Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best of 2016 hikes!

Last year when I sat down to write the best of post, I thought this would be the year to bring completion to this effort.  Alas, it was not to be.  A early winter injury brought my plans for that season to a crashing halt, though I'll never know if having that time back would have made a difference.
Of course, this meant many big days to try to string together as much as possible in a single effort.  I've probably talked about big days every single year that I've written this; this is the first year I have gone over a marathon in distance.  This happened several times in fact, culminating in efforts of over 36 and 39 miles.  All for fun!
In the end, there were just too many destinations that required a full day of effort to check off a single thing.  Even knowing this, I tried, but by August it became obvious it wasn't going to happen.  It was a disappointing realization, as I really wanted to finish, but at the same time I'll get to spend more time in the wilderness of RMNP next year, and I can hardly be upset about that. In fact, not finishing this year could set me up to finish three lists next year, but we'll see.
Best High Altitude Lakes!
6. Cirque Lake.  This lake lies slightly east of the RMNP, in and best accessed from Comanche Peak Wilderness.  But, it was included in Fosters guide to RMNP, hence I made sure to visit it this year.  It's right around tree line in a beautiful bowl, and crystal clear blue in color.  A great place to be.
5. Looking Glass Lake.  This name is unofficial, having been suggested by luminary and published author Joe Grim.  I realize now as I type this that I visited this lake on the same day as the above!  It lies about forty feet higher than Mirror Lake in the northern part of RMNP.  Spectacularly beautiful, it is worth the short talus hop from Mirror Lake.
4. Pinnacle Pool.  This was my last lake to visit in RMNP, number (if I am remembering correctly) 141/141.  What an effort!  With no trail to it and some sketchy and dangerous loose rock terrain above it, this is a interesting one to visit.  While I looped it in with some of the peaks above, I'd suggest against that, and make an effort to visit this lake alone, from below.
3. Haynatch Lakes.  Rather than being a single lake, this area contains one large and several smaller bodies of water.  The largest is certainly the most spectacular, but the smaller pools in the area are worth some exploration time.  The easiest access comes from the west side, but one could certainly do a longer day hike starting and ending at Bear Lake, or make it a several day endeavor by making use of the campsites in the area.
2. Unnamed Lake.  As with number 5 and 6, numbers 2 and 3 were visited in the same day.  This unnamed lake lies almost directly north of Mount Eleanor.  The best approach is from Hayden Lake (which is already remote), but if you ever happen to be in that general area, make sure you swing by.  It's spectacular.
1. Hazeline Lake.  Perhaps the best wow moment of the year, this lake lies in the Mummy Range and is pretty far from just about anything, including any trails.  It's in a beautiful and secluded basin just below tree line.  The approaches are both long and arduous, starting either at Long Draw and bushwhacking up, or dropping down from Flatiron Mountain.  Either way, the journey won't be easy, but is entirely worth it.
Best Features!
5. Fin City.  This technical climbing destination is in the Lumpy Ridge area, and provides a fun technical scramble to an airy summit.  If you're a fan of scrambling, there is some fun stuff to do in Lumpy Ridge, but this one stood out to me above others.
4. East Inlet Falls.  While close to a well trafficked trail, there is no trail to this waterfall, or series of falls.  But do the not easy bushwhack in the right time of year and you'll be traveling through areas of plentiful and delicious wild raspberries.  The lowest fall is set into a spectacular amphitheater, enclosed on three sides.  Awesome!
3. McHenrys Notch.  This one has been on the list for a few years, finally made it this year.  This stunning deep cut in the continental divide can be seen from a few different vantage points in RMNP.  It is humbling to stand in it.  I accessed it from the north, and made the 5.3 climb up the other side to visit McHenrys Peak for a second time.  A very fun day.
2. Taylor Glacier.  I was pretty intimidated by this one, and it lived up to that.  The first few hundred feet went by fine, but it gets steeper and steeper, culminating with a six foot tall near vertical head wall.  My heart was racing, and I kissed the earth when I reached the top.
1. Flint Pass.  This mountain pass lies deep in the heart of the Mummy Range, and close to the Mummy Pass trail.  But it doesn't really lie on the path to anywhere, unless you want to visit Rowe Peak and Mountain from the north.  But the views from it are spectacularly beautiful, particularly looking west into the Hague Creek basin.
Best Peaks!
5. 12308/Kokomo/Northstar.  This ranked but unofficially named peak lies on the extreme northern border of RMNP.  It's in a fun, flowing area of endless tundra, has a short, easy scramble to the top, and provides a great view of the Mummy Range and Comanche Peaks Wilderness area.  Ringing the bowl above Mirror Lake was an awesome day!
4. Mount Olympus.  This peak lies east of RMNP in Estes Park, with the easiest access coming from route 34.  The bushwhacking to the summit isn't too bad, and there is some fun scrambling along the way.  The views from the top are incredible, with Estes Park laid out at your feet, and the higher peaks of RMNP behind.
3. Mount Bryant.  There aren't any views from the summit, but rocky outcrops in the area provide a great vantage point to the lakes below.  The summit register is one of the all time greats, and it is a fun hike through relatively open forest to reach the summit.
2. Lead Mountain.  This was my number one last year!  This year I took a different (and new) route to the summit.  The rock was relatively stable for the area, and the second class route from Mount Cirrus is the easiest access technically speaking.  The views from the summit are great, and part of the continued fun is to now figure out how to get down!  You can either take the fourth class north ridge, or the third class east ridge.
1. Aiguille de Fleur.  This impressive granite monolith rises above the East Inlet Basin, reminiscent of Kubrick's 2001.  I set out for the summit with very little information, not even knowing if it would be climbable without getting too technical.  It proved to be doable, with some solid fifth class en route to the top.  And then it started to rain, making the descent even more fun.  As in the movie, this was an exploration into the unknown.  Unlike the movie, I didn't turn into a space baby with infinite power.  Maybe next time!
Best Easier Hikes!
5. Iceberg Lake.  While quite easy to visit from the Lava Cliffs parking, please be sure to observe all the signs and stay cognizant of the fences in the area.  A short drop downhill will take you to this tiny alpine lake, which will very likely have ice or snow on/in/around it all year.  Don't slip and fall in!
4. Kruger Rock.  Since Larimer County purchased Hermit Park, access to this peak got alot easier.  There's a nice trail all the way to the top, and the summit is rocky and comes with great views in all directions versus some of the lower summits that are treed in.  It's six bucks for a day pass to the area.
3. Shadow Mountain Lookout.  The lookout itself wasn't open when I visited in September, but the hike up was sure fun, and the views from the top are great!  I'd suggest this one to be in the a little more difficult for an easier hike category, but there is a trail all the way to the top, and the elevation gain is spread out well along the way.
2. Milner Pass to Alpine Visitors Center.  While a round trip would net you just over eight miles, there isn't all that much elevation gain (just over 1000 feet) and, provided you do this hike in season, you'll have a place to sit and get a snack at the top.  With a car shuttle, you could do this hike one way, with the easiest option starting high and ending at Milner Pass.  If you get to the top and are still feeling chipper, add on Fall River Pass Mountain, Marmot Point, or Trail Ridge.
1. River Trail.  With it's partner, the Valley Trail, this trail makes up a 4.6 mile loop with under 200 feet of elevation gain.  I'd suggest the River Trail as my much favored option, as the views are outstanding, and there is a sense of being out in middle of the wilderness that isn't there on the Valley Trail, since it lies so close to Trail Ridge Road.  It's hard to believe that the small creek the trail runs along is actually the Colorado River, and carved the Grand Canyon, runs though seven US and two Mexican states, and is over 1400 miles long.
Epic Days!
This was the first year that I've ever gone over a marathon in distance in a day.  Of course, it didn't take long for me to best that mark.  And then best that mark.  And then best that mark!
5. Taylor Glacier.  Not the longest day by far, but this was one of the few days I've ever had that pushed me right to the edge of my comfort zone.  From the top, it was a rather nice jaunt to Powell Peak, and then back the other way to the Flattop trail. 
4. Comanche Peak and Area.  It's not a short day to ring the bowl above Mirror Lake, but add on Flint Pass and a mile and a half of off trail below treeline travel, and you have the makings of an epic day.  My hand drawn map on Caltopo said 26.5 miles, and I'd guess it was a bit more since that doesn't capture all the turns along the way.
3. Out and back on the Ute Trail.  While this was my second longest day mileage wise this year, all of the miles are on trail or tundra, with no technical movement involved at all.  Thus, I feel it was a little easier, with the challenging part being endurance.  Simply put one foot in front of the other, and repeat.  For 36.64 miles.
2. A Day in Lost Creek Wilderness.  I'd visited the area twice in the past with my oft hiking partner Dan- this day marked my first solo visit.  Inspired by a trip report on Mountain Project, I decided to link the peaks above Shawnee together, all 14 of them.  I hiked for about five hours in darkness, and for 18 hours in total, covering 39+ miles and just over 10k of elevation gain, personal bests in all three categories.  Despite the distance, the major difficulty was negotiating a below treeline ridge in the dark.  Otherwise, the terrain wasn't that bad.
1. Sprague Lake, Lonesome Lake, Hayden Lake, Nakai Peak, and Haynatch Lakes.  A long name to start!  At the time, this day set personal bests for time elapsed while hiking, distance, and elevation gain.  Lost Creek and Ute Trail were longer, but this day took down alot of off trail terrain, and moved over field after field of talus.  It wasn't the longest day I had this year, but the movement was definitely the most difficult.  It's disconcerting to feel a car sized boulder move under your feet.
Estimated miles hiked in 2016:
487.55 miles.
Estimated elevation gain in 2016:
139,439 feet = 26.4 miles.
Number of new destinations obtained in RMNP in 2016:
Number of peaks climbed outside of RMNP in 2016:
Number of long days to visit one named destination in/around RMNP in 2016:
7, and the things visited were: Chaotic Glacier, Taylor Glacier, McHenrys Notch, Tour de Estes Cone, Pinnacle Pool, Ute Trail, Sheep Mountain.
Best photos of 2016!
Lucky thirteen, here are thirteen of my personal favorites from this year.  Some tell a story, some show a place few go, some show a place many go from a different perspective. 
Looking up the Poudre River basin from near the summit of Flatiron Mountain.
Mirror Lake with Mount Ikoko on the left.  This peak sure looks spectacular from this vantage, but only has 132 feet of prominence, and is nothing but a bump in the landscape from above.
Sunrise over Chaos Canyon.  Had to get up pretty early in the morning to hit the snow climbs this year.
Another appearance from Mirror Lake.  This photo was taken a few weeks after the above, from the summit of Mount Ikoko.  As you can tell from the lakes surface, it was quite a windy day!
Looking down to Lake Powell from near McHenrys Notch, Mount Alice in the background.
In Hayden Gorge, bereft of trails or any signs of humanity, but overflowing in natural beauty.
This year I was fortunate enough to see many sunrises and sunsets from the trail- on this day, I saw both, and both from above 12,000 feet.  This sunset came shortly after an encounter with a large herd of Elk; overall a day I won't soon forget.
The last lake in RMNP- Pinnacle Pool.  It's a fun bushwhack to get here.
A fence and gate, marking a private property boundary between Crosier Mountain and West Crosier, provided a perfect frame for a pine.
The darkness and lack of color in this photo make it one of my favorites of the year, perhaps my personal favorite.  This was taken looking back at the impending sunrise over The Loch.  I really like the black, blues, and touch of orange in this one.
Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, McHenrys Peak, and Chiefs Head Peak from the summit of Powell Peak.
Longs and friends from the Ute Trail near Tombstone Ridge.
Thank you as always for reading!  See you on the trail in 2017!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Catching up...

It's been a little while.  I've been working the graveyard shift, which has made an early wake up difficult, and I haven't really felt like making long drives.  At this point, I don't have much left to do in RMNP, so I have turned my focus to Boulder County.
I hoped to finish up the 87 ranked peaks of Boco this year, but that didn't happen.  Hopefully I can do as I planned to do last year, and attend to the lower peaks over the winter, saving the higher peaks in Indian Peaks Wilderness area for the summer of 2017.  Of course, that will still come secondary to RMNP.  Looking at the list now, I have 22 things left to do in/around there.  There are a few things I'll be able to do on the east side over the winter/spring, and hopefully I can enter the summer close to the end goal.
It's amazing to write that, to see that number.  22 individual things left to do...  wow.  What will come next?
Late in October, I woke up and drove to the area of Pinewood Springs to do peaks 6918 and 7012.  Since these both lie on private property, I'll be somewhat vague about the route to the top.  I parked at a pullout on highway 36 and followed an old jeep road up into national forest land.  The road approaches Rowell Hill, and private property.  At that point, it's largely a matter of staying on the ridge.
Peak 7012 comes first, and offers some fun scrambling on rounded granite boulders as one approaches the summit.  It's a few fifth class moves to stand on top, but toward the easy side.  Getting off requires a butt slide and a jump down.
There is an old jeep road that approaches the summit of 6918, and then a short off trail jaunt to the top.  It was a shorter day, but fairly pleasant, and somewhat enthralling to ascend peaks on private property.  It was around two hours round trip from the parking.
Early November brought me two days in and around Allenspark.  My goal was to keep these as legal as possible!
On day one, I parked with permission at The Old Gallery on the north side of the road, right next to the Fire Protection building.  From here, I headed back down route 7 to the Taylor Mountain th/204 trail.  There are a multitude of trails and old jeep roads in the area, and I simply chose the ones that took me toward the 8700 foot Olive Peak.  The area is pretty open and I soon left the roads to take a more direct overland approach.  The views in the area did not disappoint.
Mount Meeker.
Mount Meeker, Lookout Mountain, and Horsetooth Peak.
I dropped down to cross a small creek, and then went up some steeper ground on the other side to hit the summit.
Olive Peak.
I found a decaying structure on the way back, sitting atop the remnants of a mine.  Pretty cool!
Back at the car, I drove through Allenspark proper to take road 107 which turns into forest road 116.  This is also the way one would approach the St. Vrain trailhead, but I took a left onto road 116.2 rather than stay right.
I parked shortly after, worried that my 2wd low clearance car might not able to make it very far up the road, but it looks like one could drive a similar vehicle up to where the road crosses the creek (in dry conditions, but use your judgement!).
From here, I hiked along the road for a bit before heading south into the forest to climb peak 10583.  The going wasn't too bad, and I found the remnants of a few old trails here and there that helped out.  The bushwhacking got a bit more intense near the summit, but it came easily enough.
A pretty good trail that seemed to just end in the middle of no where.
Nearing the summit.
The summit of 10583.
Benchmark on the summit.
I headed directly north off the summit, eventually intersecting a trail on the way down.  It didn't take long to get back to the car once on the road, and I made the drive down in darkness.
The next day I headed to Meeker Park, hoping to climb ranked Popeye Peak and Deer Ridge, and while there visit Parachute Hill and 8783.  Again striving to keep things legal, I took road 82E east from Meeker Park, and parked at the intersection of it and Forest Road 118.
It was a short hike up to Parachute Hill, with a few possibilities for the true summit.  The best views came from a point slightly west of the summit, again framing Mount Meeker.
From here, it was a quick hike/jog back to my starting point.
Next up, I headed south to the summit of 8783.  Two parcels of forest land meet point to point on its northern flanks, and it was my goal to intersect those.  Well, I'm not sure how I did, but I didn't see any signs or fences!  Once again, the summit brought great views of Mount Meeker.
Meeker and others.
I headed slightly east from the summit before dropping down to Cabin Creek.
Cabin Creek.
A steep ascent on the other side had me eventually stumble on a trail running most of the length of the ridge.  This made the day easier for sure.
I found this out and about.  Pretty cool.
Finally I got to a point where I could look forward and see the 8700 foot summit of Deer Ridge.  Almost there!
The summit held great views all around, here looking east, down the series of canyons that feed the St. Vrain Creek.
And of course, of the ubiquitous Mount Meeker to the west.
I set out for Popeye Peak, and was happy to find the trail continued in that direction and was easy to follow.  I eventually left it as I approached the final climb to the summit.    
Popeye Peak, 9008 feet.  As I discovered shortly after, this summit sits on private property, so I guess the work to get there legally was for naught!  Ah well.  It does have some good views through the trees, of, you guessed it, Mount Meeker!
But here's a nice view of Twin Sisters from the summit.
I headed back down toward Deer Ridge before heading north to Cabin Creek and then up to the area of 8783.  Things were starting to get dark, and I'm pretty sure I crossed onto private property before I got back to the car.
The next week I really had some trouble getting up, and made a late start to visit the Dry St. Vrain trailhead near Raymond.  While the road to the parking area is heavily signed as private, it is completely fine for you to drive there.  From the parking, I headed direct to unranked peak 7900. 
Some scrambling near the top adds interest; there were a few possibilities for the summit, though this looked like the most likely candidate.
Looking across to South Sheep Mountain.  I took a direct route, and remained respectful of the private property crossed.  
Flood destruction in the area.
It was a pretty fun third class scramble to the 8300 foot summit.  Unfortunately, the late start got me there after the sun had gone behind the mountains, and the light was waning.
South Sheep Mountain.
Points east.
North Sheep Mountain across the way.
I lost the days light at some point, out came the headlamp.  That seems to be the story of the year.  I made it back to the car safe and sound, staying north of the summit of 7900.
But just a few days later I made plans to meet up with my friend Dan, just returned from a trip to Nepal.  We met up Sunday morning at 8am in Lyons... this was after work for me!
We drove to Coulson Gulch, or as close as my car can make it, and then took jeep road 118 to some secret single track.  I was already yawning as we approached the summit of ranked peak 8547, a repeat for me.
It was super windy, but we continued on to the 8300 foot summit of the unranked North Sheep Mountain.  Good views were to be had, unfortunately it was so windy we couldn't enjoy them!  I didn't even take a single photo.  We headed back the same way, and made the drive back to Lyons.  Despite my best effort to stay awake, I napped for several hours as the sun went down, and then went to bed around midnight.   I wanted to hike the next day, but with my somewhat screwed up sleep schedule, I ended up sleeping all day.  I was very confused when I awoke at 515pm to find it was dark!
Which brings me to last week, and a fun grouping of peaks above Jamestown.  Unfortunately, I hadn't slept well/enough the previous three nights, and was really feeling it even as I started.  I think that, plus the fact that this area is in a large forest fire burn, really put me in a dour mood.  The scenery was utterly uninspiring, and very monotone.
Fortunately, I did not encounter the property owner that others have, who will yell and threaten to report you to the police when you are completely legal, and on US Forest property.  That might have ruined hiking for me!
I parked at a small pull out slightly east of Porphyry Mountain.  A tricky one this is- there is a thin strip of public land that runs to the summit as marked on topos, however the true summit actually lies east of this on private property.  Use your best judgement.
Golden Age Hill is interesting.  It appears the summit is both on public and private land, lying right on the border between the two.  The Boulder County Property viewer website shows several confusingly overlapping mining claims in the area.  I walked down road 87J, passing road 284.1D, which is not marked.  Shortly after that, you can head south on public land to meet that road, which winds around the summit, dead ending at an abandoned mine shaft.  From there, I continued SE to until I got to the next ridge, which I took to the summit.
Golden Age Hill, 8400 feet, with Porphyry Mountain behind.
You can go back the way you came to keep it legal, or head down to 87J.  Back on 87J, I headed north on a thin strip of public land to arrive in a valley.  It looked like I could climb up the other side of the valley and follow the ridge to Fairview Peak, remaining legal the entire way.  But the bushwhacking...  I'd already wanged my left shin hard enough to make it bleed, and evened things out with a blow to the right leg.  In addition to that pain, the day seemed to be a study on how many different plants had thorns (alot), and how many of those thorns I could get into my shoes (also alot).  Fun, fun!
Golden Age Hill on the left, and Porphyry Mountain on the right behind some interesting rock features.  You can probably see what I mean about the scenery being so bland and uninspiring.  The storms to the west blocked any views of the higher peaks. 
Fairview Peak, 8560 feet.  You can see the steel tube register here- I was not able to get it open.
I headed north to 8588, making a short and easy gain to the summit.  I was finally in some trees and feeling a bit happier.
8588.  Again, I could not get the register open.
Then it was an elevation loss to the north through some easy forest to the saddle between 8588 and 8315, and then a few hundred feet of gain to the summit of 8315, where I was successful in opening the register and adding my name to the annuls of history.
In search of an old road my friend Gary mentioned, I headed slightly east of the summit of 8588 on the way back.  It was much steeper and bushwhackier, and I'd recommend just heading back to 8588 and breaking east to meet the road once near the summit.  
But I did get a good view down to the plains and Heil Ranch. 
At this point I was tired, sore, and not feeling too incredibly psyched to drop back down to the public land in the valley.  I'd dumped out my shoes so many times I'd lost count.  I decided to just stick to the trail, which lead to an old jeep road, which lead to road 87J.  So much for morality!
I didn't see a single person on my way back, or my way out for that matter.
Which brings us to last week, when I set out to climb peak 8422, which would be my 51st Boco ranked peak, and finish off the area north of route 7.  I followed the advice of Brian Kalet, and parked at a pullout on 7, taking the steep canyon up.  He did it preflood, and the canyon took alot of damage, with the bottom largely washed out.  There once was a trail part of the way up, but it's now mostly gone.
Flood damage, though the area was quite stable.
Looking back down to the St. Vrain Valley.
Rather than follow the drainage the whole way up, I broke slightly north to finish up the climb in some forest.  This summit again lies on private property, but I didn't see any signs, fences, or houses along the way.  Once again, there are a few contenders for the summit.  I headed back the way I'd come, and was back at the car in about 2:15 with around 1700 feet of gain under my belt.  The views were much more inspiring on this day than on the previous. 
At, or near the summit.  There were a few possibilities for the high point, so I made sure to visit them all.
A steep descent back to the car.
I stopped to try and pack out some trash that was bagged near the shooting area.  Unfortunately, the bag had been out long enough to degrade and it tore when I tried to move it.  A return trip will be in order!
I suppose that brings us up to date, though I'm sure most of these peaks will be of interest to few, being no trail bushwhacks, below 14000 feet of elevation, and having access issues in many cases.  I like being unconstrained by elevation, though I have my own silly lists.  Hopefully 2017 will be the year I can finish off several of them.