Friday, October 2, 2015

The Southwest Corner of Rocky Mountain National Park.

This had been a day I wasn't looking forward to as much as most, mainly owing to the exceptionally long drive from and back to my house.  Bookending what would likely be a 12+ hour day of hiking with a three hourish drive on either side didn't sound like a great idea to start, but the idea of having to do this multiple times also didn't appeal much to me.  
As usual, some sort of harebrained idea was hatched in my head.  What if I only had to make the drive out and back once?  What if I took my days off one week, drove out the morning of the first day, hiked all day, slept in the back of the car, and then hiked again the next day to finish off the area?  In two days I'd be able to (hopefully) cover alot of ground, and (hopefully) complete the area off pretty well.
I spent Monday, September 21st first getting ready- making sure I had everything I'd need as far as food and whatever comforts I could take with me and use.  I prepped the back of the car, using a set up I'd taken before: a climbing crash pad and a sleeping pad.  Since I was going no farther than the back of the car, I was able to have the luxury of a full sized pillow, something I always miss when camping for real.
I got home from work that night and finished final preparations before retiring to bed.  My alarm was set for four, and with hopes of getting ready and leaving in half an hour, I'd be arriving at the Roaring Fork Trailhead shortly after true sunrise.  
Things went exactly as planned, and after a scenic drive around the lake, I left the trailhead at 7:22am.
Day 1: The Roaring Fork Basin and Adams Lake.
I was able to start in daylight, but made sure to take my headlamp with me.  Armed with a few reads of this excellent trip report by Steve Knapp, I felt fourteen hours to be a fair time estimate.  I thought I'd be able to match their speed, and dropping down to Adams Lake would likely add an hour or so.  
The trail starts off steep, and you'll gain somewhere around 1000 feet in the first mile.  Things then start to flatten out a little bit, but you'll gain nearly 3500 feet en route to Mount Irving Hale, which would end up being slightly over a third of the vertical gain I'd cover over the day.
Take the right fork when the trail splits and continue up.  You will finally come to a saddle.  It is easiest to go all the way up to the high point before turning right or south to head to Mount Irving Hale.
Mount Irving Hale.  This was taken en route to the mountain.  It does not look like this from the saddle.
There is some talus hopping as the summit nears, with a third class move or two, but this was no real sweat.  I was happy to find a few late season wild raspberries growing out of rock near the summit, and took the time to eat all I could find.  This was likely the last I'd see this year. 
Looking toward Hiamovi Mountain, and, well, almost everything else that I would climb on this day.  As is the usual, things looked far away, and the idea that I would soon be 'over there' was something to wrap my head around.
After a snack, I headed toward Hiamovi Mountain.  Travel was pretty easy over grass and some rocky tundra.  I had an idea in my head that it might be more convenient time wise to not gain as much to Hiamovi Mountain, and cut to Hiamovi Tower first.  This way I'd only have to do the ridge between the two once, and avoid doing some elevation gain that I'd just go on to loose anyway.
I found a point that looked okay to descend, and it looked like it would go, but I could not see a clear route all the way across, thus I decided to continue upwards.
Eventually, and within 150 feet of the summit, I found a gully to descend, and a clear way across to the ~11900 foot saddle.  Since I was over 12200, I had about three hundred feet to loose before starting to climb up to the 12220 foot summit of Hiamovi Tower.
Hiamovi Tower.
From near the saddle.  This high point looked quite intimidating.  I forgot all about the cairns Steve mentioned and went directly at this face.  This was decidedly harder than third class, but as the way up looked more and more difficult, I traversed around and found a cairn and the correct route to the summit.  There weren't many, and I rebuilt or enlarged a few as I headed back down.
Mount Irving Hale from the summit of Hiamovi Tower.
This was a great little high point, with a fun route findy scrambly adventure to get there.  There was a broken glass register on top, but no sign of any paper.  Oh well.
Hiamovi Mountain from Hiamovi Tower.  
Now in tune to the cairns, I headed back down and around to the saddle.  If you plan to climb this peak, make sure you traverse around on the south side to find the cairns and the proper and easiest route up.  Even then, it is still exposed and adventurous.
I found the ridge connecting it and Hiamovi Mountain to be fairly easy going, and it might have been quicker to just gain the peak and then head down and back up versus the traversing route I took.  But maybe not.  It took me an hour and forty one minutes from the time I left Hiamovi to the time I hit the summit, which is eleven minutes slower than the time Steve said it took them.  Even with that, I was still about half an hour ahead of their elapsed time as this point.  
Hiamovi Tower.
Hiamovi Mountain.
I headed toward Watanga Mountain next.  Topos always make it difficult to tell exactly what the terrain will be like, and things here were mostly on rock.  The talus was large and stable for the most part, but, of course, not as quick as hiking on tundra.  There is a little bit of third class terrain to make the summit.  Again, you can just pick which ever way looks the best to you and you'll eventually end up in the right place.
Watanga Mountain and Hiamovi Mountain now looking far away.  It took me an hour and seven minutes to go from the latter to the former.
And looking forward to Mount Adams.  I was happy to see some nice flat tundra along the way.
But first I would have to loose around 650 feet to get to Adams Lake.  Here is where I took a wrong turn.  I knew it was the next body of water after Watanga Mountain.  But I should've looked at the topo more closely.  
Because when I came to this, I thought this had to be it.  I could see a few possibilities for descent, but nothing looked good.  Everything was steep and loose.  I finally found a way that looked acceptable, and went down over loose soil and rock to arrive in some large talus.  I got to this small, unnamed pond, and refilled my water, changed socks and taped some hot spots on my feet, and relaxed a little bit.  I noticed two spires to the north of this lake, and checked the topo to see what height they were.
A nice body of water nonetheless.
But there weren't any spires north of Adams Lake.  My first thought was that I was disastrously off route, and had somehow summitted something other than Watanga Mountain, and was now somewhere.  Somewhere!
But seconds later I figured it out.  I was at the small pool just past Watanga Mountain, not at Adams Lake.  How did I make such a silly mistake?  I now looked around with fresh eyes.  Yes, I was about two hundred feet too high, and the lake wasn't the right shape nor big enough.  Dang it.
I headed up to the saddle between the spires and the massif of land above.  I dropped down on the other side over tundra and talus.  Soon I could see a sliver of lake, and then the whole lake came into view.
Adams Lake, probably most often seen from above, but probably rarely visited.  
But damn, it was beautiful.  Peaceful and relaxing.  I sat and ate a snack and took in the scenery.  But all good times must end, and after a bit it was time to get going.  I still had three more peaks and a lake to get to after all!
I was able to find an animal trail and followed it up and up, arriving in the low point between Watanga Mountain and Mount Adams at approximately 11800 feet.  This gave me about 300 feet of elevation gain to get to Mount Adams.
This came and went fairly quickly, and I looked to Roaring Peak and Twin Peaks.  Despite the great weather prediction for the day, the sky wasn't looking great.  In fact, I thought I heard thunder at Adams Lake.  It didn't repeat, but it's not like there was anything I could've done at that point besides keep going.
Back to Watanga Mountain.  With the slight detour and then descent to Adams Lake, it took me two and a half hours to go between the two.  I'd like to think I could do it in an hour or so without dropping down to the lake.
You can't see it in the photo above, but you'll notice a distinct trail around the south east side of Roaring Peak.  This makes the access alot easier, as the side that faces Mount Adams looks a bit more technical.  Take this trail until you meet some more level ground, and simply turn back to find the summit.
Here I found the first register of the day.
And caught the first sight of Watanga Lake down in the basin.
Looking on to Twin Peaks.  Despite the undulating look of the terrain in between, it wouldn't be too bad to go between the two.
Back to Mount Adams.   It was thirty six minutes between the two.
The register was good- note Steve and Brian's signatures at the top.  And who is that three up from the bottom?  It was nice to see that name, as I have only ever seen it before when it was added on the same day as mine!
I headed down, marking a few places in my mind that looked like good descents to the basin below.  It looked like there were multiple options, and everything looked pretty okay.
I found a thin trail up to Twins Peaks.  It was about 1000 feet of loss/gain and 1.2 miles between the two.  To my surprise, I was able to see horse tracks going up to the summit, but no horses were seen.
Lake Granby from the summit.  It took me forty one minutes to get here from Roaring Peak.
I had another good snack, and headed back towards Roaring Peak.  I would descend from the saddle immediately to the south of the peak.
As I was approaching the saddle, I saw something bolt and run into it.  This was the first time I'd seen a bear out in the wild!  I was happy it ran away from me, but it ran right to where I wanted to go.  It looked like there were two main gullies down, one closer to Roaring Peak, and one closer to Twin Peaks.  The one closer to Twin Peaks looked better but there was now a bear in it.
So I took the one closer to Roaring Peak.  It worked for a time, but I came to a point where I couldn't descend anymore.  Unfortunately, things looked clear below, but it was a good ten plus foot drop down.  So I traversed south to the other gully.  I couldn't find a way down, but spied a good ramp below me.  I went back to the first gully and was able to find a way down a few feet to allow me to retraverse over and access this ramp.  It worked fine, and I exited the gully on some large talus.
Now I simply had to head in the general direction of the lake.  When I hadn't run into it in ten minutes or so, I determined that I was up too high, and needed to go down.  I was on my way when I saw the first person I'd seen all day, a bow hunter starting intently into a clearing.  So intently, that he didn't even look at I approached.  I gave a cautious hello and then walked over.  We talked for a short time, and I wished him luck.  He told me that the lake was directly ahead, and within a minute or two, I was there. 
Watanga Lake.
There was a distinct trail at Watanga Lake, but the problem was that I didn't know which way to go to head down.  So I picked a direction, quickly lost the trail, and then followed the creek down for a short period of time before I found the trail again.  It was now simply motor on down the 4.8 miles to the car and bed.
I was able to move quickly, but I was not able to escape the impending sunset.  On this day, I decided that I like hiking in the darkness of morning much more than the darkness of night.  At least at 5 am there is the 7 am sunrise to look forward to.
And maybe it was that the batteries in my headlamp had run low- after all I have used it alot this year- but the darkness seemed hungrier and more absolute than it does in the morning.  It seemed to absolutely absorb all the light I had, and trees jumped out at me.
I passed the sign for the intersection I'd went by many hours ago, and after what felt like a very long time, hit the steep terrain of the last mile of trail.  I finally made it back to the car at 8:33 pm, giving me 13 hours and eleven minutes to complete this day.  Not too bad even with the whole Adams Lake navigation error thing.
Back at the car I decided to get my stuff ready for the next day first, and powdered my socks, refilled my water, and swapped out empty wrappers for fresh snacks.  I used my GPS device to send a message to my wife, and wished her a happy anniversary.  Our ninth was the next day.  Then I ate.
I gave myself a baby wipe bath, changed clothes, and was in the sleeping bag by 9:30.
I hoped to be asleep by ten, and likely was, though sleep seemed fitful for quite awhile.  I distinctly remember waking up at midnight, checking my phone, and laying back down.  It felt like I was still awake when I checked again at 2, but I knew I'd slept in between.  I was finally jolted awake by my alarm at 6.  I knew I'd been asleep due to the unpleasant work dream I'd been snapped out of.
I got up, used the facilities (a tree), and ate some breakfast.  Cold oatmeal.  It wasn't bad, and the cold baked beans the night before had been pretty tasty.  A banana or two, some coconut water, and a few slices of bread and I was ready to go.  Oh yeah, sunblock and contacts.  I was ready to go.
Day 2: Knight Ridge and Mount Acoma.
Eight hours of sleep is a virtually unheard of luxury in hiking.  Usually I'm operating on somewhere between 3-6 hours from the night before.  Despite feeling like I was tossing and turning alot, I felt very well rested and started out just fine.  My legs felt surprising good for doing somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 miles and 9000 feet of elevation gain the day before.  The problem was my feet.  Though I'd taped the blisters that developed the day before, I was hurting.  Things seemed to settle in as I walked though, but I still spent the entire time up to the Knight Ridge high point thinking maybe I should go back.  Yet I pressed on.  I wasn't going to give up so easily, and I knew I would feel better as the day went on.    
Lake Granby and the peaks of IPW in the early morning.  
Fall colors.  I was surprised to see such nice weather.  The prediction looked like rain for sure, and a high that was fifteen degrees cooler than the previous day.
The Knight Ridge trail sure does pass through some incredibly beautiful scenery, with aspen popping all around, and many of the ground plants also turning various shades of yellow, orange, and red.  Wild roses were growing rampant, now laden heavy with bright red fruit.  There was the pleasantly sweet smell of autumnal decay in the air.  I'd seen two moose within fifty feet of the trail head.  Aching feet or not, the morning was absolutely perfect.
The Knight Ridge trail was a bit deceiving.  It definitely undulates quite a bit, climbing to almost 8500 feet before unabashedly dropping back down almost right to the lake.  From there, the steady rise finally comes, gaining about 800 feet in a mile and a half.  Not quite as steep as the day before, but it sure felt like it. 
The Knight Ridge high point lies shortly off the trail, adjacent to a small body of water.  There is no cairn to mark the summit, but it is nice enough.  It took me an hour and forty minutes to cover the first three miles of trail and 1000 feet or so of undulating elevation gain.
Now it was simply turn myself north and head up.  "Simply" was a slight elevation loss, and then the gain of about 2000 feet over the next four miles, all without any trail.  Shortly after leaving the small summit I did run across a trail, but it wasn't going where I was.
So I went up.  The terrain wasn't too crazy for the most part.  I did run into some cliffy rock higher up and was able to move around it.  Dead fall was again the main impedance to forward movement, and a zigzagging path was often employed to go around it.  The plan I had was one that I'd used before with success.  I headed up slightly east of the mountain until I hit 10500 feet, the approximate height of the summit, and then would contour north until I hit the ridge, drop down into the saddle between it and Twin Peaks, and then hit the summit.
I had the GPS coordinates for this peak, and would look at my tracker occasionally to see where I was.  When I hit 10500, I started to contour directly north, and with checking the unit, I was able to see I was getting closer to the n/s coordinate, but was still too far east.
Then something funny happened.  I looked at my tracker and saw I was now at 10000 feet.  Was that possible?  It didn't feel like I was going downhill, so I didn't think so.  But maybe I was tired enough to not feel like I was going down.  A little bit later, it showed me at 9000 feet.  Something was definitely up.  Was I not in the correct place?  I thought I knew exactly where I was, but maybe I was mistaken.
I thought that perhaps I was farther west than thought and had passed the summit somehow and was now descending into the Columbine Creek basin.  I was able to send a message to my wife to ask her where I was precisely in relation to the peak, and where I had to go.  She said directly north west.  The unit was still telling me I was in the 9000's when I wasn't.  Then I looked again a bit later and it said 11000.  So obviously all the low readings were wrong, and I just put in a big effort to gain elevation all for nothing!
When I messaged her the first time, the unit said I was at 10233, when I was closer to 11233.  Big difference!  So I thought I was somewhere below where I wanted to be, and could not see the peak through the trees, when I was right where I wanted to be, and had to just loose some elevation.
After some back and forth, I lost elevation heading north, and came to a rocky outcrop.  I could finally see a small high point behind me, almost directly due west.  That had to be it.
From there it took me about thirty minutes more to contour around to the summit.
Finally!  I hit the summit at 12:49 pm.  Originally, I'd estimated I'd be back at the car by 12-1!  I totally underestimated the difficulty of this peak, basically because I didn't map it beforehand and thought it was something like 2000 feet of gain and four miles each way.  Whoops.
Never Summers as seen from the summit.
The rocky outcrop where I had the "Ahha!" moment of the day.
Time estimates didn't really matter now, I was there.  I ate a snack and started to head down, this time almost directly south from the peak.  I'd be able to move faster downhill and should make it back to the car in time to make the entire drive back home in light, something that hasn't happened for awhile.
I picked up one of the seasonal creeks on the south side of the mountain, and followed it down.  It was now dry, but it made navigation pretty easy.  Along the way I was able to follow some animal trails at times, and nothing at all other times.  Eventually I found myself on something that was pretty distinct, and by the time I hit Twin Creek, I'd seen an unmistakable sign of humanity: a fallen log that had been sawn off to clear the trail.  Then I noticed a piece of faded orange ribbon in a tree ahead of me, and another beyond that.  I was clearly on a man made trail, and would follow it happily after hours of bushwhacking.  Of course, this turned out to be the small trail I'd crossed after I left Knight Ridge many hours earlier.
I refilled my water from Twin Creek, and kept on.
I went by this small marshy area, where I saw several female elk. 
And then this larger body of water, which lies next to the Knight Ridge high point.  In minutes, I was back on the trail.  I had noticed this small offshoot on the way up, but didn't think much of it since it wasn't going where I was.  I have no idea where it ends up if anywhere at all, but I was certainly glad to have found it. 
Back on the trail, I was happy to take my time and take in the sights. 
A similar view as in the morning, with increasing clouds.
Valleys of gold.
Lake Granby.
I made it back to the trailhead at 4:30, for a eight and a half hour day- about twice as long as I predicted.  Oh well.
At the trailhead, I saw the first person I'd seen all day.  A bowhunter from Ohio who'd gotten lucky near Stone Lake, and had an Elk with him.  We talked a bit and then he took off.  I got changed and cleaned up, ate some food, and started the long drive back.
My aching feet at home.  Remember, I did clean them the first night with baby wipes.  This dirt is all from the second day. 
Back at home I had to thank my wife profusely for her navigational help during the day.  I couldn't have done it without you.  I couldn't do alot of things without you.  Thank you for always being there for me and for your support in my adventures.  Happy anniversary!  I love you very much.
Though I had a great two days in the mountains, it was nice to eat some real food, take a real shower, and collapse into a real bed next to the person I love. 
These two days were honestly some of the best of my life.  If I haven't said it enough, I truly love the wilderness, and feel at home there.  I know peace and serenity like no other, calm and still forever.  My soul and life feel unplugged and I soar to new heights that I have never known before.
But to give you perhaps a more realistic and fact based look on things...  Due to the more liberal camping policies in place in IPW, you could easily backpack day one, and break it into several days.  Only a fiend would suggest camping at Adams Lake, since it is in RMNP, but imagine waking up next to that.  Yes please!
Some skill is needed to negotiate the third class found on Mount Irving Hale and Watanga Mountain, though I feel nearly any route you choose on Watanga will get you to the top, and Irving Hale is pretty obvious.  If you decide to tackle Hiamovi Tower, make sure you have some route finding skill as well, and look for the cairns.  The route up doesn't look obvious.
Day two was big again, at least more than I expected.  Navigation was the main issue that got me here, and I should have just trusted myself to get there rather than a malfunctioning GPS.  Since you will essentially be in IPW all day, this could be backpacked and broken into two days as well.  The exposure of the Knight Ridge trail means it will probably be quite hot in summer, but no less beautiful.  It really stands out in my mind as one of the more scenic trails in the area.  With a shuttle or just a long day, you could start at Shadow Mountain and hike to Roaring Fork and drive or hike back.  That would be pretty awesome.
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
The Southwest Corner of Rocky Mountain National Park (distances as part of the hike):
Day 1: The Roaring Fork Basin and Adams Lake.
Mount Irving Hale, 11754 feet: 5.5 miles, 3454 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous-.
Hiamovi Tower, 12220 feet: 8 miles, 3920 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.
Hiamovi Mountain, 12395 feet: 8.5 miles, 4095 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Watanga Mountain, 12375 feet: 9.8 miles, 4075 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.
Adams Lake, 11180 feet: 11.4 miles, 2880 foot gain*.  Second class.  Strenuous+.
Mount Adams, 12121 feet: 12.3 miles, 3821 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous+.
Roaring Peak, 11721 feet: 13.4 miles,  3421 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Twin Peaks, 11957 feet: 14.5 miles, 3657 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Watanga Lake, 10780 feet: 16 miles, 2480 foot gain.  Moderate+.
As a whole, this hike covered an estimated 21.2 miles** with 9500 feet** of elevation gain in up to third class terrain where route finding skills are definitively needed.  Strenuous+.
Day 2: Knight Ridge and Mount Acoma.
Knight Ridge high point, 9133 feet: 3 miles, 833 foot gain.  Moderate.
Mount Acoma, 10508 feet: 7 miles, 2208 foot gain.  Second class and bushwhacky.  Strenuous-.
As a whole, this hike covered an estimated 12 miles with 4300 feet of elevation gain.  Strenuous.
Two day total= 33.2 miles and 13800 foot gain in 21 hours and 41 minutes.
*= Obviously there will be elevation gain in both directions since you drop down to this lake from above.  This looks to add about 640 feet of gain to get back up.
**= My hand drawn map on Caltopo says 18.45 miles, but even by the time it gets to Mount Irving Hale, it is under what Foster says by 1.2 miles.  Steve's GPS track says 19.7 miles, and I have calculated dropping down to Adams Lake exactly as I did (which is to go to the wrong place first), will add approximately 1.5 miles to this total.  They also didn't go over to Watanga Lake, but took a more direct route down- this adds a trivial amount of distance.  I have not added any mileage to make up for that.  Caltopo gave me exactly 9100 feet of gain, but again if I take Steve's exact GPS track (8300 gain) and add 640 up from Adams Lake, and 560 up from not Adams Lake to get to Adams Lake, I get 9500.

Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

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