I made my way up and up, and soon enough I was there!
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.
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.
Lake of the Clouds and peaks.
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!
But I decided to see if the wind felt any better, and kept north. It actually felt pretty reasonable at the summit of Lead.
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.
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...
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.
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.