Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lumpy Ridge Loop and Sheep Mountain Rock.

It was a dark and stormy night...
Actually, the night was quite peaceful, and despite some exceptionally high winds expected at altitude, the forecast lower down was looking good.
The early wake up saw me once again be the first person at the trail head, and the wind sculpted clouds sitting over the Front Range provided quite a show as the sun rose.
So, yes it was worth getting up early. 
A few minutes of this natural light show was all that there was to see.  Note: other than being resized, these photos have had no processing.  This is what the neon morning actually looked like.
Clouds rimmed with neon pink behind trees in the parking.
In a short time, I was on my way to Gem Lake.  This is a great moderate hike in the park, perfect for families.  I gained elevation on the trail, and got to the lake in about an hour.
Views to the south. 
And south west.
While at the lake, I decided to try to ascend "East Gem Peak" or "East Gemstone", an unranked and unofficially named destination in the park.  This is the high point that lies directly behind Gem Lake.  There are probably multiple ways up, but I decided to take what looked like the easiest method- gain the top of the bench behind Gem Lake and walk over.  This involves some 2nd-3rd class scrambling on slabs, and all was going smoothly until I came to a deep chasm near the summit. 
I spied this spray paint defacement on a rock along the way.
I looked for a way around this obstacle, loosing elevation and heading north east.  Eventually I decided I was spending too much time, and with the snow and ice on the slabby rock in the area, it was not a good idea to continue.  This will have to wait for a time when everything is dry.  It looks like it will be a fun scramble, likely in 4th to 5th class to get up the chasm.
Onward, I started to loose some elevation as I dropped toward Cow Creek.  The next goal of the day became visible, the aptly named Sheep Mountain Rock, here seen just left of center.  Of course, I'd neglected to visit this when I was here last time, so a return trip was in order.
Sheep Mountain Rock on Sheep Mountain.
I crossed the creek and basically followed the mudslide area up until it started turning east or right.  Then I simply picked a way up the gully on the left.  The bushwhacking isn't too bad, but it is rather steep, gaining almost 1600 feet in around 8/10ths of a mile. 
Along the way I spied a plant that looked familiar- I'd seen a young example of this species earlier in the year.  Pterospora, aka Pine Drops.  You can read some more about them here.
Closer up to see some of the structure. 
And closer still...
I finally got to the top of the gully and headed west.  After spending some time looking around and taking GPS readings, I determined that this was the high point.
With my backpack for scale.  There were alot of little random highpoints, but this looked to be the highest.  Of note, the LOJ highpoint is slightly south of here, but actually lower than this.
I ate a snack and headed back on down.
If you happen to want to see Pterospora, this is apparently a good place to find them, as I saw multiple examples on the way down.
I hadn't really explored the ability of my new camera to function in close up mode, but with manual focus, you can get the lens about 1 cm away from the subject, which is pretty neat.  You can actually see the tiny seeds in the pods here.  For reference, the pods are about the size of you pinky fingernail.
Pretty cool!
The damage incurred in the flood is no less amazing a year later. 
I made it back to the trail and promptly lost a layer of clothing.  It was getting quite warm!
Though I have hiked the loop in segments, I've never done it as a whole until now.  Some good views of Sheep Mountain Rock kept the spirits high.
I crossed the creek and found Rabbit Ears, a rock feature which gave name to the campsite location here.  To see the feature, find the actual camping spaces and move to the back of them.  Turn around to face south and there you are!
Back on the trail I spied Dark Mountain in the distance.  This provided a fun and memorable hike.
The trail remains rather flat with little elevation gain until you pass the last of the campsites.  Then it is on!
The highpoint is reached, and you start the descent back to Lumpy Ridge.  It was pretty fun to jog downhill in the snow, observing the various high points of the ridge.
Lumpy Ridge in all its glory!
Farther down I stopped and looked back to see this high wind blown cloud stretching between Lumpy Ridge and McGregor Mountain.  Very pretty!
Twin Owls towering over the area.
I ended up continuing on the trail toward Gem Lake rather than going back to the parking to take some time to explore the boulders in the area.  I'd climbed here years ago and it brought back some memories.
I suppose this wasn't the most prestigious hike, with the highest elevation being slightly over 9600 feet, but with the up and down and up and down and up and down, a decent amount of elevation gain was had anyway.  The loop itself is a fun challenge and circles a very interesting feature in the park, with many of the higher peaks visible in the distance from various points.  Sheep Mountain and its rock are rarely visited and can offer a sense of solitude in a place that is relatively close to McGraw Ranch/Cow Creek Th.  This trailhead is busy enough in the summer I wouldn't expect to get a parking place if you don't arrive early.
Lumpy Loop and Sheep Mountain Rock via Lumpy Ridge Th:
Sheep Mountain Rock, 9660 feet: 4.7 miles one way, 1808 foot gain*.  Third class.  Strenuous-.
Lumpy Ridge Loop: 10.7 miles round trip, 1275 foot gain*.  Moderate+.
As a whole this hike covered approximately 12.3 miles with 4666 feet of gain.  Strenuous-.
*= significant ups and downs along the way mean you'll actually gain a whole lot more than this.

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