Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Stones Peak, Stapps Peak, and Sprague Mountain.

Last week I was so close yet so far away.  I ended up turning back less than 700 feet from the summit of Stones Peak, so it was at the top of my list for a return trip.  This week my parents were in town and staying in Estes, so that gave me the opportunity to get up a little earlier (though I stayed up later and didn't sleep well).  Storms were forecast starting at one in the afternoon, but I felt sure I could move fast enough to be up and back below treeline by then.
My new camera was along, and I had the opportunity to play with it a bit.
Shot at Bear Lake in complete darkness.  Obviously I will need a tripod to take photos at night, but with the ability to have up to a 60 minute exposure, it is good to know that is an option.
It also captured sunrise quite well.
Longs and Thatchtop in the early morning.
I was above treeline for true sunrise.  Not bad.
Last week I felt great though the weather wasn't the best.  This week I hadn't been as active as the previous, and I felt like I was dragging a bit, though it ended up taking me only two hours and ten minutes to summit Flattop from Bear Lake.
Goals for the day- behind Gabletop find Stones Peak to the left, and the unranked and unoffically named Stapps Peak on the right.  They looked far, far away.
Longs behind Hallett.
Around the time I summitted Flattop, I heard some voices.  I looked to the south and lo and behold three people had beaten me up and were on their way to Hallett.  Click to zoom in and you can actually see them above and to the right of the snowfield.
North along the divide.  The tundra has remained green this summer since it's been pretty wet. 
Snowdrift Peak and Snowdrift Lake.
I continued around point 12277 before leaving the trail and heading towards Sprague Pass. 
Here I stumbled apon the skeletal remains of an elk.  They must've been fairly recent since the connective tissue between the vertebrae was all still intact.  This marks only the third time I have seen anything up here, kind of surprising considering how much off trail time I have!
Stones Peak was now looming large.  The clouds had yet to clear up but things were not looking threatening at all, only overcast.
Looking south along the divide to a whole lot of awesome memories. 
Above Rainbow Lake.
I made my way toward the summit of Sprague Mountain.  I should have looked at my topo, because they are very close in height, but the true summit is actually attached to the divide, not the high point slightly to the east.
Hayden Spire over Lonesome Lake.  These are even more in the middle of nowhere than Stones is.  Hopefully this year...
I started over second class terrain on the rocky ridge between Sprague and Stones.  If you want a little spice you can go more directly at some of the small towers, but by the easiest way, this is solid second class, though the movement does take some time.  It took me about four hours to get to this point.
Though I didn't do it until the way back, I would suggest staying close to the ridge line for the easiest travel.  The rock seems to be pretty solid here, while there is looser talus farther down.  Staying to the south of any difficulties worked well.
It took me about another hour to get to the 12922 foot high summit of Stones, but there I was with blue skies!  The register was intact and I added my name.  I saw one person who said they'd climbed the peak via Hayden Gorge.  Impressive!  I would say this peak sees somewhere around 20 registered summits a year.  I would imagine Sprague Mountain sees at least that much, while Stapps Peak likely sees less because it certainly doesn't look like much from Stones. 
Looking east.
I now set my sights on the easy walk over to the Stapps Peak, if easy is loosing 400 feet and then regaining 200 of that.
The alpine sunflowers that I've enjoyed for much of the season are now starting to die off.
From Stapps, looking east to Tombstone Ridge.
Looking back to Stones from Stapps.  There was the small piece of wood there but not much else.
The summit cairn and Longs Peak.
Hayden Spire looked a little more ominous from this side, especially with some clouds building.  Time to get going.
It took me about 50 minutes to get back to Sprague Mountain from Stapps Peak.  The register here was wet, so I did not sign it.
Stones Peak as seen from Sprague Mountain.
A good view of Eureka Ditch.  I made my way downhill and when I met it, I stayed next to it for some time, finding the movement somewhat easier than going over tundra.  I could now see some very ominous looking clouds to the north and was moving as quickly as I could. 
Looking down into Ptarmigan Gorge with Odessa Lake, Lake Helene, Two Rivers Lake and Joe Mills Mountain.  This was a last minute bail out plan if things were looking bad.  But I felt I was close enough to the trail to get down quickly.
The North Inlet Trail and cool clouds. 
Clouds build over Hallett and Taylor.
A parting look at the peaks I'd just climbed before heading down.
There were a fairly large amount of people on Flattop, and I passed a ton of people on the way down since I was trying to jog/run some of it.  I felt a few raindrops as I got back to the parking lot, and it started to rain and thunder in earnest on the drive down.
Though I didn't feel great, I was still able to pull off 20ish miles and 6500 feet of elevation gain (a personal best) in only ten hours.  Though the maximum technical difficulty here is only second class, there is a ton of time spent above treeline and you have to have good weather predicted for the day.  While visible from large portions of the park, these peaks are not very accessible, with all approaches being long and requiring huge amounts of elevation gain, with lots of ups and downs on the way out and back.  While entirely worth it, getting to these places is a serious undertaking.
Stones Peak, Stapps Peak, and Sprague Mountain via Bear Lake th:
Stones Peak, 12922 feet: 9.8 miles one way, 3472 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Stapps Peak, 12736 feet: 10.55 miles one way, 3286 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Sprague Mountain, 12713 feet: 8.7 miles one way, 3263 foot gain.  Strenuous.
This hike as a whole will cover approximately 21 miles and gain 6500 feet of gross elevation.  Strenuous+.

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