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-.

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