Thursday, September 1, 2016

Alpine Visitors Center via Milner Pass.

It's been two weeks since we hiked this, and I've still got two more days to write up after this too.  I'm getting behind!  
My friend Dan was feeling ready for a shorter and easier day after suffering a knee injury during a 100 mile race, and I was looking for a shorter and easier day (no talus/bushwhacking preferred!) after a string of longer and harder days.  Some ideas were proposed, and we decided to take the Ute Trail from Milner Pass to the AVC and back.  This would check off two new destinations for me, and we would visit ranked peaks Marmot Point, 11,909 ft, and Trail Ridge, 12,355 ft.  I visited these points last year, but it's not like he had to twist my arm to get me to repeat!
We arrived at Milner Pass after sunrise, which was nice, and got ready.  There were several cars already here, and I imagine most people were headed up to Mount Ida.  
Overall, this would be a fairly flat hike elevation gain wise, but the steepest section of the trail certainly comes immediately upon leaving the car.  In total, it's about 500 feet of climbing in the first mile, with the remaining 500 feet or so coming over the next three miles.   
 This small dip in the trail was one of the goals for the day.  I've seen it from above, but this was the first time I have stood at Forest Canyon Pass.  Interestingly enough, it's a bit beyond this that you come to a sign for Forest Canyon Pass, with the elevation 11320 feet on it.  Between the various devices we were carrying, we had the elevation at this sign in the 11500's, and it is clearly not at the pass, the lowest point between Trail Ridge and Mount Ida.
The next goal of the day was Fall River Pass.  It is pretty likely I've been here before, and if you've ever stopped at the AVC, likely that you have too.  This is the low point between Trail Ridge and Fall River Pass Mountain, also known as the AVC parking lot.  It's difficult to pinpoint an exact location with the parking area being so flat and broad, but it's in there somewhere.
Next we headed down Old Fall River Road to visit Marmot Point.  This was one of the first peaks I visited last year, right at sunrise.  It was nice to get a different perspective on it in full day light.
From Marmot Point to Fall River Pass Mountain.  Old Fall River Road and AVC clearly visible.
Looking to Trail Ridge.
Since both of us want to be stewards of the wilderness, we had a bit of trouble picking a way up to Trail Ridge.  There are a few signs that say to keep off the tundra at the AVC, and since we want to set a good example for anyone who might be watching, we obeyed them.
Not that this helped, as we saw a lady walking her dog on the tundra right behind a sign saying stay off, and observed various other people walking on the tundra right next to an established trail.  Ah well!
We headed up Trail Ridge Road from the AVC, picking up trash along the way.  Eventually, we came to a point where we decided to head up.  We gained altitude on tundra, and then hit some of my favorite stuff-talus.  Well, it wasn't too bad, smaller and mostly stable. 
Trail Ridge, 12355 feet.
We sat for a snack and talked a bit.  Then we headed back down.  We stopped at the AVC to deposit the surprisingly large amount of trash we'd accumulated, and then started down the Ute Trail to Milner Pass.
This was a pleasant and easy downhill, with great views of the Never Summers and Specimen Mountain Group
Some small pools of water add interest to the already captivating scenery.
For the past few years, I have had off days in the middle of the week.  Now here I was in RMNP on a prime summer Sunday.  I could not believe how many people there were!  There were people just sitting in their cars at Milner Pass waiting for a parking space.  Every lot in the area was full.  The AVC was a zoo!
I guess I should add that I'm normally up too early and back too late to see this, but it was strange!
On the way back, I convinced Dan to make a stop at the Hidden Valley Beaver Ponds.  This is at a small, unsigned pull out near Hidden Valley.  There is a board walk out and back.
At the start of the board walk.
Looking down. 
Looking up.  While pretty, there certainly weren't any ponds that we saw.  Just the lazily meandering stream and lots of green.
This was a nice, easier day for both of us, and it was great to be back in the wilderness with a friend.  If you skip the peaks, the length and elevation gain of this hike could be good for kids, and there are plenty of great views along the way.  Otherwise, this would be a mellow foray above treeline.
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.
Alpine Visitors Center via Milner Pass (distances as part of the hike unless noted):
Forest Canyon Pass, 11320 feet: 1.9 miles, 562 foot gain.  Easy+.
Fall River Pass/AVC, 11796 feet: 4.2 miles, 1038 foot gain.  Moderate.
Marmot Point, 11909 feet: 5.3 miles, 1151 foot gain.  Moderate.
Trail Ridge, 12355 feet: 7.5 miles, 1597 foot gain.  Moderate.
Hidden Valley Beaver Wetlands, 9160 feet: .1 mile each way, 20 foot gain.  Easy-.
As a whole, this hike covered 13.2 miles with 2126 feet of elevation gain.  Moderate. 

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