Friday, June 27, 2014

Chiefs Head Peak via Pagoda/Chiefs Head Couloir.

Ahh, Chiefs Head Peak.  The last time I climbed it, it was one of the few remaining peaks in Wild Basin that I had to do.  We took the standard route that day- starting at Sandbeach Lake th and, after reaching the lake, making a short bushwhack up to North Ridge and then continuing on to the summit.  I have fond and cold memories of that day.
With the Pagoda/Chiefs Head Couloir being one of the few remaining named destinations in Glacier Gorge that I needed to check off, this one was a priority this year.  When we were on our way to Dragon's Tail, I could look up and see that the top of the couloir looked to be melted out already, so I decided to head for it next instead of waiting a little bit longer. 
Aspen in the early morning. 
The single most photographed tree in RMNP??
Sexy Lake.  The wind hadn't picked up too much yet and I was able to get a nice reflective photo.
The amount of snow on the trail steadily increased as Black Lake grew nearer.  At times route finding became a little bit of a challenge- was I sure those footprints were going in the correct direction?  That always becomes a bit of an issue this time of the year.
Nearing Black Lake, McHenrys Peak.
At Black Lake. 
I had a few views of it from farther down and away, but here I was in upper Glacier Gorge, and there it was looking intimidatingly steep. 
As I've said before, there are a ton of cairns in Upper Glacier Gorge which may lead you somewhere or nowhere at all.  I've had better luck just picking the general direction I want to go and working my way over.  Try to stick to the slabby rock in the area to avoid any bushwhacking.
Much to my surprise, it only took me three hours to get to Green Lake.  I thought the snow had slowed me up alot.  I was happy to see the north facing couloir was still in shade.  That mean the snow would still be pretty firm.
The Spearhead is the only destination in Upper Glacier Gorge that I have yet to climb. 
At the bottom.  It looks less steep from this vantage point.  I strapped on my crampons and got out the ice axe.  Upward!

The snow was rather hard, so much so that I couldn't kick in steps. 
About half way up, there was a small section where the snow had disappeared significantly.  I carefully made my way up the thin strip of snow to the right. 
Things grew steeper near the top, and I wasn't going to stop to take any photos there.  Here I have just finished the snow section.  There was a short scramble over some very loose rock to the top. 
Pretty good views!
I headed west towards the summit of Chiefs Head Peak.  While only .6 mile away, you do gain about 1000 feet per mile until there.  And it's on sometimes loose talus.  So it takes a little bit of time.
There is a flat rock on the summit on which you can sit and hang your feet over a whole, whole bunch of air into Glacier Gorge.
Looking back to Pagoda and Longs.  You can see the top of the Spearhead/Chiefs Head Couloir here.
I'd briefly entertained the idea of descending this couloir rather than going all the way back.  But it was the bottom that looked to be in the very steep snow category with a lot of air under it that kept me away.  Maybe once this region melts out this could be a more viable option.
Looking back down North Ridge.
The high peaks of Wild Basin.
On the descent, I carefully made my way down through some of the rocky stuff until I hit solid snow.  Though I was worried about the snow never softening up enough to glissade, a few hours of sunlight did the trick.  Once past the rocks at the top I got into the snow and started down in a side self arrest position.  I remembered that one area of thinner snow and knew I'd need to stop completely there and walk through it.  This is also where the climb is the steepest, and this position helped me to control my speed much more than the standard sit.
However, once I got past that thin area, I moved to sitting glissade and kept a moderate speed the rest of the way down.  There were still all those rocks at the bottom to avoid.
Back near Italy Lake.
In the early afternoon, I could see the couloir already getting back into some shade, this time provided by Chiefs Head. 
I made my way back down towards Black Lake.
I snapped this photo standing on the snow field that covers the trail to Upper Glacier Gorge.  It looks like CGI almost, but I can assure you it is real.
Looking north from Black Lake.  I wondered when I would start to see some people.  By Mills Lake surely, but would anyone have gone up to Black Lake?  I saw some footprints.  The answer was yes. 
At Mills Lake looking up.  I always enjoy being able to see a destination from below later in the day.  It seems improbable that I was up there just a few hours ago.  But I was!
This was a pretty fun and adventurous way to climb this peak for the second time.  This route is about half a mile shorter in distance and gains about 900 feet less than the route from Sandbeach Lake.  But of course, this method requires some special equipment and skills.  Due to the steepness of the couloir and the large amount of loose rock in it, I would suggest doing this route only in snow.  Even then, make sure you wear a helmet as there was visible and audible evidence of rockfall in addition to the chunks of ice whizzing by me from above.  And as always, Glacier Gorge provides spectacular scenery!
Chiefs Head Peak via Pagoda/Chiefs Head Couloir:
7.3 miles one way, 4399 foot gain (9180-13579).  Second class, steep snow.  Strenuous.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Dragon's Tail Couloir and Tyndall Gorge.

It was almost two weeks ago now that I met up with Dan early one morning to climb one of the classic snow routes in the park.  Rated M2 SS, Dragon's Tail Couloir climbs the south side of Flattop Mountain and starts from Emerald Lake, giving a very short approach.  It is generally in shape to climb in the winter, spring, and early summer months, though of course discretion would be needed in the more avalanche prone winter.  But of course when the snow starts to melt and consolidate, that isn't as much of a worry.
We set off from Bear Lake shortly after 5am.  The sun was already hitting the horizon and we got to enjoy sunrise in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Sun illuminates Thatchtop with Glacier Gorge behind.
As we approached the lake, we caught our first glimpses of the couloir.  It is on the right here, while the left one is called Dragon's Tooth or Dead Elk depending on who you ask.  As is the norm with these things, it looked intimidatingly steep.  As you can see it splits about three quarters of the way up, and either side can be taken, though the left branch is the norm.
At Emerald Lake it looked even steeper.  After a short bathroom break, we strapped on our crampons and got out the ice axes and made our way around the south (left) side of the lake.
At the bottom of the snow field below the couloir things started to look not so bad.  We could see a party of two ahead of us and quickly caught up to and passed them. 
Gaining some elevation over Emerald Lake.  The familiar routine and sound of step, step, ice axe, step, step, ice axe was now taking over the mind and body and the exertion warmed us up considerably.  I was dripping sweat.
And higher.  Of course plenty of others have been up this recently and it was pretty easy to follow their already kicked in steps.  As the terrain grew ever steeper, I went from using the spike of the axe to the pick. 
Here is Dan leading the way as we take the left side of the split.
Nearing the top.
Things had melted out a bit here and required a short third class scramble over some rock.
Before getting back to some snow and topping out the couloir. 
We stopped for a snack and discussed descent options.  Just for some additional distance and gain we decided to hit Hallett Peak and then either take the Flattop trail back down OR check out the conditions on Tyndall Glacier and glissade to Pool of Jade.
On top of Hallett looking south. 
We got back down to Tyndall Glacier and it looked good.  In now somewhat mushy snow, we initially started down climbing face in before turning out and going for the glissade.  Yes, it was a whole lot of fun!
We came down on the right here.
Dan run/sliding down to Pool of Jade.
And looking up into the gorge from just above this small alpine tarn.  The water was pretty darn cold as you may imagine.
Perspective on Dream Lake and the Hallett boulder.
We got a few more fun glissades in on our way back down to the lake. 
Looking back up at our route in the afternoon.
And making our way back around the now very populated Emerald Lake. 
There were a ton of people out enjoying the day.  It's funny to get back to the parking lot in which you were the third car of the day to find it completely full.  Kind of a strange wake up after seeing a whopping four people during the day.
This route is indeed a classic in RMNP!  Some, such as the people we passed, choose to use protection in the rock next to the route or in snow pickets.  Some, such as us, go for it without, and that decision will be up to your own personal comfort level. 
While Pool of Jade is neat in and of itself, it was the views coming back down to Emerald Lake that really made the hike.  And Hallett is a pretty neat place offering a view of many of the peaks in the region.  These are all some fun destinations to add to your list and check out!
In all, this hike covered about 7 miles and gained 3570 feet, for a strenuous- day out.  I've broken down the various components below, with all distances given from the Bear Lake th. 
Dragon's Tail Couloir: approximately 2.2 miles to the base of the couloir, it gains around 1400 feet over the next quarter of a mile.  Expect snow up to 55 degrees and the possibility of some third or fourth class scrambling on rock which may or may not also contain ice.  M2, SS.  Moderate+.
Flattop Mountain, 12324 feet: 4.4 miles each way, 2874 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Hallett Peak, 12713 feet: 5.1 miles each way, 3263 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Tyndall Glacier, 12200 feet: 4.7 miles each way, 2750 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Pool of Jade, 11580 feet: 2.9 miles each way, 2130 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Emerald Lake, 10100 feet: 1.8 miles each way, 650 foot gain.  Moderate-.
Dream Lake, 9900 feet: 1.1 miles each way, 450 foot gain.  Easy+.
Nymph Lake, 9700 feet: .6 miles each way, 250 foot gain.  Easy.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Chasm View, Chasm Lake, and Longs Peak area.

The last time around, I'd mentioned a few of my May weather related turn arounds.  This day was also attempted in May, just a few days after the large snow storm we'd received.  My thinking was that the Longs area tends to either melt out or have the snow blown away relatively quickly, so maybe it would be dried out somewhat.
The going was good until I hit tree line and the mashed in trail ended.  From there on up, it was post hole mania, the snow having drifted up to waist deep in places.  I'd planned to take the trail around Mount Lady Washington and then hit Chasm View, but as that didn't seem to be an option, I went directly up the east ridge of MLW.  I probably made it to around 12200 feet when I hit my hard turn around time.  So I turned back, but promised to return once the snow had melted out.
This was my first time up the Longs trail in a season other than winter.  It was weird to actually hike on dirt and rock for a little while.  Snow was hit before too long, which became solid snow up until tree line.  I didn't use traction devices at all, and made the first outing of the year in trail runners.
Above tree line and in the full eye of the sun, the weather warmed significantly.  I stopped to take off a layer, and was accosted by this little guy. 
S/he got about six inches away from me.  Obviously people are feeding the animals.
Pretty cute!
Looking east to Battle Mountain.
I stopped for a snack break at Granite Pass, and thought about the last time I was here.  It was zero degrees with a pretty stiff wind.  Very cold.  On this day it was quite pleasant.
Up to the Boulderfield.  I thought I'd add on Mount Lady Washington after ascending to Chasm View, but it looked so close I decided to just go for it from here. 
The views of Longs grew better and better of course.
The summit of Mount Lady Washington is unremarkable, though it does offer some great views, and can be a somewhat fun scramble on the way up.
The diamond grew ever more impressive and imposing. 
Since it looked like snow might still be a factor and I didn't bring crampons or an ice axe, I had to stay right next to the ridge between MLW and Longs to stay mostly on rock.  The drop off to the east isn't always as precipitous as you'd think, and this did offer some fun scrambling/route finding. 
Down one of the couloirs to Chasm Lake. 
I saw this person on the north face.
There was a little bit of snow to contend with before reaching Chasm View.  It was still frozen pretty hard and without proper tools, I really had to take my time moving up and across it. 
But I made it to the little window that is Chasm View, and what a great vantage point.  I have another photo of the opposite view shot from Chasm Lake that will come later. 
The steepness of the diamond.
Pretty cool to be this close up to it.
Storm Peak.
Mount Lady Washington on the descent.
I was able to glissade/ rock hop back down to the boulder field and start on my way back down.
Saw this runner hit the keyhole and turn back.
I made my way around MLW and got back to Chasm Junction in short time.  From here, I headed to Chasm Lake.  The snow along the trail has mostly melted out with one exception- the very long stretch over Columbine Falls.  However, the route is pretty well beat in and I felt fine crossing it in trail runners.
What a view at Chasm Lake!  If you follow the ridge that heads right from Longs here, you'll see it dip before rising slightly and dipping again.  That dip is Chasm View.
This photo shows Mount Meeker, The Loft, Ships Prow, Se Longs(aka The Beaver), and Longs true summit.
By now I was feeling a bit tired, but if I didn't go down to Peacock Pool, I'd just have to come back for it.  In reality, I think it only took me ten minutes or so down and slightly more back up.  I would stay in the rock before you hit Columbine Falls, but then make your way over to end up following the drainage from the falls down.  This seemed to keep the terrain pretty reasonable and avoid any bushwhacking.
Columbine Falls.
A pretty view up.
Looking east from the lake it looks like the world just ends.  I was very tempted to jump in.  The water was frigid.  But the sun, my constant companion of the day, now turned intermittent.  But soon enough I will be swimming in a lake.
Back on the trail I could see down to the plains below.  I noticed I could see Coffintop from up here.
And a last parting view up into Chasm Meadows, a spectacular place to be.
The Longs Peak cirque is certainly one of the most spectacular places in the park and one of the most traveled, particularly once non technical conditions come around on Longs.  And if you take the time to get to Chasm View, the scope of the scene at your feet is amazing and awe inspiring.  It offers a very unique perspective on Longs itself.  Chasm Lake is a must visit in my opinion.  With the altitude and exposure, it will be important to start early.  While you are there, I'd recommend to make the second class scramble down to Peacock Pool.  While I can't comment on the amount of middle of the summer visitation it gets, my general experience in RMNP leads me to say that if there isn't a trail directly to something, it won't be visited that much even if a popular trail goes right by it.  Take the time to get there and enjoy a peaceful lunch break, take in the views, listen to the waterfall.  Take the time to enjoy this wonderful and magical place.
Stuff near Longs Peak that mostly starts with the word Chasm:
Mount Lady Washington(13281 feet), west slope via the Boulderfield:
6.3 miles one way, 3881 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Chasm View (13500 feet):
6.3 miles one way, 4100 foot gain. Second class.  Strenuous-.
Chasm Meadows (11599 feet):
4 miles one way, 2199 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Chasm Lake (11780 feet):
4.2 miles one way, 2380 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Columbine Falls (11440 feet):
3.9 miles one way, 2040 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Peacock Pool (11300 feet):
3.9 miles one way, 1900 foot gain.  Moderate+.
By my estimate, this hike covered 14 miles with 5000 feet of gross elevation gain.  Strenuous.
The red dots mark the spot where the opposite photo was taken from...