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.

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