Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Castle Mountain and area, Oldman Mountain, and Deer Ridge East.

A few weeks ago I was looking at my tally of hikes for this year.  Though I've had fewer entries here, I have been able to string a number of things together, and have, in less days, been able to nearly equal the number of new destinations in RMNP that I did last year (110 in 2013 vs 100 thus far in 2014).  
I also started counting my mountain bike rides for the year, and found that I was getting close to 100 there as well.  The late season goal became to do 100/100, and it was just two weeks ago that I was able to finish this goal off.  Deer Ridge East was my 100th destination for the year in RMNP, and an old favorite, Hall Ranch, was ridden a few days later to hit 100 days mountain biking for the year.
Unfortunately, a few days later I headed out for ride number 101 and crashed hard, breaking my helmet and sustaining a minor concussion in addition to the normal scrapes and bumps.  Worst of all I sprained the AC joint (the ligaments that hold the collarbone to the shoulder), which means I can't carry a backpack or ride.  Thus my 2014 is pretty much over.  Ah well, it's been a fun one, and at least this accident happened after meeting those goals.
I started out this day aimed at Castle Mountain.  Since I knew it would be a shorter day out, I didn't set my alarm for 3am.  Getting up later was pretty great.  When you reach Estes, continue on 34W past the Stanley Hotel.  Right around when 34W intersects with 34 Business, look for parking on the right/north side of the road.  There are two pullouts, a smaller which is before the intersection, and a larger which is right next to the intersection.  From the larger, walk east on 34 and look for the start of a trail on your left.  A trail starts directly up from the smaller parking area.  Either way, you should cross into NPS land almost immediately.
This is another area where there are a multitude of trails leading every which way, and I found it better to just pick the general direction I wanted to go and head that way.  The bushwhacking is not bad at all. 
Pretty forest and Lumpy Ridge-esque rock.
You may cross or stay briefly on an old jeep road or two along to way, but you'll generally want to head north to get the elevation and then west to head toward Castle Mountain.  It looked like some harder, cliffy stuff could be faced if you headed directly northwest from the parking.
Since this area faces directly south, it was clear of snow for the most part, and I imagine it would stay that way throughout the winter, provided there wasn't a recent storm.  
Oldman Mountain becomes visible on the left.  
And I could see what would become my 100th named destination in RMNP for the year, Deer Ridge East.  It is certainly alot more spectacular than Deer Ridge West!
Once you reach a place where the terrain starts to flatten out, you can start to head west to the summit of Castle Mountain.  Work though and around some rocky areas, and ascend to the summit from the north.  Of course I encountered some snow on this north facing slope, but it was minor.  There are some sections of second class climbing along the way, but take your time and pick a safe route and you'll be fine.
All the lumps of Lumpy Ridge.
Here is Castle Rock as seen from Castle Mountain.  This unranked high point is to the east.  It looks impressive!  Simply head back the way you came and continue toward it.  You can stay north of the rocky stuff pictured before it and avoid anything difficult.
A zoom in on one of the many post flood mudslides in the area, seen on Lumpy Ridge.
Here's another big on on McGregor Mountain.  Both of these slides ended up washing into Black Canyon Creek.  It was crazy to see the devastation.
Again, I approached Castle Rock from the north side.  The south side ends in steep cliff faces.  This gully provided a relatively stable second class walk up, but ended with a third to fourth class squeeze up a chimney, or a third to fourth class way around that, with a short climb up a slab and then a somewhat daring (in the snow that was there!) large step across the gap at the top of the chimney.
I did the slab and step across on the way up, and then dropped into the chimney on the east side on the way down.  That felt a bit more stable with the small amounts of snow in the area.
From here I could see my next goal- Window Rock.  Apparently, the easiest route to the summit is 5.0, which with a partner might be soloable.  But since I was alone...
From Castle Rock to Castle Mountain and beyond.
It looked like I could find a way up, but took that soon became too hairy for me.  I went back and down and then up and then down.  I eventually found a way up to the window.  I would say even getting to the window itself requires some third to fourth class movement with a little bit of exposure. 
The window.
Here I am standing in the window, looking straight up.  A pretty neat feature!  Glimpsing though the window to the east yielded some good views of Lumpy Ridge and Estes.
Looking west, I got some great views of the minor peaks on the east side and the snow capped peaks of the continental divide.
I looked for a different way down, but decided to return to my method of ascent.  Then it was simply head south and west as I could to get back to the car.
There are lots of interesting rock features in the area, in addition to some very hard climbing.
I got back to the car and took off for the next stage of the journey: Oldman Mountain and Deer Ridge East.
You'll want to get on 34 Business, and look for Old Ranger Drive on the south side of the road.  Turn onto this street, and follow it until the end.  You'll hit a gate with a turn around marked no parking on the left.  Turn around and park just down the street from this turnaround, taking care to get your vehicle off the road as much as possible.  Since you'll be able to get cell reception for most of the time you are up here, it would be nice to leave a note on your dash with your phone number in case.  The owners of the property beyond the gate allow hikers to pass through.  Please be respectful of this private property.
Once past the gate, pass the cabins and look for a trail on your right.  This will take up up a gully.  Near the top of this gully, look left.
You'll see this huge boulder on some slabs.  It looked a whole lot like Meatwad to me.  Head toward this boulder.  I found it easy to just head toward the high point in general.  As you get closer, you may find some more difficult terrain.  At this point, move right and circle around north.
You'll come upon this slabby crack which is the definitive crux.  Ascend this easy third class crack and find the summit shortly after.
Look north to enjoy views of Castle Mountain and area.
To get to Deer Ridge East, I headed back down the same way I'd come.  I picked up the dirt road that I left and simply headed up. 

Views of the west side of Oldman Mountain.
Continue up as the road shrinks to a trail.  You'll reach an intersection with four different options if memory serves me correctly.  You want to take NOT the left most option, but the second to left most.  It heads the wrong way from Deer Ridge and heads into forest, but does not loose elevation.  The next landmark you'll see is some heavy plastic coated electrical wire wrapped around some trees on your left.  I suppose this was used by a property owner to mark their property.  Do not cross.
In a short time and with a little bit of elevation, the trail will gain the ridge line and turn to head west. 
Deer Ridge East getting closer.
I spied Ptarmigan Glacier quite well covered in snow.
Within maybe 15-20 minutes, you will see some signs and cross into RMNP.

There it is!
If you look at a topo, you'll see that the trail curves to the north and looses some elevation around Deer Ridge East (point 8763).  When this started happening, I took off to the left up the snow covered slopes.
Again, a few second class moves are required near the top.
And there I was, the 100th named destination of the year.  A snack was had along with a few minutes of reflection. 
I could see the wind was absolutely ripping to the south on the higher peaks.
I turned back and headed down.  It felt like it took a much shorter time for me to get back to the trail than it did for me to get to the summit from the trail.  I suppose that is how it often goes.
I interspersed some jogging with hiking on the way down, made it back to the car in a very reasonable time, and then drove back down to Longmont.
This was a good day.  I think places like Castle Mountain would be good destinations if you are trying to get off the beaten path a bit yet still want some challenge in the short and steep category.  Oldman Mountain and even Deer Ridge East aren't as difficult in terms or elevation gain or technicality.  But this would be a fun alternative to access Deer Mountain.  As you can see, these minor peaks also provide greats views of many of the higher peaks in RMNP, Estes Park, and the surrounding areas such as Lumpy Ridge.  I would actually suggest Castle Mountain as an off season hike (not summer).  I imagine during summer it will be sweltering since it faces directly south.
Castle Mountain and area, Oldman Mountain, and Deer Ridge East:
Castle Mountain, 8834 feet: .8 miles each way, 1134 foot gain.  Second to third class.  Moderate+.
Castle Rock on Castle Mountain, 8669 feet: .5 miles each way, 969 foot gain.  Third to fourth class.  Moderate+.
Window Rock, 8530 feet (summit): .6 miles each way, 830 foot gain.  Third to fourth class to the window, 5.0 to the summit.  Moderate+.
Oldman Mountain, 8310 feet: .3 miles each way, 510 foot gain.  Third class.  Moderate-.
Deer Ridge East, 8763 feet: 1.25 miles each way, 963 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate.

Thank you for reading.  Look for my 2014 wrap up to come soon!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lumpy Ridge Loop and Sheep Mountain Rock.

It was a dark and stormy night...
Actually, the night was quite peaceful, and despite some exceptionally high winds expected at altitude, the forecast lower down was looking good.
The early wake up saw me once again be the first person at the trail head, and the wind sculpted clouds sitting over the Front Range provided quite a show as the sun rose.
So, yes it was worth getting up early. 
A few minutes of this natural light show was all that there was to see.  Note: other than being resized, these photos have had no processing.  This is what the neon morning actually looked like.
Clouds rimmed with neon pink behind trees in the parking.
In a short time, I was on my way to Gem Lake.  This is a great moderate hike in the park, perfect for families.  I gained elevation on the trail, and got to the lake in about an hour.
Views to the south. 
And south west.
While at the lake, I decided to try to ascend "East Gem Peak" or "East Gemstone", an unranked and unofficially named destination in the park.  This is the high point that lies directly behind Gem Lake.  There are probably multiple ways up, but I decided to take what looked like the easiest method- gain the top of the bench behind Gem Lake and walk over.  This involves some 2nd-3rd class scrambling on slabs, and all was going smoothly until I came to a deep chasm near the summit. 
I spied this spray paint defacement on a rock along the way.
I looked for a way around this obstacle, loosing elevation and heading north east.  Eventually I decided I was spending too much time, and with the snow and ice on the slabby rock in the area, it was not a good idea to continue.  This will have to wait for a time when everything is dry.  It looks like it will be a fun scramble, likely in 4th to 5th class to get up the chasm.
Onward, I started to loose some elevation as I dropped toward Cow Creek.  The next goal of the day became visible, the aptly named Sheep Mountain Rock, here seen just left of center.  Of course, I'd neglected to visit this when I was here last time, so a return trip was in order.
Sheep Mountain Rock on Sheep Mountain.
I crossed the creek and basically followed the mudslide area up until it started turning east or right.  Then I simply picked a way up the gully on the left.  The bushwhacking isn't too bad, but it is rather steep, gaining almost 1600 feet in around 8/10ths of a mile. 
Along the way I spied a plant that looked familiar- I'd seen a young example of this species earlier in the year.  Pterospora, aka Pine Drops.  You can read some more about them here.
Closer up to see some of the structure. 
And closer still...
I finally got to the top of the gully and headed west.  After spending some time looking around and taking GPS readings, I determined that this was the high point.
With my backpack for scale.  There were alot of little random highpoints, but this looked to be the highest.  Of note, the LOJ highpoint is slightly south of here, but actually lower than this.
I ate a snack and headed back on down.
If you happen to want to see Pterospora, this is apparently a good place to find them, as I saw multiple examples on the way down.
I hadn't really explored the ability of my new camera to function in close up mode, but with manual focus, you can get the lens about 1 cm away from the subject, which is pretty neat.  You can actually see the tiny seeds in the pods here.  For reference, the pods are about the size of you pinky fingernail.
Pretty cool!
The damage incurred in the flood is no less amazing a year later. 
I made it back to the trail and promptly lost a layer of clothing.  It was getting quite warm!
Though I have hiked the loop in segments, I've never done it as a whole until now.  Some good views of Sheep Mountain Rock kept the spirits high.
I crossed the creek and found Rabbit Ears, a rock feature which gave name to the campsite location here.  To see the feature, find the actual camping spaces and move to the back of them.  Turn around to face south and there you are!
Back on the trail I spied Dark Mountain in the distance.  This provided a fun and memorable hike.
The trail remains rather flat with little elevation gain until you pass the last of the campsites.  Then it is on!
The highpoint is reached, and you start the descent back to Lumpy Ridge.  It was pretty fun to jog downhill in the snow, observing the various high points of the ridge.
Lumpy Ridge in all its glory!
Farther down I stopped and looked back to see this high wind blown cloud stretching between Lumpy Ridge and McGregor Mountain.  Very pretty!
Twin Owls towering over the area.
I ended up continuing on the trail toward Gem Lake rather than going back to the parking to take some time to explore the boulders in the area.  I'd climbed here years ago and it brought back some memories.
I suppose this wasn't the most prestigious hike, with the highest elevation being slightly over 9600 feet, but with the up and down and up and down and up and down, a decent amount of elevation gain was had anyway.  The loop itself is a fun challenge and circles a very interesting feature in the park, with many of the higher peaks visible in the distance from various points.  Sheep Mountain and its rock are rarely visited and can offer a sense of solitude in a place that is relatively close to McGraw Ranch/Cow Creek Th.  This trailhead is busy enough in the summer I wouldn't expect to get a parking place if you don't arrive early.
Lumpy Loop and Sheep Mountain Rock via Lumpy Ridge Th:
Sheep Mountain Rock, 9660 feet: 4.7 miles one way, 1808 foot gain*.  Third class.  Strenuous-.
Lumpy Ridge Loop: 10.7 miles round trip, 1275 foot gain*.  Moderate+.
As a whole this hike covered approximately 12.3 miles with 4666 feet of gain.  Strenuous-.
*= significant ups and downs along the way mean you'll actually gain a whole lot more than this.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stormy Peaks and the North Fork Basin.

The true story of this day started with a heinous act.  A vehicle caught up to me at the one way red light shortly after Glen Haven proper, and when it turned left behind me on to Dunraven Glade Road, I thought I might be meeting up with another hiker at the trail head.  
I gained a little bit of distance up the road, and within one hundred feet of the parking, I spied a very large bull Elk about 25 feet off the road on the left.  He of course froze in my headlights, like these animals are prone to do.  It was a pretty magnificent example of the species- huge in stature, with large antlers, and certainly in the prime of his life.  What a neat encounter to start the day.
I got to the empty parking lot, pulled into the spot I favor, and turned the car off.  I then heard the unmistakable and loud sound of a single rifle shot fired in close proximity to me.  I looked back and saw the truck turn it's headlights back on and then pull into the parking and do a uturn, turn off their lights, and sit with the engine running. 
I couldn't get cell phone service, and to be frank, I was scared.  Here I was unarmed with someone who obviously was, who brazenly committed a crime knowing I was right there as a witness.  I sat and watched them for a bit, as I imagine they did me.  I decided the best thing to do was to just get on with it, and contact the proper authorities when I could. 
I guess the good news is that after speaking with an officer at the law enforcement branch of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, my somewhat vague description of the vehicle immediately yielded a suspect.  I am not sure what will happen with this case, but a good lesson learned: if you ever see someone violate wilderness rules and feel comfortable, approach them and say something.  If not (as I didn't), report it as soon as you can with as much detail as possible.  Even the smallest details can yield results. 
My heart was already beating hard and I'd yet to leave the car!  
The flood pretty much wiped the North Fork Trail from existence.  Alot of work this summer has put in a new trail that is 20-50 feet higher uphill than the previous iteration which ran directly next to the river for the most part.  Pass through the white gate at the trail head and start up a steep road to Camp Cheley.  Pass though the camp entrance, taking care to follow the signs and be respectful of the owners of this private property.  You'll loose some elevation before meeting the trail on the other side of the camp. 
The trail is built to fly on.  With very little in the way of steep sections and not much total elevation gain, the first 5-6 miles go by fairly quickly. 
Sunlight hits Mount Dickinson.
I was interested to see how long it would take me to hit the Stormy Peaks Trail.  I'd hiked here earlier in the year via the North Boundary Trail starting at Cow Creek, and thought that could be a possibility to access the peaks above.  But it took me five hours just to get to this intersection, which meant I'd be looking at a loooooong day.
But it only took me three hours from the Dunraven TH.  So that wasn't too bad.  The trail gradually steepens after the intersection with the North Boundary Trail.  The topo doesn't really show it, but there are a ton of switchbacks as you head up rather steeply from here.  Consider that over the 6.5 miles or so it takes to get to this point, you gain about 2000 feet.  Now consider that over the next 2 miles, you gain 2000 more.  
But the work brings some increasingly good views into the basin.
Mummy Mountain, Mount Dunraven, Hagues Peak, Gibraltar Mountain.
And by the way, if you happen to be looking for a kick ass campsite in RMNP with great views, look no farther than Stormy Peaks South.  Pretty awesome!
I spied Stormy Peaks East from the trail, and decided to head toward it once I got past treeline.
As I gained altitude on the trail, snow started to become a factor.  It isn't quite snowshoe time, but it will be soon. 
Back east to peaks and valleys and life on the plains.
Up and up I went, and very soon I was standing on top of Stormy Peaks East. 
Looking toward Pennock Peak, Signal Mountain, and South Signal Mountain.
And west to Stormy Peaks' true high point on the right, and Sugarloaf Mountain center.
It was getting cold, though the wind didn't seem as high as predicted thankfully. 
A great view from Stormy Peaks.  Hagues Peak, Gibraltar Mountain, Rowe Peak, Middle No Name, Rowe Mountain, and Little No Name all visible l-r.  Four of those are 13ers, and I climbed them all the in the same day with Dan.
It is hard to pick out, but the long declining slope in the middle ground is the way down from Sugarloaf Mountain to Ramsey Peak.
Looking back at Stormy Peaks East.
As I dropped down to Stormy Peaks Pass, I spied a lone Bighorn, who was quite content to keep some distance between us.  Fine by me.  After not seeing any of these for years, I finally made up for that in a big way this year. 
Back to Stormy Peaks from west of the pass.
The journey up to Sugarloaf Mountain is pretty easy, covering about 1.75 miles and 400 feet of elevation gain on tundra. 
Middle, Gibraltar, Rowe, and Rowe.  Of interest, I noted what looked like a possible small avalanche on the snowfield below Rowe Mountain. 
There is a small cairn on Sugarloaf to mark the high point.  It is so broad it might be hard to find otherwise.  I looked west to Skull Point, though it was not the closest point to me.  There was definitely more snow now, and a bunch had been deposited on the north face of Sugarloaf Mountain.  This made going slow, and I thought about just skipping Ramsey Peak.  The only thing that convinced me to go for it was knowing that I'd have to come all the way back here just to summit it.
I got to the saddle between Ramsey Peak and Sugarloaf.  I decided the east side looked like the highest point, but from there it looked like the west side was higher.  From there it looked like the east side was higher.  To spare you the indecision, the east side is the true high point. 
And it provided good views of the drainage to the west of Stormy Peaks, pictured here.
Now it was all up to the legs and lungs and heart, as 500 feet or so of elevation gain would be needed to get me back up to Skull Point.  I ended up doing a contouring ascent, heading west as I gained, as I did not need to go back to Sugarloaf Mountain. 
And then I was close.  Travel slowed to a crawl as I had to use my poles to probe the snow with every step.  Was it solid ground beneath or an ankle or leg snapping hole in the talus?
After summitting Skull Point, I headed down to Icefield Pass.  This was my planned descent route, though I guess I should've known better.  In addition to the steep ice fields (yes, it's not just a name!), wind blown snow had created some treacherous looking conditions.  The slope looked wind loaded and primed to go, and since I also didn't bring an ice axe, glissading was not an option to begin with.  I decided I could either go back the way I'd come, or head around the north side of the bowl and hope the sun exposure had kept several promising looking gullies I'd already spied free of snow.
Around I went.  The first one was filled with snow, as was the second.  But I kept going, and in about a quarter of a mile spied something that looked promising.  And then great, as I could stand at the top of it and see it was clear all the way to the bottom!
Looking back up this gully.
And down into the basin to Lake Louise, Lake Husted, and the long journey back to the car.
Icefield Pass loomed as I got into the basin.  The immensity of this thing was incredible.
Now I faced exactly the same problem as I did above.  I didn't know if the snow was solid, and movement took some time as I had to continually probe every step.  It might have just been quicker to stay up above in the end!
Back up to Icefield Pass and the gully.
It continued to look pretty spectacular from farther down.
Once I passed the talus near Lake Louise, I was back on solid ground and able to turn on the rockets and start the almost 11 mile journey back to the car.  It took me about 3 hours and 40 minutes to cover this distance, roughly the same amount of time it took me to cover the 4.3 miles between Stormy Peaks East and Skull Point.
Dropping down to Lost Lake.  Quite a difference!  I'd swam in this lake last time I was here, but that was definitely out today.  Some deeper snow on the south side made travel more difficult, and I remembered the trail being not obvious to find even in summer.  I couldn't find it, but crossed the outlet creek, and worked my way down until I hit the trail for the campsite and was able to get moving.
The sun set at some point, and I got my headlamp out.  I am normally okay with hiking in the dark, but with a close to full moon, I kept seeing glimpses of light that had filtered through the trees and thinking they were animals or horror movie people or something.
I stopped at the North Boundary intersection for another snack, and went down for a short time before I realized the fleece I had strapped to the outside of my pack was no longer there!  ARG!  I really liked that thing.  I was pretty sure I had it at the Stormy Peaks intersection, but by now felt I was in no condition to go back up, either physically or mentally. 
Anyway, if anyone happens to find a blue Helly Hansen fleece somewhere up here, I would sure like it back!  I'd be happy to reward with beer.
Finally I started seeing some structures that marked Camp Cheley.  Soon enough I was grinding up the last little hill needed to reach the camp entrance before loosing that elevation to get to the parking lot.  After such a long day, these 200 or so feet of up really sucked.
But there it was.  The beautiful car right where I left it.  I take much pride that my 2003 Ford Focus hatchback has more mud on it than most 4wds I see!
I got my things back in the car and decided to take a look and see if there was a fence or some signage indicating property ownership where I saw the Elk.  It was easy to find, as a vehicle had backed into the thigh high grass there, smashing down two distinct trails that ended in a flattened area.
This was a long and lonely day.  But of course it was worth it!  The maximum technical difficulty is second class (maybe a some easy third if you have to come down that gully), and the length could be cut into two or more sections by camping at Stormy Peaks South, Lost Lake, or one of the many campsites along the North Fork trail.  Spectacular sights, solitude, and beauty await you.  The lakes around the base of Little and Middle No Name are some of the most spectacular in the park, and worth a visit.  Despite the high amount of elevation gain, the length of the trail stretches it out, so things aren't ever too steep.
Stormy Peaks and the North Fork Basin (distances as part of the hike):
Stormy Peaks East, 12020 feet: 8.1 miles, 4120 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Stormy Peaks West, 12148 feet: 8.5 miles, 4248 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Stormy Peaks Pass, 11660 feet: 8.75 miles, 3760 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Sugarloaf Mountain, 12140 feet: 10.4 miles, 4240 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Ramsey Peak, 11582 feet: 11 miles, 3682 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Skull Point, 12060 feet: 12.3 miles, 4160 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Icefield Pass, 11840 feet: 12.5 miles, 3940 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Along the way you will also pass (distances from th):
Lake Louise, 11020 feet: 10.9 miles one way, 3120 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Lake Husted, 11088 feet: 10.4 miles one way, 3188 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Lost Lake, 10714 feet: 9.7 miles one way, 2814 foot gain. Moderate+.
Lost Falls, 9840 feet: 7.5 miles one way, 1940 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Kettle Tarn, 9220 feet: 5.3 miles one way, 1320 foot gain.  Moderate.
As a whole, this hike covered approximately 23 miles with 6300 feet of elevation gain.  Second class.  Strenuous+.