Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ni-Chebe-Chii Part 4

The Never Summer Mountains.  A early wake up, and a nearly two hour drive in the dark to the Bowen/Baker trailhead.  On the menu for the day were no fewer than seven 12000+ foot peaks, one mountain pass, and one alpine lake.  I'd finish the south end of the range in a big day, covering twentyish miles and over 8000 feet of elevation gain.  The mind wanders, the legs start to burn, and the heart beats harder just thinking about it.  
I have previously covered other parts of the range here: (part 1) (part 2) (part 3).  Of all the special places in RMNP, this range really stands out.  The unique character of the peaks would certainly assert itself over the day as I would cover ground that was basically large and unstable piles of loose rock, and then move to some of the best tundra hiking in all of RMNP, so smooth it was practically like being on a trail.  More so than other areas of the park, this range has a rich mining history, and I would see remnants of what once was several times over the course of the day.
With darkness at the trail head, I moved by headlamp for an hour or so, and made great time up the relatively flat gain Baker Gulch trail. 
Dawn breaking over the high peaks to the east.
I made it to the intersection with Grand Ditch, and got on the road for about ten or fifteen minutes.  My plan was to now descend to the large, flatter bowl between Baker Mountain and Green Knoll.  I would turn left into this talus filled meadow and gain elevation up to the summit of Green Knoll, and then cross a technical third class section of ridge to Mt. Stratus, before heading to Baker Mountain.
Alpenglow on the peaks around me.  
Back east.  The day was young and there was still a lot of ground to cover, but I took the opportunity to enjoy some wild raspberries from the bushes growing alongside the road.  They were absolutely delicious!
Slowly and steadily I gained elevation in this meadow.  The talus was quite large and stable, and I made decent time moving directly over it.  I came to a point where it wouldn't make sense to continue up into this bowl anymore, and headed northeast on some pleasant tundra to gain the ridge and then the summit of Green Knoll.  
Looking along the serrated ridge to Mt. Stratus.
Near the summit of Green Knoll I found the first evidence of mining operations.  The was a vertical shaft just east of the summit.  I always find it interesting to think back to what must have been then.  Imagine coming all the way up here to dig for something.  
Points north.
Red Mountain.  The smoky haze was already quite visible, and really gave the mountains some misty depth.
Along the east ridge of Green Knoll.
Baker Mountain looked far away from here.
I started to head toward Mt. Stratus, staying slightly down from the ridge on the south side.  Not that there is much choice in the matter- the north side is a steep cliff face.
Green Knoll from the start of the technical difficulties.  
I didn't take a single photo from the traverse as I was focused solely on it.  Here the rock started to loosen up a bit, and there were times when I kicked or pulled fairly large chunks right off the mountainside.  Use extreme caution and wear helmets if climbing with a partner.  
It took me about an hour to get to Mt. Stratus.  I would say the highest difficulties of the ridge are third class, but it isn't sustained third.  Near the summit, I crossed to the north side of the ridge and made my way up.
These peaks looked impossibly far away, but were on the list for the day.  L to R- Never Summer Peak, Farview Mountain, Parika Peak, and Paprika Peak.  
Mt. Nimbus from Mt. Stratus. 
Looking back along the ridge to Green Knoll.
I dropped down and headed south, covering some more third class terrain on rock that was a bit more solid.  You could keep this in second class by loosing more elevation, but that would give you some regain on the other side.  I was completely happy to down climb and route find through the technical difficulties.  
Getting close to Baker Mountain, which marks the south end of the range that is officially in RMNP.
From the summit to the ridge between Mt. Stratus and Green Knoll.  A great look at the entire route.  
Cairn on the summit.  Three peaks and five hours in, I had yet to see a single register.  My impression from lists of john is that these summits are not visited all that often, and none of them are ranked, which probably doesn't make them all that desirable.  But the quiet, solitude, and challenge made them quite worthy in my mind.
From here I planned to do a descending contour to meet Baker Pass.  The best laid plans, I suppose, and now looking back, rather foolish.  The west side of these peaks is comprised of loose, loose rock, smaller talus that moves and slides with every step.  Add to this the numerous gullies filled with all sorts of loose junk to go over (and the rock comprising both sides of each gully pulling off the wall in your hands), and my plan disintegrated just as these peaks are.  I eventually found a gully that didn't look too crazy and decided to head down it to the more stable grassy meadows at the base.  It might give me some bushwhacking, but even if that was bad, the movement would be easier than where I was.
The gully proved to be a challenge, but I eventually made it safely to the bottom.  I was able to cross a small stream and move through some forest fairly easily and was on my way to Baker Pass.  The topo map shows a trail here somewhere, but I didn't find any sign of one on my way up, nor could I see one looking down from the pass. 
The west side of Mt. Nimbus as seen from Baker Pass.  Reconnaissance?
Looking down into the meadow.  You can see Bowen Mountain just right of center, and Never Summer Peak to the right of that.  It looked far, far away, and I felt a bit dissuaded with the fuzzy knowledge of how much distance and elevation gain I would have to cover to get there.  But instead of getting myself down or quitting, I set a goal.  It was 11:31.  I would stand on the summit of Never Summer Peak by 2:31.  Three hours.  Ready?  Set?  Go!
But first a photo.  The sign at Baker Pass.
There were two obvious trails that leave from here.  The higher one crosses the ridge and goes into Jack Creek.  The lower one led to the remnants of a small mine.  You can find the remains of a cabin near it, collapsed and mostly returned to the soil, but you can still make out the floor plan, and incredibly, see the rusted out remains of a cot.
I seemed to find a trail, which disappeared.  No worries, as the travel was fairly easy through grassy areas and some trees.  I saw and scared off a young bull moose.  Finally I found myself on something I could actually call a trail, though it was thin and obviously doesn't see much usage.  This eventually intersected with a very well defined trail to Parika Lake.  I had yet to see a person, but finally saw some evidence of humanity in a tent set up nearish the lake.  
Never Summer Peak and Parika Lake.
I headed toward the saddle between Parika and Paprika, and then cut right up Paprika after I'd passed some loose looking areas.  I made good time and hit the summit of this peak shortly after one.
I'd have to loose about 550 feet and then regain around 700 to get to the top of Parika Peak.  It looked pretty steep.  The wind was starting to pick up now, and I realized that this was the first day of 2015 when things have really felt like fall.  And I realized I should have filled up on water at the lake as I drank the last I had on me.
Great views from Paprika Peak.  There was a baby food jar register placed by the Kirks the day after they both ran the Never Summer 100k (and she won and set a course record).  Always inspiring.
I found this well worn sign and a thin trail through the saddle between the peaks.  I could see the trail from above, but didn't pinpoint a intersection with anything on the way down.  How long must this sign have stood in place to look like this I wonder.  And how many people see it in a year?  I'd be surprised if it was much more than ten. 
I stopped for a snack on the way up, but was able to motor to the top of Parika Peak.  My legs were only feeling stronger as the day went on and the elevation gain and miles added up. 
Looking to Farview Mountain, which is a small high point just off the Bowen/Baker trail, and Never Summer Peak.  Clouds were starting to move in, but nothing looked threatening.
Farview Mountain was quite easy.  I am sure a ton of people pass it without ever thinking anything of it, but it would provide a small diversion.
I stopped between it and Never Summer Peak to harvest some snow.  I'd been without water for over an hour at this point, and was looking at at least another hour until I'd get to a liquid water source.  The snow did the trick and kept me going.
The terrain gets slightly more rocky as you head up to this summit, but it is nothing like what was encountered on Baker Mountain.  In short order, I found myself at the top.
Looking back to Farview Mountain and Parika Peak.  
It was 234.  Close enough for me!
Honestly, I never thought I'd hit that goal, and it seemed unrealistic when I gave it.  But I did it after all.  I had a snack and took in the scenery.  This peak is uniquely positioned to give great views in all directions of this part of the Never Summer range.  Truly spectacular, and it really isn't far off the trail.  Certainly worth a detour in my opinion.
I ate some snow before heading back to the trail.  Once on it, I was able to move fairly quickly, jogging my way downhill.
Looking back up from Parika Lake.
I refilled my water at last, had another snack, and started down.  I'd still yet to see a person, but ran into someone next to the outlet creek a few hundred feet down.  I'd gone almost ten hours without seeing a soul.
I saw a few more people on the way down, and three more moose, including a mom and a calf.  Both encounters necessitated a short diversion from the trail, as neither of the large females looked remotely threatened by or interested in me as I yelled at them and banged rocks together.
I made it back to the trail head with some day light left, and made the long drive back over the continental divide to home.  A good day.
Of interest, only three of the peaks I climbed this day are actually in RMNP, but I feel like the others are a natural extension to the range that was given an arbitrary border.  The more difficult are these three within the park- Green Knoll, Mt. Stratus, and Baker Mountain.  The movement is third class at most, but the terrain is quite loose and unstable.  Hiking on Paprika through Never Summer was quite the opposite, on very easy tundra.  Parika Lake is quite spectacular, and well worth the effort to get there.  Definitely a fun area to spend some time in, and with less restrictions on camping in the Never Summer Wilderness, one could easily climb these peaks over several days and spend the nights in some unforgettable scenery.
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
Ni-Chebe-Chii Part 4 (distances as part of the hike):
Green Knoll, 12300 feet: 5.6 miles, 3450 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Mount Stratus, 12520 feet: 6.1 miles, 3670 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.
Baker Mountain, 12397 feet: 6.8 miles, 3547 foot gain.  Second-third class.  Strenuous.
Baker Pass, 11253 feet: 8.4 miles, 2403 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Parika Lake, 11380 feet: 10.4 miles, 2530 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Paprika Peak, 12253 feet: 10.8 miles, 3403 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Parika Peak, 12394 feet: 11.4 miles, 3544 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Farview Mountain, 12246 feet: 11.9 miles, 3396 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Never Summer Peak*, 12442 feet: 12.6 miles, 3592 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
As a whole, this hike covered approximately 20 miles and nearly 8400 feet of estimated elevation gain in up to third class terrain.  Strenuous+.
*This peak is mentioned in Fosters book but not included as a destination.  There is also a peak commonly referred to as Never Summer Peak that is located in RMNP east of Lead Mountain.  Foster calls this "Jiffy Pop Peak" in her book.

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