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.