Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tombstone Ridge via Beaver Meadows TH.

All I can do lately is greet the coming summer with an enthusiastic smile.  I dream of mountains and sunshine and clouds and long days in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I've been out on my mountain bike a ton.  In fact, the past two weeks had me do six days straight of exercise, which of course means I'm tired all the time.  But I like it that way....
This week I set out aimed at Tombstone Ridge.  The Beaver Meadows TH has fortunately opened up.  I started right at 6am on Wednesday, May 7th.  Earlier in the week the weather predictions looked good but not great.  By Tuesday evening, things had degraded considerably, and options shrunk.  This looked like one that might stay clear... if I was lucky!
Sunrise again...  And no better place to be.  One thing that I really like about warmer hiking is the aroma of the forest as sun hits the trees and soil and starts to warm things up.  It sounds odd, but if you've been there to experience it, you probably know what I mean. 
I took along snowshoes just in case, but things were dry and the going was much, much easier without having to plow through snow.  Despite the somewhat bad weather predicted for later in the day, it was a total bluebird morning, clear skies and warm.
I had picked some of the destinations around Longs as a possibility for the day, but I was glad I decided against them as it was completely enrobed in clouds for most of the day.  I could see the storm coming up from the south east.
I turned on the panorama feature and rotated the camera to get this mind bending view.
More clouds on and around Longs Peak.
I lost the official trail in the snow, and rather than head a bit more south to Timberline Pass, I made a beeline for Tombstone Ridge.  As is usual, the point you can see from below is not the true highpoint of this feature.
More building clouds.  I'd even seen thunder predicted for the day.  I was now at treeline, but close enough to make a swift retreat if thunder was heard.
I climbed up onto the ridge and headed west toward the highpoint as low clouds started to roll in around me. 
At the official summit it was windy but not too cold.  Clouds were coming up from the east and I felt like I was in another world.
A dream or reality?
A walk in the clouds.
Here is the cairn marking the highpoint (11722 ft) of Tombstone Ridge.  I didn't find a register. 
More cloud walking.  I could see some of the higher parts of Trail Ridge Road, and it was (as of then) looking like it's been getting some attention above treeline.  There is alot of snow this year, but I am sure RMNP will have the road open soon.
I continued west to pick up the Ute Trail.  Walking along Tombstone Ridge was pretty neat- a very cool feature! 
Though I'd yet to hear thunder, the clouds looked a little threatening, so I decided against taking the Ute Trail all the way to trail ridge road.  After only a short time on it, I turned back toward Timberline Pass.
There are a few piles of rock around the pass that I am sure would offer fun views of the surrounding areas.  I took the time to check out one of them.
Here is a view of the whole of Tombstone Ridge.  The highpoint is of course towards the center.
Back below treeline, the clouds gained some volume and depth.  The Ute Trail is is okay shape, though not very distinct at times. 
No snow this time!
And no snow on Windy Gulch Cascades!
Going down the trail I noticed a cairn and a small social trail going off toward the south.  I followed it to the top of the moraine and was greeted by a pretty cool view of Beaver Meadows.
Back on the trail, continuing down was pretty easy.  I was now well below the snow line and cruising.  I saw the first two (and only) people sighted during the day right back at the trail head.  Their hike was much shorter than mine, as they'd just left their car when I saw them, and got back in the car and left before I got my clothes changed.
This is a shortish but relatively steep hike, covering approximately 4.3 miles one way with around 3300 feet of elevation gain.  Of course, both Timberline Pass and Tombstone Ridge can be accessed from the Ute Crossing th via Trail Ridge Road once it opens, and this way is much easier, covering 1.9 miles each way with around 300 feet of gain.  From either way you choose to access it, this feature and the surrounding area offer great views of a large portion of the park and of many of the higher peaks, provided it isn't cloudy!
Tombstone Ridge via Beaver Meadows TH:
Tombstone Ridge:
4.3 miles one way, 3282 foot gain (8440-11722).  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Timberline Pass:
4.2 miles one way, 3044 foot gain (8440-11484/0.  Strenuous-.
Windy Gulch Cascades:
2 miles one way, 836 foot gain (8440-9276).  Moderate.
Ute Trail (from Beaver Meadows th to Ute Crossing th):
6.3 miles one way, 3000 foot gain (8440-11440).  Strenuous-.  

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