Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ni-chebe-chii Part 1

I've gone back and forth- should I name this post Ni-chebe-chii or Never Summer Mountains?  After all, Mount McKinley is now referred to as Denali by most if not all of the mountaineering community.  
In 1914,  members of the Arapahoe tribe were brought into the area on a CMC sponsored trip to find out what their native names were for various peaks and features.  They referred to this range as Ni-chebe-chii, literally never no summer.  Locals then decided to call this range the Never Summer Mountains.  It is easy to see why.  On the western border of RMNP, this range is likely to see snow before the eastern mountains, and it seems it is likely to stick around longer.  I've spent the past two weeks here, and found plenty of snow fields that have persisted throughout the summer, seeming more than in other areas of the park.
The rock here is younger than most of the other ranges in the park, and you will notice a distinct difference in most of the peaks.  While they were formed by glacial activity, they are still very much eroding, and there is a whole, whole lot of loose and rotten rock in the area.  With that in mind, it would be a very good idea to wear a helmet even if you are by yourself.  I have heard a ton of rockfall on my days here, apparently initiated by nothing at all.  
The plan for this day was to start from the Colorado River Th, head up the Red Mountain trail to the Grand Ditch, take that north to Hitchens Gulch, and then visit Lake of the Clouds, Mount Cirrus, possibly Hart Ridge, Howard Mountain, Mount Cumulus, Mount Nimbus, Mount Stratus, Baker Mountain, Green Knoll, and then Red Mountain and back down.  Ambitious?  Yes!
I started in the dark, leaving the car at the trail head at exactly 522 am.  The night before I realized it had been a year since I changed the batteries in my headlamp and did so.  That was definitely a good idea. 
Day came at some point.  The Red Mountain trail seems to be a mix of relatively steep for the first few miles and then pretty flat for what may be the worlds longest switchback.  Or at least it feels that way.  Look at it on a topo and you'll see what I mean. 
But I made it to the top and joined the Grand Ditch road.  This is an interesting piece of engineering.  It is a 14.3 mile long water diversion project that was built between 1890 and 1936.  The purpose was to catch some of the runoff that would normally flow west and divert it east through La Poudre pass.  It feeds into the Cache la Poudre River, and if you live downstream along that, you see some effect from this ditch way up in the mountains.  It is estimated that 25-40 percent of the runoff is diverted.
Mount Nimbus in the early morning sun.  You can already see how the peaks here are softly rounded with little vegetation or tundra.  A sign of things to come!
In Hitchens Gulch, you will pass by the ruins of several structures that once provided a place to live for miners.  In fact, there was a small settlement called Dutchtown in the area, hence the name of the NPS campsites and the river.
Never Summer Peak and Lead Mountain (background).  It was a beautiful day and I was already running behind my time estimate. 
You may reach a point where the trail just ends.  Cross the small creek on your left and it will resume on that side.  There are alot of splits and little offshoots.  I would say just take what seems to be going in the general direction that you want to go.  As I reached treeline, the trail hit rock and became indistinct, but by then I could see exactly where I was going. 
I found myself below Lake of the Clouds.  It is hard to tell, but there is a small exit waterfall.  Stay to the right of that on the pretty stable large talus slope.  Mount Cirrus is the peak pictured here.
At Lake of the Clouds.  So named because of its altitude of 11430 feet?  Or named because many of the peaks in the area are named after cloud types? 
I stopped for a snack and started to work my way around and up.  The plan was to reach the saddle between Howard Mountain and Mount Cirrus and head north.  I kept thinking maybe I could just head directly up Mount Cirrus, as it looked entirely possibly, but in the sake of exploration, I did not.
In the end it may have been better to do so, as I found steep snow fields blocking the way up the described route.  Some improvising was in order to avoid the snow.  Here I got my first real taste of the unstable and loose nature of the rock in the area.  I found myself on what amounted to a slope of pea gravel, where ever step forward ended up with sliding about half a step back.  I reached some more solid rock, only to kick pieces off as I moved up.  I learned early to really test any hand or footholds I was using.  This scramble was third class and loose.
But I finally made it up to the saddle.  From here it was just a short loose jaunt up to the summit of Mount Cirrus.  As I came to discover later in the day, this was about the most stable area of the whole traverse, so enjoy it.  I actually made pretty good time here.
Impressive clouds on this day.
At the top of Mount Cirrus, looking north to Hart Ridge, Lead Mountain, and others.  I was running behind schedule by a whole lot, so I decided to forgo Hart Ridge on this day.
Looking down to Lake of the Clouds.
Howard Mountain is the second highpoint south here, and you can see Cumulus and Nimbus farther in the background.  From here on out, it was a game of trying to loose as little elevation as possible yet to pick a safe way. 
Back in the saddle between Cirrus and Howard.  In this whole range there are a series of very large cairns.  I am not entirely sure what they are marking, but they did make for some interesting photographs as the day progressed. 
See?  I was almost at the summit of Howard Mountain. 
Looking east from Howard Mountain.
And south to Cumulus.  As you can probably guess just by looking at that photo, this portion of the day proved to be the most challenging.  The topo also doesn't tell the full story as there was alot of up and down upon reaching a undownclimbable section of ridge crest or something too loose to trust.  I often found myself doing down small gullies to avoid something, only to go back up shortly after to avoid something else. 
Another one of those huge cairns. 
It was in one of those small gullies that I put my right foot on a torso sized piece of rock on the other side only to have to move and tumble down.  It surely would have seriously injured anyone below. 
I finally reached the last little plateau.  Here I was able to stay directly on the ridge crest on mostly stable talus.
At last I was there! 
Looking south to Mount Nimbus.  Again, there was some loss and regain, but the going felt a bit easier here.
Back up to Cumulus.
Somewhere along this ridge I stumbled across this marker.  It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
Several small ponds in the drainage between Cumulus and Nimbus.
Some interesting rock on the west side of Nimbus.
One of the small high points along the ridge. 
Almost there....
Finally!  Again I took a snack break and did some calculations.  it was late in the day, and going all the way out to Green Knoll and back wasn't in the cards.  I still thought about going to Baker and back, but at the speed I was going, that would have me come down Red Mountain in the dark, and I did not want to do that.  In the end, I just decided to leave all the peaks there for another day.  Going back for a grouping of three seemed more reasonable than just one.
But I did take a few reconnaissance photos!
Looking out to Red Mountain.  From what I could see, the traverse looked like pretty stable tundra at first, then a section of rock, and then the final approach to the summit on talus.
Cutest summit register ever?  On Mount Nimbus.  I saw it right as I was about to leave and moved it to a hopefully more visible location near the top of the cairn. 
Nimbus back lit and cloudy.
I reached the rocky section and tried to stay on the ridge crest.  My very first attempt had me kick and pull fist sized chunks of rock off.  So yeah.  More loss and gain.
Finally I made it through the difficulties and to the last easy walk up to the summit of Red Mountain. 
I took this photo looking back north and west.  The peaks here really are just slowly disintegrating slag heaps. 
The true summit of Red Mountain is the small high point to the east, pictured here. 
I am not going to go into the route I took back down to Grand Ditch.  I think it was too steep and loose to be a safe choice.  I would suggest just heading east- if you look at my photo above, you will see an area where it looks like an avalanche took out alot of the trees.  Finding this and staying in it would probably be the best option to avoid bushwhacking down this hill.
I was back at the Grand Ditch where it was still just a big pipe. 
I came down this side of of Red Mountain.  Not recommended! 
I made it back to the Red Mountain trail just as the sunlight was fading.  The headlamp came back out, as did the haunting and nebulous calls of Elk bugling in the night.  Of course it was around this time that I started thinking about horror movies... 
I made it back to the Colorado River.  It is only a few miles from here that it starts and begins the 1450 mile journey to the Gulf of California. 
The sign in the night.
I was excited to finally be close to the car.  I stopped a few times and turned my headlamp off to gaze at the night sky.  Right around the time the trail rejoined the La Poudre Pass trail, I heard a bugle very close to me.  I looked to my left and saw several pairs of eyes glowing in the night.   
Safely back at the car, I was trying to guess what time it was.  As I was getting my stuff off, I set my camera for a 60 second exposure and pointed it up.  This was the view. 
It was 847pm.  This gave me an almost 15.5 hour day, a personal best (or worst) in longevity.  And there was the almost two hour drive back home.  Fortunately, I did not encounter much traffic, and found myself in bed right around midnight. 
On paper, the numbers don't look too crazy- 17ish miles and 6000 or so feet of elevation gain.  It is the terrain that makes movement so difficult here.  Everything is loose, and when down or upclimbing, you have to test every single hand and foot hold before you commit your weight to them. This of course, takes some time.  But better to be safe than sorry!
Ni-chebe-chii Part 1 (distances as part of the hike):
Lake of the Clouds, 11430 feet: 6.6 miles one way, 2390 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Mount Cirrus, 12797 feet: 7.4 miles one way, 3757 foot gain.  Up to third class.  Strenuous.
Howard Mountain, 12810 feet: 8.1 miles one way, 3770 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Mount Cumulus, 12725 feet: 9.3 miles one way, 3685 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Mount Nimbus, 12706 feet: 10.3 miles one way, 3666 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Red Mountain, 11605 feet: 11.7 miles one way, 2565 foot gain.  Strenuous.  
As a whole, this hike covers 17 miles and a bit over 6000 feet of gain with up to third class movement.  Strenuous+.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Finishing the high peaks of the Mummy Range.

September is here and nothing is on fire or flooding, so we will call that a small victory.  Once again, I find myself stuck inside this week as the monsoon stretches on- wasn't it supposed to be over by now?  It's been a very wet summer and I shouldn't complain.  I have to be okay with the idea that I might not reach my goal for RMNP this year.
Last week, I set out to finish off the high peaks of the Mummy Range with my friend Dan.  On the agenda were no fewer than 6 thirteeners, 2 twelvers, and the second or third highest named lake in the United States, depending on how you count...
We left the Lawn Lake trailhead shortly before 5am and spent some time in the dark.  With no moon, the night sky was awesome and awe inspiring, stars visible forever.  A small piece of beauty that stood before a very ambitious day.
We took the Lawn Lake trail to the intersection with the Black Canyon Trail, and then stayed on that for maybe .15 a mile.  We left it where it flattened out, and started up into the madness. 
Looking back from a point on the east ridge of Mummy Mountain.
Up was the theme of the day, and in about four hours, we were atop Mummy Mountain, 13425 feet. 
Having gained the first 5000 or so feet of the day, we set out along the ridge toward Hagues Peak.  You will loose some elevation and get back into the high 12000's before coming back up above 13000 feet.  Last time I was here, I saw an SAR helicopter land in the saddle between Mummy and Hagues.
We crossed the ridge and picked a contouring descent through mostly stable talus toward Rowe Lake.   Rowe Peak is the high point behind it. 
Rowe Lake is at 13100 feet, and according to this source, is the third highest named lake in the US.  However, the first highest lake listed is referred to as "subterranean", I can't find it on a topo, can't find a single photo of it online, and the only reference I can find is that site itself and others which reference it.
Anyway, I found it kind of funny to be sitting at a lake and knowing your next peak is at 13420 feet, and seeing there is only a few hundred feet of elevation gain needed to get to it.  Normally that is quite different.  It is higher than all but 25 or so peaks in the park.
We picked a path up the talus between Rowe Peak and Gibraltar Mountain, and then set out west.
In very short time, we were standing on the second thirteener of the day!  For being unranked and close to nothing, it sure does get alot of visitation.  Probably 30-50 summits a year. 
Next up was Rowe Mountain.  From Rowe Peak, one can see a high point that is pretty close, but this is not Rowe Mountain.  It is the small lump of rock that is maybe half a mile NNE that is your next goal (seen slightly right of center here).  It has a whopping 44 feet of prominence!
From here, we could also see our first big elevation loss of the day, down to the 12530 foot summit of Little No Name.  There were two registers on top of Rowe Mountain.  An old plastic peanut butter container that had been compromised and a newer CMC PVC pipe one that we could not get open.  Ah well. 
We set off across scree and tundra, arcing downwards.  The tundra is pretty beautiful this year due to the rain.  While starting to turn to fall colors, you can find these reds and ochers right next to vibrant jewel green.  Pretty awesome. 
We approached Little No Name.  Like many of the peaks on high plateaus, this side looks rather unspectacular.  As in, why would anyone even name this thing?  But from below, it looks like a beautiful peak.
And of course it offered up some incredible views to the east.  It was alot of fun thinking about the time we spent in this drainage.
Lake Dunraven, Mount Dunraven, Dundicking, Mount Dickinson.
Scotch Lake and Mummy Mountain.
Next we found ourselves on top of the 12760 foot Middle No Name.  The ridge line to the left here holds Sugarloaf Mountain and Stormy Peaks.
Gibraltar Mountain actually looks somewhat imposing from Middle No Name.
This day would've been perfect if not for the wind.  It was pretty fierce at times.  We briefly stood on top of Gibraltar Mountain (13300) before heading back down towards Rowe Lake.
The ridge line between Hagues and Rowe Peak looks fun and formidable.  It was again pretty neat to take a break at this high lake.  We picked a logical way up the scree and talus slope to Hagues Peak.  There is a little bit of a social trail that can be found, though it is hard to see from below. 
Rowe Lake is so high I doubt it even melts out completely most years.  We had alot of snow over the winter, so it comes as no surprise that is is still about half ice.
Hagues Peak (13560) is the fourth highest ranked peak in the park.  This marks my second visit of the year.
Looking down a gully to Fairchild Mountain.
We had some troubles at first getting down Hagues Peak to The Saddle.  I thought I remembered it being third class, and 13ers.com has this route as fourth class, while Fosters book gives it second.  It got too hard quick, so we back tracked.  I'd say the easiest way is to head from the summit back towards Mummy Mountain for a very short distance- maybe 100 feet or so.  Then look south.  You should see a relatively sane looking talus decline that stays on or slightly east of the actual ridge line.  We started a little farther in from this and I'd say there was a few sections of third class, but most of the descent down is second.  I think this is another case of "by the path of least resistance" because it could be up to fourth class if you wanted it to be.  Pick the route that you like, but stay on the east side of the ridge.
Look for some great views west.
Over the day we'd talked about the possibility of adding on Fairchild Mountain.  I felt pretty good as we headed up to Hagues from Rowe Lake so I said I was game.  Dan agreed.
On the way to The Saddle, Fairchild Mountain.  This would add another 1100 feet of elevation gain to the days total. 
Looking back at Hagues Peak.
I felt great going up Hagues, but things fell apart here.  I was dragging, felt slight nausea, headache, had to stop somewhat frequently to rest.  This after being fine all day.  But I guess a day at altitude was catching up to me.  I probably would have turned back if not for Dan leading the way.  I should've turned back
We made the summit (13502) and realized that this was the last high peak in the Mummies for both of us.  "I wish I could feel more happy about that," I said.  I knew I had to eat and tried but immediately felt it welling up.  It was time to get down, and quick. 
The Four Aces of Blitzen Ridge, Donner Ridge, Chiquita Mountains east ridge. 
Back to Hagues and Mummy.  Six thirteeners in one day.  Not bad.  But there was still about nine miles to go back to the car. 
I felt leaps and bounds better as we lost elevation, and by the time we intersected the trail in the 12000's I felt whole again, and was now able to express some joy over the day.
Mummy Mountain above Lawn Lake.  Beauteous, wonderful.  A good place to start feeling human again.
The sun over Fairchild and Crystal Lakes.  It was much easier going when there wasn't waist deep snow to contend with.
We set a pretty high pace on the way down, and stopped only one time for a break to pump some water and eat.  We got back to the car shortly after seven.  A fourteen hour plus day.  No wonder I felt tired!
The drive back down was uneventful- fortunately we left early enough to miss the construction on the way up and were out long enough to miss it on the way back as well, and we got stuck in very little Elk related traffic in and around RMNP.  At home I stayed up too late and woke up too early the next day.  My legs certainly felt it for a few days afterward!
Dan and I talked on the way down.  Of interest was that we saw several people had signed registers as "Mummy Kill", a hike which hits all of the peaks we did plus Chapin, Chiquita, and Ypsilon and less Little No Name, Middle No Name, Gibraltar, and possibly the Rowes.  The normal starting point is Chapin Pass, yet with Old Fall River Road closed, we wondered if people were starting from the Alpine Visitor Center and hiking down the road to the trail head.  The normal finishing point is Lawn Lake trail head, where a second car is left or a ride is hitched up. 
I know we'd talked about doing this hike in the past.  The distance of it looks to be around 18 miles with 5100ish feet of gain.  But after this day....
In the end we estimated around 24ish miles with 8400ish feet of elevation gain.  A little bit harder than the standard Mummy Kill route.  This day set a personal duration record (14+ hours), a elevation gain record (almost 2000 feet more than my previous best), and is very much in contention for longest distance, tying our journey into the North Fork Basin last summer.  In short, it makes for a very difficult but rewarding day.  At least once you get back to 12000 feet and appreciate it!
The high peaks of the Mummy Range (distances via Caltopo as a part of this hike, not individually from the th):
Mummy Mountain, 13425 feet: 7 miles one way, 4885 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Rowe Lake/Rowe Glacier Lake, 13100 feet: 8.4 miles one way, 4660 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Rowe Peak, 13420 feet: 8.8 miles one way, 4880 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Rowe Mountain, 13184 feet: 9.3 miles one way, 4644 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Little No Name, 12530 feet: 10.5 miles one way, 3990 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Middle No Name, 12760 feet: 11 miles one way, 4220 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Gibraltar Mountain, 13300 feet: 11.75 miles one way, 4760 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Hagues Peak, 13560 feet: 12.6 miles one way, 5020 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
The Saddle, 12398 feet: 13.3 miles one way, 3858 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Fairchild Mountain, 13502 feet: 14.25 miles one way, 4962 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
As a whole, expect to cover 24ish miles with 8400+ feet of gross elevation gain.  Third class between Hagues and The Saddle.  Strenuous+.