Thursday, November 28, 2013

Crystal Lakes via Lawn Lake TH.

Though I only had one day off this week, the weather looked too good to pass up.  Besides, I could cram all the other stuff into another day along with work, right?  Sure, no problem.  
The alarm went off at 4 am, and after only 4 hours or so of sleep, I was up, dressed, sunblocked, and on my way to Estes Park by 435 or so.  Arriving at the trail head, I was off by 515.  
Despite the additional snow this week, the trail was still in relatively good shape and broken in pretty well... at first.  I made good time to Cutbank, and then to the intersection with the Black Canyon trail.  Somewhere between the two, the good shape of the trail diminished somewhat and I was following the tracks of a single person up.  The only problem was that their gait was somewhat shorter than mine and in the end I found it easier to just step as normal and break new trail through the foot or so of snow rather than take shorter steps.  
Mummy Mountain as seen from the Lawn Lake trail.
I soon encountered the person whom I was following up on their way back down.  He must've camped up high or started even earlier than I did. 
My first goal for the day was Fairchild Mountain, with the option of adding on Hagues.  As they came into view, I could see they were socked in and made the decision to just go for Mummy via the east ridge route. 
Fairchild and Hagues. 
But as I neared, I could see things were clearing up.  Mummy still seemed like a good choice, but since I was by myself I decided to stick with the original plan since that is where my emergency contact would send someone to look for me if something did happen. 
Nearing Lawn Lake.  The trail was still in ok shape.  I opted to not take snowshoes and was still ok with the decision at this point of the day.
Fairchild as I start to gain altitude on the far side of Lawn Lake. 
Of course, now is the time I was wishing I had brought snowshoes along, as each step sent me into snow up to waist deep.  Forward and upward progress slowed, and I realized exactly how big Lawn Lake actually is as I struggled around it and then upward.
I kept seeing what looked like footprints and tracks from people.  There must be some other demented individuals who actually like getting up early after no sleep and spending their day outside in windy weather with a high temperature below freezing.  Imagine!
I saw this sign and made my way over.  I could now see I was quite close to my goals of the day distance wise.  I found a medium sized boulder a bit beyond the sign and sat for a snack and to evaluate.  Earlier I had decided on a firm turn around time of noon.  It was now eleven, and though I was close I was only around 11500 feet, and with 2000 more to go to Fairchild I had to make a somewhat painful decision. 
There was no way I was going to be on the summit by noon.  I did have my headlamp and more clothing, but I did not want to be going down the trail and back home in the dark as I'd come.  
Lawn Lake on a beautiful early winter day. 
I decided I would just check out Crystal and Little Crystal Lakes.  I made my way down and over to these beautiful alpine lakes. 
Mummy over Lawn Lake.
Looking up to the saddle and Fairchild from my sheltered snack point. 
And to Hagues.
Testing out some new winter gear. Smith I/OX goggles performed admirably.  ColdAvenger balaclava needs a revisit.  I am not ready to recommend for or against at this point. 
The steep eastern faces of Fairchild over Crystal Lake. 
Talus and boulders between the lakes. 
Little Crystal Lake. 
I stopped for another quick bite to eat, rationalizing that this additional fuel would allow me to get all the way around Lawn Lake and back to the trail before needing to stop again. 
Following my own tracks back.  I took a more direct route back to the lake and followed the bank more closely to keep the travel a bit easier.  Plus I did have the whole gravity thing helping me along. 
Looking back up to the saddle.  Sigh.  Well, it'll happen another day.  In the end, I did get to spend a whole day doing something I love in what is perhaps my most favorite place on earth.  13er or not, I can never feel too bad when I get to be surrounded by this. 
Here is the ridge running east from Fairchild towards Lawn Lake.  Looks quite beautiful in the winter. 
Back on the trail I wondered if I would see anyone else at all.  I could see a few had ventured up as far as Cutbank, with maybe one or two going a little farther one.  Finally I saw a couple taking in the sun set from the side of the trail right near the trail head. 
I was back to the truck exactly at 4.  I can't be disappointed with an eleven hour day when winter has come and conditions are exponentially more challenging.  My snowshoes will definitely be joining me on the next outing, provided it has snowed between now and then.  With a similar gain and distance to Bluebird Lake, I'd have to imagine this would be alot quicker and easier in the summer.   In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the sights and the particular kind of difficulty that winter brings with it. 
Crystal Lakes via Lawn Lake TH:
Little Crystal Lake, 11500 feet: 7.7 miles one way, 2960 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Crystal Lake, 11500 feet: 7.9 miles one way, 2960 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Along the way:
Lawn Lake, 10987 feet: 6.3 miles one way, 2447 foot gain.  Moderate+.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bighorn Mountain and Mount Tileston.

Fall of 2013 was going to be epic.  We'd already discussed a few options that would give us very long days in the park.  Milner Pass to Bear Lake was one of those ideas, and another was a variant of Mummy Kill starting and ended at Lawn Lake TH.
Of course neither of those happened due to the floods.  Mount Tileston was something we'd planned on adding to our long day in the Mummy Range, but with snow now becoming a factor, we decided to make it a destination in and of itself.
I'd already done Bighorn Mountain in tenuous conditions last year, but while we were in the area....
A windy day on the divide plus clouds along the front range equals...
A neon morning.
I'd read that both the Lawn Lake trail and Ypsilon trail had sustained some damage from the floods.  Here was the first real sign of it.
Where the trail ends.  Of course it was easy to bypass it, and there is already a little bit of a social trail developing through the forest.
We stayed on the trail past the sign for Cutbank campsite, and for a time after as it took two switchbacks up.  We then made our way east, starting up the steeper slopes of Bighorn Mountain.  This time was much easier than last, and we were soon nearing the top.
Cloud watching near the summit of Bighorn.  Soon after I saw the low clouds on the right absorb the summit of Longs
Peaks of the divide and trail ridge road.
Summit cairn in front of Fairchild, Hagues, and Mummy.
Though the day was cold, it didn't feel too bad until the wind hit you.  After a quick snack in a wind break, we set off downhill towards Tileston. 
Bighorn from Tileston.
Chiquita and Ypsilon in winter clothing. 
After summiting Tileston, we descended towards Potts Puddle.  This small body of water looks to be easily accessible from the Black Canyon Trail.  A very peaceful and off the beaten path to enjoy lunch in the summer, we now circled almost the entire way around it to find a place to eat that was out of the wind. 
Ice nine and Mummy Mountain.
Some wipsy clouds over the puddle.
I'd never been to Lawn Lake before.  Though the recent floods were bad, it is hard to imagine what things would've been like to witness the dam break and make this canyon in minutes.  This event provided the impetus to remove the dams at Pear(also), Sandbeach, and Bluebird(also) Lakes. 
At Lawn Lake, Fairchild Mountain behind.  With no trees to provide cover, the wind was absolutely ripping.
Up to the saddle.
After a few pictures, we turned back to find our footprints from mere moments ago completely obscured in places. 
As we made our way back, we came upon the tracks of someone else who had made it most of the way to the lake before turning around. 
I walked over to the creek to check out the Ypsilon trail.  Here is where the bridge used to be.  You can see the trail center left.  There were footprints on it, so at least a few people made it across.  Be very careful if you attempt this!
The canyon now looks even deeper. 
The power of water.
We made it back to the car after nine and a half hours and started on our way down. 

Due to some road work, we stopped on 36 right around Big Elk Meadows, and I was able to get this photo.
Here is a very similar before view from Google Maps.  Again, sobering to see the amount of destruction driving down 36. 
Bighorn Mountain offers a great vantage point to look into various parts of the park, most notably the Mummy Range with a unique perspective given on the Longs Peak area.  I feel that Bighorn would offer those of you looking for something off trail and a little bit more challenging a good option.  And while you're there, Tileston adds some distance but not much more difficulty.  As I've said before, it would be fun to try these peaks in summer just to get a good idea of the difficulty in better conditions.  I found Bighorn to be easier this time, while still in up to knee deep snow.  
Bighorn Mountain and Mount Tileston:
Bighorn Mountain, 11463 feet: 3.9 miles one way,  2923 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Mount Tileston, 11254 feet: 5.8 miles one way, 2714 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Potts Puddle, 10900 feet: 6.5 miles one way, 2360 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Lawn Lake, 10987 feet: 6.3 miles one way, 2447 foot gain.  Moderate+.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A brief and triumphant return to RMNP!

Brief?  Well, I'm not sure I would call a nine hour hike brief, but I had a smile on my face the entire day.  Or was that a grimace of pain?
The goal for the day was a traverse of Lumpy Ridge, starting at Gem Lake on the east side and ending at the Black Canyon trail on the west side.  We met up in Lyons at 5, and were on the road shortly after.  
I'd been in Lyons several times over the past week as some of the mountain biking trails have opened up, and the destruction there is mind blowing.  We wanted to see what 36 and Estes looked like, but of course it was hard to see anything in the dark.  
As for the road condition, 36 is in good shape.  The speed limit drops as low as 25 at times, mostly in areas that have been reconstructed.  And those are many.  I'd driven this road so many times this year I feel as though I have it memorized, but now it is different...
We made it up the canyon and to the trail head in only half an hour.  A few minutes of organization, and we were off!
It is always fun to see the sun come up from the trail.  Only five more weeks until the solstice and the days will start getting longer again. 
Along the way we stopped by a feature called 'Paul Bunyans Boot'.  It is easy to find as the trail goes right by it.
Not too much later, we found ourselves at Gem Lake, mostly iced over.  Despite it's proximity to the trail head and ease of access, I'd never been here before.
Interesting looking rock around the lake, and really in the whole Lumpy Ridge area.  We stayed on the trail for a short time longer, just until it started to loose elevation again.  Then we turned west and started up some slabby stuff.
We made it to the summit east of Gem Peak just in time to catch a few minutes of Alpenglow illuminating the mountains in the background.  The garish magenta color is caused by refraction of sunlight by airborne particles before the sun actually crests the horizon.  It looks fake. 
From this high point, we had to work our way down and decided that the south ridge of Gem Peak looked like the best non-technical option to get to the top.  Like all off trail hikes, there was alot of up, down, and around on this day.  I note that Gem Peak is not listed in Lisa Fosters book.  I wonder why that is, as it is unofficially named  but ranked.
First sun streams through the mountains to the east and hits the valley of Estes Park.
The summit of Gem Peak.  Our shadow stretches west into the valley containing Cow Creek and Bridal Veil Falls
One of the lumps of Lumpy Ridge.  The bushwhacking wasn't too bad for the most part.  Nor was the climbing too crazy, though we certainly encountered some third to fourth class along the way. 
And here kids, is why you don't release balloons.  They eventually come down somewhere.  We packed the mess out. 
Lumpy Ridge does have several summits, with the high point being the western most lump.  Here is the view back to Gem Peak from one of the other lumps.
And east to the highest lump, The Needles, McGregor Mountain, and Mummies.  If you look closely at the south side of McGregor (left in this photo), you'll notice a distinct gouge running down. 
The view south from a cool little keyhole. 
On the highest lump and yet a little bit closer to The Needles. 
And finally on the summit of The Needles.  Here is a closer look at McGregor Mountain.  It looks rather steep, slabby, and exposed.  And it was!
Ypsilon and Fairchild as seen from The Needles.
Dark Mountain and Mummy Mountain.
The entirety of Lumpy Ridge from the high point of The Needles. 
South to the tallest peaks of the park, and those lying on the continental divide.
McGregor Mountain again.  Looks even more improbable.
We descended towards Dark Mountain, aiming to hit the saddle between it and Lumpy Ridge to avoid more gain on the Black Canyon Trail.
Ypsilon again.
When we did McGregor Mountain, I considered proposing the add on of MacGregor Falls (yes, spelled differently for some reason).  But I was too tired to think about it, and knew I'd be back.  This time we simple stayed on the trail until it started to hook east, and then headed south west down to the creek.  When we got close enough, I spotted a trail.  We took this back west for a few hundred yards before...
Finding the waterfall!  It couldn't have worked out better.  We knew the trail down from here was relatively flat.
That is until... 
Remember than channel gouged out of McGregor Mountain?  Here is where it ended up.
Dan in the photo for perspective. 
Absolute destruction. 
Mind blowing to see this.
Particularly since this is what it looked like last year.  A peaceful five foot wide and two feet deep creek.
Last year again.
Well, that took care of the trail back.  We headed uphill to remeet the Lumpy Ridge Trail, crossing a mudslide and various other washouts along the way.
When we got back to the trail, we saw the first real signs of damage.  Some washouts at small drainages and deep ruts in the trail from water running down it.  It's all passable though.
Lumpy Ridge from below.  Here the lumps look higher than the needles.  I always like being able to see where I was earlier from the bottom.  
We got back to the truck at two thirty, giving us a nine hour day.  That didn't feel too bad in relation to all of the off trail hiking.  I passed Dan my camera and asked him to take pictures of anything he felt was interesting on the way down.  Of course shooting out of a moving truck with dirty windows didn't give me much to use!
Estes, at least where we were, didn't look too bad though you could see signs of damage all over the place.  Lake Estes was being worked on- a ton of sediment washed down.
Now illuminated, 36 was very visibly damaged in places.  The businesses and homes along the creek were ravaged, and the level of destruction is incomprehensible.  It is one thing to see the photos and video on the news, but another to see it in person.  In some places, you can see where the road used to go versus where it runs now.
While things are opening back up, the clean up is obviously going to last well into 2014 if not 2015. 
New highway on 36.
Another new section.
You can see where the high water mark was in relation to the homes along the creek.  Alot of them were underwater.
Here was one of the most visible reroutes of 36, not too far above Lyons.  All the orange marks where the road used to be. 
This is as close to the same view as I could get from Google Maps pre-flood.  Pretty astounding.  The road now goes out left rather than taking the straighter curve.
The drive back through Lyons provided a sobering end to the day.  It is great to see people returning to their homes and places rebuilding and things returning to normal.  But there is still alot of work to be done.  As a cancer survivor, it makes me thing of returning to normal after treatment.  Things won't be the same as they were, but there is a new normal to be found.
Of course this was a fun return to the park.  As probably evidenced by this very existence of this blog, this is a place I love, and a place I have sorely missed the past two months.  This hike was a good way to get back to it, offering great views all around.  On paper this hike doesn't look too bad, covering tenish miles with a maximum gain of 2216 feet.  But there is alot of up and down, bushwhacking, and scrambling.  Just how I like it!
Lumpy Ridge Traverse:
Gem Lake, 8820 feet: 1.7 miles each way, 968 foot gain.  Moderate-.
Gem Peak, 9140 feet: 1.8 miles each way, 1288 foot gain.  Moderate+.  Up to third class.
The highest lump, 9821 feet: 4ish miles each way, 1969 foot gain.  Strenuous-.  Up to fourth class.
The Needles, 10068 feet: 4.3ish miles each way, 2216 foot gain.  Strenuous-.  Up to fourth class.
MacGregor Falls, 8380 feet: 3.2 miles each way, 528 foot gain.  Moderate-.