Saturday, February 15, 2014

Coffintop Mountain via Hall Ranch/Bitterbrush TH.

This is what real winter is like.  Last winter at this time I was hiking 13ers, smaller and minor peaks on the east side of the park, lakes, basically anything I wanted!  This year it just keeps snowing, and the crazy avalanche conditions have been keeping me at home or on lower elevation peaks (though lower doesn't always mean safer).
This week I set out for Coffintop Mountain from Hall Ranch.  I actually saw it on Caltopo while I was using the 'view from here' feature to see what peaks I could see from my house.  I'd never heard of it, but as it is quite prominent from Longmont, I decided I must climb it!
There are a few different routes up one can take- there are several places to start from Route 7 besides Hall Ranch which would make a shorter day for sure.  It is also climbable from Button Rock Reservoir.  But starting at Bitterbrush would give me north of 12 miles and 2500+ feet of gain for the day, so that was the option I took.
I didn't start until almost 11.  It was nice to not have to get up super early.  Coffintop is the flatish peak center in this photo, taken from near the lower parking lot at Hall.  Route 7 on the left.
I took the Nighthawk trail up until the junction with the Button Rock trail.  I continued on this trail west, passing the first road that I came to (marked with a sign that said 3), and then struck out south a bit later when I started to loose elevation along the road.
From looking at the topo, it looked like I could stay on the ridge which starts south of the road around the prominent closed loop marking 6800 feet.  This is what I did.  I gained elevation and eventually ran into some fresh footprints on what looked like a trail of some sort.  They went the way I wanted to go for some time, so I followed them. 
Of course there are false summits along the way, but it's easy to know where to go once you see the peak.  Here the prints I'd been following went off south, so I set out towards the peak.  This was the hardest part of the day as I was postholing into knee deep snow with every step upwards.
This crazily twisted pine grew near the summit.
There is some debate about the summit.  The topo shows the northern closed loops to be the high point at 8049 feet.  Others have commented and I agree that the southern summit looks higher.  I've even found someone whose GPS showed it to be higher, yet the error was +/- 16 feet which means it could be lower.
Looking to the southern summit from the northern.
I can say the cairn marking the summit is near but not on the southern summit.  I didn't find a register.
Looking towards the northern summit from the southern.
 
This point is slightly south of the cairn and looks to be the true high point.  It was fun to make the short scramble up this is very windy and icy conditions.  
The cairn in front of a usual sight this winter- a storm sitting on the continental divide.
Good views of Button Rock Reservoir.  Button Rock Mountain is the high point behind the reservoir in this photo.
Going down was much easier than going up.  Plunge stepping and boot skiing though the snow ensued.  The day was very pretty and nice- the highest temperature I noted was in the low 40's though the wind made things feel cooler.
Eventually I started to follow my tracks back.  I stopped for a snack here.
This is the sign that I went by on my way out.  If I went again, I'd take a left here and then start up on this side.
I made it back to Hall, and decided to take Nelson Loop to Bitterbrush to get back to the parking lot.  Hall is buried in snow.  It was melting a bit as I got lower, but things were super muddy in those places.  I can't wait to ride it!
And more!
Coffintop as seen from Bitterbrush trail.  The sun was starting to go down, and I made it back to the parking lot shortly after it set.
Near full moon over Indian Lookout Mountain.
I arrived back at the truck to find this day took me seven hours, one more than I predicted.  Of course the conditions slowed things down remarkably, but that is to be expected.  This would likely be a much easier day in the summer.  But of course, it was still fun to get out and do something rather than sit at home and wish avalanche conditions were looking better.  RMNP might be out for the moment, but there are still other places to go that can offer fun and challenge. 
Coffintop Moutain via Hall Ranch:
12.5 miles round trip, 2536 foot gain(5500-8036).  Second class.  Moderate+.

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