failures at this body of water over the winter, and wanted to get to it quite badly.  
On my most recent attempt in early April, I encountered quite slushy snow conditions on the way back, and I remembered thinking, "This will be good to go in a week or two.  Unless it snows again."  And then we went on to have one the snowiest Aprils on record. 
Alberta Falls now melted out and spectacular. 
We encountered this guy and later a female around East Glacier Knob.  No calves were seen, but just keep your eyes open.  He did not want to give up the trail, but I found my deer removal technique (which is to skitter a rock along the ground in front of them) worked well here, despite my bad aim. 
Looking up to Loch Vale- similar view here in winter.
At The Loch.  The predominate rock face in the middle separates the way to Sky Pond (left) and the way to Andrews Glacier (right).
Here is Dan ascending the standard route, which had previously been buried in snow and had corniced snow atop it.  There is still some lingering snow and ice, and the waterfall has wet some of the rock as well, making things a bit slippery.  Use caution!
You circle around Glass Lake, hop a little talus, and then....
Powell Peak as seen from Sky Pond.  It was nice to finally be here after several attempts!
And I sighted the first Marmot of the year, and witnessed it apparently eating lichen off of some of the rocks in the area.  Either that, or they eat rocks.
Dan remarked that Powell Peak is the only peak on this region of the divide which he has not done yet.  Which means we will probably be on top of it soon.
Taylor Peak.
From looking at the zero feet of snow right next to it, this snowfield appeared to be about 12 feet deep. 
Glass Lake was quite pretty as well.
Back down to The Loch and beyond.
Dan had a big day on Sunday, ascending McHenrys Peak, one of the hardest in the park.  I had earlier suggested adding on Glacier Knobs since we go right by them and had talked about doing them at some point.  It was only now that he said yes.
Timberline Falls.
I have described how to find West Glacier Knob here.  It can be a bit tricky, as there are two high points in this area, and the western one of those looks like it is higher.  But West Glacier Knob is actually the eastern high point here.
Hopefully that explains it a little better.
A little guy came out to look at us longingly as we snacked. 
Back up to Loch Vale.
And into Glacier Gorge, Half Mountain and Storm Peak visible on the ridge line extending from Longs.
We got back down to the trail and continued down.  Shortly after reaching the fire trail, we started our ascent of East Glacier Knob. 
We ran into this cow Elk pretty close to where we saw the male.  We took cover behind a rock in case there was a baby around, but all she did was look at us.  We made our way through the forest opposite her direction.
While there is a class two way up, we decided to tackle a more direct route that was in the fourth class, which added some fun adventurous scrambling to the day. 
Krumholtz looking like a large Bonzai with Glacier Gorge in the background.
This is a great shorter but still somewhat challenging ascent, which offers very rewarding views of the surrounding locale.
Don't slip!  We headed north to find the second class ramps that head up the mountain.  Easier going, but just as exposed.
I didn't pay attention to the time when we got back to the car, but it was early afternoon.  A refreshing beverage was had before we started to make our way down.  Every week we can see an increase in the amount of cars in the parking lots, more people on the trails, and many more people in Estes Park.
It was great to get to Sky Pond after several attempts.  It does offer a very pretty place to have a bite to eat and relax for awhile.  There is still snow covering the trail once you pass The Loch, but the way is pretty well beat in and relatively posthole free.  Glacier Knobs are fun and really do not add that much more difficultly and do offer a great view and sense of reward (particularly the East one).  Consider checking those out next time you are up this way!
Sky Pond and Glacier Knobs:
Sky Pond: 4.4 miles one way, 1720 foot gain.  Moderate +.
Glass Lake: 4.2 miles one way, 1640 foot gain.  Moderate +.
Timberline Falls: 3.9 miles one way, 1300 foot gain. Moderate.
The Loch: 2.9 miles one way, 1000 foot gain.  Moderate.
West Glacier Knob: 2.6 miles one way, 1100 foot gain.  Moderate.
East Glacier Knob: 2.3 miles one way, 1045 foot gain.  Moderate.  Second class at least.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ptarmigan Point and area north, Tourmaline Gorge via Flattop.

Summer weather is upon us (kind of) and the threat of afternoon thunderstorms means earlier starts, particularly when heading up above tree line.  We met up in Lyons at 5am.  I felt surprisingly good despite not getting to bed as early as I wanted to.  There's always so much to do when I get home from work Monday evening.
We arrived at Bear Lake shortly before 6.  There were a few other cars in the parking lot, and we immediately saw a few people when we hit the trail, this being why....
Early bird gets the worm with reflective photographs.
The Flattop trail is still mostly packed snow covered, and was a bit slippery in the morning cold.  My truck said 32 at Bear Lake when we started. 
Uncompromising views to the south- Glacier Gorge, Longs, Half Mountain.
Looking east we could see lower lying clouds, but it was nice and sunny up here.

Mummy Range to the north.
Hallett Peak comes into view.
Holy corniced snow Batman!  This was about the size of two houses.  It would have been neat but terrifying to see it fall.
On the divide and looking south to Ptarmigan Point.  A quick off trail jaunt brought us its summit.
While it was sunny, it was super windy.  I was expecting to be in a t-shirt most of the day, but found myself in long sleeves, outer layer, and winter gloves. 
Ptarmigan Glacier.
Next we found the summit of Knobtop, and a bite to eat.  The tundra was pleasant enough hiking despite lingering snow and ice.  We decided to head down a little bit to scope out the south-east face of Gabletop and see if we could find a way down. 
The glacier and steep snow that overlooks Tourmaline gorge.
Gabletop as seen from the divide. 
The steep cliff face proved to be quite photogenic.
We had briefly considered a glissade down this, but from this perspective we could see it was 60 to 70 degrees.
And more north.
Near the summit.
There were two blocks that looked like they could be the summit.  Here is Dan atop the westerly one, which we decided looked lower.  It was one harder move to gain the east one.
From the top we could look down the slope and found a way that seemed to avoid most of the snow to get down.
As I said, most of the snow.
Descents like this make my legs ache worse than anything else, but I also find they are always worth it.
At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us, because unfathomable.- Thoreau.
Neat cliff features on the way to Little Matterhorn.
And Little Matterhorn.
The south-east cliffs of Gabletop.
Tourmaline Gorge opening to Tourmaline Lake. 
Tourmaline Lake and The Gable. 
Back up some talus slopes.
Boulders everywhere.
Arriving at Tourmaline Lake, still mostly completely frozen.  We saw some tracks on the south side that looked like possible mountain lion.
We saw a few cairns, but generally, it was a snow bushwhack to get to Odessa Lake.
And a fun glissade!
It was a bit of work to get to Odessa Lake.  Postholing combined with bushwhacking combined with trail finding.  We were pretty sure no one had been up to Tourmaline Lake anytime recently.  At least we didn't see any foot prints. 
Joe Mills Mountain as seen over Odessa Lake.  Glad to see the lake is melting but there is still a ton of snow up there.
Looking north over Odessa Lake.
A great view looking south over the lake.
We could see intermittent trail here and there, and some footprints.  At least someone had been up to here.
The way back was a little sketchy at times, with traverses across steep snow fields.  It was funny that this stuff really freaked me out, yet I have no trouble in very exposed fourth or fifth class.
Notchtop over Lake Helene. 
Two Rivers Lake.
Notchtop stands out from both of these lakes.  Hopefully to be ascended at some point this year.
When we did it, we could barely see Joe Mills Mountain from the trail.  All we needed was a clear day. 
Mount Wuh and Steep Mountain.  I remarked to Dan, 'It's pretty cool that we have done that entire ridge."  Indeed.
We got back to the truck at Bear Lake around 2, giving us eight hours of hiking.  Not too bad, but this would certainly be easier in summer conditions.  I was surprised there weren't more people at Bear Lake, but I guess with the construction it is a bit harder to get to unless you get up early.
We headed down to Sprague Lake for some R+R and IPA.  Not bad...
I am glad summer is coming and we are able to get out for these longer days.  I suppose it is only a short amount of time before ten and twelve hours days are upon us.  And I relish these.  For now, I would still want traction devices and at least trekking poles if not an ice axe to get to Odessa Lake.  Flattop is pretty well beat in and needs no additional gear.  To go off any beaten path will require traction devices and route finding. 
Ptarmigan Point and area north, Tourmaline Gorge via Flattop:
Flattop Mountain: 4.4 miles one way, 2874 foot gain ( 9450-12324).  Moderate +.
Ptarmigan Point: 5.3 miles one way, 2913 foot gain (9450-12363).  Moderate +.
Knobtop Mountain: 6.4 miles one way, 2881 foot gain (9450-12331).  Moderate +.
Gabletop Mountain: 7.2 miles one way, 2489 foot gain (9450- 11939). Moderate +.  One classed move to gain the summit.
I have ranked these all the same basic difficulty because I feel the hardest part is gaining Flattop.  One you are there it is not very hard to stay at elevation or gain small amounts.  
Tourmaline Lake: 4.5 miles one way via Bear Lake TH, 1130 foot gain (9450-10580).  Moderate +.  Note there is alot of up and down to get here, and while it lies at the same elevation as Lake Helene, it is decidedly more difficult.
Odessa Lake: 3.9 miles one way via Bear Lake TH, 570 foot gain (9450-10020).  Moderate +.  Again, there is a lot of up and down to get here, and it is more difficult than the gain would lead you to believe. 
Lake Helene: 3.2 miles one way via Bear Lake TH, 1130 foot gain (9450-10580).  Moderate.
Two Rivers Lake: 3.1 miles one way via Bear Lake TH, 1170 foot gain (9450- 10620).  Moderate.