Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sheep Mountain and area.

Sheep Mountain, aka Round Mountain, is another peak listed in the Eastern Perimeter section of Fosters book, which gives information on the destinations on the extreme eastern edge of RMNP, as well as places that are outside of RMNP, but fun hikes in the opinion of the author.  This peak falls in the latter category, with the trail head lying about 16 miles east of Estes Park on highway 34.
Before you go, know that you can't currently get to this trail head, with 34 closed from now until May or June of 2017 for post flood recovery work.  But once the road is open again, put this on your list!
The Round Mountain trail head lies on the south side of the road, at 1211 Big Thompson Road.  There are restroom facilities there.  The trail starts from beyond this small building.
After a short but steep climb, the trail starts to head east before turning south and then west, and gaining elevation again. 
The trail in this area.
Looking east down 34.  A great view of some autumnal colors.
After some uphill, the trail starts to weave through and around some pretty neat rock features.  Here is a place where you cut through a small notch between two shorter towers.
One thing I also rather enjoyed were the interpretative signs along the trail.  Each explained something about the area, flora, fauna, or geological features/processes that can be seen in the area.  They also provided a good excuse to stop for a break, catch my breath, and sip some water!
Still some vibrant golds from Aspen along the trail.
Up and up- this was one of those trails that when you think you must be about there, you still have some distance to go.  But soon enough I came upon a place where the official trail heads to the right (west), with a thin spur heading to the left (east), toward Stone Mountain.  It's still over a mile to the summit from this point, but it seemed to go a bit more quickly. 
I made it to the summit and looked around.  You can see the large man made summit cairn to the right here, and interestingly enough, it looked as though this was an artificial high point.  Which it to say, both the rock to the left and the area immediately around the tree center looked like they were higher than the base of the cairn.  The summit register was in good shape, and since I was the only person up here on this day, and 34 was set to close the next day, I might be the most recent signature.
The large summit cairn, 8450 feet, plus or minus!
While the summit is treed in, one can head slightly northwest to get some views of higher peaks.
The Mummy Range.
I decided to do this hike on this day because the weather at altitude was predicted to be extremely windy, and even here things were breezy.  That, and I'd had a long week and didn't want to get up super early and do a long drive.
While I was here and put in the elevation gain, I decided to just do a loop and visit the four other peaks in this area.  From the summit of Sheep Mountain, I headed in a WNW direction to visit peak 8092.
I made my way through some pleasantly open forest to this overlook.  The summit of 8092 lies to the north, or right in this photo.  I down climbed the rocky outcrop I was standing on (to find I could have easily avoided it completely, but hey, a little spice never hurts!), and headed up, staying to the right of the rocky ridge visible. 
The summit of 8092 was pretty open, and offered some good views in all directions.  Here I looked to the next goal of the day, peak 8310.
To points west. 
The summit of 8092.
I had a snack and planned a route to drop into the valley below.  From looking at the topo, it appears that crossing a small parcel of private property is unavoidable here, but I didn't see any signs.
I found the remnants of a very old road before heading up.  The travel here was a bit more difficult, both since the uphill was steeper, and there was a fair amount of dead fall to move over and around.  But I finally topped out on a grassy ridge, and made my way to the high point. 
Looking west from 8310.  A perfect place to be.
And a great register, placed in 1996 by Estes local Howard Pomranka(click to read a neat article about him).
From here I headed east toward peak 7567.  Again, you'll enter some private property along the way, and the summit itself is on private land, but there aren't any signs, and you can stay on the outside of any fences you encounter.  Basically, I'd guess that as long as you are being respectful and friendly, you probably won't have a problem.  Taking the path of least resistance won't put you near any residences. 
Peak 7567 in some afternoon light.  I took a short break here, looking back across the valley.
Sheep Mountain. 
And my last goal of the day, Stone Mountain, the lower but pointier summit all the way to the right here.
I headed NE from the summit to the small outcrop on the topo.  From there, I headed down almost directly north until I was around 7000 feet, and then cut NE again.  The USFS topo shows a trail running along the creek in the bottom of Saddle Notch Gulch, and I thought I spied it as I got close.  This supposed trail eventually turns north to climb steeply to the saddle between Sheep and Stone Mountains.
I refilled water from the creek, and then headed up.  The going was tedious, with lots of bushy growth, trees, and talus.  I stopped several times to empty debris out of my shoes.  Eventually I was high enough up that I realized I either missed the trail I thought I saw, or there wasn't one.  But I could see something above me...
It was alot higher than shown on the topo, and not in great shape, but very easy to follow!
While obviously rarely used today, this wall/trail was very distinct, so much so that it can be seen on satellite photos.  I can't imagine how much work it took to build this, running for miles and miles. 
Looking east from the ascent.
I eventually left this trail, as it went into a heavily wooded gully.  I was on a pretty open slope, and felt that the travel was easier there.  Soon after, I hit a thin trail and took it toward Stone Mountain. 
Looking back to Sheep Mountain.
Blue Mountain and Pinewood Lake. 
The summit of Stone Mountain, 7655 feet. 
With daylight waning, I now had about four miles to cover to get back to the parking area.  As seemingly usual this year, I'd obviously be making some of the return in darkness, and it became a race to get back as quickly as possible.  It's not that I'm scared of or uncomfortable hiking in the dark, it's just that some days it would be nice to be able to instantly transport from the area of the last thing of the day back to the car!
I was able to make pretty good time on the upper sections of the trail, enough that it only took me an hour to get back.  As it got darker, it was difficult to jog or run quickly because I couldn't see far enough ahead to prepare for what was coming.  But my movement higher up made up for it.
Back at the car, I had just what I wanted- a shorter drive home!  I'd had a busy and tiring work week, and didn't want to get up early and make a long drive.  Nor did I really feel up to a 12+ hour adventure, so the day served it's purpose perfectly.
As always, much fun was had in the mountains.  Despite going no higher than the 8450 feet of Sheep Mountain, I still put up a pretty respectable amount of elevation gain since the trail head lies below 5800 feet.  Sheep Mountain was a nice summit- just make sure you explore the area a little bit to get some of the better views.
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.
Sheep Mountain and area (distances as part of the hike):
Sheep Mountain, 8450 feet: 4.6 miles, 2707 foot gain.  Moderate.
8092: 6.6 miles, 2349 foot gain.  Moderate.
8310: 8.1 miles, 2567 foot gain.  Moderate.
7567: 10.8 miles, 1824 foot gain.  Moderate.
Stone Mountain, 7655 feet: 13 miles, 1912 foot gain.  Moderate.
As a whole, this hike covered 17.54 miles with 5817 feet of elevation gain.  Moderate+.

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