Saturday, July 5, 2014

Ptarmigan Glacier and Little Matterhorn.

The snow is melting (kind of), and summer is coming (kind of).  But of course, once you hit a certain elevation, it is hard to remember it is June despite the air temperature.  Last week I set out from the Bear Lake TH for some of the places in the area north of Flattop I'd yet to visit.  Since Ptarmigan Glacier was on the list, as well as Notchtop and Little Matterhorn, it seemed like a fun idea to climb the glacier and then head north along the divide to the peaks before dropping back down to some of the lakes....
Hallett Peak in Bear Lake, early and still morning.
After gaining some altitude, the trail curves around Flattop, and some of the days goals came into view.
A small, unnamed pond near Lake Helene provided a brief moment for reflection.
A pretty awesome looking gnarled old tree along the trail.
I first made my way via a short bushwhack to Marigold Pond.  This is slightly downstream from Two Rivers Lake.  Though I'd been very close to it in the past, I never made it a point to stop by until today.  Once the snow melts out completely, this would be an awesome place for a off the path snack break. 
I skirted Two Rivers Lake and soon found myself at Lake Helene. 
Looking north to Little Matterhorn.  Soon enough I'd be making my way across that ridge.
Grace Falls. 
I had some pretty awesome looking clouds in the morning.
There is a small, unnamed body of water on the shelf above Lake Helene.  I went around it and met the snow.  On went the crampons and out came the ice axe.
In contrast to the previous two weeks, this snow was pretty mellow, rated moderate snow.  The couloir pictured center is Notchtop Couloir and it is a bit steeper than Ptarmigan Glacier.
The snow was a bit soft, but it didn't take all that long for me to top out near the continental divide.
At the top looking down.
Longs, Hallett, Taylor and others.
I made my way over towards Notchtop.
But there was still a bunch of steep snow between the plateau of the divide and the ridge.  And death falls on both sides.  We'll save this one for later when the snow is melted.  It looks like a very fun and VERY exposed scramble!
I continued north and skirted east of the true summit of Knobtop.  I started to loose elevation on the ridge as I headed toward Little Matterhorn. 
All was going well until I hit this patch of snow.  I decided I could head directly across or descend to the south and then work over on easier terrain.  I decided to descend.  You can see how steep the snow was from the little patch on the right.  My feet almost immediately cut and I found myself rocketing downhill  on my butt.  Fortunately, I'd gotten my ice axe out and was able to perform my first ever real self arrest, coming to a stop about halfway down the slope.  I stayed in self arrest position to glissade the rest of the slope.
Feet on terra firma, I continued east along the ridge.
Towers on the ridge.  Starting at the low point of the ridge, I stayed mainly to the south of the ridge.  A little more than halfway through, I moved to the north side.  Towards the end, I stayed right on top of the ridge.  If you do that the whole way, you will often find yourself cliffed out and you'll need to back track.  There are a few VERY exposed places along the ridge, particularly towards the end. 
Thumbs up to alpine rock!
Getting close now.  I noticed some clouds starting to build and picked up the pace.
From the summit, I spied this large cairn at a lower and more easterly point.  With the approaching weather, I didn't make the effort to go check it out.
Here is the summit cairn from a little bit back.
Rather than go all the way back to the low point of the ridge, I started to descend as early as I could, though I still continued mainly southwest on the way down to avoid some of the steeper stuff.
Once I got into the scree gully, I had a few fun glissades down and worked my way south east over rock and snow. 
I hit a large snowfield and made my way south to visit Grace Falls up close and personal.  It was very pretty!
From here I contoured around and up until I hit the Odessa Lake trail.  I then continued on it towards my next goal, Marigold Lake.
Little Matterhorn as seen from Odessa Lake trail.  Look closely as the snow towards the bottom left of the photo and you may be able to see my butt slide marks.
Ptarmigan Glacier, Grace Falls, and Notchtop.
I was looking for Marigold Lake from above and finally spied it.  And what I thought looked like a fairly easy way to get there and find the lake easily.
Continue on the Odessa Lake trail until you hit this area of a long ago rock slide.  Here, simply take a right and keep in the area of the slide and move straight ahead.  In maybe ten or fifteen minutes, you will come to a high point, the other side of which will look something like this:
The lake is at the bottom of this area in the trees.  Make your way down to this small and rarely visited lake.
Reflections in Marigold Lake.
From here I decided it was a good idea to just contour around/up to get into the saddle between Mount Wuh and Joe Mills Mountain
I soon hit some snow, and since it was steep, I made my way uphill rather than traverse across it.  Here I spied Fern Lake in a window between some trees.
I gained some altitude, and found myself at a point on the north east ridge of Joe Mills Mountain.  From here I was able to look down into the saddle.  Much to my chagrin, I was not able to see any signs of the pond. So I went to the topo.  Upon close inspection, I noticed the pond was slightly south east of the high point of the saddle between Joe Mills Mountain and Mount Wuh.  I aimed myself for the saddle, or slightly to the east of it.
That technique worked out pretty good I'd say.  Pretty pretty good.  From here I simply set out south to get back to the Odessa Lake trail.  And for all the time I've spent in RMNP, I saw something twice in this day that I'd never seen before.
Skeletal remains.  The first bones I found were mostly buried.  These were on the ground, and judging by the size, it was from an Elk.
I made it back to the trail after a bit of bushwhacking which saw the mosquitoes find me.  I put my rain jacket on since they can't bite me through that.  I saw two people on the trail, and to my surprise, those were the only two I saw until I got back to Bear Lake, where there were tons of people of course.
This was an exceptionally fun day!  Doing both a snow climb as well as some heady third class scrambling in one day put a smile on my face.   And it had been some time since I was able to string together multiple destinations like this.  Unfortunately, except for the few odds and ends here and there (Notchtop being an example), I have now done most of the stuff on the east side of the park.  Which means the longer drives are about to begin....
Ptarmigan Glacier and Little Matterhorn (for ease, all distances given from Bear Lake th):
Marigold Pond, 10580 feet: 3.1 miles each way, 1130 foot gain.  Moderate.
Two Rivers Lake, 10620 feet: 3.1 miles each way, 1170 foot gain.  Moderate.
Lake Helene, 10580 feet: 3.2 miles each way, 1130 foot gain.  Moderate.
Grace Falls, 10260 feet: 3.4 miles each way, 810 foot gain*.  Moderate.
Ptarmigan Glacier, 11900 feet: 4.2 miles each way, 2450 foot gain.  Second class, moderate snow.  Moderate+
Little Matterhorn via Continental Divide, 11586 feet: 7 miles each way, 2136 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous-.
Marigold Lake, 10220 feet: 3.9 miles each way, 770 foot gain*.  Moderate+.
Round Pond, 10340 feet: 2.4 miles each way, 890 foot gain.  Moderate.
This hike covered around 10.25 miles in total and gained 4324 gross feet of elevation.  Strenuous.
*=Note that the trail tops out around 10680 feet, and with the subsequent loss and regain, you'll add around 800 feet to these totals. 

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