Monday, August 22, 2016

Aiguille de Fleur, East Inlet Falls, Valley and River Trail, Holzworth Historic Site, Lava Cliffs and Iceberg Lake.

I think I've been pretty lucky with the weather so far this year.  My days off have largely come on very nice days for the thunderstorm prone Colorado summer.  But no matter the prediction, I always make sure to keep an eye on the sky and my ears open for thunder.  
I had a few different goals for the day, but first and foremost I'd get the longest, most technical, and above treeline leg out of the way.  I'd start at the East Inlet trailhead, and visit Aiguille de Fleur.  Well, hopefully.  This unranked peak is better known for the technical climbing it holds, and I could find very little information about the "easy" route, a 5.4 from the ridge connecting it to Fleur de Lis.  This route is often rappelled as the descent from the longer technical routes, which start at 5.0 and seem to max out around 5.9+. 
Despite all the research I did, I couldn't find any real information as to if this route would go.  All I knew was the difficulty and that it would be about forty feet of climbing.  I guess that was enough to put in an effort- though whether it would culminate in a summit, or the feeling that a return with a rope would be necessary- was up in the air.
East Inlet is pretty spectacular the whole way up.  You can have this view by hiking just a few minutes from the trail head.  The weather was already looking, well, weird.  The prediction was 40% chance of rain after 1pm, but there were already low clouds around. 
A bit farther on, I saw this female moose.  Just a few feet from the trail, she barely glanced at me as I walked by. 
Very pretty!
Not far beyond this, I found this huge bull about 15 feet from the trail.  Again, he didn't seem too concerned with my presence, and went back to eating as soon as I passed by.
Close to the trail.
I usually try to avoid these critters as much as possible.  I love seeing them, but when you see one in person, you know how large they are, and they can be territorial.  But he seemed pretty calm.
I made it to Lone Pine Lake and stopped for a snack.
And then the long Lake Verna.  The information I read said to hike along the lake, cross the inlet, and start up.
The goal for the day.  The route I was on starts from the east or left side of what is pictured here.
The bushwhack up from the lake was a bit difficult.  In addition to the bush, you start to encounter some slabs which are extensions of this peak.  This made picking a route somewhat difficult, and I had to turn around more than once. 
However, things got a bit easier upon reaching a bench at around 10600 feet.  I simply aimed to the left of the peak, which I could now clearly see jutting up above the trees. 
I got to a treeline of sorts, and moved over some pleasant grassy areas and some pretty stable talus. 
Soon enough I found myself at the base of this grassy slope, the start of the 5.4 Mountaineers Route.  Going up the grass wasn't too bad, and I made use of the featured rock on the right side to help balance and move forward.
You come to a point where some rock blocks the way up/forward, and face a decision.  Either stay to the left on some less steep third class, or enter what I guess is the 5.4 route to the right.  The left side seems like an obvious choice, however, upon surmounting the third class you have to make a fifth class lateral mantle onto a slabby boulder to your right to continue on.  Either way, you will end up at a saddle.
Going directly up looked like the 5.4 route, and upon descent, I found the rap sling at the top of this. 
But I spied this grassy ramp just to the left of this face.  I decided to get into this and see how it was.  Hmm.  I have a hard time with grades.  I'd say it was maybe six hand movements or so, with ok feet.  Definitely fifth class and maybe more difficult than climbing the face, but shorter.  I would say the holds for both hands and feet were worse than what I found when climbing out of McHenrys Notch, a 5.3.  But again, it was just a few moves.
From there it's a tame third class grass and rock ramp to the flat summit plateau. 
On the plateau, with the true summit pictured center, and opposite where I was.  As you can see, the weather should have still been good at this point, but it wasn't looking like it.  I felt a little bit of rain coming up, but things were holding.
At the summit.  Much to my disappointment, there wasn't a register.  Also much to my disappointment, it started to rain a little bit.  I turned and made for the down climb.  It was fine going up, but I didn't want to go down with everything wet.
Andrews Peak and Ptarmigans Beak.
I made the down climb to the notch as the rain went from slightly raining to actually raining.  The mantle was a bit more interesting, and the third class felt a bit more difficult, as the feet were not easily visible from above. 
This is from the bottom of that section, looking up.  Back on grass, I stopped and put on my rain jacket.  I got my poles back out, and started down.  The grass was wet and I promptly slipped and fell back onto my butt!  Only my pride was wounded.  
The descent went smoothly, and I found myself below this impressive monolith.  While not a ranked peak, it is sure a big and intimidating chunk of rock!
On the way down to the lake, I stayed a bit more east than the route I took on the way up.  This worked out alot better, and I'd advise traveling maybe halfway between Lake Verna and Spirit Lake before making the turn uphill.  The terrain was much easier to cover.
Back at the lake.  As you can now see, the weather was well on the way to clearing up.  The rain had stopped while I was still pretty high in the basin, and the sun was out and would remain out for the rest of the day.
Looking up East Inlet.  This small rock was also the place I decided to go in for a swim from.  The water was cold of course, but I felt so happy once I got out and continued on down.  It felt quite good.
Above Lone Pine Lake.
Since I have gotten a google hit from someone searching "Paradise Park trail", here it is.  You might have to squint to see it.
I looked down over the basin.  I could hear the water rushing below me.  Last time I was up this way I planned to visit East Inlet Falls, but wasn't quite sure where it was, and thought it would be a little more obvious.  This time I came prepared with a GPS point.  But if you look at the topo, you'll find that like several of the falls in the park, this is a series of falls rather than a singular event.
Fosters description is pretty good.  When hiking up, you'll come to a left hand switchback which will take the trail around a rocky outcropping.  Turn around at this switchback, and head back down the trail for a couple of hundred feet.  When the terrain to your south looks suitable, start heading down.  As a fair warning, it's a heady bushwhack to even reach the creek.  But there are tons of wild raspberries growing in the area, so that makes up for it.
Upon reaching the creek, rock hop or find a downed tree to cross.  You have to be on the south side of the creek to get to the falls.  Now, simply follow the creek up.  Simply might be an understatement, as the going is not easy.  But trust me, it'll be worth it.
Since I'd started up the north side of the creek, I got to a point where I couldn't go on due to a steep cliff face ending up in the creek.  I could see this small cascade ahead and thought about taking a photo from a distance and calling it good.  I am glad I went back, crossed the creek, and made the effort.  Because...
this was a spectacular waterfall!  The photos don't do it justice.  It was in a beautiful amphitheater, with the overhanging rock face on the left hanging high over the falls.
Very pretty.  I was able to rock hop to a point where I could face the falls directly, and sat for a few minutes listening to the sound of rushing water.
I made it safely down and back to the trail, eating a bunch of wild raspberries along the way.
Back at the trailhead, I got into the car and started the drive back through RMNP.  There were a few things I'd been intending to visit, and it was early enough that I had the time.
First I stopped by the Harbinson Picnic area to visit the River and Valley Trails.  From the picnic area, take the short set of steps near the restroom down, and follow the thin trail into the woods.  Don't worry, as it soon becomes a very good trail.  This is the Valley Trail, and closer to the south end than the north end.  I went left here to do the loop.
The southern point where the trails meet.  While not unpleasant, save for the copious amounts of horse manure and urine on the trail, this section of the valley trail was nothing more than a walk in the woods.  But once I turned onto the River Trail, things got alot more interesting.
The River Trail runs directly along the Colorado River.  This section of the trail was quite beautiful.  I would definitely recommend it as a great easier option for anyone.  It would also make a nice loop to jog.
You'll find the remnants of an old cabin right next to the trail.  You can still see the tool marks in the wood.
Another shot of the Kawuneeche Valley.
I got to the north intersection of these trails, which is pretty close to but across the road from the Green Mountain th.  This could also be a possible starting place.  From here, I took the Valley Trail back.
Again, it wasn't bad, but the River Trail would be my choice between the two.  The thing that got me here is that the trail basically parallels Trail Ridge Road, hence you can hear all the traffic going by about twenty feet away.  This somewhat ruins the illusion of being out in the woods somewhere.
When I got back to the car, my feet were killing me.  It again seems like my left pinky toe will be my Achilles heel for hiking this year.  It gets rubbed raw, and since I forgot to put some Vaseline on it in the morning to help with lubrication, I resorted to the only thing I had- sunblock.  It worked alright.
Next up, I stopped by the Holzworth Historic Site.  I'd been by this before, but wanted to try to come back when it was open for tours.  But I feel like I won't even be near it during the times it's open, so I just walked out to the site. 
The signs along the way do a good job of telling the story.  Some of the structures date back to the early 1900's.  It was neat to see this history.
Though I thought the structures that had been allowed to decay, like this fence, were more visually compelling.  What a difficult life it must have been to live here in the winter.
Old farm equipment off to the side of the road.
Back at the car, I continued my drive back home.  The weather looked good, so I would interrupt it one more time.
I stopped at the Lava Cliffs parking, and made the short downhill run to Iceberg Lake, which sits at the bottom of the pictured snow field.  Be cognizant of the signs and fences in the area.  This lake sits at the base of Lava Cliffs.
At the lake, which was a deep emerald green in color. 
Lava Cliffs.  I've been at the top twice , and now at the base, so I'm going to call that good.
Reflections in the lake.
This was a very peaceful place, and close to the busy road.  Again, please obey the signs at Lava Cliffs and pick a way to the lake to minimize your impact on the tundra.
Back at the car I decided to call it a day.  Besides, it was getting dark by now.  And I wanted to get home and go to sleep!
This was one of those days that just makes you feel good to be alive.  From climbing a remote and difficult peak, to hiking some of the easier trails on the west side, I enjoyed every second of it.  I am very glad that Aiguille de Fleur proved to be climbable, but I think another visit would be easier to do, since I now know a better way to get up to it than the way I took.  East Inlet Falls was simply amazing, well worth the difficult bushwhack.  As I said, the River Trail was my pick of the two trails, and would be great for little kids or when run as a loop.  Like Lulu City, the Holzworth Historic Site offers a chance to slip back in time, and imagine what things might have been like a hundred years ago.  And Iceberg Lake was sublimely beautiful, and quite easy to get to for such a high elevation body of water.
There are now less than fifty named destinations left to visit in RMNP.  It's going to be a fun summer and fall to try to get to them all!
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.
Aiguille de Fleur, East Inlet Falls, Valley and River Trail, Holzworth Historic Site, Lava Cliffs and Iceberg Lake (distances as part of the hike):
Aiguille de Fleur, 11980 feet: 10.8 miles, 3580 foot gain.  5.4.  Strenuous.
East Inlet Falls, 8733 feet*: 18.95 miles, 333 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate.
Valley Trail and River Trail loop, 8683 to 8858 feet*: 4.6 miles, 175 foot gain.  Easy+.
Holzworth Historic Site, 8917 feet*: 1.2 miles out and back, 23 foot gain.  Easy-.
Iceberg Lake, 11860 feet: .5 miles out and back, 220 foot gain.  Easy.
Lava Cliffs, 12000 feet: .5 miles out and back, 80 foot gain.  Easy-.
As a whole, I did 28.85 miles with 5738 feet of elevation gain on this day.  The vast majority of that came as I journeyed up East Inlet, so let's look at that by itself.  This covered 22.7 miles with 4911 feet of elevation gain at up to 5.4 in difficulty.  Strenuous.
*= My GPS readings. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sprague Tarn, Lonesome Lake, Hayden Lake, Nakai Peak, and Haynatch Lakes.

On August 1st, I left the Bear Lake TH at 4:24 am.  Little did I know that the day ahead would set personal bests for distance, elevation gain, and time elapsed hiking in a day.  Little did I know that I'd come back to the car in total darkness, but still feeling relatively awake.  Little did I know that this would be the first day where I'd see the sun both rise and set from over 12,000 feet in elevation.
My initial estimate put this day at around 22 miles and maybe 9k of elevation gain.  Not insignificant by any means, but surely reasonable.  Well, reasonable for me at least.  However, alot of this time would come on terrain of unknown quality- as I've said before, you can look at a topo and get an idea of the steepness of something, but you don't know if it's going to be solid, grassy slopes, or steep loose talus.  Thus I tried to move as quickly as possible on the known terrain, the trails up to and tundra of Bighorn Flats. 
Above treeline on Flattop for sunrise.
At the summit.  Shortly before arriving there I heard some hollering and found two groups of younger kids near the summit.  If you zoom in on this photo, you'll be able to see a group already on Hallett Peak.  
To the north, things were shrouded in clouds.  Visibility dropped as I moved into them, but it was a thin band and I quickly popped out on the other side.    
Stones Peak.
This is a photo from 2014, but I wanted to share it again.  I dropped down into Spruce Canyon a bit, and basically took the path of least resistance through the cliffs to avoid any snow.  From there, I went up on talus to crest the ridge to the south of Rainbow Lake.
Dropping down to Rainbow Lake.  I had to go around it in the direction pictured due to steep rock and snow on the other side.
As seen here.  Sprague Tarn lies on the bench above this lake, to the left.  I was frustratingly close to this tarn in 2014, but made the decision not to visit it since it wasn't named on the topo I was looking at.  Imagine how unhappy I was once I got back to civilization and realized that this body of water actually had a name!  
The first glimpse of the lake was spectacular, with the glacier dropping right into the lake.  The water was absolutely frigid.
I moved around to continue up toward Sprague Mountain.  This provided a great view of the tarn and glacier.  
Which got even better as I moved higher.  
You can see Irene Lake here on the left, and Rainbow Lake in the back.  Yes, I visited both of those but not Sprague Tarn on the right!  Oh well.  This just gave me a good reason to come back here.  
The grassy slopes up the Sprague Mountain looked steep, but were pretty mellow.  I was at the summit soon enough.  This was my third visit since last November.  Ironically, someone had taken the good summit register, a plastic food container, and left the bad summit register, a pvc pipe.  I say this because in my general experience, the pvc style registers always get wet.  While empty food jars are almost always dry.
I headed towards Stones Peak for a short time before turning to the north and starting down a scree slope to Lonesome Lake. 
The lake and Hayden Spire.
Fortunately, the scree here was relatively stable, set into dirt and tundra.  Movement wasn't too bad.  The lake was spectacular.
The lake and Hayden Spire.
This is looking back up at the slope.  I ended up avoiding the snow near the top, but then cutting to the right in this photo, staying on the parts where you can see grass.  I made my way down the grassy ramp cutting right.
The lake was beautiful, and with the isolation and no trail to it, I bet the only visitation it gets is from people who are climbing Hayden Spire.
My plan from here was to loose elevation into Hayden Gorge, and hook down and around Hayden Spire to visit Hayden Lake.  Perhaps easier said than done. 
I started down and noticed the rock slab on the right.  I love how you can very clearly see glacial striations in the rock.  How many tens of thousands of years has this rock been here?  If you think in terms of geological time, our lives are the blink of an eye.  Today I was making sure to not waste that time.
Hayden Gorge was spectacularly beautiful, with small pools, running water, and lots of rock.  I forgot to mention the wildflowers.  I saw some here that I have never seen elsewhere, so dark purple they were almost black.  It is a wonderful place.  
I was able to curve around Hayden Spire successfully, though there were certainly a few times it looked like it wouldn't go.  But I found a way and continued on.  Oh, and the views got even better, more and more wild as I dropped into this valley visited by few.
More talus came, and despite the size, much of it was loose.  It's a bit disconcerting when you step on something the size of a car and feel it move.  I would encounter a ton of loose stuff over the day.
I headed up some of this loose stuff toward Hayden Lake.
A small boulder right near Hayden Lake.
And there is the lake.  I would add this to the list of the most isolated and rarely visited lakes in the park.  There isn't a trail to it, or one that goes anywhere near it.  There isn't a popular peak close.  I'd done almost 12 miles to get here.  
Looking up to the continental divide.
While I was here, I decided to visit the unnamed lake to the north, as Foster suggests it.  I got onto the rock bench east of Hayden Lake, and made my way over.  Imagine how happy I was when I saw the route to it...
More talus!  Up to room sized blocks here.  I wasn't happy at all, and considered skipping it.  But I was this close, and this is the whole reason I was out here in the middle of nowhere.  I tried to stay up high on the rock on the way to the lake, but found it much easier to stay low and avoid the largest blocks on the way back.
This unnamed lake, with the waterfall on the opposite side, was a slice of paradise.  What a pleasure it was to just sit and listen to the water in the middle of a long and hard day.  Again, I wondered how many people have ever sat at this lake.  Probably not many.
I went back to Hayden Lake and started the climb to the continental divide on... you guessed it, more loose talus!  Looking up, I identified a few places that looked ok.  I would aim for one of those.
Hayden Lake has it's own small waterfall, which added immeasurably to the experience of being here. 
You can see the small pool which feeds that waterfall on a bench above Hayden Lake.
Here I encountered the loosest terrain I'd see all day, on par with the chossy piles of the Never Summers.  I will forever remember taking three steps in a row while watching the ground crumble out from underneath my feet, and not moving an inch.  But I persevered, and soon topped out near Hayden Spire.
I wasn't planning to do the spire, but just wanted to check it out.  There has certainly been some controversy over the difficulty, with one of the first guides to climbing in RMNP calling this route third class. 
Lonesome Lake from near Hayden Spire.
As you can see from the photo above, there are several smaller high points between the actual summit and the continental divide.  I felt moving around these point toward the true summit was third class. 
However, I reached this short slab below the summit, which is guarded by the short roof as seen near the top of the photo.  I didn't continue beyond this, because I decided I didn't feel comfortable doing so without a partner and/or rope.  While the authors guide book is great, and an invaluable resource, he claimed that he walked directly west from the summit to the continental divide.  I would certainly dispute that claim, but look at these photos and see what you think.
I did look around the corner and saw this thin face, which looks like it could be taken to continue on.
Either way, I would say this is getting into fifth class.
I turned around and headed back to the divide.  From there I headed to Mount Eleanor.
At the summit.  I was able the find the register that was buried in snow last November.
I looked to Nakai Peak.  This would be my third to last ranked peak in RMNP.  I'd now been out for approximately ten and a half hours, but the weather prediction was good for the day, and I could see no obvious threats.  Onwards!
My plan to contour and descend around point 12497 kind of worked.  I just didn't plan on it being yet more loose talus.  I was hoping to be on the summit of Nakai in an hour, but it took me an hour just to reach the saddle between it and 12497.
I'd noticed a bit of woodsmoke smell over the day, but now the smoke was blowing in, and things became hazy. 
I finally reached the saddle.  The way forward looked to continue the heavily talused theme of the day.  Why not?  I was happy to discover things were quite solid here, and I was able to move in and around the rock.  After a day of loose stuff, it actually felt good to move on some solid third class. 
Haynatch Lakes from above. 
This is the talusy slope that I crossed to reach Nakai Peak.  You can see why the movement was so slow.  It probably would have been easier to just gain the elevation to 12497 and then drop directly down. 
At Nakai Peak.  There is a false summit before it, but the terrain turns to solid tundra after that, so I didn't mind.  I had a snack at the top, and prepared for the descent to Haynatch Lakes.
Looking back to the false summit.
The route I spied down to the lake left immediately from the south of the summit, and started on more talus.  Again, it was fortunately relatively solid before moving into grass.  I was able to pick a way to the lake to avoid any more talus and bushwhacking. 
Getting close!  This is one of the last few lakes I have to visit.
Up to the saddle between Nakai and 12497.
I arrived at the lake.  What a beautiful place!  The scenery was absolutely stunning.
I left the lake and started down the trail.  I saw three people headed up to the lake, who must have been staying at one of the higher campsites.  After leaving Flattop, these were the only people I'd see the entire day. 
Below the lakes.  It seemed to take a long time to get from Haynatch to the Tonahutu trail, and when you do, the sign there isn't very helpful about which way to go.  It has a sign for the Haynatch campsites, which points behind it, directly between the trails.  So I figured I'd take a left and see what happened.  This was the correct way to go. 
I saw this sign along the way.  Much like honeybadgers, mountains don't care!
Upon breaking treeline, the scenery got better and better.  I had never hiked this section of trail before, and found it quite enjoyable.
Looking back to Nakai.
From higher up.  I spied a large herd of Elk who looked at me curiously.
Looking back toward Sprague Mountain much later in the day.  By this point, I knew I'd be getting back to the car in darkness.  But how long would it take me?  And whose good idea was this anyway?
It wasn't quite sunset, but I didn't have much more time before night came.  I stopped to get my headlamp out and tried to move as quickly as possible.
I was on the other side of Flattop before I had to turn my headlamp on.  Again, it seemed like the movement was taking forever.  At this point I am so fast uphill it only took me one more minute up than down.  My hip hurt too much to run and I decided it was a risky thing to do anyway, since the trail is so rocky and my sight was limited to the range of the light.
I finally got back to the car at 10:07pm, seventeen hours and forty three minutes after I left it.  Phew!  Now it was only an hour or so drive down.  I ate dinner, took a shower, and hit the hay.
What a day.  I guess it was only a matter of time before I broke 30 miles.  I guess for nothing other than person satisfaction, I still look forward to the day when I break 10,560 vertical feet in a day.  This one was pretty close.
Of the things visited over the day, I would probably suggest Hayden Lake as the most difficult.  I certainly didn't take the easiest route to Nakai Peak or Haynatch Lakes (as starting at the Green Mountain th on the west side would be easier, with less distance and gain).  There are a few options to visit this lake, but all of them would be quite difficult.  Milner Pass could also offer a starting point.  If you really really like bushwhacking, you could start at the Forest Canyon overlook and drop into Forest Canyon and go up Hayden Gorge.  This would be a pretty awesome and wild route, but very, very difficult movement.
But to me, it's the isolation, distance from any trail, and sense of adventure that makes these places worth visiting.  How many people have ever visited Hayden Lake?  I would venture to guess that it sees very few.  How many times did I say wow on this day?  Alot.
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.  Note that this says 29.some miles.  My original GPX track said 30.02.  So I'm going to go with that one!
Sprague Tarn, Lonesome Lake, Hayden Lake, Nakai Peak, and Haynatch Lakes (distances as part of the hike):
Sprague Tarn/Sprague Glacier, 11860 feet: 9.4 miles, 2410 foot gain.  Second to third class.  Strenuous-.
Sprague Mountain, 12713 feet: 9.8 miles, 3263 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Lonesome Lake, 11700 feet: 10.4 miles, 2250 foot gain*.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Hayden Lake, 11140 feet: 11.75 miles, 1690 foot gain*.  Second class.  Strenuous+.
Unnamed Lake, 10980 feet**: 12.35 miles, 1530 foot gain*.  Second class.  Strenuous+.
Mount Eleanor, 12380 feet: 14.95 miles, 2930 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Nakai Peak, 12216 feet: 16.9 miles, 2766 foot gain*.  Third class.  Strenuous.
Haynatch Lakes, 11060 feet: 17.75 miles, 1610 foot gain.  Strenuous-(when starting at Bear Lake).
As a whole, this hike covered 30.02 miles with 9685 feet of elevation gain in up to third class terrain, with lots of talus hopping.  Significant time is spent above treeline, making good weather imperative.  Strenuous+.
*= lots of ups and downs along the way mean you'll gain more elevation than this.
**= interpolated elevation by taking the next contour above the lake (11000) and the contour below the lake (10960), adding together, and diving by two.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life!