Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Number 200- "Dundicking" via Cow Creek TH.

11//3/14- Please note the RMNP trail crews have been hard at work over the summer, and the bridges I'd described as missing have now been repaired.  The trails are in much better shape as well!
This one should have happened much earlier, but so is life.  I vividly remember walking within fifty feet of this high point and Dan saying, "Hey, maybe we should check this out."  But it was obvious we hadn't lost and regained the kind of elevation needed to summit Mount Dunraven, so we walked right on by it.  It was only later, when looking at 14ers and LOJ, that we discovered the only ranked peak on the ridge was the unofficially named Dundicking, and this was what we'd walked right by.  This is another one of those destinations that wasn't mentioned at all in the guide book I'd been working from.  A return trip was in order....
Sunrise in the mountains.  
No better place to be!  With a view like this I already had a good feeling about the day ahead.
To get to this trail head, take a right on MacGregor Avenue off of 34 (immediately past the Stanley).  Continue on as this becomes Devils Gulch Road.  After a few miles, bear left onto McGraw Ranch Road.  Continue on this until you come to McGraw Ranch on your left.  The parking area is indicated by signs on the left side of the road.  I imagine it is a bit busier in the summer since the trail to Bridal Veil Falls starts from here.
Follow the signs to get on the North Boundary Trail.  The flood has damaged the trail somewhat, deeply rutting parts of it up until the top.  However, it is easy to follow and navigate.  Once you gain the saddle, there is about 600 feet of loss down to West Creek.  There is one section of this part of the trail that was damaged quite heavily, in fact now has a bit of water flowing down it.
Looking up at that section.
The bridge over the creek is gone.  There were a few rocks in place that afforded me a relatively okay crossing.  I added a few more on the way back to hopefully help ease the way for anyone else.  The trail is damaged up to gone in some places on the other side where it runs close to the creek.
You'll gain some altitude before loosing some altitude.  Soon you will come to the long lost Husted Trail.  I'd posted about it previously, and it was reading Chris Roberts' blog that led me to do some research on this trail and find it a viable option to ascend up into the West Creek Research Area.
You'll cross a small possible seasonally wet drainage, and then look for this large, flat boulder on the west side of the trail.  There is a cairn on top of it.  
Head west here and you'll be able to find the Husted Trail.
I am not sure when it was last maintained- next time I am in the park I will see if I can find out.  I know it appears on the 1961 version of the USGS map, but not the 1987 version of the same.
Here is a screen capture of the 1961 map and you can clearly see the trail.
Of course it can now be a little difficult to find at times.  But I must say that for the few miles you are on it and the 1000 feet or so of gain it will bring you, it is a pretty awesome trail.  Very pleasant hiking and beautiful scenery.
Such as this!  Mount Dickinson will come into view pretty early on, and just as when approached from the Dunraven TH, it looks very, very far away.
Eventually the trail will enter the West Creek fire area and become less distinct.  There are some cairns that will show you the general way, but you just need to continue west towards the high point that is directly in front of you. 
All that's left of one of the victims of the fire.
Looking to the south as altitude is gained.
This is the slope you'll head up and contour north around before heading directly up the south side of Dickinson.  Tree graveyard.
From here, the rocky points on top of the ridge line beacon you forward.  They are neat to visit, but the true high point lies to their west, so aim to the left of them if you want to head more directly to the summit.
I'd seen some intermittent snow as I gained altitude on the way up, but with no needles on any of the trees to provide shade, the vast majority had melted and it wasn't bad at all.  I'd cursed carrying along snow shoes the whole time.  But now I was glad to have them, as postholing was frequent and deep.
Looking east along the ridge.  The wind predictions said gusts up to mid 30's.  I'd say it was sustained in mid 40's as I was having trouble standing up and heading in the direction I wanted to.  Walking in wind like that always makes me think of this scene from Fear and Loathing

because the stumbling that ensues makes me feel like the village drunkard in an early Irish novel.
I crouched atop Mount Dickinson for the second time, and found the summit register wet.  Ah well.  I was on top of it at one hour before my hard turn around time, and I was well ahead of the pace I'd set in January.  Amazing what less snow will do for you.  Onwards!
With the wind coming from the south, I found some solace on the northern side of the ridge. 
More snow, though it was hard pack here and was able to support my weight.  Interestingly enough, I did notice some boot prints here from one or more individuals who are as demented as I am.  If you happen to read this, we should meet up for a hike sometime. 
Beautiful wispy clouds, wind roaring. 
And then I was there.  I wasn't going to pass it by this time!  The high point is on the left.  It looked like there had been a glass jar acting as a register, but it was broken and no paper was to be found. 
Looking back to Dickinson.
And west to Dunraven and other peaks in the Mummy Range.
North to Sugarloaf Mountain and Stormy Peaks.
It was a great feeling to carefully sit on top of my 200th named destination in the park!  I shot a short video but it ended up being so windy you can't hear what I'm saying so that will remain in the vault.  But I did just want to give a thanks to you for reading, to my wife for her support (and sorry for the undue worry all these long days give you), to my friend and often companion Dan for his company, and to my family and friends for being awesome.
It was time to head back.
I started to loose elevation almost immediately, for I saw no reason to stay high.  I aimed for the top of the slope you climb when the Husted Trail ends.
A brief lull in wind and a different view of Mummy Mountain.
I located my snowshoe tracks and followed them back to the cairned trail.  I found myself wandering at times until it got back to the trees and became easier to follow once again. 
Pretty good hiking on the way down as well.  I ran out of water somewhere around here and decided to fill my Camelback with snow.  Though less than ideal, this melted enough to get me back to the car.
As this never seems to happen, the trail goes right by the small seasonal drainage that you cross on the North Boundary trail, and you can see precisely where it starts.  Here is the small trickle that comes from nowhere to form that little creek.
Back at the North Boundary Trail, there was just one final obstacle to conquer: the final 600 feet of gain between West Creek and the trail head.  Last time this really killed me.  I hadn't eaten enough during the day and was bonking super hard.  This time I made sure to eat well throughout the day.
While it still wasn't fun, I made it up much easier and quicker than last time.  I got back to the car eleven and a half hours after I'd started.  What a day!
This was a pretty difficult day, but certainly right up my alley.  I love the minor peaks of the park.  I love being off the beaten path.  Hiking the Husted Trail was one of those small pleasures in life- I hope to make a return to it at some point this year.  From start to finish, I didn't see a single person.  It was a good and much needed day of mental recharge. 
Here is a link to a map I made on Caltopo.  While an estimate, this is probably pretty close to the reality.  Though you only end up at 12312, this hike gains more elevation than Longs Peak, and more than the highest gain standard route in the park- Chiefs Head Peak at 5239 feet from Sandbeach Lake.  In fact, I think my previous outing to this ridge from Dunraven TH was my highest gain day ever, at just under 5700 feet. 
If you want a day of solitude and desire to hit some of the minor peaks in the park, add this one to your list for the summer.
Dundicking via Cow Creek Th:
15.3 miles round trip, 5785 feet gross elevation gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Beaver Mountain via Beaver Meadows TH.

Well, it's summer (kinda).  Which means that instead of sitting inside writing, I've been outside enjoying Colorado.  Today was my sixth day on as far as some sort of physical exercise.  The past days have been climbing, mountain biking, hiking, weights, mountain biking, climbing and weights.  And just this morning I told my wife I wished I'd been able to ride more this week!
Long story short: I am behind two weeks now on writing up hikes in the park.  But here I am trying!
I set out for Beaver Mountain early on the morning of April 15th.  I got up just in time to catch the last little bit of the total lunar eclipse, got my stuff together, and made the drive up to Estes.
The Beaver Meadows TH was still closed, so I parked at one of the pullouts on 36 opposite the road to the TH.  I was feeling pretty tired, but I found the sights as the sun rose to be quite invigorating.
The moon sets over some of the higher peaks on the continental divide.
First sunlight of the day.
I used to hate getting up early. 
Not that I love it now.
But these views make it all worthwhile.
So beautiful!
When I was up here the week before, most of the lower elevation snow was melted completely.  A storm the day before left me eight inches or so to deal with in the start.  The snowshoes were on for most of the day.
I followed the trail for a short amount of time before just breaking out straight for the high point.  It turns out the high point you can see from below is not the true high point of the mountain.
I slowly gained elevation and was here rewarded with an interesting view of Deer Mountain.
It's still winter up here, but the day grew quite warm.  I think the highest temperature I saw was around fifty degrees.  Which means that heavy, slushy spring snow that sticks to everything.
Eventually I reached a summit plateau.
Was this the summit?
Or this, which looked like a man made cairn?
In the end, both of those points were lower than this mound of snow.  There may be a cairn under there somewhere, but I sure didn't find it on this day. 
Mummy Range as seen from near the summit.
Tombstone Ridge.  This was also on the list for the day.  I dropped down to the Ute Trail, moving carefully.
Once I reached the bottom, I started up.  The going was very difficult to say the least.  I already knew I wouldn't see the top since I'd hit my hard turn around time well before I got there, but I was up here already so I just went for it. 
This is the view I had from the place I finally turned back.  All day I kept seeing those wind sculpted clouds and felt glad I was down in the trees.
Chasm View was another possible destination on this day.  I'm glad I didn't go for that.  I could see the wind really ripping up there.
It felt like it took me only ten minutes to go down what it took me an hour to go up, and I passed the place where I joined the Ute Trail.  From then I was on my own.
Until I found this NPS sign.  At least I was going the right way!
Standing at the top of Windy Gulch Cascades. 
A wintery wonderland, though the snow is melting fast at lower altitudes and on southern exposures.
On the way back I passed a few interesting rock formations, like this balanced rock.
And managed to stay mostly on the trail somehow.
Looking up towards Beaver Mountain from near the trail head.  I didn't even know I was on the correct trail until I started to notice someone elses snowshoe prints, and then realized they were mine.
The higher peaks remained swaddled in blown snow.  Again, I was happy I stayed low.
Deer Mountain.
Tombstone Ridge behind Beaver Mountain.
I got back to the car and took a few minutes to relax before starting the drive back down.  The snow conditions in addition to the relative steepness of the hike made this a pretty difficult day over all.  It would have been easier in colder weather and light powder, or in warmer weather and no snow at all.  But so it goes.  In any season this is a fun minor peak to do and it probably doesn't get a whole bunch of traffic.  
Beaver Mountain via Beaver Meadows th:
2.6 miles one way, 2051 foot gain (8440-10491).  Second class.  Strenuous- (easier in summer).
Windy Gulch Cascades:
2 miles one way,  836 foot gain (8440-9276).  Moderate.
Note that starting from 36 adds on 1.3 miles each way.  
Windy Gulch Cascades marked my 199th named destination in RMNP.  What would be number 200?  Stay tuned....