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. 


  1. I have a burning question. How do the registers stay put on the summits? It seems like they would just blow away, get covered in snow or rain and get wet and ruined, or something else. And, how do you find them up there?

    1. There will almost always be a small pile of rocks to mark the summit, and the register will be stashed within that so wind will not blow it away. People tend to use emptied and washed jars of food, either plastic or glass, so they are water tight in theory. You can also see some registers that are made of plastic pvc pipe where one end screws off.
      Sometimes there can't be a small pile of rocks, in that case I have seen the pvc pipe type actually connected to the rock of the mountain with a stainless steel cable so it can't wander off.