Thursday, August 13, 2015

Bushwhacking the west side.

With a predicted 70% chance of thunderstorms after 1pm, the weather didn't look so great for this week.  Last year a prediction like that would have kept me at home.  This year I slept for 3 hours and drove for two hours to get a 5am start.  I have a specific goal for this year, and those mountains aren't going to climb themselves!  
I was able to put together a logical grouping of peaks, a lake, and a waterfall that would keep me below tree line for the most part, and out of harms way, with the foray above the trees coming early in the day.  
I started from the Green Mountain TH just as the sky was starting to grow light.  I stayed on the trail for about fifteen minutes before deciding to cut off south and east and start gaining altitude.  Though I would cross an official NPS trail a few hours later, it would be almost six hours before I would actually hike on a trail again.
The buswhacking started, and it was of moderate intensity.  There was a fair amount of dead fall to go over and around at first, but at around 9500 feet this lessened up significantly.  The undergrowth is low to the ground and fairly easy to move over for the most part.  
Up I went until I gained a high point.  I continued along, moving higher and staying near this ridge.  After a few false summits I found the true summit about an hour and twenty five minutes after I started. 
Mount Patterson and Nisa Mountain through the trees.
As you can see, there wasn't much to see from this treed summit.  The register was a sight worth taking in, as is often the case on these minor peaks.  It has been in place since 1992.  Over the day I would see the signatures of people such as Jennifer Roach, Steve Knapp, Brian Kalet, and Lisa Foster.  Some good company to be in.
This peak looks to see 3-5 summits a year, and I had missed someone by three days.
Next I set my sights on Nisa Mountain.  I simply headed east, avoiding any steeper areas as I worked my way downhill. 
A trail!  As I hiked through Big Meadows, the largest meadow in RMNP, I crossed no fewer than eight trails.  One was obviously the NPS trail, but this thin trail was within twenty feet of it.
Up and up was the name of the game when I got to the other side of the meadow.  I spied some rocky areas on the west face of Nisa Mountain and stayed north of them, but passed close enough to take a break and snap some photos from one.
Green Mountain.
Looking over Big Meadows.  A very pretty place to be.  Note all the beetle kill in this photo.
Things finally started to flatten out a bit, and a short time later the summit was sighted.  This peak is unranked, but still has an official name.  The bushwhacking was again of a similar character to Green Mountain.  Not much dead fall, low ground cover, and relatively easy movement as any forward/upward impedance was able to be avoided. 
I spied this saddle from Nisa Mountain.  Just a few weeks ago I'd stood in it as I went from Timber Lake to Julian Lake.
I took a break here and looked to Mount Patterson.  At least I would leave the trees for a short time and have some easier travel.
Trees everywhere.  Again, not so much in the views department.
Though there wasn't a trail, getting to Mount Patterson wasn't too difficult.  Just loose some elevation, and then gain some elevation.  Move around any obstacles. 
Finally I poked my head above the trees and was treated to some great views.  Here I saw the continental divide from the other side, which is to say most of these peaks are normally seen from the east.  A different perspective from the west, though McHenrys still looks pretty wicked from this side.
Never Summers.
I thought this was interesting to see- all the peaks I'd climbed on my previous outing.  It looks like a pretty big day from this vantage point.
Down to Grand Lake.
My plan from here was to move north east, and head directly to Granite Falls.  Hopefully I wouldn't go too far east and end up above them.  But in the end, I didn't go east enough and went almost directly north.  
Probably a good choice, because somewhere in this bushwhacking, I stumbled across this moose antler.  It was huge, obviously from an animal in its prime.  It probably weighed 25-30 pounds, and when I stood it on end, it was up to my waist.

Pretty cool vascular structure on the backside imprinted in the bone as it grew.
A little more.
This was an awesome find.  It's crazy to think that an animal can grow 50 plus pounds of bone in just a few months, and then leave it behind when the season changes.  This was one of those things that you can see in nature that I think is truly humbling.  If only I'd seen the enormous beast that dropped these.  After getting over the fear I would have been floored.
The bushwhacking was a bit more intense here- more and larger fallen trees, more waist and chest height brush grabbing at the clothes and backpack.  I eventually came to some cliffs and moved west to avoid them.  So I wasn't going to pop out at Granite Falls, but at least I'd be on a trail to get there.
As luck would have it, I popped out at the Sunset campsite, and saw the first two people of the day.  We talked for a little bit and I had to ask where I was specifically.  I got a congrats on my earlier adventures, and headed up the trail to the falls.
Now my plan was to run this.  I was still feeling pretty good as I hadn't been making much if any effort to really go fast as of yet.  I put my poles away and started up.  Almost immediately I felt a pain in my lower back/hips.  It was enough to force me to give up on running and walk.  Oh well. 
Granite Falls.  Pretty cool!
The Tonahutu Creek Trail moves through some very pretty flowery meadows.  I also happened upon and ate some wild strawberries.  Yum yum!
My plan was to head back down until I met the intersection with the Onahu Creek trail, take that up to the top of the saddle, and head directly to the ranked and unoffically named Bushwhack Hill, which lies directly south west of the saddle.  Simple.
Big Meadows again impressing.  Very beautiful. 
Shortly after I reached the saddle, I stumbled upon my second antler of the day!  Wow.  This was not as big as the first, and had been out for at least a full year if not longer.  I could see places where creatures had been gnawing at it, and some of the internal structure was visible.  Shortly after finding this one, I came upon a third!  Crazy.
My plan here seemed good, but from the saddle Bushwhack Hill wasn't visible.  I saw another high point and decided (without checking my compass) that this must be it.  Instead of going sw I went nw and climbed this high point.  You can imagine my disappointment when I got to the top and didn't find a cairn or register, and discovered it was about 100 feet too low.  Arg.  After spending some time looking around, I was able to see a hill with two high points almost directly south of me.  Whoops.
Bushwhack Hill.  Again nothing much to look at, again pretty cool register.
I was at a mental low here.  I'd just made a dumb mistake that cost me some time.  It was a little after 2pm, and almost on cue I heard thunder start around 1.  The wind had picked up alot and was now swirling, and I'd encountered a little bit of rain.  Was the weather going to be a factor after all?  I was well prepared for rain, but still, getting caught out in a thunderstorm is pretty scary.
But I was also close to the Green Mountain Trail, and therefore close to the car.  Maybe I could go down to the car, reevaluate the weather, and take the Onahu trail up toward Chickaree Lake.  The more I thought about it, the better an idea this seemed.  I even used my Inreach to send a message to that effect.  But when I stood up, my legs took over and propelled me north again.  I knew that if I went back to the car I would likely not continue on, and that would leave me with this one lake to come back for.
The bushwhacking here was similar to what I encountered for most of the day, and I felt like I was flying downhill.  I knew the lake was around 9300 feet in elevation, so I contoured around at around 9600 feet, making sure to keep the lake below me.  I reached a place where I would have to start heading back east to stay at that elevation, and knew I should now head directly north and find the trail.
Within a few minutes I came to a log and a definite sign of humanity: wadded up toilet paper and a turd on the ground.  Ha!  Well, at least I was headed in the right direction and had to be near a trail.  Moments later I popped out into another campsite, this time sans people.  I made my way over to the trail.  I was at the Onahu site.  I simply had to head down to 9400 or so, bear right to leave the trail, and I should be able to see the lake below me. 
Once again, there wasn't much dead fall to contend with.  I kept thinking at every little rise that I came to that I should see the lake soon.  And then, there it was.
What a beautiful and peaceful place to be.  I sat and had a snack, thought maybe I should just stay here and not go back.
While large, this lake has no inlet or outlet, and was therefore quite warm relatively speaking.  I decided to go for a swim and was in up to my knees when the weather went from lightly dripping to raining.  Oh well.  It would have felt nice.  
Reflections and ducks.
I made my way back to the trail.  As I was hiking, it seemed like it wasn't following the trail on the topo.  I was definitely on the north side of the creek for longer than I should have been (according to the map), and when I got home, my GPS points weren't on the trail at all.  I saw a few more people on the way down, met the Onahu TH and then stayed on the trail back to the Green Mountain TH.  There were a bunch of people there.  I ate some food, changed into shorts and prepared myself for one more little diversion.
I drove back toward Estes Park and stopped at the Coyote Valley TH.  It was now starting to rain for real, but while I was here I figured I would run this short out and back.  My lower back ceased to ache as badly as it did earlier, and I enjoyed the calm scenery and quiet of the Kawuneeche Valley as the rain fell upon me.   
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
Bushwhacking the west side (distances as part of the hike):
Green Mountain, 10313 feet: 1.6 miles, 1513 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate.
Nisa Mountain, 10788 feet: 3.1 miles, 1988 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Mount Patterson, 11424 feet: 4.25 miles, 2624 foot gain.  Second class. Moderate+.
Granite Falls, 9800 feet: 7.3 miles, 1000 foot gain.  Moderate.
Big Meadows, 9400ish feet: 9.5 miles, 600 foot gain.  Moderate-.
Bushwhack Hill, 10192 feet: 11.1 miles, 1392 foot gain.  Moderate. 
Chickaree Lake, 9260 feet: 12.9 miles, 460 foot gain.  Moderate-.
Coyote Valley Trail, 8820 feet: .5 miles each way, 40 foot gain.  Easy-.
As a whole, this loop covered 15.36 miles with an estimated 6318 feet of elevation gain in up to second class terrain with a whole, whole lot of bushwhacking.  Strenuous. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ni-chebe-chii Part 3

It was time to head back.  Just two weeks ago I had some tantalizing glimpses of the Ni-chebe-chii, or Never Summer Mountains.  I think the two days I spent there last year were amongst my favorite of the year.  I have covered the history of the area in part one and part two, so I will skip that here.  
But where do they end as far as what is in RMNP?  Of course the actual boundary makes sense, meaning the range would end with Baker Mountain.  I talked to a friend about this, and he said if someone was going after a list that someone else set, it was the second persons responsibility to do at least as much as if not more than the first person.  What I mean is that Foster included points like Bowen Pass, Bowen Mountain, Mineral Point, and Parika Peak in her book, but these are not technically in RMNP.  
Bowen Lake made it in the book, but the peaks above- Blue Ridge, Cascade Mountain, and Ruby Mountain- did not.  And if Ruby Mountain were included, then Ruby Lake would have to be as well.  Which is say that though I started and ended in RMNP, not a single destination I made it to on this day is actually within the park boundary.  But after studying the topo and giving it some thought, this seemed like a logical way to mark a boundary to the southern end of the range that is given an arbitrary boundary from where the park happens to actually end.
For the first time, I decided to drive over the night before and car camp.  It worked and it didn't.  I left the house shortly after 7pm, and got to the trailhead a little after 9pm.  I hit alot more traffic than I would have if I'd just left at 2am, so the drive took a little longer.  And then I was pretty hopped up and eager from the drive.  It took me some time to get settled in and then what felt like quite awhile to actually fall asleep.  
The alarm went off at 230am, jolting me awake.  So I had actually fallen asleep, but I didn't feel like it.  I snoozed until 3, and then got up.  I was cold and started the car to get the heater going while I ate breakfast.  I got everything ready and started shortly before 4.  So I started about an hour earlier than I would have if I had driven over in the morning, but I definitely would have slept more and better if I stayed at home.  Hmm....
At first the trail heads south for about two and a half miles with very little elevation gain- about 300 feet total.  Hiking by headlamp was as unnerving as ever, with perceived beasts lying just out of the range of the light waiting to eat me.  At one point I saw something BIG move on the trail in front of me and had my heart start racing only to realize it was the shadow of a tree branch cast by my light.
But the Earth continued to rotate, and the sky started to lighten after an hour and a half or so.  By the time I hit the Blue Lake trail intersection I was in enough light to take mine off.  It seemed like it didn't take me all that long to get to Bowen Lake from here.
A little reflection at Bowen Lake.  I saw several tents in the area, and a few out to greet the morning.  The camping is much less restricted here since you are not in RMNP.
From here, I continued on a trail past the lake and started to take it up to get to Blue Ridge.
I could see Bowen Mountain from here, and it looked pretty far away.  
I got to the top and hit the Continental Divide trail.  It was a short walk on just at tree line tundra to top out Blue Ridge. 
Blue Ridge and Longs Peak far, far away.
Bowen Mountain not looking any closer.
Looking toward Cascade Mountain.  It was not what looked like the high point from the lake, and was not what looked like the high point from here either.  The true summit is at the far end of the flat ridge.  
I got on the trail, and headed up to a point where it looked good to leave.  I was hiking pretty much exclusively on tundra with a little rock here and there.  A far cry from some of the more northern peaks in the range which are essentially large piles of loose rock!
Bowen Mountain was looking closer, kind of. 
Back down along to Blue Ridge.  I thought I was at the summit here but discovered a higher point not much after.
I found a broken glass register and decided that this was the true summit. 
It was a little easier to pick out the high point from the other side.  Here it is not the closest rounded lump, but the point beyond with a little snow on it.
Ruby Mountain came quickly enough, still on easy tundra with a trail at times.  There was another Hello Kitty register placed by John and Alyson Kirk at the top.  So cute, and it brought a smile to my face.
Ruby Lake and Bowen Mountain.  I decided to head slightly north from Ruby Mountain and descend the first gully down.  The ground was a little looser here, but manageable. 
Splendor above Ruby Lake.  It is rather shallow, as you can see all the way to the bottom in the middle, and it's got that great blue color of all the high lakes. 
I had a nice snack break here, reapplied sun block, and took this photo of a cool looking plant before I continued on toward the trail to Bowen Pass.  
It was a fun little contour here, at one point heading through knee high wildflowers of every color of the rainbow.  Pretty amazing. 
I made it to Bowen Pass and met a group of kids from a summer camp in Estes Park.  They asked me what the best cell phone was, Apple or Samsung.  Cell phones were about the last thing on my mind.
I had another snack, and then headed up toward the unnamed and unranked high point northwest of Bowen Mountain.  
From here, I thought I could see a clear route across the west side of the peak which would have me avoid the ridge line and any unnecessary elevation gain all together.  I guess I should have looked at some of the photos I'd taken or thought about how convoluted this side of the ridge looked, because when I got to the summit, the top of the ridge clearly looked like a much better choice.  There was a little bit of third class, but this was still on tundra and solid rock.  Some of the gullies had some loose scree that could be avoided or just gone over.  It took me a long time to make this traverse, and though I was still feeling pretty good, I felt like I wasted alot of time here. 
But I made the summit and had some great views, here of the entire range that actually is in RMNP, from left to right- Mount Richthofen, Tepee Mountain, Lead Mountain, Mount Cirrus, Howard Mountain, Mount Cumulus, Mount Nimbus, Mount Stratus, and Baker Mountain.
And the peaks to the north of Bowen Mountain - Never Summer Peak, Farview Mountain, and Paprika Peak.
A great view of Blue Lake.  For reference, there is also a Blue Lake within RMNP, located in Glacier Gorge
The peaks I'd been on earlier in the day, now looking far away.
Learning from my mistake to get to Bowen Mountain, I now tried to stay on the ridge to get to Mineral Point.  This did not prove to be doable, as I soon ran into some cliffy terrain, and very steep and loose gullies.  I ended up going almost directly south down into the valley toward Blue Lake before cutting west toward Mineral Point once I passed the base of the cliffs and difficulties extending down from Bowen Mountain.
I headed toward Mineral Point, taking animal trails, and staying on tundra.  Apparently there is an official trail up from Blue Lake, and I must have crossed it at some point, but I couldn't tell.  There weren't any signs that I saw.  This was something I had planned on taking back down to the lake.
Mineral Point was not too incredible on its own, but it did provide some great views of Baker Mountain, Green Knoll, and Mount Stratus.  This was another summit without a cairn or register that I could find.
A great view of most of RMNP from near the summit of Mineral Point.
I was expecting a clear trail down from here.  Much to my dismay, I didn't see much of anything.  I found a trail that looked really well put in, but it was going the wrong way at first, and then disappeared.  Bushwhacking it was.  I could not see the lake and was kind of guessing where it was.  I knew the elevation and once I got to a few hundred feet above that, I started looking around in earnest.  Still no visual.  I went down a little more and found myself at a point where the lake had to either be below me (I could clearly see it wasn't) or just around that next finger of land extending down ahead.  
I moved forward, and down a little more, and then found myself on what was clearly a man made trail.  This crossed a small stream and I found a very well defined trail on the other side.  There was nowhere the lake could be but slightly uphill from here.  I followed the trail and finally found the lake. 
Blue Lake, Bowen Mountain above.  
There were two people here with their dog, who was very friendly.  I took some time to eat and prepare for the journey back to the car.  I had already been out for 11.5 hours and was estimating 2-2.5 hours back to the car from here, and then 2 hours drive back home from there.  Onward!
Much to my surprise, these were the last people I'd see out on the trail for the day.  The next few hours and miles passed in silence and solitude.  I jogged a little bit on the way down but didn't feel particularly motivated to really move.  I was rather enjoying the afternoon sunlight filtering through the trees and the peace and quiet.  
I got back to the trailhead at 6pm.  Another long day in the Never Summers.  Another day in spectacular scenery.  Another day hiking Rocky Mountain National Park.  I loved every minute of it.
As I said above, a great thing about this area is the ability to backpack with less restrictions.  Dogs are welcome, and you can essentially set up anywhere without permits, etc.  This could certainly make accessing these peaks and lakes a good bit easier, as the trip could be spread over several days.  As always, be respectful of nature, pack out what you pack in, and leave no trace.
With the exception of the NW ridge of Bowen Mountain, all of these peaks are no more than second class.  All of them have a trail that runs near their summits, again with the exception of Bowen and possibly Mineral Point.  Accessing the summits isn't difficult in that regard, it is the distance you have to travel as well as the elevation gained that make things difficult here.  
The distances seem to be a little in flux- Foster says 6.6 miles to Bowen Lake.  I swear the sign which was around the intersection of the trails from the Bowen/Baker th and Gaskill said 7 miles, but I don't know if that was from that point or from the trail head.  My hand drawn map on Caltopo says 7.8 miles to Bowen Lake, and I've found these maps usually underestimate a bit because I can't capture all of the smaller twists and turns.  So I am just going to use the distances from that map here, with distance as part of the hike (thus it would be shorter to go directly to Blue Lake than the number you see here) but difficulty rating as if you'd gone directly to these from the Bowen/Baker th.
Ni-chebe-chii Part 3:
Bowen Lake, 11019 feet: 7.8 miles, 2169 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Blue Ridge, 11686 feet: 8.5 miles, 2836 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Cascade Mountain, 12311 feet: 10.2 miles, 3461 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Ruby Mountain, 12008 feet: 11.4 miles, 3158 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Ruby Lake, 11243 feet(GPS reading): 11.8 miles, 2393 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Bowen Pass, 11476 feet: 12.4 miles, 2626 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Bowen Mountain, 12524 feet: 13.2 miles, 3674 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.
Mineral Point, 11488 feet: 15.1 miles, 2638 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Blue Lake, 10690 feet: 16.4 miles, 1840 foot gain.  Moderate.
As a whole, this hike covered approximately 23.1 miles with 6454 feet of gross elevation gain and movement on up to third class terrain.  Strenuous. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Clif Organic Energy Food

It's been suggested to me by a few people that I start to review the things that I use while hiking.  Thus I welcome you to my first review! 
I had read about these during Scott Jurek's recent successful attempt at setting a new Appalachian Trail FKT.  The premise seems interesting- only whole and real foods go into these, and I thought they might make a welcome addition to my normal diet of various energy bars, trail mix, and homemade biscuits or PBJ sandwiches.
I hadn't seen them anywhere for sale, but spied them one day at Boulder Cycle Sport, and bought the Pizza Margherita and Sweet Potato with Sea Salt flavors, while they generously provided me the Banana Coconut Mango and Banana Beet Ginger as free samples.  The guys there had tried several of the flavors and it seemed like the two fruit based ones were the clear favorites, with opinion split on the palatability of the savory flavors.
I took all four with me when I ventured into the Never Summers, and tried them at various times during the day.  All are organic, vegan, gluten free, etc. 
The first down was the Banana Mango Coconut (Ingredients: Organic Banana Puree, Organic Mango Puree, Organic Coconut Cream, Organic Coconut, Sea Salt, Citric Acid.  MSRP $2.29).  I probably don't have to tell you this was the one I liked the best.  How can you go wrong with this flavor combination?  It was like drinking a smoothie in the middle of nowhere.  Some chunks of coconut added a pleasant texture.  The only bad part was that I wanted alot more!
I ate the Pizza Margherita (Organic Tomato Puree (Water, Organic Tomato Paste), Organic Carrot Puree, Water, Organic Quinoa, Organic Sunflower Seed Butter, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Olive Oil, Yeast Flakes, Sea Salt, Organic Garlic Powder, Organic Oregano, Organic Basil, Citric Acid.  MSRP $3.00) while I took a break at Ruby Lake.  This was one that got mixed reviews from BCS.  It did taste remarkably like pizza sauce with a yeasty or nutty cheese like character likely from the sunflower seed butter.  I think the spices were a little bit strong, particularly garlic and oregano.  I didn't find it gross, but didn't feel it was great either.
Banana Beet Ginger (Organic Banana Puree, Organic Beet Juice Concentrate, Citric Acid, Sea Salt, Organic Ginger.  MSRP $2.29) was next, somewhat later in the day.  It tasted mostly of banana with a slight earthy note from the beets and a little bit of a kick and some heat from the ginger.  I could eat it again.
That leaves the Sweet Potato and Sea Salt (Organic Sweet Potato Puree, Water, Organic Carrot Puree, Organic Sunflower Seed Butter, Organic Potato Powder, Organic Apple Juice Concentrate, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Quinoa, Sea Salt, Citric Acid.  MSRP $3.00).  If you like sweet potatoes, you will probably like it.  If not, you won't.  Again I found myself feeling somewhat indifferent.  I'd probably pick the pizza flavor over this one.
So I didn't find any to be unpalatable, and found the two fruit flavors to be nice, but all the same, I probably won't be buying again or all that frequently.  I also looked at the cost per calorie content, and they range from 100 calories for the Banana Mango Coconut to 200 for the Sweet Potato.  If they contained 3-400 calories per package, my thoughts might be different.  But alas, these are rather expensive for what you get.  Eating the recommended two per hour of activity (one fruit, one savory), it would cost me 63.48 not including tax for a 12 hour hike.  That's about my entire food bill for the week.  I like them, and I like Clif's products, but these will remain an occasional treat if even that.
I've also wondered about the likelihood of replicating these at home.  It could be as simple as a can of coconut milk, a few ripe bananas, some frozen mango chunks, sea salt, and a collapseable water or small energy gel bottle.  Or a can of Muir Glen pizza sauce, cooked quinoa, and sunflower seed butter.  You could make alot more volume for alot less money pretty easily and quickly it seems.