Friday, September 30, 2016

The Southwest Corner of RMNP Part 2.

I fondly look back to my visit to this area last year.  Two days of peace and quiet, lots of peaks visited, moose seen, and right in the middle of the prime season of color in the fall.  It was fun, beautiful, and awe inspiring.
Unfortunately, it wasn't that long after I got home that I looked at LoJ and saw Twin Peaks West pop up!  Argh!  I'd even taken photos of this, but didn't know it was named and I swear it wasn't on LoJ at the time.  Thus, I needed to make a return trip to the Roaring Fork trail head, and hike for several hours, solely to visit this unranked peak I was so close to last year.  
I had some company this time, as I suggested this visit to my friend Gary.  We met in Lyons at 4:30, and started the drive over.  
We started from the trail head shortly after 7, and headed up the initially steep climb.  We somehow went right by the intersection and sign for the split with the Stone Lake trail, and soon were approaching Watanga Lake.  We got to a small clearing, and looked at a steeper but more direct route to head almost directly up to Twin Peaks.  This looked like it would be fine from the topo, but we did encounter some challenging rocky terrain along the way. 
Gary navigates some rocky terrain after the initial climb. 
We got to this point and looked at a few different ways to go.  Directly ahead of us, a gully that looked pretty ok was blocked by a chock stone at the bottom.  We tried, but could not find a way around this.  We looked left, and started up a grass and rock gully that got steeper and looser as we got near the top.  The last 15 feet or so ascended some pretty loose and crummy rock and sand.  
Looking back down to the forest.
We popped out on the broad summit plateau, glad to be on easier terrain (or at least I was!).  From here, it was just a few minutes and a short jaunt over to the summit of Twin Peaks, 11957 feet.
The summit of Twin Peaks.  Last year I didn't find a register here, but we found it this time.
From here I looked over to Twin Peaks West...
All the way over there!  Now you know why I was so annoyed!  I was literally minutes away from it last year, and it took us six whole minutes to make the trip over to it this time.  I would rather have spent those six minutes last year, as it had now taken us a little over three hours to get to this point!
Back to Twin Peaks East.  
There was a small prescription drug register on this summit with a single piece of paper inside.  If only I'd looked last year!
Looking down to Lake Granby.
We decided to head north to take the standard descent route down.  Last year I attempted this route, but I saw a bear run into the gully I wanted to go down, so I took the one more to the north.  What a difference the southern gully made- an easy to follow animal trail the whole way down, nothing more than second class (if that even), and no rock to move over at all!  It was pretty easy, way better than the route I took last year.
It took us about twenty minutes to get into the area of Watanga Lake, though we hit the trail below the lake, and never saw it.  While the route we took up was fun and adventurous, this method would have definitely been easier, and likely been quicker.
We cruised down the trail, enjoying the sights and some conversation.  We arrived back at the car shortly before 1 pm, giving us around 5:45 to complete these two peaks.
We got into the car and started driving north, to reach the Shadow Mountain trail head.  While relatively close, parts of the drive are on dirt roads with lower speed limits, and it took us about 50 minutes to reach the second trail head and get ready.
The goals here were Shadow Mountain and Mount Bryant, both unranked.  The distance looked to be about 7 miles each way to get to Mount Bryant, and Fosters book talked about thick forest in the area.  We made great time on the Shadow Mountain trail, which stays low and close to Shadow Mountain Lake for the first mile and a half, and then starts switch backing uphill for 3.3 miles.
The trail isn't rocky, and at a moderate grade, and the miles went by quickly.  We arrived at the Shadow Mountain Lookout about an hour and forty five minutes after we left the th.
Shadow Mountain Lookout and some ominous looking clouds.  We felt a few raindrops in the area, but it fortunately never really got going.
Looking down into the East Inlet Basin.
We took a slightly different route than described in Fosters book, heading east from the high point of the trail to visit Shadow Mountain.  She describes thick trees along the way, but we found the forest to be rather open, and simply skirted any troubles that stood in our way. 
One of no less than five benchmarks in close proximity to the summit of Shadow Mountain.  It would be interesting to talk to the person who placed it, if they are still around that is.  A permanent fixture that only serves as a memorial to the impermanent nature of our lives.
From the summit, we left south east and contemplated dropping in elevation to start up Mount Bryant.  A look at the topo convinced us that it was probably best to stay on the easier ridge down to the saddle between Shadow and Bryant; this worked quite well, and the forest stayed pleasantly open.  In fact, we were making such good time that it felt like we were still hiking on a trail.
From the saddle, we started to encounter some more rock and thicker patches of forest, but again, were able to move to avoid these if the going looked too tough.
Much to our surprise, we soon found a fairly well put in trail...
Gary leading the way.  While this trail didn't go directly to the summit of Mount Bryant, it was certainly a nice surprise.  We agreed that it looked a little bit too well put in to be an animal trail, though it obviously doesn't get much use- perhaps it ended up at an old mining claim or something.  It would be fun to go back and follow sometime.  Once home, I looked over all the historical maps I could find and was not able to locate a trail in this area on any of them, so who knows?
We broke from this trail, and after a false summit or two, made it to the top.
Mount Bryant, 11034 feet.  Not much in the views department, but the real treat was this:
Pretty awesome!  I looked up the person who placed it (some info about him).  And, as Foster noted, the Bryant family came out from Oregon in 1981 to climb this peak and commented in the register, "Everyone should climb their own mountain."  Truly a beautiful sentiment that echoed through 35 years to reach us on this summit in 2016.  I was less than a year old when those words were written.
We left the summit, found the trail, and decided to visit the rocky outcrop slightly north west of the true summit.  This provided the views we'd been missing. 
Lake Granby.
Shadow Mountain Lake.
Looking back to Mount Bryant.
We got back to the trail and decided to run down.  Unfortunately for me, it's been awhile since I've ran, and I pooped out before we got back to the trail head.  We got situated at the car and started the long drive back, parting ways in Lyons.
In the end, the day turned out to be a pretty fun one, despite my initial annoyance at having to go back for something I'd already visited before.  In some ways, I find these lower, treed in summits more rewarding than the higher ones.
How cool is it to find a register placed two years after your parents got married, long before the concept of you even existed.  How humbling to visit a summit that has been in situ for millenia, and will be for long after I am gone.  But through the threads of time, and a shared passion, we can connect, as I connected with Frede Jensen on this day.  One day we will cease to exist, but our passion will never die.
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
The Southwest Corner of RMNP Part 2 (distances as part of the hike):
From Roaring Fork th:
Twin Peaks East, 11957 feet: 4.1 miles, 3657 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.
Twin Peaks West, 11940 feet: 4.2 miles, 3640 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
This leg of the hike covered 9.05 miles with 4006 feet of elevation gain in up to third class terrain.  Strenuous.
From Shadow Mountain th:
Shadow Mountain Lookout, 9923 feet: 4.75 miles, 1503 foot gain.  Moderate.
Shadow Mountain, 10155 feet: 5.45 miles, 1735 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate.
Mount Bryant, 11034 feet: 7.1 miles, 2614 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
This leg of the hike covered 13.76 miles with 3435 feet of elevation gain in up to second class terrain.  Strenuous-.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ni-Chebe-Chii Part 6- The last lake in RMNP!

The Never Summer Mountains, called Ni-Chebe-Chii (literally never-no-summer) by the Arapahoe, are simply one of my favorite places in RMNP.  The very nature of the terrain makes movement difficult, but the peaks are extremely fun to visit.  This day marked my sixth (previous: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) outing to the area, and though I was motivated for a longer day, the weather didn't cooperate and in the end, I just wasn't feeling it.  
Unfortunately, I didn't sleep well the night before, tossing and turning for a fitful maximum of three hours of "sleep".  I woke up to the alarm wondering if I'd actually even gotten to sleep or not.  It certainly didn't feel like it.  Yet, the promise of a long day in that place kept motivation high.  
I noticed on the drive over Trail Ridge Road how windy it was, much more so than predicted.  I entertained ideas about going elsewhere, but things seemed to have calmed down quite a bit by the time I got to the trailhead.  
I started from the Colorado River Trailhead at 5:28 am.  I have hiked the Red Mountain Trail several times now, and knew I could make pretty good time on it.  I arrived at Grand Ditch one hour and six minutes later.  From here, I decided to head south to the Valley View campsite, and start up from there.  That way I could keep my feet dry on the ditch crossing!  
This route worked pretty well, with some bushwhacking over and around dead fall. 
I reached a rocky clearing, a good but short representation as to what the rest of the day would be like.  In this photo, the lake is just beyond the rise past the trees. 
I made my way up and up, and soon enough I was there!
Pinnacle Pool, 11300 feet, and the last of 141 named bodies of water in RMNP for me to visit. 
Some great views! 
While I know many focus on peaks, and usually those within a certain elevation range, I really must opine that visiting all of these lakes has been a tremendously worthwhile effort!  I'd say the approach to some of them has been equal to if not more difficult than the approach to some of the peaks, with longer distances involved, and at times, more elevation gain.  While this one might not be on that list of the most difficult, there still isn't a trail to it, and good navigation skills are needed. 
Another look at Pinnacle Pool.  From here, my plan was to head up the valley and find a route to gain the summit of Howard Mountain.  Easier said than done.
The loose rock started right on the far side of the lake.  While I don't have a good photo of it due to the sun, from above, the rock looked almost like it was flowing downhill like a glacier.  In this area, I would encounter some of the most unstable terrain I've ever found, nearly resulting in injury.
Pinnacle Pool from above.  It looks tiny.
My plan was to make it up to the ridge on the right.  At first it seemed like a good idea to do this asap, but the distinct point looked like it would offer some difficult climbing, so I aimed to join the ridge after that.
But along the way, I was going up a rocky slope, and felt something move underneath me.  Not the thing I was standing on, but something deeper under that.  In short, I had about a ten foot circle of loose rock that I was directly in the middle of shift and move down about 8 inches.  I was terrified!  I quickly exited right before the movement even stopped.  Phew!  I resolved to be more vigilant as I continued upwards, but it's not like you can predict those things. 
And once again, as I neared the ridge, I had a sizeable rock move and fall on my left foot.  Fortunately I was able to extricate it, and despite a hard hit and my initial feeling, my toes were not broken! 
I bring these two incidents up to illustrate the nature of the terrain here.  What if I had gotten caught in rockfall the first time?  What if my foot had gotten stuck the second?  In either case, help would be a long time coming.  Thus, I'd suggest avoiding this area altogether.  There are better ways to get to Howard Mountain.  If you do go up this way, and are with a partner, make sure to spread out.
Finally safe on the ridge, Lake of the Clouds and peaks.
Some of the loose rock en route to Howard Mountain.  Though there was almost a trail put in here, and route finding was easy and stableish for the most part.
Looking south from the summit of Howard Mountain. 
And looking north, where I was planning to go.  Unfortunately, as soon as I left the leeward side of the peak, I was full on exposed to a ripping wind.  I headed down to Mount Cirrus, but found myself having difficulty walking in a straight line.  I was stumbling like the village drunkard in an early Irish novel!
Looking back to Howard.  As I made my way up Cirrus, I was already thinking I should maybe call it a day and go for something else.  I was thinking ahead to the exposed fourth class traverse between Lead and Tepee Mountains.  Already heady and dangerous, what if a gust of wind happened to hit right when I made the short leap of faith? 
For now, I continued on.  The route between Cirrus and Hart Ridge looks improbable, but there is a thin trail through the loose gravel that makes up the summit area.  Loose gravel...  sounds familiar!  At least if a piece fell on my foot, it didn't hurt! 
The terrain gets more solid as you move north, and head up and down the various bumps of the ridge.  The true summit of the ridge is on the last bump encountered before you drop down and make up some elevation to Lead Mountain.
Looking out to Never Summer Peak from near Lead Mountain.
From the summit of Lead Mountain, I looked down the fun and exposed third class east ridge to Never Summer Peak.  I'd come up this before, but hadn't gone down it.  Without crossing the fourth class terrain to the north, this was my only bail option. 
But I decided to see if the wind felt any better, and kept north.  It actually felt pretty reasonable at the summit of Lead.
Looking back to Lead Mountain and Never Summer Peak, here on the left.
I was starting down the fourth class ridge, and right at the top, when I was hit by a tremendous gust of wind that not only gave me pause, but instantly chilled me to the bone despite wearing every piece of clothing I'd brought along.  I wanted to go on, yes, but I made the call here.  I didn't feel like it was safe.  I found a small spot on the leeward side of the ridge and warmed myself in the sun.  I sat here for almost an hour, waiting for the wind to die down.  But it didn't.  Back to Lead Mountain it was.
Never Summer Peak and Lead Mountain from that small place of respite on the Lead-Tepee ridge. 
Back at the summit of Lead, I took a sizeable break to relax in the sun once again.  I felt fine to climb the third class ridge down, because it would be out of the wind.  As I said above, I've gone up the ridge before, taking the path of least resistance.  For this descent, I decided to stay directly on the ridge as much as possible, which turned out to be for almost all of it.
The rock here is solid: the only things that move do so because of their smaller size.  It was a very fun climb! 
At the saddle between Lead and Never Summer, I had decided to head down to the south.  But this looked like it would cover some more loose terrain, albeit that filled with smaller rocks that the drainage south of Howard.  Or maybe a little redemption for cutting the day short- Never Summer Peak is only a bit over 400 feet of gain from this saddle, and the terrain on the other side was known to me to be more solid and grassy... 
Looking from Never Summer Peak to Lead Mountain. 
And to Mount Cirrus and Howard Mountain in the background.
The descent here is actually pleasant, mostly on tundra and through some well animal trailed forest lower down.  Soon enough I was in Hitchens Gulch, found the trail, and was on my way down.
I joined the trail a bit too late to get one of my all time favorite views, but this one was pretty similar. 
While movement was very slow on the peaks and ridges above, I was able to move quickly once on trail.  One interesting thing that I have noticed multiple times this year is that I am now so quick going uphill I literally have to run whilst going downhill to equal or better that time.  This day was no exception- despite using gravity and jogging downhill at times, it took me above five minutes longer to go down the Red Mountain Trail than it did for me to go up! 
I made it back to the car with some daylight left, and enjoyed the drive back over Trail Ridge.  It's pretty amazing now to see all the places I've been, and alot of them are visible from this road. 
It's always a fun and adventurous day in the Ni-Chebe-Chii.  I know the reputation of the area has for loose stuff, and I definitely encountered some of the loosest stuff I ever have on this day.  Yet, some of the ridges are completely solid and some of the best and most fun climbs in all of RMNP. 
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
Ni-Chebe-Chii Part 6- The last lake in RMNP(distances as part of the hike):
Pinnacle Pool, 11300 feet: 5.4 miles, 2260 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Howard Mountain, 12810 feet: 6.7 miles, 3770 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Mount Cirrus, 12797 feet: 7.5 miles, 3757 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Hart Ridge, 12500 feet: 8.05 miles, 3460 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Lead Mountain, 12537 feet: 8.8 miles, 3497 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Never Summer Peak*, 12438 feet: 10.7 miles**, 3398 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.
As a whole, this day covered 18.8 miles with 6096 feet of elevation gain in up to third class terrain.  Strenuous.
*= Foster refers to this peak as Jiffy Pop Peak in her book.  I've also heard it called Cloudview Peak by some Estes locals. 
**= This figure does include the out and back to look at and think about the ridge between Lead and Tepee Mountains. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Gable, Cub Lake, Cub Creek Beaver Ponds, Thousand Falls, and Cascade Lake.

Another day in RMNP- unfortunately, my longer plans got cut short by weather, but this gave me some time to visit a few things I hadn't planned on.
According to the description in Fosters book, I had previously visited The Gable with my friend Dan.  But some more research on LoJ made me realize I hadn't!  We'd visited the highest point at the end of the ridge extending out from Gabletop, which is actually Gable Gate.  Foster does not distinguish between the two.  The Gable is actually slightly lower in elevation, lying just below 11000 feet, and a marked step up in difficulty- class 4 versus class 2.  Thus, a return trip was in order.
I started from the Fern Lake trailhead at a more reasonable time, just as the sun was rising.  I was able to make quick upward progress, and neared Fern Lake in an hour.  Rather than take the trail up to Spruce Lake and beyond before heading up, I stayed on this trail until the campsites, took this branch, and headed up through forest and over rock to make a more direct approach.  This approach worked just fine, though it is important to stay more north on the ridge.  On the way down, I went a bit too far east and faced a few more difficult sections of down climbing.
The movement was steep, over dead fall, rock, and through brush, and it took me one more hour to reach the base of the short pinnacle.  Now, how to get to the top?
It took me alot of time to find the best route.  Many looked like they would go, but I backed off when things got too steep and handholds got too bad.  In the end, and after several attempts, I ended up going east to stay between The Gable and the shorter prominence east.  I made my way up a rocky gully, and then turned west to stay on the ridge.  It brings some exciting exposure, and make sure you are wearing shoes you have confidence in- a delicate smear is required to make it to the top. 
The summit of The Gable, looking east.
Looking west toward Gable Gate.
And a unique and possibly vertigo inducing perspective on Odessa Lake.
This was a nice little summit perch, with room for just a few, and great views of the area.  I had planned to continue west to the continental divide, but...
I saw these clouds to the north, and decided it was wise to head down and stay below treeline.  This proved to be the right call.
The summit of The Gable, with increasing clouds behind.
The Gable from below.  While I went to the left here to find an easier way to the top, this side would certainly go.  It was beyond my comfort zone to solo, but would be a fun climb with gear.
Notchtop from near The Gable.  This is the only summit in the area I have left to do!
I headed back down to Fern Lake.  As I mentioned above, I got a bit too far east and faced some more difficult terrain and down climbing.  I made it back to the trail and started down to The Pool.
Since I start early and go far in, I am not used to seeing as many people as I saw on this day, but everyone seemed to be in good spirits.
At The Pool, I turned left to head to Cub Lake.  With the location of this lake, it seems odd that I haven't visited it yet.  Well, I'd been saving it as a possible last, a thing to finish this project on.  But I've decided on something else, so it felt like a good time to visit the lake.
Above the lily padded Cub Lake.  There was quite a crowd here.
This is one of two lakes that holds a bunch of lily pads, with the other being Nymph Lake, which is also quite accessible.  I continued down the Cub Lake trail, passing by Cub Creek Beaver Ponds.  
A very pretty meadow, with grass starting to turn all shades of ocher.
Looking to one of the ponds.
I did hear some thunder over the day, so the right call was made on descending.  I also got rained on a little bit- just enough to have me get out my rain jacket once or twice.  But it wasn't long before it stopped.
The weather did bring some interesting clouds.
I stayed on the road and headed back to the parking, walking by several people I saw going the other direction.  Back at the car, I took a look at the topo.  It was early enough that I still had plenty of time to do something else, so why not?
I decided to head for the last waterfall I had to visit in RMNP, and in Fosters book, Thousand Falls.  While close to a trailhead, it definitely takes some work to get to it.  And like many other falls in the park, it is less of a distinct fall and more of a series of cascades.
I headed back toward Horseshoe Park, and then took a left to take Old Fall River Road to Endovalley.  You'll want to drive to the back of the parking area and find a space.  Find a thin trail that leaves from the western most parking space in this area, and follow it as it moves along Fall River.
But, a note here- Sundance Creek is actually farther west than show on the topo.  The easiest way to find it is to cross Fall River as soon as you can, and then head west along it until you reach the creek, then head up.  Fortunately, you'll only have to gain about 300 feet, as the going is tough.  Foster mentions an old trail on the east side of the creek- I did not find any trail.  Make your way up over lots of dead fall and over some rock.
The base of the falls, with elevation GPS verified. 
Another look up.
Back at Fall River.
It was easier going back down, though still time consuming due to the terrain.  I crossed Fall River, and headed back to the car.  One more thing to go....
I started heading east on 34 towards Estes Park.  I wanted to visit an anomaly of sorts.  Both the National Geographic topo and USGS topo show a lake that was not mentioned in Fosters book.  The USFS topo shows no lake in the area, but it still shows the name of the lake on the map.  If you haven't guessed by now, it's Cascade Lake!
To add to the mystery, I took a close look at several different satellite photos, and it certainly looked like there was no longer a lake in the area.  But, I had to go see for myself of course!
I parked at the last paved pullout on the right before 34 starts to loose elevation and takes a sharp turn to the north.  I moved over to Fall River, and followed a thin trail downstream.  I kept looking at my GPS unit, until I reached a point where I was "in" the lake.  Here is what I found...
Looking upstream from this point.
Looking downstream, where you can see some man made construction in the river downstream.  This is also visible in satellite photos.
Perhaps this lake was wiped out in the Lawn Lake flood.  But I can confirm it no longer exists.
A few minutes later I was back at the car and on the way home.  While not the day that I planned, this was yet another fun and rewarding day in the park.  And I actually got to see a few people!  That doesn't seem to happen all that often.
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
The Gable, Cub Lake, Cub Creek Beaver Ponds, Thousand Falls, and Cascade Lake (distances as part of the hike when applicable):
The Gable, 10940 feet: 5.9 miles, 2729 foot gain.  Fourth class.  Moderate+.
Cub Lake, 8620 feet: 11.3 miles, 470 foot gain.  Easy.
Cub Creek Beaver Ponds, 8120 feet: 13.3 miles, -30 foot gain*.  Easy-.
This leg of the hike covered 15.7 miles with 4075 feet of elevation gain in up to fourth class terrain.  Moderate+.
Thousand Falls, 9160 feet at the base of the falls: 1.75 miles round trip, 679 foot gain.  Moderate-.
The area formerly known as Cascade Lake, 8463 feet: .55 miles round trip, 102 foot gain.  Easy-.
*= This destination will have about 40 feet of gain from the Cub Lake th, but the Fern Lake th starts higher.