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!

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