Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Powell Peak via Andrews Glacier.

I have had some great days outdoors this week.  Monday I got up to some higher altitudes for some fun mountain biking.  I found myself ripping downhill on ten inch wide single track through a meadow of wildflowers and wondered if life could get any better.  Well, I had to head to work after that, so no!  But it is those moments of perfection that I seek, where everything comes together even if only for a second.
I didn't sleep much that night since I had to close.  Bleary eyed to answer the 4:15 alarm, I slathered on sunscreen, put in my contacts, made some food, and started the drive up to Estes Park.  A few thoughts for the day had run through my head.  There are a few snow climbs I would like to accomplish this year.  But the look at the mountains from my highpoint on Monday told me it might still be too early for these.  So what to do?  
I started from the Glacier Gorge trail head at 6:15.  I took the Fire Trail both ways.  Alberta Falls is nice and all, but I've now seen it multiple times in every season.  
Working up to The Loch.  In the winter, you can just stay down in the valley.
The Loch was quite pretty, just as always.  I happened to make it up early enough on a low wind day and got a few nice reflective photos.  Directly ahead you can see the flat face of the peninsula of land that juts out from the Continental Divide and holds The Sharkstooth amongst other features.  To the left, find Sky Pond, and to the right you can see the top of Andrews Glacier.
Since I'd never been up here before, I somehow ended up staying on the mashed into the snow trail a little bit longer than I should.  The crampons were put on and I faced what would be the steepest snow climb of the day as I made my way uphill and into the basin holding Andrews Creek.
You can see some footprints here, and I could see footprints in places for most of the day.  Simply head up to reach Andrews Tarn.  I was feeling a little bit better heading up than I was last week.  Hopefully some of that fitness is coming back to me.  
I found the snow slope lying below Andrews Tarn to be steeper than the glacier itself, maybe 30+ degrees.  I stopped to take a picture of The Sharkstooth.  It looks pretty awesome sticking up by itself there.  Note the sliver of moon in the upper right corner.
I stopped at the tarn and had a snack.  There had been a little bit of slide activity on both sides of the glacier and I could see the footprints went around it.  Like always, it looked steeper and more imposing than it really was.  I felt I could have gone up in microspikes, but of course, better to be safe than sorry!
Contrary to earlier, I felt like I was dragging up the glacier.  The late turn cost me some time and energy.  All I could do was go at my pace.  In the end, I topped out the glacier about three hours and fifteen minutes after I left the car.
Taylor Peak loomed large.  All I could do was think about the last time I was here and how bad I felt then.  I started up, keeping the crampons on for the time being.  
Looking back at how much snow there is.  Fortunately, it is melting and consolidating, and largely held my body weight.  Postholing could have turned this day into a real slog.  The weather was great, with a nice cool wind blowing to offset my uphill energy.  I wore a tshirt the entire day.
I felt alot better ascending Taylor.  It is a little less than a mile from Andrews Pass and around 1200 feet of gain.  It offers some great views of Longs Peak.
Powell Peak still looked very far away.  I couldn't remember how far, or how much loss and gain would be needed to get there.  If I stayed close to the edge of the divide, I could stay on snow most of the way and minimize the elevation loss.  I started descending on talus and took off my crampons soon enough.  The traction simply was not needed on the snow and they were more of a hassle than an asset on the rock.
Taylor Glacier, Glass Lake.
I felt as though I was moving well, though again I was not going very quickly.  But I could finally see the summit of Powell Peak, with McHenrys and Longs in the background.  At some point during the hike, I realized that this could be my last ranked 13er in the park.  I ran through a mental list and found that it was indeed, with a few unranked points above 13k left to go, such as SE Longs and Glacier Ridge.
From what I could see from the summit, McHenrys Notch looked difficult but reasonable.  Once out of the notch, it looks like some easier terrain awaits to the summit, before entering some third class on the descent on the other side.  
Snow everywhere.  The Rabbit Hole Couloir of Mount Alice had been a thought for this week.  Maybe in another week or two, as there is still alot of snow up there.
I had a snack on the summit and planned to lounge around for a little bit.  That turned into a get packed and get going quickly when I heard thunder.  None of the clouds I could see looked threatening, but better to be on the safe side and head back.
I stopped at Andrews Pass for a snack and to trade the hiking poles for an ice axe.  I thought I heard voices, and looked up to Otis Peak, where I saw two people descending toward the pass.  We met up and talked.  It is always nice to run into people out there in what is essentially the middle of nowhere.  We shared some stories and took a few photos and were then on our way.  The descent was quick- I ran down and attempted to slide once, but the top layer of snow was so soft I could not get going.  Back at the tarn I looked up...
I thought these photos would turn out well, but this might be the single best series I have ever taken in the mountains.  Click to zoom in and find the two black dots on the upper left side of the glacier.  These are the two people I met descending.  
Seen here in close up.  
A pretty wonderful place to be!
I was able to glissade the slope below the tarn, and felt like I created a minor slide of my own as the top layer of snow was pretty slushy.  I stayed down in the basin and followed the footsteps down to get back to the trail in the right place.  As it turned out, the turn off wasn't obvious, but I still feel I shouldn't have missed it.  Ah well.
Back at The Loch I had a snack and reveled in another windless photo opportunity.  I started to see some people around The Loch, and passed a few on my way back down.  On the Fire Trail yet again, I enjoyed the quiet and solitude of the forest and thought about life for awhile.  Back on the official trail, I saw a few more people but avoided my favorite question- "How far?"
The trailside philosopher in me always wants to reply to that question by asking, "Does it matter?", but I usually give some time or distance guess, or the vague, "You're getting there", or something of that sort.
I got back to the car at precisely 3:36, giving me nine hours and twenty one minutes to do this hike.  I loved every second of it.  Despite only sleeping four and a half hours the night before, I felt rather chipper.  'If only I had my running shoes,' I thought.  'And more water.'  'And a big plate of food.'
The drive back home was uneventful and punctuated with a trip to the grocery store.  Not five hours before I had been lounging in sunshine at 13208 feet.  Life was perfect for a few hours.
All in, this is not a very technically difficult hike.  Andrews Glacier is pretty mellow in grade, though it should be noted it can still form crevasses, and as it terminates into frigid water, a uncontrolled slide down could result in a potentially life threatening situation.  Thus I would recommend the usage of an ice axe or hiking poles as an aid to control the speed of your descent.  Taylor and Powell are no more than second class on grass and scree in the summer months, or some combination of those and snow in winter.
Powell Peak is named for John Wesley Powell, an early explorer of the west.
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
Powell Peak via Andrews Glacier (all distances measured using the Fire Trail, add about a mile if not):
The Loch, 10190 feet: 1.7 miles each way, 1040 foot elevation gain.  Moderate.
Andrews Tarn, 11390 feet: 3.3 miles each way, 2150 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Andrews Glacier, 11650 feet (approximately the middle): 3.6 miles one way, 2410 foot gain.  Moderate+
Andrews Pass, 11980 feet: 3.8 miles one way, 2740 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Taylor Peak, 13153 feet: 4.7 miles one way, 3913 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Powell Peak, 13208 feet: 6.1 miles one way, 3968 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
As a whole, this hike covered approximately 12 miles with 4800 feet of gross elevation gain.  Strenuous. 

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