Monday, January 27, 2014

Three weeks in the Park.

It's been a little bit since I've written, but not to fear, I've still been getting out and enjoying my favorite place weekly for the most part.
12/31/13- Emerald Lake.
I managed to convince Katie to come out with me and snowshoe up this this lake.  Funny how what looked like a pretty nice day in Estes Park turned cold, windy, and snowy by the time we got to Bear Lake.  We could see a storm sitting right on the divide which provided the action.
On the way to the Emerald Lake.
I am sure the trail is pretty well beat in, but the conditions and wind blown snow made it hard to follow.  It was a good navigation lesson in winter conditions for her. 
Emerald Lake, frozen.
The eastern shore of the lake and part of Hallett Peak.
At Emerald Lake.  She's the pretty one.
We turned back and discovered the trail we'd broken in on the way up was almost gone.  It only took twenty minutes or so for our footsteps to be filled in with blown snow.
Back at Dream Lake we stopped to take a photo.
It was a kind of odd day for me since I am used to seeing no one once I leave the trail head.  Of course there were a ton of people out on this relatively popular and easy winter route.  I'd say snowshoes might not even be needed.  You could probably make it all the way to the lake with microspikes only.
Emerald Lake via Bear Lake Th:
1.8 miles each way, 650 foot gain (9450-10100).  Moderate-.
1/7/14- Attempt at the Peaks on the divide south of Flattop.
I'd been saving this one for the winter, as this route has very little avalanche risk.  Again, the weather didn't look so great on Flattop, but points east and north looked to have a clear forecast, so I went for it. 
A beautifully still morning. 
The trail wasn't broken in completely, but was pretty easy to follow.
From the parking lot I could yet again see a storm lingering on the divide.  I hoped it would break up as I ascended....
But no such luck.  Here is Hallett as seen from the trail. 
And Dream Lake.
Well, I got to tree line and things weren't looking any better.  It was quite windy with both fresh and blowing snow. 
Eventually I could see I'd be traveling into a complete white out if I kept going.  After doing the hard work to get most of the way up Flattop, I sadly turned back.
Near the highpoint of the day.
I felt bad on the way down.  I made the right decision to turn back, but I wasn't happy about it.  As I've found helped in the past, I stopped by Sprague Lake on the way back and walked around it.  I took a seat and thought for awhile.  There's been alot on my mind recently, and Sprague Lake is the place to go and get some thinking done.   
Hallett still in clouds as seen from Bear Lake.
Sprague Lake.
Hallett and Flattop as seen from Sprague Lake.  Things hadn't cleared up much. 
From farther back. 
Otis, Hallett, and Flattop.  I will be standing on top of you all soon.
Flattop Mountain via Bear Lake Th:
4.4 miles each way, 2874 foot gain.  Moderate+.
1/14/14- Buttonrock Mountain.
Another dismal forecast for the higher peaks this week led me to choose to stay low.  It was a good decision, as I couldn't see anything west of Twin Sisters all day.  This trail seems to be kind of hush hush, so I won't give detailed directions on how to get there, but it is close to Pinewood Springs, and more info can be found online.
I'd been up here by bicycle before, in fact this is quickly becoming on of my favorite trails in the area.  Therefore I knew exactly where to go.  Unfortunately, the lower portion (jeep road) of the trail sustained some significant damage in the flood.  It may or may not be passable even with a 4wd.  There were channels gouged out of the road up to three feet deep in places.
But things sure looked pretty.
Even though I am familiar with the trail, it again became an exercise in route finding since everything was covered in snow near the top of the jeep road.  From there on I only saw the trail a few times.  Of course, I knew which direction the summit was, so I went that way. 
Meadow as I gained elevation.
The true summit is far west once it seems like the high point has been reached.  I think it would be pretty hard to find without GPS or knowing where it was beforehand since it is pretty difficult to tell what ground around you is higher.  But I found it!  Again!  There was one registered summit since my last one via mtb over the summer.  Hi Brian!
Clouds on the divide and Twin Sisters to the right.
More clouds.  It was super windy and I had to sit to be able to take photos.
I started pretty late in the afternoon, and had lost the sun on my descent.  In stark contrast to the normal, I ended the day in a headlamp.  Driving down 36 in darkness was quite different from the norm as well.
A fun but shorter day.  It was good to get out and the right decision was made in staying low.
Buttonrock Mountain via secret Th:
8ish miles round trip, 1000ish foot gain.  Moderate.
1/22/14- "Dundicking" attempt.
Dundicking is an unofficially named but ranked peak which lies between Mounts Dunraven and Dickinson (hence the name).  We were so close over the summer.  I remember walking right by this peak and Dan suggesting that maybe we should check it out in case it was Dunraven.  If only we had, it would have saved me alot of trouble!
I guess a little research on my part would've revealed that it was a ranked peak.  But oh well...
I knew this was an ambitious day, covering close to 24 miles round trip plus 6000 or so feet of gain.  But I'm ambitious right?
I started at the now reopened Cow Creek TH at 530, and wore a head lamp for some time.  The sun came up eventually, and provided illumination on the day...
West Creek.  The North Boundary Trail has had some significant damage in places, but it is still passable.  The bridge over the creek is missing, and the trail was completely washed out in a few places on the other side.
Sunlight illuminates Sheep Mountain and Dark Mountain.
A crazy looking twisted pine across the trail.
I was looking for the Husted Trail.  This was an official NPS trail at one point, at least appearing on the 1961 NPS map.  My friend Chris has some more info on it here.  Interestingly enough, if you go to and select the US Forest Service map option, the trail appears:
See?  There it is!
I was worried I'd missed it in the snow, so I set out west.  The going was hard.  Obviously no one had been out this way in quite awhile.  At least I think so.  I kept seeing footprints, but it was hard to tell if they were human or animal of some sort that had melted into something looking humanesque.
I gained elevation slowly but surely, and eventually ran into the burn area from the Cow Creek fire in 2010.
A windowpane in what is left of a tree.  Though dead, many of the trees were still standing.
This marks the first time I actually saw evidence of the Husted Trail, as I started to see some cairns marking a way up.
But, damn these places can be pretty creepy. 
And strangely beautiful.  It brought to mind the hike down the east side of Mahana Peak through an area that had burned in the late 70's.
I was heading up the slope to the east of point 10600 (the closed loop south of Dickinson) when I heard a loud WHOOMP.  This is the sound that strikes terror into the heart of every back country traveler.  Though the slope wasn't steep enough to avalanche, they can still happen in some circumstances on slopes under 30 degrees.
I got my shovel out and did a compression test.  The column broke cleanly on the third tap(CT3Q1) at the ground.  Not good in other words.  The terrain flattened out very shortly after this, so I continued on, noticing a small crack in the snow surface about ten feet from where I heard the sound. 
On some flat ground I took my pack off and evaluated the options.
I was still close to 2000 feet below my high point.  That ground would probably take at least two more hours, though I was nearing treeline which would make travel easier.  It was already noon, and I'd been going for 6.5 hours.  With another two added on the way up, I could count on the return taking an hour less or so.  8.5+7.5=16.  A long day.
I turned back.  I went slightly south of the path I took up the slope to some less steep ground.  Again I heard a large WHOOMP, even louder than last time.  Yikes.  But I made it down safely.
A great view of the West Creek Research Natural Area.  Notice Sheep and Dark Mountains to the right.
Great skies on a bluebird day.
Creepy dead forest.
I was mostly successfully able to follow the trail on the way back.
Yes, there is an old unmaintained trail through this.
Eventually I came across my prints leading up and followed them back.  I think I turned west just slightly too early and hadn't yet reached the intersection with the Husted Trail.
On the way back I decided to break off and go visit West Creek Falls.  This trail was in very bad shape and very difficult to follow.  I was wondering if the falls were even there as it seemed to take forever to get to them.  But I did.
I wanted to get closer, but that wasn't advisable as there was ice all over the slabs around me. 
And on back...
I knew it would really suck to have to climb this 600 foot high pass before descending back the trail head.  It lived up to expectations.  It seemed to go on forever.  I didn't eat enough over the day and was crashing super hard. 
But when I reached the top, I was greeted by this view of Longs Peak with a pink sky behind from the sun and some cool cloud action from the storm rolling in.  Life is good.
I lost the sun on the way down- the headlamp came back out.  It's not too often that I both start and end a day wearing a headlamp, and I always find it a pleasure because it usually means I've done something pretty difficult.  Again, I was disappointed to not achieve my wanted destination, but it truly was a beautiful day in the park.  I can never be disappointed to spend a day doing something I love in one of my most favorite places on earth.
But unfortunately, this one is most likely going to have to wait for spring or summer when conditions will be more favorable to cover the distance and gain needed to get to the summit.
West Creek Falls via Cow Creek Th:
2.4 miles one way, 320 foot gain (7820-8140).  Moderate.  Since there is that pass that must be climbed both ways, you'll actually do about 1500 feet of gain.