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. 

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