Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Friends old and new- Gorge Peaks via Milner Pass th.

We're in the middle of a two day rain storm, which is good because we need it, but bad because it's happening on my days off!  Needless to say, I enjoyed sleeping in somewhat this morning instead of hearing the 3am alarm go off, yet my heart still aches for the mountains.  In the end, all I can say is oh well and hope next week is nicer.  
But last week!  We had a 10% chance of storms predicted after 2pm, and you know what that means.  An all day outing!  My vote was cast to climb all the Gorge Peaks in one day, exactly 364 days after I'd parked at Rock Cut and dropped into Forest Canyon to do what became the hardest hike of my life- Gorge Lakes.  I was joined by my friend and oft companion Dan, fresh off a 34th place finish at the Leadville 50.  I was wondering if I'd be able to keep up!
July 22nd is also a memorable day for me for unfortunate reasons.  It was the day that a friend lost her battle with breast cancer in 2010.  One again, this day was in her memory.  Just like last year, it was a spectacular and memorable day.
Starting on the west side gave us some great views of the Never Summer Range catching the first rays of sunlight that caressed our area of the earth on this day. 
South Specimen and Specimen Mountains(I think).
We talked on the way up and worked out a plan.  First we'd hit Jagor Point, and then proceed to Ida through Terra Tomah.  We'd keep an eye on the weather along the way of course, since the only bail route is really turning around and heading back.  We'd identified two of the big gains of the day, the first between Ida and Chief Cheley, and the second (and more serious) between Cracktop and Julian.
Much to our surprise, we came upon our first person of the day relaxing on some talus before we hit Jagor Point.  She said she'd intended to go as far as Cracktop, but felt ill so turned back.  At least someone got up earlier than us!
We left the pretty well beat in unofficial trail and walked over to Jagor Point.  Looking down on these lakes and Rock Cut brought it all flooding back.  The exceptionally difficult bushwhack, the waterfall exiting from Arrowhead Lake, the Bighorn I'd see above Inkwell Lake, the erratic, the rainbow cloud, getting back to the truck late, and seeing the sun both rise and set in the same day.  The memories of a friend, the memories of my own battle with cancer. 
Looking over to Terra Tomah Mountain and Mount Julian. 
And Cracktop through Mount Ida.  There was still some ground to be covered.
Getting from Jagor Point to Mount Ida wasn't very difficult at all.  We simply went in the general direction of the trail until we hit it and continued on.  But now the fun was about to begin, with a 600 or so foot loss and regain to get to Chief Cheley Peak.
Jagor Point as seen from Mount Ida.
Timber Lake in a beautiful basin. 
The loss and gain went uneventfully, and we soon found ourselves on Chief Cheley Peak.
Over looking Highest Lake, which was alot more melted last year.  I can now tell you the easiest way to get to this lake is to drop down the 3rd class ridge from Chief Cheley Peak.  That will certainly be alot less difficult than making your way here from Rock Cut or Forest Canyon Overlook.  This lake was the place where I said a few words in memory of Liberty last year.
Looking along the ridge to Cracktop.  This was all relatively easy second class, and while Cracktop and Chief Cheley are both named, they are unranked, with their parent high point being point 12820, which is the high point of this ridge.  Of course it looks alot less spectacular than either, which is probably why it doesn't have a name.  May I propose Liberty Point?
Looking down to Inkwell Lake and Arrowhead Lake from the ridge.  Inkwell Lake was so crazily blue it was hard to comprehend. 
The next major difficulty of the day lie ahead of us when we topped out on Cracktop.  We faced around 300 feet of elevation loss on third class terrain, followed by 500+ feet of gain on second class talus to get to the summit of Mount Julian.  This proved to be one of the most fun and interesting parts of the day for both of us. 
Looking at the ridge, we decided to stay on the top as we could, and find our way through a fractured system of ledges and gullies on the climbers right or south side of the ridge. 
Navigating the ledges. 
This proved to be a fun exercise as these things often are.  This was third class by the path of least resistance, but up to fifth if a more direct route was taken.  Some breathtaking exposure here and there kept it interesting. 
As Dan said, this is not beginner third class.  Alot of route finding was needed and the difficulty was rather sustained the whole way through.  Longs Peak via the Keyhole may become the comparison I'll use the most, but that is blazed the entire way, with a definitive crux in the chock stone at the top of the Trough.
Looking down to Azure Lake, Inkwell Lake, and Arrowhead Lake. 
Nearing the end of the third class section.  We stopped and got our poles back out before continuing up to the highest point of the day, the 19th highest peak in RMNP, and the third highest 12er, Mount Julian.
Looking back toward Cracktop and the difficulties of the ridge.  Even when we hit Terra Tomah, the day was only half way over.  We'd still have to find our way back.
There was a small cairn on top of Mount Julian, though the register (the only one we'd find this day) actually lie in a crack below the true high point.  As you may surmise, this peak doesn't see many summits- probably in the 10-15 a year range.  One of my favorite, perhaps all time favorite, register comments was found here- #SWAG from a girl who'd summitted with a large group two years ago.  I left my usual name, city, blog address (thanks for visiting if you happened to see it), and a nice message for Liberty. 
We wound our way though second class talus and the webs of those nightmarish looking alpine spiders to make our way up the last few hundred feet to the summit of Terra Tomah Mountain.  While it looks pretty spectacular and daunting when viewed from the north east, from this side it is nothing more than a gentle hill covered in grass and a ton of Alpine Sunflowers.
Rock Cut from Terra Tomah.  I reminisced on last year and told Dan about seeing Rock Cut from Highest Lake.  There it was, only 4.something miles away.  I could see cars and people over there.  Yet I knew I was very, very far from done.  I knew how much effort it had taken me to get to this high alpine lake and how much it would take to get back.  It was certainly one of those times when the mental aspect of hiking comes into play.  Your body can be very fit, but at times you need that sound mind to know you can get back. 
As we hiked over the day we'd talked about this, and I named two days in particular when I got very close to my breaking point.  And I remember very vividly having to sit down, feeling my muscles trying to jump through my skin as I did, giving myself the 'you can do this' talk.  Taking on a bunch of food and water to make sure I'd have the energy.  Counting steps on the way down.  I kept getting startled by people standing along the trail, only to look and find out it was a tree or rock and wondering, while my heart was pounding, how I could have mistaken a tree for a person.
Stones Peak and Longs Peak, Pagoda, Chiefs Head, McHenrys...
This is what the true high point of Terra Tomah looks like.  On the way back, I noticed you can see this point from Trail Ridge Road if you look closely. 
Dan in contemplation of Mount Julian.  Since we didn't need to resummit, we simply contoured around below the second snowfield from the top. That worked out pretty well and gave us only a little bit of loss on the other side.
Going back up over third class to Cracktop proved to be quite fun once again.  There was one place where we went around on the way down because we couldn't see what lie below us.  Now I was able to see it and it looked like it would go.  In the end, I found myself doing a body jam in a chimney while applying a finger lock to a crack.  In short, this was fifth class climbing, and it would have been easier and quicker to just go down the gulley and back up. 
Dan navigates the third class...
I captured a close up of some Alpine Sunflowers on the west side of Cracktop.
And another spectacular view of Inkwell Lake from above.  We saw a few Bighorn on the north side of this ridge, and they were the first of many we'd see on the day.
Unfortunately, it was around this time that my camera decided to stop working properly.  But I can report that we made it back to Chief Cheley, and then to Mount Ida, where we scared a woman standing on the summit.  Going back down, we saw a ton of cairns but none of them seemed to mark a definite trail.  In fact, we never did find a trail until farther down, though at this point of the day, neither of us could remember if there'd been a well defined trail past Jagor Point.  I can tell you there was one up until there at least.  We also saw herds of Bighorn Sheep, far more than I've ever seen combined.  This might be a prime place to see them, along with Mummy Mountain, on which I have seen several.
We saw a few more people on the way down, with the frequency increasing the closer we got to Poudre Lake.  I walked over and dipped my fingers in the lake to cross that one off the list.
Here is Poudre Lake in some weird sort of camera malfunctioning soft focus.  
Back at the car, we took a few minutes to get snacks and drinks out.  I finished off four liters of water over the day.  And then back in the car to make the traffic filled drive back to Estes and then down to home.
This day was just what I was looking for.  The great weather afforded us a long day above tree line, saw us climb no fewer than seven 12ers, both ranked and unranked, and served as a spectacular way to remember an old friend and spend some time with a new one.  
This is certainly a long and difficult day anyway you cut it.  I'd say even up to Cracktop it isn't that bad, but be prepared if you go beyond.  The only real 'bail' option here is heading down into Forest Canyon, and believe me, that is much more difficult than simply turning back.  Plus I have no idea how one could make it back to Milner Pass from there.  The third class ridge between Cracktop and Mount Julian is definitively the crux, requiring route finding and the ability to execute the moves over some exposure.  I would certain say this section is more technically difficult than what you'd find on Longs, so make sure your ability and comfort level is up for the challenge.  And like Longs, this is a climb, not a hike.
As we were walking back to the car talking about how great a day this was, Dan said, "I am glad there are other people in the world who like doing this kind of stuff."  Well, me too.  I look forward to sharing a 6 pack of Snark soon! 
Gorge Peaks via Milner Pass th:
Jagor Point, 12632 feet: 5.1 miles each way, 1874 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Mount Ida, 12900 feet: 4.7 miles each way, 2122 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Chief Cheley Peak, 12804 feet: 5.3 miles each way, 2046 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Point 12820/Liberty Point, 12820 feet: 5.6 miles each way, 2062 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Cracktop, 12780 feet: 6 miles each way, 2022 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Mount Julian, 12928 feet: 6.7 miles each way, 2170 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.
Terra Tomah Mountain, 12718 feet: 7.4 miles each way, 1960 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.
Poudre Lake, 10758 feet: thirty second walk from parking, 0 foot gain.  Easy-.
This whole hike: 14.7 miles round trip, 5785 foot gross gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.

In loving memory of Liberty Rebekah Dagenais.  October 9, 1980- July 22, 2010.

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