Friday, January 16, 2015

Best of 2014 hikes!

Better late than never, right?
Last year I wrote, "2013 has been a big year."  Here I was just about to start this the same way.  This year I obtained 100 new destinations in RMNP as well as 101 days mountain biking.  Unfortunately, my season was brought to an end by a crash on my mtb and the resultant shoulder injury.  I have to say it's been nice to spend some time relaxing and not feeling like I have to get outside.  It's nice to sleep in to whenever rather than hear the 4am alarm.  Yet my heart longs for the mountains, and I find myself much looking forward to 2015.Best high altitude lakes!
4.  Chasm Lake.  This lake lies in the bowl right below Longs Peak and provides astounding views of it and Mount Meeker, the second highest peak in the park.  It's a pretty popular lake and it's easy to see why when you get there.
3.  Snowdrift Lakes.  I am grouping these all together because they could all reasonably be visited in a day.  If I had to pick a favorite, I'd say Wonderland Lake.  These lakes are accessible from both sides of the park.  My guess is that you won't see anyone at them if you strive to make the journey.
2.  Lake of the Clouds.  It's fairly difficult to get to, but again, you will likely have this alpine lake all to yourself.  To the east find great views of RMNP.  Unlike most of the eastern side of RMNP, this area has alot of mining history, and it is still possible to see signs of human activity in many places.
1.  Rowe Lake.  Inexorably tied to the glacier that supplies much of it's water, Rowe Lake is the second highest named lake in the United States.  At 13100 feet, it is higher than many of the peaks in the park.  It is remote and it takes a big day to get there and back.  Even in late summer, the lake was still about half covered with ice.  A true beauty.
Best features!
4.  Castle Rock on Castle Mountain.  It's a short but steep jaunt up from the parking, but pretty scenery through large rounded boulders ala Lumpy Ridge.  Around the back find a gully that leads up to a short section of third to fourth class movement.  On top find great views of Estes Park, Lumpy Ridge, and the continental divide.
3.  Middle No Name.  One of three named but unranked peaks that stand at the end of the North Fork Drainage.  From below it looks pretty spectacular, from above it's a small high point on the tundra plains east of Rowe Mountain.  But it holds some pretty great views of the drainage.
2.  Black Pool.  This tiny body of water lies half a mile from the Fern Lake trail, which has to be one of the busiest trails in the park.  Despite that, it doesn't see much visitation as there is no trail to it, and getting there requires a creek crossing and a steep scramble up some loose terrain.  It is beautiful.
1.  Little Matterhorn.  The small highpoint lies east of the continental divide and can be accessed by a number of different approaches.  The one thing they all have in common is the absolutely fun and exposed third class scramble along the ridge to reach that highpoint.  I love stuff like this.
Best peaks!
4.  Snowdrift Peak.  This peak lies pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  The easiest access is probably to take the Flattop trail up, then loose some elevation before regaining the summit.  You can see forever from up here.  This also happened to be my halfway point in the park.  My ascent put me at 50% completion.
3.  Chiefs Head Peak.  Maybe it wasn't the peak itself (my second time atop it) but the method used to get there that made it stand out in my mind.  I started in Glacier Gorge and took the Chiefs Head/Pagoda couloir up.  It was a fun snow climb, with a cool peak at the top.
2.  Dundicking.  This is an unofficially named but ranked peak in the Mummy Range, and I walked right by it on a long day simply because it wasn't marked on the map I had.  Oddly enough, it is the only ranked peak on the entire ridge.  It took me two more tries to get here, and spring saw me taste some success.
1.  Static Peak.  This peak essentially marks the north western corner of RMNP, and the east ridge holds one of the funnest scrambles I have ever done.  Add to that the absolutely astounding views of the surrounding peaks, lakes, and valleys you have a must do in my opinion.
Best easier hikes!
4.  Lulu City.  This site lies a few miles north and not too many feet up from the Colorado River trail head.  I include this here not for what is still there, but for what was once there.  All along the trail you can see the remnants of mining operations that took place in the late 1800s.  Lulu City itself once had a population of 500.  It is hard to imagine that today, but fun to sit and think what things must have been like back then.  A great destination for families.
3.  Tombstone Ridge.  I took the hard way to get here, but you could start from Trail Ridge Road and hike a few miles with much less elevation gain than if you'd started from below to explore this rock feature.  Again, I could imagine children of a certain age having a ton of fun poking around up here.  Keep in mind the likelihood of afternoon thunderstorms and plan you visit accordingly.
2.  Kettle Tarn.  This small body of water is about five miles in, but there isn't much elevation gain to get here.  There used to be a NPS campsite here, but the flood seems to have taken that with it.  Cross the creek where you can to find this small lake.  Enjoy the quiet and solitude.
1.  Mount Ida.  Like last year, I have also included a more difficult east destination here.  The trail head starts high, so you gain treeline rather quickly.  Keep on the trail at your own pace to get to the summit of this peak.  Look down over Gorge Lakes and take a look at Trail Ridge Road across the valley.  Bighorn Sheep frequent this area- I saw more in one day than I have in my life combined.
Best epic days!
4.  Taylor Peak in winter.  This was quite a slog in snow.  I finally reached the summit and felt tired.  Going back was beyond difficult.  I had to stop quite frequently and rest as I headed back around Hallett Peak.  This was one of the days I think I was close to my breaking point.
3.  Longs Peak in winter.  The last day of winter saw me take down a unofficial goal.  I hadn't done the Keyhole Route before, but ready everything I could about the route.  In the end I made it to the top (and most importantly) back down safely.
2.  Mummy Kill.  Joined by a friend, we climbed 6 13ers and 2 12ers in one day.  This gave me a personal best for length of time hiking, as well as total elevation gained in one day.  The Mummy Range holds a very special place in my heart.
1.  Ni-chebe-chii part 1.  I started from the Colorado River trail head with some of the Never Summer peaks as goals for the day.  I ended up getting back to the car in complete darkness after spending 15.5 hours out and about.  Add nearly two hours of driving onto both sides of that.  I was beyond tired, but it was an incredible day.
Honorable mentions!
Favorite waterfall!
This isn't labelled on any map, but the waterfall from the exit of Ptarmigan Lake was certainly the most spectacular I saw all year.  It is not easy to get to.
Total mileage mountain biked in 2014:
1358.3 miles.
Total estimated mileage hiked in 2014:
369.5 miles.
Total estimated elevation gained hiking in 2014:
128,166 feet = 24.27 miles.
Number of new destinations obtained in RMNP in 2014:
Number of new destinations obtained outside RMNP in 2014:
Best photos of 2014 as chosen by an esteemed panel of judges:
Heading up towards Mount Lady Washington after a heavy spring snowfall.  Note the snowflake caught up close in midair.  Snowshoe madness!
A little guy accosted me for a snack on the Longs Peak Trail.  He was cute but got nothing.
Black Lake in Glacier Gorge.  This was one of my favorites as well.  It looks like it was created in Photoshop.
Otis, Hallett, and Flattop peer out from a storm on the divide as seen from Sprague Lake.
Alpine Sunflowers and Cracktop as seen from Mt. Julian.
I don't get many reflective lake photos since I don't want to sit there for hours waiting for that one minute of no wind.  Sometimes I get lucky though.  Hallett Peak as seen in Bear Lake.
A thin cloud caught in the Keyhole along the way to Longs Peak.
Pterospora, the most alien looking plant I have ever seen.  Captured on the North Boundary Trail.
The fun and exposed third class ridge of Static Peak. 
Looking along the North Inlet Trail as clouds build.  It looked bad and I ran back down to Bear Lake just in time to avoid the thunderstorms.
In the clouds on Tombstone Ridge.  
The next four photos were picked by all the judges.
Wind sculpted clouds as seen from Bierstadt Moraine.
Alpenglow strikes the Never Summer Mountains.
Hello?  Deer on Flattop Mountain.
I hiked up through clouds to capture this view down into Ptarmigan Gorge.  It was pretty cool to see the surrounding peaks poking up through the clouds.
I also wrote a somewhat differently styled year long wrap up on  (click that to read it!)

Thank you for reading and your continued support throughout the year!  It is crazy to think that 2015 will see me (hopefully) near the end goal of hiking to every named destination in RMNP.  If all goes according to plan, I should wrap up in summer 2016.
In the meantime, I hope to see you out there!  Enjoy this majestic place!