Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best of 2015 hikes!

It's cold and there is snow on the ground.  But that hasn't stopped me.  The winter of no excuses has begun, and it is my goal to enter next season in the best shape I have ever been in.  Simply put, snow on the ground is not a good enough excuse to not go run.  I don't feel like it is not a good enough excuse to skip the gym before work.
I can look ahead to 2016 and finally see the end in sight, the end of this project that was actually spawned by my sister when she visited in 2010.  We went to Lake Haiyaha, and a few days later visited Ouzel Lake.  She sparked some desire in me, and within a month of her visit, I had climbed my first 13er, aptly Isolation Peak.  I dipped my aching feet in the ice cold water of Pipit Lake.
I found something in the wilderness, and made it a goal to hike to every named destination in Wild Basin.  I didn't just want the peaks and the endless views, but also the pristine alpine lakes, the rushing waterfalls.  I looked at Longs Peak for years before I even got close to setting a foot on it.
When Wild Basin was complete, I needed something else to do, and expanded the scope to focus on the entire park.  Lisa Foster's book has served me well.  I've never met her, but it would have been more difficult to do this without her.  So Lisa, if you do ever happen to read this, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I've signed a few summit registers in my day, but this was a year of finding some of the all time greats out there.  The following people also deserve a thank you (in no particular order): Kirk and Kirk, Pomranka, Kalet, Knapp, Regelson, Dale, Disney, Garratt, Martin, Martin, Roach and Roach, Gergen, Aschenbrenner, Foster, Offerman, Swinehart, Schwanzstucker, and Nolan.  I haven't met most of you, but seeing your names over and over again has inspired me to go on when I was tired, to go harder and longer, to spend more time in this place I love.  So many thanks to you all!
2016 should mark the last year of this blog in some sense.  RMNP will be finished, I will have visited everything that has a name, but it will never end.  In trying to do something new every week, I haven't done routes I want to do or completely circled basins I want to circle in lieu of something else.  And there's still that insane link up mapped out last winter while sitting at home and waiting for the snow to melt....
Best High Altitude Lakes!
6.  Ruby Lake.  This lake actually lies south of RMNP in the Never Summer Wilderness.  I include it here because Foster included Bowen Lake, which is pretty close.  My thoughts were that if Bowen Lake were to be included, the peaks above it should be as well.  Ruby Lake lies in the bowl surrounded by those peaks, so it is also included.  Seeing this lake from above was like looking at a old masters painting: endless beauty.
5.  Pettingell Lake.  This lake lies deep in the North Inlet Basin.  There is no trail to it.  You can't see it from above.  There is elevation gain in both directions, and the one way distance to this lake is 11.1 miles.  Truly isolated and spectacular.
4.  Julian Lake.  The west side of RMNP really has alot of lakes that are in the middle of no where.  To get to this one, you can take the trail to Timber Lake and go up and over a saddle.  You could loose nearly 2000 feet of elevation from Mount Ida to drop down to the lake,  or you could bushwhack up Onahu Creek.  No way is painless, all are challenging.  Take your pick and reap the reward of mind blowing riparian nature.
3.  Adams Lake.  While in RMNP, the "easiest" way to visit this lake is probably to start in Indian Peaks, at the Roaring Fork trail head.  It's either that or bushwhack up along Paradise Creek, and trust me, you don't want to do that.  Look at a map to find the easiest way is starting at a trail head that is actually quite a long distance and many thousands of feet below.
2.  Fifth Lake.  Compared to the others listed above, this one is a bit tame.  Yes, it would be around 18 miles round trip to visit this lake, but there is a trail, both official and not, that goes for most of that distance.  And it's less than half a mile of vertical gain to get there.  I remember when we were almost at the lake, moving over the last little hump of land.  Dan was in front and I said something to the effect of, "Heck yes!".  He turned around and had the biggest smile on his face.  This lake is a special place.
1.  Lake Catherine.  If you wanted to visit this lake alone, you'd have to do 25.6 miles and 6000 feet of elevation gain round trip.  Simply put, this is the most isolated lake in the park.  It is incredibly beautiful and truly wild.  I doubt it sees more than a handful of visitors in any given year.  A great place to find nothing and everything.
Best Features!
5.  Mount Baker.  This almost but not quite ranked peak (297 feet of prominence) lies at the south end of the Never Summer Range that is within RMNP.  It's fun to get here, and it offers great views of the surrounding area, particularly to the south.  In fact, I was able to get a good look at four peaks I planned to climb later in the day.  They looked incredibly far away.
4.  Chickaree Lake.  This lower elevation lake has alot to offer.  It is close to a trail, but there is no trail to it.  A short bushwhack to splendor.  Perhaps a good one to pop into for a swim, as it was pretty warm (relatively speaking).  A peaceful must visit.
3.  Ptarmigan Towers.  This high point is pretty close to Ptarmigan Mountain, and looks like it could just be walked over to.  It's a bit more complicated than that, but a fun third class scramble to gain the top, where very few people have ever been.  This unranked point only two registered ascents on LoJ.
2.  The ridge between Lead Mountain and Tepee Mountain.  I think this is the single most difficult and exposed non technical ridge traverses in RMNP.  It's fourth class with death fall potential on both sides, with the added fun of some loose rock here and there.  Take your time and be careful.
1.  Glacier Ridge/Ships Prow Tower.  These two features are very close in proximity to Longs Peak.  In fact, they are easily accessible via the standard Loft route.  One is third class, and one is low fifth class.  They are very exposed and very seldom visited, despite the prime location.
Best Peaks!
5.  Powell Peak.  While somewhat easy to get to, this one is definitely pretty far from the trail heads, and a good hike in.  No technical difficulties lie in the way (unless you want them to).  This was my last ranked 13er in RMNP.
4.  Bowen Mountain.  Again, this peak is not technically in RMNP, but it is a worth climb anyway.  That green bowl of earth that holds Bowen Lake is worth a hike through to get here.  Take a tent and do the Bowen/Baker loop in two days, or hike quickly and do it in one.  A beautiful place and you can see the entirety of the Never Summer Range that does lie in RMNP from the top.
3.  Mount Craig.  This peak was visited on a big and fun loop of a day shared with a friend that saw us visit multiple lakes and peaks and climb up to third class before visiting this peak.  The endorphins were definitely flowing by the time we got to the peak.  There are some great views all around of untouched wilderness, and I felt completely happy to be here.
2.  ________ Mountain.  If you read the post, you'll know which one I mean.  Spectacular views can be had in every direction, and since access is officially forbidden, a sense of adventure is added.  Remember to not climb this peak!
1.  Lead Mountain.  Situated in the middle of the Never Summer Range, this peak provides great views of everything around, though the taller Mount Cirrus to the south blocks the view that way somewhat.  The east ridge is a fun third class climb, and the north ridge is that exposed and committing fourth class line I'd mentioned above.  The south ridge is second class and the easiest technical access, but it'll require a big effort to get here from any approach.
Best Easier Hikes!
I don't want to seem like an elitist.  I do truly love the adventure in getting far off the trail and in the middle of nowhere, but I also value the easier destinations that lie closer to trail heads and can be enjoyed by all.  I love RMNP, and here are some of my favorite easier destinations I visited this year.
5.  Marmot Point.  This ranked peak lies very close to the Alpine Visitors center, and offers a short but fun hike and some darned good views.  Park at the center and then hike down Old Fall River Road - the peak is accessible from where the road makes a almost 90 degree cut back to the west.  There is an unofficial trail to the top.
4.  Cascade Falls.  This pretty waterfall lies 3.6 miles in and 300 feet up the North Inlet Trail.  It's worth a visit, and also worth continuing up the trail to visit North Inlet Falls.  You could continue up to see some spectacular lakes, but things definitely get more difficult.  Cascade Falls Point could also be climbed for a little more adventure.
3.  Sheep Rock.  This little high point could probably be done in under an hour for almost anyone.  It lies right off the trail, and offers some great views of Poudre Lake and the valley below.  Again, there is no official trail to it, so you have to know where you're going, but it is very accessible, close to a popular trailhead, and you will likely have it to yourself.
2.  Lily Mountain.  This popular peak lies off of Rt. 7 slightly north of Lily Lake.  It gets a whole bunch of visitors, and it is easy to see why.  Great views abound in all directions from the top, and it has just enough gain and a short scramble at the top to give a sense of accomplishment.
1.  Bowen Lake.  Each year I've had something that I think is a bit more difficult in this section, and this year it would be Bowen Lake.  Starting from the Bowen/Baker th you'll have about 8 miles and 2000+ feet of gain to get here, but you can camp at the lake and wake up to a great view to split this into multiple days if desired.  However, I think most people would be able to accomplish this as a day hike.  It's worth the effort.
Epic Days!
I really planned well this year, and visited more destinations than last year, but hiked less mileage and elevation gain.  My desire to cut the long drives to a minimum helped, but that meant some really long days to string a bunch of things together that I might normally split up.  20ish plus mile/7000+ foot gain days were the rule, not the exception this year.
5.  Trail Ridge highpoints and 300th Named Destination.  All the above treeline points I visited on this day were very close to trail heads, and weren't exceptionally difficult.  The peaks below treeline looked like they wouldn't be too bad, and they weren't.  The problem was that I didn't pay attention to nutrition and crashed hard.  I felt like I was dragging back to the car and started crying with every little rise in the trail when I realized I wasn't there yet.  I made it of course, and upon checking my GPS track back at home, noticed I was moving just as fast on the way back to the car as I did on the way out.  Big days are physical, but they are also mental.
4.  East Inlet Basin.  Dan joined me for a fun day out.  Over the course of a long day, we visited twelve new destinations in the park, including five lakes, three peaks, two parks, one meadow, and one waterfall.  There were highs and lows, and the bushwhack to Mount Wescott through Paradise Park was hell, but we made it back whole.  Interestingly enough, the register on Mount Wescott had been signed by Troy Tulowitzki when he was playing for the Rockies in addition to the usual suspects.
3.  North Inlet Basin- Earth.  I split the North Inlet basin into two days, to visit mostly lakes and waterfalls on one day, and then to visit the peaks above on a second.  My first destination on this day was Lake Nanita, which lies 11.1 miles from the trail head.  Then to Lake Catherine, nearly half a marathon in (yes I do get a little chuckle when I see 13.1 stickers on peoples cars!).  From there up to visit Ptarmigans Beak, Andrews Peak, Ptarmigan Peak, Ptarmigan Towers (where I ran out of water and packed some snow in my Camelback), Mount Cairns, and Mount Enentah (I finished the snow off before I arrived here and was dry for awhile).  What a day.
2.  The Southwest Corner of RMNP.  This was the longest drive I'd do over the year, and my idea was to do the drive out one morning, hike all day, sleep in the back of the car, hike all day, and drive back.  That way I'd only do the drive once.  The plan worked, and over two incredible days I hiked over 33 miles with nearly 14000 feet of elevation gain.  The weather was perfect, it was beautiful, and this was one of those extremely mentally fulfilling days that left me feeling a high for days after.
1.  Ni-Chebe-Chii part 5 and 400th named destination.  I was busy this year, obtaining number 300 in early July, and number 400 in mid October.  I had great weather, and I planned well, having days set aside where I would be largely below treeline in case the weather forecast was bad.  This day wasn't the most distance I did, nor was it the most elevation gain, but the unstable nature of the rock in the Never Summers makes movement slow.  The third and fourth class encountered over the day didn't help.  I knew I'd be finishing the day in the dark, and even after cutting my initial plans short, I still had several hours of hiking in darkness to get back to the car.  This day took me 16.5 hours, the longest day hike I have ever done.  Heck, that's about the amount of time I'm awake most normal days, and I still had to drive home.
Mountain Biking in 2016.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to hit 100 days again this year.  I was on track to do it, but a stress injury in early September kept me off the bike for a week.  Then a week later I crashed and sustained the second concussion in nine months.  This really took the desire to ride away, and I found it hard to get back on the bike.
Over the summer I rode a bunch of new to me trails, and had a ton of fun exploring.  A different approach from last year where I tried to repeat the same old trails as quickly as possible, but just as fun and perhaps even more rewarding.  Plus, how great is it to ride a trail on a Saturday and not see a single other person.  That definitely wouldn't happen on the BCOSMP trails.
Hopefully a winter away from the bike will reignite the passion in me.
Estimated miles hiked in RMNP in 2016:
302.01 miles.
Estimated elevation gain in RMNP in 2016:
112,983 feet=21.4 miles.
Number of new destinations obtained in RMNP in 2016:
Number of new destinations obtained outside of RMNP in 2016:
Other hiking/mountaineering/climbing highlights from Colorado in 2016:
I thought I'd highlight some of the things others have done in Colorado this year, as some impressive feats were accomplished.
5.  Sarah Hueniken became the second woman ever and first North American to climb M14 when she sent The Mustang P-51 near Vail.  A impressive effort on a stunning mixed line.  A video of Will Gadd on the route.
4.  Adam Ondra flashed Jade, V14.  Jade was the first proposed V15 in Colorado, but some repeats have seen it settle at V14.  Adam Ondra did it on his first try while visiting Colorado.  In attendance was Dave Graham, who discovered this problem in 2002.  If you've seen any climbing movies, Dave usually has alot to say.  He was rendered almost speechless on this day.
3.  Teresa Gergen completed all ranked peaks above 10000 feet in Colorado last year.  This year she and a partner, Sarah Meiser, became (possibly) the first two people to ever complete the 35 ranked 13ers in Wyoming.  A very impressive feat, considering many of the peaks lie very far away from anything.
2.  Andrew Hamilton had a great year, first taking nearly 24 hours out of the 15 year old 14ers record.  He climbed all of the Colorado 14ers in 9 days 21 hours and 51 minutes, finishing on July 9th.  But he wasn't done yet!
He came very close to finishing Nolans 14 unsupported last year, and went back with a vengeance this year.  Most people will have support along the route, only carrying enough gear with them for each section of the route, and meeting those people at trail heads along the way to resupply.  Andrew carried everything he needed from the start all the way to the end, and crushed the record, finishing in 51 hours and 24 minutes.
1.  John Kirk finished the highest 1000 peaks in Colorado, a goal that he said really came into sight about seven years ago.  Climbing all the 14ers in less than ten days is impressive, but (obviously) I find alot of inspiration in taking on a project like this.  Not to be outdone, his wife Alyson won the inaugural Never Summers 100k, finished off all ranked peaks in Saguache County and Chaffee County, and has climbed 1508 peaks (and counting) in 2015.  676 of those were new.  Together, they also set a new P300 record, climbing 32 peaks with 300 or more feet of prominence in 24 hours.  Good work Kirks!
Best photos of 2015!
Julian Lake and low clouds.
A lonely tree in Long Meadows.
Longs Peak and Thatchtop from near Lake Haiyaha.
The kings of RMNP as seen from Mummy Mountain.
Delicate and tiny alpine wildflowers.
Ruby Lake and Bowen Mountain.
The Never Summers as seen from Bowen Mountain.
Tom and Marian descend Andrews Glacier.  I think this is my personal favorite.
The Specimen Mountain group.
As always, thanks for reading.  I hope to see you out on the trail in 2016!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lily Lake, Lily Mountain, Rams Horn Mountain, and Prospect Mountain.

It had been almost a month since I set foot in RMNP, and with warm weather predicted for the day, it seemed like a good opportunity to spend some time here last week.  Of course, with warm weather in the winter often comes wind, but I'd be pretty low- no higher than 9786 feet.
Lily Mountain was something I had been purposely avoiding, as it is a destination that seemed like a good possible point to finish up this website on.  But in the end, something else has been definitively decided on at the suggestion of my good friend Dan.  I think it will be a fitting end to this project, and crazy that after five years I can finally allow myself to think and talk about an end.
Lily Lake is easy to get to, and I arrived in darkness, hence no photographs of it from it.  Head out of Estes Park on Rt 7 and you'll find parking for the lake on your right after a few miles.  There is some additional parking on the other side of the street, at the Twin Sisters trail head.  If you are coming from below, take Rt 7 up past Allenspark, Wild Basin, and Meeker, and find the parking for Lily Lake on the left side of the road before dropping to Estes.
The parking for the Lily Mountain trail is maybe .6 of a mile more towards Estes Park.  I have a picture later to help you find it, as I drove by it twice in the darkness.  Despite that bit of additional driving, I left the car just as dawn was breaking.  Which of course provided some great photographic opportunities.   
Neon sunrise.  The air was warm, but the wind was roaring even at the low elevation. 
More sun.  So pretty and peaceful.
The trail does some undulating in the first bit, with some up and down before taking a sharp left and steadily gaining altitude.  There are several places you can get off the trail and to a few good look out points to capture a nice view of Estes below.
I decided to head over to Rams Horn Mountain first, and left the trail at around 9000 feet to contour around and north to this peak.  I've heard there is a social trail to this peak that can be easily found in summer.  I did stumble upon it, but lost it coming back, so I am not sure where it joins the Lily Mountain trail.  It is marked by cairns and some orange ribbon in the foresty sections.
Another unofficial trail that was good to find.  The snow wasn't too bad though, maybe 8 inches deep and intermittent. 
Some good views of Longs and company.
Here is where I could really start to feel and hear the wind.  I kept thinking I was hearing planes moving overhead or water rushing nearby.  Nope, just the wind. 
Lily Mountain from Rams Horn Mountain.
Rams Horn Mountain.  The true summit is the northern most prominence by just a few feet.
Twin Sisters proved a good subject to look at for most of the day.
From here, I simply followed my footsteps back south, and then took off toward the summit of Lily Mountain.  Deciding that on trail movement would be easier, I crossed the 'ridge' of Lily Mountain and contoured up and east until I hit the trail.  Then I simply stayed on that to the top.
From there, I could see several of the features comprising a climbing area called Jurassic Park.  It lies between Lily Lake and Mountain and holds some nice moderate climbs.  I wanted to check it out, so I found a descent from the summit, and headed south.  Shortly after, I stumbled upon another social trail marked by small cairns.  I followed it the best I could, and arrived at the crag in half an hour or so.
Little Fin and The Fin.  I intended to take the easiest routes up these features, but the wind had picked up, and after doing some second and third class, I decided to call it a day and head back as I was literally being blown off my feet.  That would have been a bad thing when standing on top or or climbing up any of these!
Frozen Lily Lake from above.
I headed back, again having the benefit of my own trail to follow.  The summit of Lily Mountain came quickly enough, but again it was so windy that I was blown over while squatting.
In contrast to some of the awesome old registers I've found this year, this one was filled with business cards, and the two notebooks within dated all the way back to August, 2015, and were mostly full.  The oldest register I've signed this year dated to 1975 and was less than half full.  This was a good day to do this peak and have it to myself. 
Jurassic Park from the summit.  
Twin Sisters and brooding clouds.
I ran into a few people on the way down, and made it back to the car by 1230. 
Here is the parking with the trail heading up on the left.  A good place to get a new start.
I headed into Estes with the goal of heading up Prospect Mountain.  This peak is not within the RMNP boundaries, but was included in Fosters book, so I headed for it.  She talked about gaining permission to climb the peak, but some research showed there is a public access trail that is even on the National Geographic topo.  I guess you can make your own decision there.
Head north on 7 toward Estes, and turn left on Marys Lake Road.  Make a right on Peak View Drive, and find a small parking area on the left near a horrendous green shed.  The roof of the thing is neon green and can be seen from quite a bit away!  This is shortly before Curry Drive.  The trail starts behind the shed- please be respectful of the signed private property on the way up. 
The summit?
The summit?
There were a few places that looked like possible high points.  The first photo above looked like the highest to me.  Again, I could feel the wind, and was eager to make a descent.   
The green shed.
All in, this peak took me a few minutes less than an hour to climb.
I decided to finish the drive into Estes and take 36 back down due to the higher speed limit on it.  It was nice to get home with some sunlight and time left in the day to do a few things!  A change from most of the year. 
Lily Mountain has a whole lot going for it.  The trail head is close to Estes and you don't need a pass to get in, it is short but steep enough to make it feel like you've accomplished something when you get to the top (at least I did!), and there are some great views in every direction.  I can tell why it sees so much action.  Rams Horn Mountain is a fun addition to this, just bring your navigational skills.  Heck, even dropping down to Jurassic Park might be fun even for a non climber, as the rock features are pretty cool to check out and scramble around. 
Likewise, Lily Lake is easy, accessible, and offers some great views of the surrounding area.
Prospect Mountain is fun and short, and as far as I can tell, this is a legal way to access the summit, or at least a way to do so on a early winter weekday when no one happens to be around.  I did see another person up here, so at least I wasn't the only one.  The views here are minimal since the summit is quite well treed in. 
Lily Lake, Lily Mountain, Rams Horn Mountain, and Prospect Mountain:
Lily Lake, 8927 feet: .8 mile round trip via loop trail, minimal elevation change.  Easy-.
Rams Horn Mountain, 9553 feet: 2.9 miles one way, 773 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate-.
Lily Mountain, 9786 feet: 1.8 miles one way, 1006 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate-.
Prospect Mountain, 8900 feet: ~1 mile one way, 985 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate-.