Sunday, July 9, 2017

Pennock Peak, Signal Mountains, 10582, Lookout Mountain, Crystal Mountain, and 10720.

As the race I signed up for nears, my goal has been to move up in elevation somewhat.  I also like doing loops.  There are some people that can run laps of Mount Sanitas for eight hours straight, but I am not one of them.  
I've spent some time mapping routes over the winter, things that would give me distance, gain, and some new peaks to visit or favorites to revisit.  This day checked all three of those categories, and I set out from the Dunraven th at a brisk pace, soon reeled in by the initial climb up the hill to Camp Cheley.  On the other side, I set out at a run.  
While it has more small ups and downs than it used to, the North Fork Trail is pretty easy to move quickly on.  I was able to keep a high pace into RMNP and beyond, to where I turned right on the Stormy Peaks Trail, and things got steeper.
I took a photo, but it didn't come out well, but to find the trail that's on the USFS topo to Signal Mountain, look for a National Forest sign and one of those signs usually used to post information on, to my memory, the only signs you'll come across.  Look behind, and find a thin trail.  It's not easy to follow, and I definitely got off it and started going the wrong way before correcting east.  I was able to pick it up higher up, and found it to be in better shape and more distinct.
As I neared Pennock Peak, I left the trail and made for the summit. 
Pennock Peak, aka point 11058 on your topo.  Right on the border, this is a ranked but seldom visited peak in RMNP.
I descended and was able to pick the trail up for a short while.  It's indistinct in this area, and I lost it again, bushwhacking until I reached treeline west of South Signal Mountain.  That was a quick hump, and I was soon running down to meet the trail to Signal Mountain.  
Looking south from Signal Mountain, 11,262 feet, and my highest point of the day.
I continued on the trail north, seeing the first and only person I'd see all day.  I gave her a high five.  I was feeling the psyche and I was happy to share one second of this day in beautiful scenery with a total stranger.  
The "trail" north from Signal Mountain.  Look on the lower left side of the photo.
While I knew the snow wouldn't be an issue, as it was pretty melted on my last visit to the area, I (for some reason) hadn't thought about the dead fall.  RMNP's trails are well maintained, but the National Forest?  Not so much.  No fault of their own; there is a lot of ground to cover and I'm sure not enough people to do the work. 
A sign of things to come.  
I reached an intersection of sorts and found this weathered marker.
While supplying no information, the trail behind went the general way I wanted to go, so I followed.  On the topo, this trail goes up over point 10584 before cutting SE to 10582.  I didn't find a trail here, but started up anyway, hoping I'd bump into it.
However, there was a trail heading south and downhill from the saddle.  After going up a bit and bushwhacking, I dropped down thinking this trail was probably what I wanted to be on.  Since I didn't follow it all the way, I can't say definitively, but I did find a trail below me, and movement got a little quicker, though there was lots of dead fall on this trail.  
Cougar sighting!  Well, I'm sure about one of you will get that joke.  There was nothing to write with in the register, and I didn't have anything, so I left it as is.  
The summit of 10582.
I picked the trail up again, and headed toward Lookout Mountain.
It was reassuring to find these markers, because it meant I was going the right way!
Lookout Mountain has a signed trail going to it that eventually disappears.  I did find a few cairns here and there, but eventually gave up trying to follow and just went uphill until I couldn't anymore.  True to name, Lookout Mountain offers a great view.
From the summit, 10626 feet.  
Looking to the last peak of the day, 10720.
I dropped east off the summit.  I was now running pretty low on water, and was thinking about skipping the unranked Crystal Mountain.  But it looked close, and there was a water source in the valley south of it, so I planned to visit the summit, duck down to refill, then take the trail in this valley back up before heading south to 10720.  It was a little more elevation gain, but at this point in the day that didn't really matter.
It was a short bushwhack before finding the remnants of an old jeep road, which I jogged down.  I cut off that and went for the summit from the saddle, before finding the trail there.
Crystal Mountain Trail.  
Once again, this summit provided a nice view of the area.
This old license plate was stuck in a tree near the base of the rocky summit.
I headed back along the old road and made sure I was well past some signed private property before beginning the descent to the creek.  All went as planned, and in a short time I was drinking some deliciously cold and refreshing water.
The trail here was pretty steep and loose, so I did the best I could.  As things flattened out, I headed south.  Here's where the fun began.  The ridge was generally too rocky to stay on, and it was bushwhacky otherwise.  So I stayed near the ridge, which seemed to work ok.
More!  Little did I know...  
The summit of 10720.  Not often visited, and a great old register.
Almost seven years between the first and second sign in.
It's funny how you get to know these people.  I've never met Bob, Luke (or Buster), or Mike, but have seen their names over and over in registers, so much that I feel like they are not just people I know, but friends.  
A good view back west as well.
I decided to do a descending contour to find the trail to my west.  The bushwhacking felt easier on this side, perhaps because I had the assist of gravity.  I headed NW until I bumped into the trail.
This one was nice, downhill and at a moderate grade.  I was running and making great time.
But!  And somehow, there's always a but, I was looking at the USGS topo, and knew I'd want to take a right at an intersection somewhere to follow the Indian Trail (Pack) down along the creek, as it looked like if I stayed on the trail I was on, it would take me too far down and east to go where I wanted.
A beautiful meadow where the trail became a little indistinct.
And where I also looked at the GPS app on my phone to discover I had somehow missed the intersection I wanted and was now heading down the trail I didn't want to head down.  I simply cut west, knowing I'd eventually hit the creek and the trail.  And eventually I hit the creek.  To find no sign of a trail anywhere near it!  Argh!
I decided it was best just to head down here rather than go back, and the going was difficult.  The drop was steep, downed trees were plenty, and things were all around slippery due to the water.  The going was not fun, yet my mood remained on the good side.
Eventually, and it felt like forever, I determined I had descended enough and was past the steepest part, and escaped east.  I was bushwhacking for a very short time when I found a trail, and followed it.  
I was gloriously somewhere again!
So this sign was actually down a bit, but marked the start of the final climb SW up to and over Bulwark Ridge.  And as final climbs go, it was a good one, gaining nearly 1000 feet in 9/10ths of a mile.  I got to the top, emptied my shoes, and ran the final downhill back to the road, and then down to the parking.
Loop complete!  And I felt good, and was happy with my pace, and other good things.  After my last pretty terrible mentally outing, it felt good to feel good again.  I got in the car and drove back to Estes, and then back down to home.
This was certainly a fun loop, and as the trails get cleared of dead fall, it'll be even better.  Save for the indistinct Signal Mountain Trail and peak 10720, there is minimal bushwhacking, and I found it a pleasant run.
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.  The way I went is in red, with the ways I should've went in blue.
Pennock Peak, Signal Mountains, 10582, Lookout Mountain, Crystal Mountain, and 10720 (distances as part of the hike):
Pennock Peak, 11058 feet: 10.8 miles, 3258 foot gain.  Second class.
South Signal Mountain, 11248 feet: 12.5 miles, 3448 foot gain.  Second class.
Signal Mountain, 11262 feet: 13.3 miles, 3462 foot gain.  Second class.
10582: 17.5 miles, 2782 foot gain.  Second class.
Lookout Mountain, 10626 feet: 19.2 miles, 2826 foot gain.  Second class.
Crystal Mountain, 9949 feet: 21.3 miles, 2149 foot gain.  Second class.
10720: 25.35 miles, 2920 foot gain.  Second class.
As a whole, this day covered 32.4 miles with 7805 feet of elevation gain.  It took me 12:23 car to car.  Strenuous+.

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