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. 


  1. Hi Andrew. I'm a big fan of your blog, which has helped me plan for trips more times than I can count. Thanks for this great resource. I have a quick question I thought I'd throw out to you. I have been considering doing a loop up Never Summer Pk to Lead, over Hart Ridge to Cirrus and Howard. I've been looking for a safe decent route off Howard. I had been considering your ascent route up Howard as a descent route, but I now see that it is probably not a good idea. I also read (from you and others) that the Foster/Roach route via the saddle between Howard and Cirrus is blocked by a snowfield, and may require passage over some dangerous terrain to avoid the snowfield. I guess I could always take the long ridge to Cumulus, but I'd rather not. Any thoughts?

  2. Hi Paul,
    Thanks for your kind words, much appreciated. And sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I've gone up to the saddle between Howard and Cirrus, and there is a snow field there, but I was able to find a way through. Rock was more in the vein of a huge pile of small gravel vs the good sized shifting blocks of doom found on the south side of Howard. Reaching Howard itself from that saddle is pretty good and easy, actual tundra, so it's easy to get back down to the saddle. I've never gone east from Cumulus, though it does look like that *might* go. Though it's not great, the saddle might be the best definite route down. I also thought about going up/down Cirrus itself from Lake of the Clouds, Looking at the satellite images, it does look like that could be an option. But again, I've never done it.
    Unfortunately loose rock is the name of the game out there, though the ridge between Never Summer and Lead is super solid and super fun!

    1. Thanks so much for this, Andrew. I'll plan on heading down the saddle between Howard and Cirrus. I'm hoping to get up there before I move to Sweden in a few weeks :(

  3. Have fun and be safe! I'm sure there will be plenty of peaks to visit in Sweden, perhaps even a Swedish listsofjöhan???

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Just so you know, I (Paul Bowman, the above poster) also wrote the message about the S-group of peaks. I didn't mean to spook you. I hope you are doing well!