Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stormy Peaks and the North Fork Basin.

The true story of this day started with a heinous act.  A vehicle caught up to me at the one way red light shortly after Glen Haven proper, and when it turned left behind me on to Dunraven Glade Road, I thought I might be meeting up with another hiker at the trail head.  
I gained a little bit of distance up the road, and within one hundred feet of the parking, I spied a very large bull Elk about 25 feet off the road on the left.  He of course froze in my headlights, like these animals are prone to do.  It was a pretty magnificent example of the species- huge in stature, with large antlers, and certainly in the prime of his life.  What a neat encounter to start the day.
I got to the empty parking lot, pulled into the spot I favor, and turned the car off.  I then heard the unmistakable and loud sound of a single rifle shot fired in close proximity to me.  I looked back and saw the truck turn it's headlights back on and then pull into the parking and do a uturn, turn off their lights, and sit with the engine running. 
I couldn't get cell phone service, and to be frank, I was scared.  Here I was unarmed with someone who obviously was, who brazenly committed a crime knowing I was right there as a witness.  I sat and watched them for a bit, as I imagine they did me.  I decided the best thing to do was to just get on with it, and contact the proper authorities when I could. 
I guess the good news is that after speaking with an officer at the law enforcement branch of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, my somewhat vague description of the vehicle immediately yielded a suspect.  I am not sure what will happen with this case, but a good lesson learned: if you ever see someone violate wilderness rules and feel comfortable, approach them and say something.  If not (as I didn't), report it as soon as you can with as much detail as possible.  Even the smallest details can yield results. 
My heart was already beating hard and I'd yet to leave the car!  
The flood pretty much wiped the North Fork Trail from existence.  Alot of work this summer has put in a new trail that is 20-50 feet higher uphill than the previous iteration which ran directly next to the river for the most part.  Pass through the white gate at the trail head and start up a steep road to Camp Cheley.  Pass though the camp entrance, taking care to follow the signs and be respectful of the owners of this private property.  You'll loose some elevation before meeting the trail on the other side of the camp. 
The trail is built to fly on.  With very little in the way of steep sections and not much total elevation gain, the first 5-6 miles go by fairly quickly. 
Sunlight hits Mount Dickinson.
I was interested to see how long it would take me to hit the Stormy Peaks Trail.  I'd hiked here earlier in the year via the North Boundary Trail starting at Cow Creek, and thought that could be a possibility to access the peaks above.  But it took me five hours just to get to this intersection, which meant I'd be looking at a loooooong day.
But it only took me three hours from the Dunraven TH.  So that wasn't too bad.  The trail gradually steepens after the intersection with the North Boundary Trail.  The topo doesn't really show it, but there are a ton of switchbacks as you head up rather steeply from here.  Consider that over the 6.5 miles or so it takes to get to this point, you gain about 2000 feet.  Now consider that over the next 2 miles, you gain 2000 more.  
But the work brings some increasingly good views into the basin.
Mummy Mountain, Mount Dunraven, Hagues Peak, Gibraltar Mountain.
And by the way, if you happen to be looking for a kick ass campsite in RMNP with great views, look no farther than Stormy Peaks South.  Pretty awesome!
I spied Stormy Peaks East from the trail, and decided to head toward it once I got past treeline.
As I gained altitude on the trail, snow started to become a factor.  It isn't quite snowshoe time, but it will be soon. 
Back east to peaks and valleys and life on the plains.
Up and up I went, and very soon I was standing on top of Stormy Peaks East. 
Looking toward Pennock Peak, Signal Mountain, and South Signal Mountain.
And west to Stormy Peaks' true high point on the right, and Sugarloaf Mountain center.
It was getting cold, though the wind didn't seem as high as predicted thankfully. 
A great view from Stormy Peaks.  Hagues Peak, Gibraltar Mountain, Rowe Peak, Middle No Name, Rowe Mountain, and Little No Name all visible l-r.  Four of those are 13ers, and I climbed them all the in the same day with Dan.
It is hard to pick out, but the long declining slope in the middle ground is the way down from Sugarloaf Mountain to Ramsey Peak.
Looking back at Stormy Peaks East.
As I dropped down to Stormy Peaks Pass, I spied a lone Bighorn, who was quite content to keep some distance between us.  Fine by me.  After not seeing any of these for years, I finally made up for that in a big way this year. 
Back to Stormy Peaks from west of the pass.
The journey up to Sugarloaf Mountain is pretty easy, covering about 1.75 miles and 400 feet of elevation gain on tundra. 
Middle, Gibraltar, Rowe, and Rowe.  Of interest, I noted what looked like a possible small avalanche on the snowfield below Rowe Mountain. 
There is a small cairn on Sugarloaf to mark the high point.  It is so broad it might be hard to find otherwise.  I looked west to Skull Point, though it was not the closest point to me.  There was definitely more snow now, and a bunch had been deposited on the north face of Sugarloaf Mountain.  This made going slow, and I thought about just skipping Ramsey Peak.  The only thing that convinced me to go for it was knowing that I'd have to come all the way back here just to summit it.
I got to the saddle between Ramsey Peak and Sugarloaf.  I decided the east side looked like the highest point, but from there it looked like the west side was higher.  From there it looked like the east side was higher.  To spare you the indecision, the east side is the true high point. 
And it provided good views of the drainage to the west of Stormy Peaks, pictured here.
Now it was all up to the legs and lungs and heart, as 500 feet or so of elevation gain would be needed to get me back up to Skull Point.  I ended up doing a contouring ascent, heading west as I gained, as I did not need to go back to Sugarloaf Mountain. 
And then I was close.  Travel slowed to a crawl as I had to use my poles to probe the snow with every step.  Was it solid ground beneath or an ankle or leg snapping hole in the talus?
After summitting Skull Point, I headed down to Icefield Pass.  This was my planned descent route, though I guess I should've known better.  In addition to the steep ice fields (yes, it's not just a name!), wind blown snow had created some treacherous looking conditions.  The slope looked wind loaded and primed to go, and since I also didn't bring an ice axe, glissading was not an option to begin with.  I decided I could either go back the way I'd come, or head around the north side of the bowl and hope the sun exposure had kept several promising looking gullies I'd already spied free of snow.
Around I went.  The first one was filled with snow, as was the second.  But I kept going, and in about a quarter of a mile spied something that looked promising.  And then great, as I could stand at the top of it and see it was clear all the way to the bottom!
Looking back up this gully.
And down into the basin to Lake Louise, Lake Husted, and the long journey back to the car.
Icefield Pass loomed as I got into the basin.  The immensity of this thing was incredible.
Now I faced exactly the same problem as I did above.  I didn't know if the snow was solid, and movement took some time as I had to continually probe every step.  It might have just been quicker to stay up above in the end!
Back up to Icefield Pass and the gully.
It continued to look pretty spectacular from farther down.
Once I passed the talus near Lake Louise, I was back on solid ground and able to turn on the rockets and start the almost 11 mile journey back to the car.  It took me about 3 hours and 40 minutes to cover this distance, roughly the same amount of time it took me to cover the 4.3 miles between Stormy Peaks East and Skull Point.
Dropping down to Lost Lake.  Quite a difference!  I'd swam in this lake last time I was here, but that was definitely out today.  Some deeper snow on the south side made travel more difficult, and I remembered the trail being not obvious to find even in summer.  I couldn't find it, but crossed the outlet creek, and worked my way down until I hit the trail for the campsite and was able to get moving.
The sun set at some point, and I got my headlamp out.  I am normally okay with hiking in the dark, but with a close to full moon, I kept seeing glimpses of light that had filtered through the trees and thinking they were animals or horror movie people or something.
I stopped at the North Boundary intersection for another snack, and went down for a short time before I realized the fleece I had strapped to the outside of my pack was no longer there!  ARG!  I really liked that thing.  I was pretty sure I had it at the Stormy Peaks intersection, but by now felt I was in no condition to go back up, either physically or mentally. 
Anyway, if anyone happens to find a blue Helly Hansen fleece somewhere up here, I would sure like it back!  I'd be happy to reward with beer.
Finally I started seeing some structures that marked Camp Cheley.  Soon enough I was grinding up the last little hill needed to reach the camp entrance before loosing that elevation to get to the parking lot.  After such a long day, these 200 or so feet of up really sucked.
But there it was.  The beautiful car right where I left it.  I take much pride that my 2003 Ford Focus hatchback has more mud on it than most 4wds I see!
I got my things back in the car and decided to take a look and see if there was a fence or some signage indicating property ownership where I saw the Elk.  It was easy to find, as a vehicle had backed into the thigh high grass there, smashing down two distinct trails that ended in a flattened area.
This was a long and lonely day.  But of course it was worth it!  The maximum technical difficulty is second class (maybe a some easy third if you have to come down that gully), and the length could be cut into two or more sections by camping at Stormy Peaks South, Lost Lake, or one of the many campsites along the North Fork trail.  Spectacular sights, solitude, and beauty await you.  The lakes around the base of Little and Middle No Name are some of the most spectacular in the park, and worth a visit.  Despite the high amount of elevation gain, the length of the trail stretches it out, so things aren't ever too steep.
Stormy Peaks and the North Fork Basin (distances as part of the hike):
Stormy Peaks East, 12020 feet: 8.1 miles, 4120 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Stormy Peaks West, 12148 feet: 8.5 miles, 4248 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Stormy Peaks Pass, 11660 feet: 8.75 miles, 3760 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Sugarloaf Mountain, 12140 feet: 10.4 miles, 4240 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Ramsey Peak, 11582 feet: 11 miles, 3682 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Skull Point, 12060 feet: 12.3 miles, 4160 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Icefield Pass, 11840 feet: 12.5 miles, 3940 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Along the way you will also pass (distances from th):
Lake Louise, 11020 feet: 10.9 miles one way, 3120 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Lake Husted, 11088 feet: 10.4 miles one way, 3188 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Lost Lake, 10714 feet: 9.7 miles one way, 2814 foot gain. Moderate+.
Lost Falls, 9840 feet: 7.5 miles one way, 1940 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Kettle Tarn, 9220 feet: 5.3 miles one way, 1320 foot gain.  Moderate.
As a whole, this hike covered approximately 23 miles with 6300 feet of elevation gain.  Second class.  Strenuous+.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The North East Corner of RMNP.

I was at a loss a few weeks ago.  What to do?  Trail Ridge Road had closed for the season, and remarkably, I have nearly climbed out the entire east side of the park.  I'd done some research on the North Fork area, but it looked like trails were still closed.  No big surprise, as this region sustained some of the heaviest rainfall during the flood.
Yet a glimmer of hope appeared: the Bulwark Ridge Trail was listed as open.  But the Dunraven trail head, where this trail starts, was listed as closed.  How could that be?  A phone call to the US Forest Service provided an answer.  Not only was the trail head open, but a new North Fork trail was open as well.  Some possibilities opened up in my mind....
I hadn't hiked in over a month.  Pretty incredible for me.  I decided to go for the shorter of the options from this trail head.  That being North and South Signal Mountain, the ranked but unofficially named Pennock Peak (not included in Fosters book), and Bulwark Ridge's high point.  
To get here, take 34W towards The Stanley Hotel from the 36/34 intersection in Estes Park.  Take a right on McGregor Avenue, which turns into Devils Gulch Road.  Continue on this through the town of Glen Haven, and take a left on Dunraven Glade Road.  Continue to the end of this road for parking.  
On foot, you will pass by the white gate and head uphill to Camp Cheley.  The Bulwark Ridge trail is on the right here.  
This little hill gets the heart racing, and it raced more when I saw eyeshine!  But it was nothing more than inquisitive deer watching me in the early morning darkness.  A short time later, morning had come and the headlamp came off. 
Four miles to Signal Mountain.  Easy.
After the initial gain, the trail is rather level for a time, but knowing how much elevation gain I'd need to do over those remaining four miles gave me the insight that things would soon be steeper.  
It was great to be back in the forest for sunrise.  A place of peace and mediation, so quiet I could hear only my breathing and the pounding of my heart.  And the aromatics of the soil and the smell of the trees as they are kissed by the first sunlight of the day is like nothing else on earth.
The summit of Bulwark Ridge lies at 10890 feet, and was relatively easy to find despite not seeing a trail to it.  Pretty much continue until you can see Signal Mountain and the trail starts to loose elevation.   
Turn right and find the highpoint. Pretty easy. 
This gives you some great views in the the North Fork Basin. 
And of course towards Signal Mountain.  I found the remnants of a glass summit register on Bulwark Ridge, but no paper was seen.
For here, I headed back down to the trail and onwards and upwards to Signal Mountain.  Only 300 feet or so of elevation gain to go!
The trail skirts by south east of the summit, so I left it and headed for the top.   
The view of South Signal Mountain from Signal Mountain.  The register here was fairly young but pretty awesome- it is certainly worth taking the time to read some of the entries on your visit. 
Dundicking, Dunraven, Mummy Mountain, and others lost in the clouds.
Stormy Peaks and Little No Name on the left.
Pennock Peak is almost directly center here, in front of some of the higher peaks in the area.  This peak lies at 11058 feet, just above tree line.
While I didn't see a distinct intersection on the way up, I could see the faintest of outlines of a trail heading west.  Interestingly enough, I didn't see a trail on the map in Fosters book, but there is definitely a trail there on Caltopo.
Above treeline, this was just some mashed down grass and the occasional cairn.
The "trail" is very faintly visible here, looking back to Signal Mountain.
Along the way, I saw several of these dried plants sticking up from the ground.  At first I thought they were Pinedrops, but upon looking at some photos online, I'd say they are something else, thought they do look similar.  Pretty interesting looking either way.
Once I reached treeline, the trail became a little bit less distinct.  It was somewhat difficult to follow at times, but if you have some experience, you will be able to find the small visual clues and follow it along.  I can see why it was not included on the topo in Fosters book. 
In the end, I went slightly past Pennock Peak before making my way directly up the north west side. 
The views of Signal Mountain and South Signal Mountain as seen from Pennock Peak.
Gibraltar Peak, Middle No Name, Little No Name, and Stormy Peaks as seen from Pennock Peak.  You can see the posts marking the RMNP/Comanche Peak Wilderness boundary here.  Despite these peaks being in RMNP, I technically spent very little time in the park on this day.
Rather than go back the way I'd come, I simply headed east towards South Signal Mountain.  I spent some time doing some easy bushwhacking before refinding the trail, though it is so indistinct I almost missed it. 
Swirling clouds. 
Pennock Peak and the North Fork drainage.
I happened by this tree along the way.  The right half was dead, but the left side was still quite alive.
I skipped the thin trail once I got back up to treeline and headed directly toward the summit of South Signal Mountain.
I found it very difficult to tell where the true highpoint was, and kept scrambling up piles of rock and thinking, "No, that looks higher."  The topos have the true summit to the west.
But in the end, I decided this shelf of white rock to the east looked like the highest point.  And of course, upon standing on top of it, the points to the west looked higher.  Well, where ever the summit is, I stood on top of it. 
You can tell which way the wind comes from pretty easily.
I made my way down over some rocky terrain until I hit the Bulwark Ridge trail and started back down.
I could see Longs Peak most of the day, and it was in and out of clouds. 
The trail on the way down.
I went past the highpoint of Bulwark Ridge before heading back down the trail.  The steepness and looseness of parts of the upper trail will likely keep you from going too fast, but once you reach the flats you can really move. 
I got a great view of Dunraven Glade Road from the top of the final descent.  There were a few vehicles in the parking lot, though I didn't see a single person all day.
Signal Mountain and its south summit are certainly worth the trip.  I tend to like the less busy places in the park, and I think even on a summer day you wouldn't run into a ton of people here.  There is enough elevation gain to keep things difficult but not too much so, and making your way to Pennock Peak would certainly be a good exercise in route finding for those of you looking to move in that direction.  Remember to look for the small things- cairns, flattened grass, erosion on the ground.  Great views abound from the summits of any of these peaks, and there is a true sense of wilderness and isolation.
The North East Corner of RMNP:
Bulwark Ridge, 10890 feet: 4.5 miles each way, 3090 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Signal Mountain, 11262 feet: 5.7 miles each way, 3362 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Pennock Peak, 11058 feet: 8.5 miles each way, 3158 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
South Signal Mountain, 11248 feet: 5.2 miles each way, 3348 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
As a whole, this loop had me gain around 4700 feet of gross elevation over 15.5 miles.  Strenuous-.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ni-chebe-chii Part 2

If you happen to follow me on Facebook, you'll know that I experienced some computer problems recently.  I got it repaired, but they weren't able to get most of the data off of my old hard drive.  Fortunately, I am determined, and with some research found some freeware that has recovered everything!  Lesson learned and I will never move forward without backing up my hard drive again.
I've covered parts of the history of the Ni-chebe-chii or Never Summer Mountains here, so I will not go over it again.  My plan for part two was to hit the northern peaks in the range, that being Mount Richthofen, Static Peak, The Electrode, Lulu Mountain, Thunder Mountain, and Mount Neota.  This would leave me with two more reasonable groupings in the range, a north-central grouping of Cirrus to Richthofen, and a southern grouping of Stratus, Green Knoll, and Baker Mountain.  That will still leave a few other random destinations that will require attention, but I can think about in the future.
And if all had gone according to plan, I would have finished all of these peaks this year, but a week of bad weather followed by a week lost to a apparent food born illness which saw me not eat for 5 days did me in.  And just as I have started to eat again and recover from that, my throat started to really, really hurt which means I sat at home through another weekend of glorious weather.  But oh well.
I started from the Colorado River Trailhead at exactly 522 am, the same time as the week before.  An hour or so of headlamp time saw me pass Shipler Park and the one cabin I could find there, and I made it to Lulu City just as the sun was coming up.  This was a small mining town that was born in 1879, and was abandoned by 1885 due to the low quality of the silver ore coming from the area, the difficulty and cost of transporting it, and of course the harsh winter conditions.  It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and it is hard to believe that the town once boasted a population of 500 or so people, and had its own post office and hotel.
Today there is not much left.  Though I did not stop to explore the area either time I passed through it, I did not see any signs of structures, though of course there are signs of humanity all around.  I found it to be an interesting place to visit, to stand and imagine what it might have looked like a hundred and forty years ago.
Lulu City.
Mist and mountains in the early morning.
Continuing on, the trail soon crosses the Colorado River, and starts uphill, staying in between Sawmill Creek and Lulu Creek.  You'll reach a t intersection that will have you turn right to go Grand Ditch, or left to go to the Ditch Camp campsites.
Take a left here.  Shortly thereafter you will reach the campsite.  The trail seems to disappear here, but continue through it and to the right to pick up the trail again.
This sort of marked where the beaten path ends.  It was obvious the trail between here and Grand Ditch doesn't see alot of traffic.  The only footprints I saw were from Elk.
A little farther along I found a small structure that looked like a miniature house, complete with a bird who decided to stop and model for me.  This thing was probably about four feet high with a four by six foot footprint and very thick walls.  Would anyone like to speculate on the possible usage?  Perhaps food storage?
Shortly after I arrived at Grand Ditch.  I simply continued across to pick up the trail heading up Skeleton Gulch.
I continued along this trail until I reached a small clearing (pictured) and spied what looked like a easyish route up the south side of Mount Richthofen.  There was a little bit of bushwhacking, but overall the route up wasn't too bad.  I found it interesting that several times I seemed to cross a thin trail or trails that ran along the side of the mountain.  At times, I stayed on them for short periods, but after deciding I didn't want to switchback, I continued directly up.
Looking south east from the east ridge of Richthofen.  This photo alone pretty much sums up my love for the mountains and all that is good there.  And everywhere you look looks like this.  It is pretty awesome.
Treeline was reached and passed, and thin clouds played with the summit of Richthofen.  The few glimpses I got through them made it look quite imposing, worse than the class two I'd thought it was.
Looking north to Static Peak and The Electrode, slowly eroding on the right.
And I didn't even want to think about how far away these later goals for the day were.  In fact, I kept spying Thunder Mountain throughout the day and kept thinking it was too far away to actually be Thunder Mountain....
Looking south along a technically difficult ridge to Lead Mountain.
In the end, it wasn't too bad to find a way up Richthofen and stay in class 2 to easy 3.  Some harder 3 could be found if you looked for it.
Looking into my future.
Teepee Mountain looks imposing.  The point on the left is the true summit, and getting here is class 4.  With Trail Ridge Road now closed, this will be something to look forward to for next year.
I reached the summit of Richthofen, the tallest peak in the Never Summer Range at 12951 feet.  Great views abounded, here to the south and some of the peaks I'd climbed the week before.
And to the north, with a stable looking ridge to Static Peak, and more junky loose talus to Nokhu Crags.
Looking back along the east ridge of Richthofen, my route to the top.
After some sustenance, I started down on rather stable talus along the ridge to Static Peak. 
Looking back to Richthofen.  I found this part of the hike to be pretty mellow.  The rock was pretty solid for the area, and going was relatively easy.
Static Peak and the rather large summit cairn.  While there were remnants of a summit register on Richthofen, I didn't find anything here. 
Looking back to Richthofen.  A fun and relatively easy scramble between the two.
I again had a snack, and prepared for the next leg of the hike.  This would be the most technically difficult part of the day, with a long stretch of third class ahead of me.  However, the rock remained relatively solid.
Overlooking Snow Lake, which lies just outside of the northern boundary of RMNP.
At first the going was pretty easy, on flat large talus.  But soon things became a bit more difficult...
and then mellowed out a bit...
before staying in some rather exposed and lengthy sections of third class.
And more.  I stayed directly on the ridge line for the most part.  As I lost elevation, I kept looking to my right to see if I could find a gully to take down to the saddle between Static Peak and The Electrode.  I found a few possibilities, but decided against them as I could not see all the way to the bottom.  Finally I came upon a gully that looked like it would go, and which I could see the terrain of the whole way down.  This is where I broke from the ridge and headed east towards The Electrode.
This gully is pictured almost directly center here.  This continued the third class theme, and as you can see things got progressively looser on the way down.
I was now in the saddle and looking at The Electrode.  The way ahead didn't look second class, but I went directly at the cliffy west face.  The rock here was definitely less stable so I was very careful to check hand and foot holds before committing to body weight.  I should have looked at the photo above of this peak seen from Richthofen to find the easy way up on its south side.  Once I got to the top of the cliffy section, I looked down north to see a similarly easy way up that side.
So from the saddle, I would suggest heading around to the north side of this mound of talus to find a easier, second class passage up and past the cliff bands on the west side.
Once you gain the altitude, it was easy to walk on over to the summit.  I found a register here, placed by notables John and Alyson Kirk.
Looking past the summit cairn to Thunder Pass and Lulu Mountain.  I was able to find a faint trail here and followed it to the pass.
At Thunder Pass, looking south.
There was also a slight trace of a trail heading up Lulu Mountain, and I stuck to that as I could thought it wasn't always distinct.  The maximum difficulty here is second class, and I found myself at the top of the fourth peak of the day in just under another hour.
Looking back to The Electrode, Static Peak, Mount Richthofen. 
And looking forward to Thunder Mountain and Mount Neota, the unranked high point to the east.  It was finally as I was going up Lulu Mountain that I realized the thing I'd been looking at all day and hoping wasn't Thunder Mountain as it looked very far away was indeed Thunder Mountain.  Oh well.  At this point, a little more up couldn't hurt, right?
After all the second and third class of the day, it was good to be on some pretty easy tundra.  Soon enough I was at the top.
I turned back and took a ton of photos since I could see everything I had done so far from here.  Note Lulu Mountain on the left, The Electrode in the center, Static Peak to the right of that (and Nokhu Crags to the right of that), and Richthofen dominating in the distance.  What a view!
Now it was simply a short loss and then regain to get to Mount Neota.  Not too bad.  The wind had picked up a little bit and I sat behind a wind block and had a snack before heading on. 
Long Draw Reservoir is the end point for Grand Ditch.
Lisa Foster recommended following the RMNP boundary signs up from La Poudre Pass to climb Mount Neota, so I figured I would just follow them down.  Unfortunately, I lost them pretty quickly so I just headed in the general direction I thought I should.
The bushwhacking was of moderate intensity until I hit a thin trail and found a sign of humanity on it: an empty Bud Lite can.  I followed this trail down for a bit and then made my way through a marshy area to arrive directly at La Poudre Pass.  I guess my internal compass works pretty darn well.
At La Poudre Pass.  I still had seven or eight miles to go to get back to the car, but it was almost entirely downhill.
You start on Grand Ditch Road before meeting the La Poudre Pass Trail, which takes you all the way back. 
Along the way you pass through this scenic canyon,  named Little Yellowstone by a RMNP ranger for its resemblance to Yellowstone in Wyoming. 
It was very pretty and relaxing after a relatively hard day. 
Eventually I stopped for another snack behind some yellowing Aspen.  I kept making goals of times to get back to the car, and eventually settled on "by nightfall".  I still had to move to meet that, and interspersed some light jogging with hiking.
At Shipler Park Cabins.  I only happened to see this one, plus a small trail offshoot that went by a very old and rusty mining cart. 
Pink clouds behind Red Mountain.  
As I was finally nearing the car, I saw the first people I'd seen all day: a group of four out looking for Elk.  Though I'd heard a few calls throughout the day, I'd not seen a single one.  I always wonder how I look when I see people like this.  Is it obvious that I have been out all day?
In the end, I made it back to the car slightly before sunset, giving me (if I remember correctly) around a 14 hour day.  Since this hike covered over 18 miles and nearly 7000 feet of elevation gain with extended periods of time in third class, I felt that was entirely reasonable.  
This was just a truly incredible day.  The area is spectacular, the terrain is fun, the weather was great.  It was one of those magical days of Colorado Mountaineering.  My only real regret at this point is that it will likely be until next summer before I can return to the Ni-chebe-chii, a wonderful and wondrous place in Rocky Mountain National Park. 
Ni-chebe-chii Part Two (distances given as part of the hike):
Shipler Park Cabins, 9140 feet: 1.8 miles one way, 100 foot gain.  Easy-. 
Lulu City, 9360 feet: 3.5 miles one way, 320 foot gain.  Easy.
Mount Richthofen, 12951 feet*: 7.25 miles one way, 3911 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Static Peak, 12560 feet: 7.75 miles on way, 3520 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
The Electrode, 12018 feet: 8.35 miles one way, 2978 foot gain.  Extended third class+.  Strenuous+.
Thunder Pass, 11331 feet: 8.9 miles one way, 2291 foot gain.  Strenuous+.
Lulu Mountain, 12228 feet: 9.5 miles one way, 3188 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous+.
Thunder Mountain, 12060 feet: 10 miles one way, 3020 foot gain.  Strenuous+.
Mount Neota, 11734 feet: 10.6 miles one way, 2694 foot gain.  Strenuous+.
La Poudre Pass, 10184 feet: 11.9 miles one way, 1144 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Little Yellowstone, 10100 feet: 13.25 miles one way, 1060 foot gain.  Strenuous.
As a whole, look for approximately 18.5 miles round trip and over 7000 feet of gross elevation gain.  An extended section of third class requires some attention, but most of the rest of the terrain is relatively easy.  Strenuous+.
*= I have seen varying figures for the height of this peak.  Here I am using John Kirk's elevation.  The lowest I have seen is 12940, so that is only 11 feet of difference.
Also note many of these peaks would be easier to do distance and elevation gain wise from La Poudre Pass TH or from Michigan Lakes TH.  This could change the class ratings- Static Peak would be third class when going up from Michigan Lakes, while The Electrode would be second.  I have called The Electrode third here because you need to do the third class east ridge of Static Peak to get to it though The Electrode itself is second class.