Monday, September 5, 2016

A legal Tour de Estes Cone.

This hike has intrigued me for a little while.  In Fosters book, she calls it a circuit route that orbits the 11006 foot summit of Estes Cone.  There are a series of trails that ring this peak, however, one cannot legally do a complete loop because one of these trails ends up going into private property.  It might be possible to gain permission to access this property, but there are actually several different properties that one would have to go though to complete a circuit.
She suggests doing it as a one way hike, and ending up at Lily Lake with a waiting car shuttle.  Since I often hike alone, this wasn't an option, and I rather like the idea of starting and finishing at the same place.  I ruled out seeking permission from the property owners, since there are multiple, and one no would put and end to that approach.  I wasn't going to trespass, since this would be through backyards.
Thus I went back to the drawing board.  How could one do this hike legally?  I still wanted to keep it a loop, with a different trail taken up and down.  I still wanted to visit Estes Cone.  And I still wanted to start and end at the East Portal Trailhead.
Thus I went to my old faithful,  There are actually two trails that start at East Portal, the Wind River Trail, and the spur that soon joins the Glacier Creek Trail.  A possibility emerged:  I could take the Glacier Creek Trail to the Boulder Brook Trail, then join the North Longs Peak Trail to Granite Pass.  From there I could head down the Longs Peak Trail, then hit the trail towards Moore Park and Estes Cone.  I'd summit Estes Cone, and then take the Storm Pass Trail down to the Wind River Trail, and stay on that back to the car.
My initial estimate put this at just under 20 miles, but all of this would be on trail, without any bushwhacking or talus.  Thus, I felt I would be able to move reasonably quickly.
I started at the East Portal Trailhead shortly before 6am.  Mercifully, I was one of three cars there on a Sunday.  After a short and steep initial climb, the trail stayed at a pretty steady elevation, and offered pleasant hiking.  
And got increasingly pretty as the sun came up!
After a few miles, I came to a four way intersection, with trails leading to Sprague Lake, Glacier Basin, Bear Lake, and Boulder Brook.  I stopped for a quick snack, and then headed up the Boulder Brook Trail.  Whilst in a canyon and without many views, this trail does run right next to a very pretty stream.
After what seemed like alot of climbing, you'll meet the North Longs Peak Trail at around 10300 feet.  While still below treeline, the views do get better.
Morning and peaks.
But the elevation gain continues.  In fact, there is around 3800 feet of elevation gain done from the trailhead to Granite Pass, over about 9 miles of distance.  When you consider that the first 3.25 miles only covers about 600 feet of this, the 5.75 left to get to Granite Pass are rather steep.
Nearing Granite Pass.
But, as I said, all of this is on trail, and I was able to keep the pace pretty high.  
Looking back to some neat rock features off the North Longs Peak Trail.
Almost at Granite Pass!
I felt that my start time was planned well, as this was a weekend day and I was now on one of the busiest trails in the park.  I expected it to be packed, but I didn't see that many people.  I am guessing most of them were still somewhere above me, either ascending or descending Longs.
Now on a downhill, I was able to up the pace a bit more and made the descent to Chasm Junction pretty quickly.
Estes Cone beyond Pine Ridge, with The Highest Crag to the right.  You can see the landslide on Twin Sisters, a result of the 2013 floods.
While I was in the area, I decided to go see Chasm Lake again.  Why not?  
A great view of Longs!
I went part of the way around the lake to find some quiet.
Back on the Longs Peak Trail, I was able to get into a jog despite my hip hurting, and continued to make good time on the descent.  It went so quickly, I was surprised when I hit the intersection for the trail to Estes Cone!  This trail undulates for a bit, until you pass Moore Park and it takes a decided turn uphill.
It's been awhile since I climbed this peak, and I'd forgotten how much uphill it seems like there is.  Even from Storm Pass, it's another 800 feet or so to the top.  I was definitely sweating hard in the warm day.
Longs and area as seen from Estes Cone.  I haven't forgotten the great views you can get from this peak.  
The Crags and Twin Sisters
Lily Mountain and Lake.
I enjoyed a short conversation with the two people who were on the summit and then headed down.  The descent went alot more quickly, and soon enough I was at Storm Pass.  I headed north on the Storm Pass Trail, which once again offered very pleasurable hiking on a gentle decline. 
Storm Pass Trail.  Occasional breaks in the trees gave some good views of the surrounding peaks.
Looking back to Estes Cone. 
And a unique view of Hallett Peak.  I like this photo in particular because you can see both the rather blocky angular side that looks like the summit from Bear Lake, and the rounded hump of the true summit beyond that.
I reached the Wind River Trail and tried to hike as fast as possible; my hip was hurting too much from my earlier trot down the Longs Peak Trail to jog.  But I started to see some familiar sights- I could see Thunder and Lightning Peaks through the trees.  I knew I was getting close to the end.
I finally popped out at the East Portal Gauging Station and knew I was mere minutes from the car.  I didn't notice the last time we were there, but the gate to this small body of water is locked by six (6!) different padlocks!  They really want to keep vehicles out!
I saw a small group of deer at the trailhead- you can see the sign for the Glacier Creek spur behind her.
With the out and back to Chasm Lake, this day once again broke 20 miles, ending up at 25.12 in 9:21:37.  I wish I had been able to run more, as that would have brought the time down significantly, but oh well.  If you were to skip going out to Chasm Lake and back, that would take approximately 2.2 miles off of that total.
This proved to be a fun tour of the Longs Peak area.  If the distance seems a little too much, there are several campsites along the way that could split this into two days or more.  A determined individual could even think about adding on Longs Peak, or other peaks in that area, for some more adventure.
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.  Note, I've also mapped the original in blue.  Remember, that route goes onto private property, so seek permission from the owners first if you attempt it!  Or find a friend and leave a car at Lily Lake.  The full loop would run 12.25 miles with 3400 feet of elevation gain.  Ending at Lily Lake would be around 9.5 miles with a little less gain.
A legal Tour de Estes Cone:
25.12 miles, 6093 foot gain.  Strenuous-.


  1. Great infos!
    I didn't know Estes Cone is illegal to hike because of private properties around. Its similar with Mt Bross area.

    Wonderful hiking day you had!

    1. Thank you! Estes Cone is legal, and can be legally approached from either the Longs Peak trailhead or from Lily Lake. However, the circuit route Foster described takes a different trail which runs through private property. If you climb this peak from either Longs Peak or Lily Lake, you will remain entirely legal!