Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ni-Chebe-Chii Part 5 and 400th named destination!

"10/15/15- Dear Diary,
It's been awhile.  Still chugging along w/ what I hope looks like a smile on my face.
Hiked 23 mi + 8K+ elevation gain two days ago in 16.5 hrs.  Still feeling it I think!  Legs + knees slightly sore.  Multiple blisters on feet.  Slight headache.
Better tomorrow.  I hope.  Getting there.  Hardest in my opinion ridge traverse in RMNP.  Finding god and myself with every step.  Don't believe in god.  But its there.  My life changes every week.  On only 3 hours of sleep."
I've been having some trouble writing this post.  I thought perhaps sharing some words from my diary would help me get going.  I wrote this two days after the tremendous experience of my fifth and longest day yet in the Never Summer Mountains.  And yes, I am not religious and don't believe in God, at least not in the Judeo-Christian ultimate creator and destroyer of the world who is always watching and will judge you when you leave the Earth sense of the word.
Yet I feel like I see god every time I set foot in the mountains.  That probably doesn't make any sense at all.  I go somewhere, put in alot of effort over a day, and I see god on every peak and at every lake I visit.  I leave a part of myself there, maybe a part of what I was.  But I also take something with me.  And I feel a bit more whole in the end.
I want for nothing when I am there, save for enough food and water to keep going and see it again.  I am completely happy and content in a way I feel most will never be.  After all, how many of you can say you feel like you see god when you go to the gym to lift weights, or ride your bike, or run around the block?  What if you felt like you were having a religious experience and some sort of epiphany every time you undertook your preferred activity? 
Very early morning, Hitchens Gulch.
I knew this would be a big day, and my initial estimate had me at 16 hours.  I was hoping to minimize time spent in the dark, but with 11ish hours of day light, I knew I'd be out there alone for awhile.  I just hoped I could keep it together well enough.
The day before I'd prepped, so I could come home from work, shower, get ready for bed, and get to sleep as quickly as possible.  My alarm was already set for 2am.  Not that there's much difference between three and three and a half hours of sleep.
I left the house shortly after 2:30, and started the drive to the Colorado River trailhead.  It takes about an hour and fifty minutes for me.  I left the car at the trailhead at 4:32.  I was just hoping to make Grand Ditch Road by daylight.  The Red Mountain Trail seems like it goes on forever.  I moved quickly and was well into Hitchens Gulch before the sky started to lighten.
The Specimens from the south flank of Never Summer Peak.
Mount Cirrus and Hart Ridge, one of my planned destinations of the day.
Going up wasn't too bad.  There was some minimal bushwhacking before finding some talus and making ground up Never Summer Peak.  I decided to approach the peak from the east.  It seemed more sensical than to go farther up the gulch to approach it from the saddle it shares with Lead Mountain.
Last year I left the trailhead at 5:22 and it took me until 9:41 to get to Lake of the Clouds (11430 feet).  4 hours 19 minutes.
This year I left the trailhead at 4:32 and it took me until 8:02 to get to Never Summer Peak (12438 feet).  3 hours 30 minutes with a headache and slight nausea.
Nearly fifty minutes less to go slightly farther mileage wise with 1000 feet more up.  So my biggest question is this: who has been putting performance enhancing drugs in my food?
Lead Mountain, 12537 feet.  The ridge between the two already looked like it would be a fun route finding and scrambly challenge. 
Mount Mahler, Tepee Mountain, Mount Richthofen in early morning sun.
Hart Ridge certainly looked somewhat imposing from this viewpoint, but it would provide some easy scrambling.
I simply lost the few hundred feet down to the saddle between Never Summer and Lead, had a nice snack in the warm sunshine and wind blocked base, and started up again.  I started in the prominent crack, which had some fun stemming moves and got a little narrow toward the top.  This spit me out onto the ridge proper.  This goes at straight third class, but I have to say it felt slightly more difficult and third plus seems proper.  I compared it in my mind to Meeker Ridge, which is third class+ but has better hand and foot holds along its entire length. 
Getting higher and closer.  Some small towers come en route closer to the top.  These can be avoided on the south (left) side, but I crossed over the top near the summit and finished up on the north side. 
A continuing change of perspective on Hart Ridge and Mount Cirrus.
The sun light was creating some neat looking evaporative mists from points east of me.  Hard to capture on camera.
Hart Ridge now looking a bit more tame. 
The Lone Ranger.  This ranked peak is at just over 12k in elevation, and lies directly west of Mount Cirrus.  It isn't technically in RMNP, and was not included in Fosters book, but I have decided to include it here for the same reason that I've included some of the other peaks both north and south in the range- it feels like a logical extension to what is actually within the park boundaries. 
Lead Mountain.  It took me one hour and one minute to get here from Never Summer.
It is difficult to pick out the rocky spires of Tepee mountain against Richthofen, but here they are.
I took off south toward Hart Ridge.  While the rock between Never Summer and Lead was pretty solid, here I started to feel and find the loose nature of the rock in most of the range.  Something that looked solid would shift and move.  Funny enough I noticed that some of the smaller pieces of rock actually sounded like pieces of metal scraping and clanging together under my feet.
I was at the 12500 foot high point of Hart Ridge about fifty minutes after I left Lead Mountain.
The Lone Ranger.
Looking back north to Lead Mountain and Never Summer Peak.
For some reason, it seemed like a good idea to me to descend directly west from here and ring the bowl around to The Lone Ranger.  It looked like it would go, and in my research I couldn't find a single photo of Mount Cirrus from the west, but my photos from last year made it look like a simple descent over talus.  But of course I would have to gain about three hundred more feet to get to the summit of Cirrus.
For some reason at this place and time, it felt like the right thing to do to descend directly.  I don't know why I chose this option.  It would have been better and quicker to head for Cirrus and then take off downwards. 
This photo shows the scree gully I'd take to regain the main north/south ridge of the range, almost dead center.
It took me an hour and forty five minutes to get to The Lone Ranger.  Alot of this time was spent negotiating the steep and loose rock on the northwest side of Cirrus.  I was so happy to get to the bottom of this and some more solid ground.  I practically flew up the 400 feet or so of gain from the Cirrus/Ranger saddle to the summit.  Fifteen minutes with a break and I was at the top!
Wilderness to the north.
Somewhat to my surprise, the trail I found on my topo and on the US Forest Service option on Caltopo was actually there, though thin and I am sure not often used. 
Hart Ridge is to the right here.  Note the junk below that I descended, ending in a small cliff.  Fortunately I was able to find a safe way down, as going back up would have been pretty difficult.  Again, while researching this route, I wasn't able to find a photo of this side of the range anywhere online.  Now there is one, but you can take it from me that it will be dramatically easier and less time consuming to stay on the ridge proper.
I was able to drop back down from The Lone Ranger and take the trail for a short time before breaking off north and staying at around 11000 feet in elevation.  This took me over some rock, but it was mostly pleasant grassy areas.  Finally I hit the place I wanted to ascend.  My hope was that I'd be able to gain elevation until I got to around 11800 feet and topped out the ridge.  From here I hoped to see that I could swing around the bowl and stay at this elevation to meet the main North/South ridge of the range after the fourth class section north of Lead Mountain.  Of course, look at the photo above and tell me the likelihood of this.
Not very, I'd say!
I got to the top of the talus gully and saw that it would be immensely difficult and dangerous to try to ring the bowl.  Upwards...  The plus side was that my time spent at lower elevations seemed to cure my headache and nausea, and I now felt like eating again.  Until now I'd just been forcing myself to do so, but now I wanted to do so.  A good change in things.
I got to the top of the ridge, at around 12400 feet.  I could look back to Lead Mountain, approximately half a mile away.  Half a mile of second class talus.  I could look forward to Tepee mountain, about seven tenths of a mile away... and between me and it the most imposing and exposed fourth class ridge I've yet to lay eyes upon.
From 12400 feet.
I didn't stop once to take a photo while traversing this section.  One, there really isn't anywhere to stop and get out the camera.  Two, I didn't want to stop.  But trust me when I say that this is the real deal, with massively exposed death fall potential, and solidly fourth class.  Fortunately, the rock is solid- particularly higher up- but you might find some loose stuff closer to the bottom.  A few of the small towers can be traversed around, but most you'll simply just have to head over.  There is at least one step of faith, where the ridge simply ends, and you hold your breath waiting for your foot to make contact with the rock on the other side of the gap holding nothing but air.  
From Tepee Mountain east summit.
Finally things ease up a bit and it's back to the second class jumbled talus with assorted smaller pieces.  Again I noticed how these sound like metal as they knock against each other.
Bypass a tower on the west side, and head toward Tepee.  At third class, the western summit is the easier of the two, requiring some scrambling on some blocky steps and possibly a mantel move, depending precisely on which way you go.  This lies directly on the continental divide.
But first I headed to the true summit, the fourth class east summit.  Follow the ridge line up between the two summits.  You'll notice a dirt gully running steeply between them to your right.  Find yourself at a point where going up would have you gain the west summit and drop down to the saddle between the summits.  There is one small, sharp spire here, pointing skyward like a rotten tooth with yellow and green lichen growing on it.
There looks to be a pretty obvious crack up the west side of the east summit, but this isn't it.  Just to the south or right of this lies a small, flat ramp.  Get into this and start up and left toward the crack.  In the crack, the moves are obvious, but it's getting into it that seems to be the most difficult thing.  It will spit you out onto some loose rock.  Move northeast to gain the summit.
Tepee Mountain east.  I kept expecting to find a register, but didn't see one all day.  It would be interesting to see how often these peaks are climbed.
The lower west summit from the east summit.
I headed back down the way I'd come, following an occasional cairn.  Then I climbed back up and did the west summit.
East summit from the west summit.  The crack is off to the right.
Now, here came the biggest dilemma of the day.  I was out of water.  I originally planned to continue to Richthofen and then descend to the lakes on the other side, but despite several tries, I could not find safe passage over Tepee.
It seemed like the obvious solution was to descend and go around the west summit on the west.  I calculated it would likely take me an hour to get to Richthofen, another 45 minutes to get to Static Peak, and then 45 minutes to an hour to descend the incredibly fun third class ridge to the lakes.  So possibly up to two hours and forty five minutes to get from where I was to where I wanted to be.
I was four, and sunset was at 630.  I would not have enough daylight to get to the lake, and did not want to make the traverse in darkness.
And to be completely honest, I was pretty darn tired at this point!  I felt done in, and knew a descent down into Skeleton Gulch would truly be that- essentially all down hill from there.  I could find water.  You don't even want to know what I was drinking at this point.
Back to Lead.  The descent into Skeleton Gulch isn't too bad.  Start at the obvious low point pictured and turn left.  You can also see the terrain between the high point to the west of Lead Mountain here, and see that ringing the bowl would be very difficult to do.
One last look at what I would consider one of the most difficult climbs in RMNP.
I dropped down into the gulch, finally stumbling onto a clean but shallow and slow moving source of water.  I dipped my bottle in, and put a tablet in there.  One tablet for 2 liters, let sit for 30 minutes.  So it should work on a 12 oz bottle in what, five minutes?  I waited twenty to be sure, but soon found a swiftly running and deeper source, and was able to fill my reservoir completely. 
Never Summer Peak in afternoon light.  I eventually found the trail, and was able to move at a reasonable pace.
Skeleton Gulch in later afternoon shade.
At Grand Ditch Road I stopped to look at my options.  It was now six, and it was obvious that I'd be making at least some of the return hike in darkness.  But how much?  At this point I wanted nothing more than to be back at the car, more like back at the house, and to be in bed.  I've had many early starts and big days on not alot of sleep this year, but this one hit me hard.
But there was one silly little high point that I missed last year, mere feet off the trail, solely because I didn't do the research beforehand.  Foster talks about Little Yellowstone as a canyon, but there is also a small high point bearing the same name overlooking the canyon.  It would completely close a quad for me, which is to say all ranked and unranked peaks, and I was at 399 named destinations.  I wanted 400 this day.  And I was going to get it.
This idea was supported by looking at the topo.  Though this high point lies very close to the Poudre Pass TH, getting to the Poudre Pass TH is a long drive for me, surely more than the extra time it would take me to get there.  Plus I could simply hike Grand Ditch Road, all downhill at this point, for about 2.5 miles.  And then head down the Poudre Pass Trail.  I knew what to expect there since I'd done it before.  I couldn't remember if the sign I saw early in the morning darkness said 6.something miles back or 7.something miles back.  Not that it mattered at this point.  I'd just move as quickly as I could.
The sun sets on this already long and difficult day.  Not much more difficulty to come, but it was definitely going to get longer. 
You can just see the last little wink of sunlight on the Specimen group.  I was able to go for a little bit more in the waning light, but soon had my headlamp on for the second time of the day.
I finally hit the Poudre Pass Trail and turned down it.  I could see the lump of forest ahead of me on the left.  I split off from the trail minutes after gaining it, and headed up for a few more feet of elevation gain.  And there it was...
Not the most spectacular piece of land, though I'm sure if offers some great views of the canyon in daylight. 
A very tired and blurry me at destination 400!  In my past life I probably would've taken a split of Champagne or a beer or something along to celebrate.  But now, I simply enjoyed the moment as much as I could.  This came at 14.5 hours in, and I thought I still had up to three hours to go to get back to the car.  Then maybe an hour and forty five minutes to drive back home.
I headed back down to the trail, and started down in earnest.  I was able to jog alot of the downhills and flats, no small feat after a day of this length.  I started to see things I remembered from last year- the bridge that is still out, a crossing of the Colorado River, Lulu City turnoffs.  Everything familiar led me to believe I was getting closer.  I finally passed by Shipler Park.  Then over the mine tailings littering the trail.  At last a meadow where I spied many inquisitive pairs of Elk eyes last year.  It occurred to me that I'd yet to see or even hear a single Elk.  I could feel myself slowing down, all power was lost.  Hours later I hit the sign for the Red Mountain trail intersection.  Almost there.  Just a little more uphill and then I was on the final downhill.  I could see a light in the parking lot, maybe someone else was there.  No, it was just the sidelights on my car reflecting my headlamp.  But I was there.  I walked to the car and looked at the time.  9:06 pm, two hours and five minutes from Little Yellowstone.  Sixteen hours and thirty four minutes had elapsed since I left the car in the darkness of the early morning.  I hadn't seen a single person all day.
I put my stuff in the car and got my shoes off my aching feet.  I was pretty beat.  I had a snack and started the long drive back, never turning the heat on despite the colder temperatures.  I didn't want to get comfortable and fall asleep.  It worked, though I shivered for almost the entire drive home.
I made it back around 10:45.  I always find the drive back to go a bit quicker.  There are less tight curves on the Estes Park side of Trail Ridge, so the speed can be a bit higher.  And I could probably drive 36 in my sleep by now.  Just kidding.
Back at home I took a shower and went to bed shortly after 11.  21 hours of wakefulness with 16 and a half of hard exercise on three hours of sleep the night before.  Over the day, I joking considered renaming this website "While you were sleeping...".  And going through a normal day.  And sleeping again.
The Never Summer range is spectacularly beautiful, and with a unique character all to itself.  The same things that make it very slow and difficult to hike or climb (mainly unstable and crumbling rock) also make it great to photograph.  It is a great place to be, a great place to find yourself, and a great place to find god.
400 named destinations will be the last major milestone for me, as I don't have 100 more left to do.  There are still two big days planned for this year (weather dependent).  I hope to finish up hiking Rocky Mountain National Park in 2016.  Then I can start working on the script for the YTD Michael Bay directed blockbuster "based on a true story" movie, where I singlehandedly defend the mountains from invading aliens.  There will be lots of explosions, CGI galore, a witty side kick (Dan?), and of course a buxom goddess inexplicably wearing a bikini for most of the movie .  Just kidding again.
It's a small place in a small part of the world, and probably of consequence to very few.  It's a place that millions of people visit every year, but save for the most popular tourist destinations (Bear Lake, Flattop, etc.) or Longs Peak, most of it goes unseen except through the windows of a car.  It's 415 square miles, but I can tell you exactly how infinite the wilderness is, for I have measured vast swaths of it with my body.  And I feel more whole with every day spent here, every sunrise and sunset witnessed, with every step on trail or off.  The very existence of this website stems from one word, and one word alone.  Passion.  Something you can't buy from any store for any price.
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
Ni-Chebe-Chii Part 5 (distances as part of the hike):
Never Summer Peak*, 12438 feet: 7.2 miles, 3398 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Lead Mountain, 12537 feet: 7.8 miles, 3497 foot gain.  Third class+.  Strenuous+.
Hart Ridge, 12500 feet: 8.4 miles, 3460 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
The Lone Ranger, 12098 feet: 9.5 miles, 3058 foot gain**.  Third class**.  Strenuous+.
Tepee Mountain East, 12380+ feet***: 12.1 miles, 3340+ foot gain.  Fourth class***.  Strenuous+.
Tepee Mountain West, 12380 feet***: 12.1 miles, 3340 foot gain.  Third class***.  Strenuous+.
Little Yellowstone Highpoint, 10260 feet: 16.9 miles, 1220 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+****.
As a whole, this hike covered approximately 22.5 miles with 7806 feet of elevation gain with some long stretches of third and fourth class climbing.  Strenuous+.
*= This peak is referred to as 'Jiffy Pop Peak' in Lisa Fosters excellent book.  It seems like almost everyone else calls it Never Summer Peak, thus I have used that name here.  There is also a a unranked 12442 foot point in the Never Summer Wilderness that is commonly referred to as Never Summer Peak.  Some Estes locals call it 'Cloudview Peak', also an appropriate name.
**= From the east, most of the peaks on the main n/s ridge will be simply up and back.  This one will obviously require elevation gain in both directions if you start at the Colorado River TH.  The method I took to get here from Hart Ridge required some third class moves, but I would recommend against going that way.
***= For elevations I've used the method many others do.  The highest closed loop on the topo is at 12360 feet, and these peaks are higher than that, thus they get the elevation of halfway between that loop and the next highest contour, which would be at 12400 feet.  My GPS didn't give the correct elevations, but had the east summit higher, and it is visually higher.  So it gets a + on 12380 feet.  The east summit requires some fourth class moves, and the west some third class moves.  However, if you come from the south, you will have that exposed fourth class ridge to deal with.
****= Difficulty from Colorado River TH.  This would be easier from Poudre Pass.  

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