Thursday, September 28, 2017

Time Passes: Two Days at Monarch Lake.

It's that time of year again.  Already the Aspen are putting on a show.  Already the air is crisp, often below freezing in the morning.  Already the sweet aroma of Autumnal decay is in the air. 
Earlier in the year I was talking to my friend Gary, and he asked what would come next after RMNP.  I said Indian Peaks could be a possibility; after all, the area is close to home, and I'd already done about a third of the summits coincidentally (as they share a border with RMNP) or with Dan for something different.  
Here it is a few months later and Indian Peaks is done, finished in a flurry of activity a week ago.  It wouldn't have happened without this two day trip, made the week of September tenth.  As with my two day trip to the same area two years ago, I wanted to make the drive once, sleep there, and hit the trail early on day two to maximize time spent out there, and minimize time spent in the car.  But of course, it didn't go all to plan.  
I got up at three on September thirteenth, and was on the road shortly after 3:30.  Since there is pretty much no traffic that early (and one can speed just a little), the drive out to Monarch Lake only took about two and a half hours.  I left the trail head just after six, and ran around the lake. 
Early morning, early enough to witness another spectacular sunrise.
Unfortunately, I'd mapped both days I planned, and neither looked easier.  The weather looked better on this day, so I decided to go for the option that looked like it would have me above treeline later in the day.
I took a right on the Cascade Creek Trail, and followed it along the creek.  There are a few short, steep gains, while the trail generally gains elevation.
You'll pass by several enchanting waterfalls.
The first goal on this day was 12er "Blackfoot" and 11er Thunderbolt Peak.  I'd read about the two gullies one can take from the trail up to them.  Eventually I got impatient and just started up, facing a few hundred feet of bushwhacking before meeting some easier terrain.  
I was able to get a great view of Cherokee, the hardest peak on paper I hoped to visit in these two days, and a goal for tomorrow.
The route I chose went easily enough, and soon I found myself on tundra, and not much later on the summit of Blackfoot.  It took me three hours and a few minutes from the trail head.  
The view from the summit of the Lone Eagle Cirque.  It looked nice enough from here.  Little did I know....
The ridge run back to Thunderbolt Peak was nice, some talus and tundra.  I kept looking at all the peaks to my east, trying to identify them, only to realize it was a place I'd been just a few weeks prior. 
Here, a yet to be written trip report on Algonquin, Sawtooth, and Red Deer.  What a fun day that was, made much better and more memorable by bringing my dog along with me.
I reached the summit of Thunderbolt Peak, and looked ahead.  
Always great to see this name, unfortunately, I didn't have any cookies.
My plan from here was... interesting.  To loop all these peaks together, some exploration was in order.  I'd checked the different satellite images I could find, as well as Google Earth.  It looked like it would go.
My plan was to continue NW along the ridge from the summit, and then drop into the north face/bowl of the peak, taking it all the way down to Buchanan Creek.  Hiking up, this looked impossible, as the face looked too rocky and cliffy.  But I realized that face I saw wasn't what I planned to descend.  This planned route was essential for all the peaks going in a day; thus I headed on.
I didn't take any photos, but save for some steeper grass near the top of the bowl, it went with minimal difficulty and bushwhacking, as I found a nice game trail along the thin creek lower, even finding a human footprint out there in the mud.
I hit the Buchanan Pass Trail, and headed east to the Gourd Lake trail.  For information, this intersection is quite a bit more east than depicted on the topos.  It is signed and obvious, so don't be scared that you missed it if you don't reach it in the time planned.  In reality, it took me under fifteen minutes to meet this turn off after I rejoined the trail.
And up.
I kept thinking about this trail as I headed up.  I was going to make a spoof twitter account about hiking and rate the Gourd Lake Trail "11/10, switchbacky af, am I there yet?" in the style of WeRateDogs.
To put that in plain English, this trail switchbacks ALOT.  I stopped counting at ten turns, and I still wasn't there yet.   
Here you can see the north bowl of Thunderbolt Peak.
Then I was there.  The lake was pretty, and I went around to to the east.  It was a little confusing about which direction to go to get to the next goal, Cooper Peak, because you loose sight of it.  Just head north from the lake.  
There was a little bit of bushwhacking, a little bit of talus, and a little bit of scrambling.  It was a fun route to the second 12er of the day.  
From the summit I looked east.  This was a possible route I'd mapped earlier in the year to visit these peaks from the east, the ridge down from the continental divide.  It looks like it would go, but that would be a long day to come up and over, and then head back.
Looking down the ridge to Marten Peak, another 12er and the technical and route finding crux of the day.
I had envisioned myself prancing gazelle like down this ridge, which looked to be fairly mellow.  In reality, it was alot of talus, and I moved as well as I could.  
Hiamovi Mountain and Tower, two fun ones.  
Getting close.  I knew from earlier observations to go around the first tower, as that wasn't the high point.  The route descriptions I read were extremely confusing (reading something like, "Head around to the south side.  Find the obvious ramp but this isn't it.  Turn around.  When facing exactly NNW, drop a single blade of grass.  Where the wind takes it is the start of the route, but not the real start.  First head left..."), but I took away that the easiest access was from the south side.  Thus I stayed to the left.  That route description is a slight exaggeration, but really, it made no sense at all.
I stayed up as high as possible, and eventually got to a place where I couldn't continue on due to a drop off.  There was a dihedral, about ten feet of fifth class, that went direct from where I was to the summit.  It was easy enough, with some fun smearing and pinches, though the holds were a little less solid than I liked.
What can I say except that it went, and if you can climb fifth class, this is probably the easiest and most direct way to the summit.  For reference, I was wearing trail runners. 
Looking down the dihedral.  
After visiting the summit, I realized I forgot to take a photo of it.  Here's looking back up from part way down.
More "Hey, I was just over there."
Looking up at the dihedral from below.  All of the holds were angled down and out, if you know what I mean.
I made my way down a gully and traversed around south to keep on to Martenette, the 11er at the end of the ridge.  A whopping 301 feet of prominence, this one.  At least it would be easy on the legs.  If you're keeping up with where this day has gone so far, you know I was feeling it by now.
Again, I envisioned myself doing my best Julie Andrews impression down a tundra slope, only to meet a lot of talus.  Ah well, we can all dream!
Eventually I did meet some tundra, and found a pretty easy hike through an open forest.  I started to head up again.  It felt like time really slowed, but I was was moving as quickly as ever.  So quickly, I almost walked right past the small summit cairn.
The last peak of the day!  Whoo-hoo!
This register was an absolute treasure, placed by Bob Martin in 1992.  A surprisingly large number of people signed into this one as their last of the 37 peaks of Indian Peaks.  Nothing against it, but I think I would have done the day in reverse to finish on something with more of a view, like Cooper.
After Bob's signature, the next was Gerry and Jennifer Roach in 1997, and then John Prater in 2005.  Between each of those entries, someone (Gerry?) had drawn a line, and written two words, the single best register comment I've seen so far:
Time passes
I signed in on my 37th birthday, to read these words written twenty years before.  I was out in the immense wilderness, around trees that have seen the entire history of our country, around mountains that measure time in hundreds of thousands of years.  These words hit me on this day, September 13, 2017.  Time passes indeed.
Back to Marten.
I had some beta that all one needed to do was head back SE to the trail, and that bushwhacking, dead fall, and cliffs were minimal this way.  True.  It took me about an hour to reach the trail, and I was happy because that meant I'd get back to the car and be able to get the tent set up in daylight.
I motored on down, eventually seeing the first people of the day closer to the lake, then alot more around the lake.
I got into the car, made the short drive to Arapaho Bay, and selected my space for the evening.  I might have been the only one that actually paid, but the water was still on and the toilets were unlocked.  It was nicer than sleeping in the car last time I was here.
I got set up, ate dinner, took a baby wipe bath, and settled in, though I didn't fall asleep until darkness came.  No birthday cake this year, but I could hear the water lapping, the wind blowing, and the occasional duck quacking.  A package of Justin's Dark Chocolate peanut butter cups made an appropriate substitute, and I enjoyed the sounds of nature until my eyes closed.
Day 2:
Wanting an early start, my alarm was set for 4 am.  I was able to get up and move reasonably- I fell asleep feeling pretty sore and with the idea that if I woke up and it was raining, I wouldn't be too upset to head back home.  It was beautiful, a infinity of stars visible in the night sky.
It took me a pretty long time to break down the tent, so I started at Monarch Lake a little after five.  Again, I was privileged enough to witness another spectacular sunrise:
Though I was moving slower today, I was well up on the Cascade Lake Trail when true sunrise came.
The early morning view of Cherokee.  I though about maybe going up from this side, but it was integral to this day to descend the fourth class gully on the other side, and the beta I got on that route was such that I felt it would best to go up it to be able to go down it.
The photos don't do it justice, so I'll omit them, but if you are a hiker/mountaineer/climber/outdoorsy type person, you absolutely must visit Lone Eagle Cirque/Crater Lake.  I can't even think of any superlatives to describe it, though Handel's Hallelujah Chorus came to mind.  I felt like I could almost hear a small group of maybe fifty people singing this at the lake, or maybe one person with a guitar singing Leonard Cohen's version.  Either way, taking those last few steps up and finally being able to see the peaks above the trees was an absolutely transcendent experience, "1,000,000/10 will visit again".
Crater Lake.  I decided to battle through the trees and slabs to the right.  Should've gone around and taken the grassy slope up for maximum ease.
Up to Cherokee from the lake.  It looked huge.
I won the fight with the bush, and climbed some fun slabs, and finally started up the fourth class gully.  There were some interesting and exposed moves at first, and you want to traverse over left (when headed up) into the main gully, which is essentially the only way you can go.  The terrain is solid in the middle, with some loose rubble as you gain altitude. 
Up high in the gully.  "Some" loose rubble.
I popped out near the summit and took a look around to make sure I could get back down into the same place.  A short talus hop and I was close.
The summit is not often visited, and requires a short but airy traverse to reach.  Looks like just a few souls visit this one every year.  I felt fortunate to be one of the few to make the journey in 2017.
I headed back down the gully.  I found it easier to stay on solid rock on the way down than on the way up.  It's easier to see where you're going.  Even with that, this gully is steep, and you can't see the bottom from any point until you're close to it.  You just have to know that it goes.  Hence, I was happy with my decision to come up and descend the same way, as I would've doubted I was going the correct way if I'd only done it as a descent.
This is the entrance to the gully.  In Roach's IPW book, he says it's the third gully-see annotated photo at the end of this entry.  Make some moves up the grass, then exit left onto the rock to continue up.
Looking across the way.
I'd stay as high as possible below Achonee Tower, the rock face to the right, and then go up the dirt gully between but closer to Achonee and Hopi.  I was happy to find some water in between where I was and where I was going.  I'd have been dry for quite awhile without that. 
Here's a look back at the entry to the fourth class gully on Cherokee.
The most obvious looking options are not the ones you want to take.  See annotated photo at the end.
The traverse around went ok, I had to loose some elevation, but then was able to ascend more of the boilerplate slabs in the area.  Unfortunately I ended up in an area of extremely large talus, like car to room sized blocs.  This slowed travel dramatically, so I got back out of that area for ease of travel.
Nearing the gully.
I felt the best approach to the gully was from the left, as it looked like there was a bunch of loose stuff on the right.  There was a nice wall with some good holds, and the soil was stable, with occasional rock to step/pull on.
But things got worse there as I headed up.  The gully got steeper and steeper, and looser and looser.  The holds on the rock face dwindled to nothing.  Alot of the stuff I stepped or pulled on was now loose, and I dislodged several missiles down the slope.  I got to a point where I was actually higher than the low point between Achonee and Hopi, but the terrain was so steep and loose I didn't feel it was safe to traverse over.
I looked around.  I was now about ten feet out from the rock face on my left, but getting to it would require crossing more steep and loose terrain.  Going up would require climbing slabs angling down, all covered with a layer of loose soil.  I was now testing everything I stepped or pulled or to make sure it could hold my weight.  I could no longer go up.  I couldn't go left or right.  Going back down felt dangerous and sketchy, but it was the only option.
Back down I went, repeating the moves I'd just made up, holding my breath every time something solid moved.  I was a little scared.  But it didn't take long to get below the steepest section, and then traverse across a more mellow but still loose slope of soil and talus to the right side of the gully.  A short ascent, and I exited onto the grassy slopes/slabs to my right.  In short order, I reached the saddle.  Phew!
Looking down to Crater Lake.
I decided to head for Hopi first even though I was closer to Achonee.  From here, it is not the first high point you encounter, but the second.  And it certainly looks like the true summit is the eastern most point of the highest closed contour, which is not where the register is. 
Across to the summit of Hopi from the west point where the register is.  It was a quick traverse between the two with a short scramble to reach the summit.
Back to the west point, added finger in frame bonus!
It's really hard to tell which is higher.  Each point looked higher while looking at it from the other.  LoJ has the east point as the true high point, so I'm going with that.
I headed back to Achonee, traversing around the rockier bits.  After a few false summits, I was on top.
Looking back to Hopi from Achonee.
Looks like about two a year visit this one.  Not bad. 
Looking down to Crater Lake from Achonee. 
And the improbably steep gully up Cherokee- you end up in the white area that splits the peak.  It looks impossible from this perspective. 
Well, the weather didn't look great.  I could now see it was raining here and there all around me.  I'd planned to add on Lonesome Peak at this point, which would finish the west side of IPW.  I still had time, so I went for it.
My plan was to descend to the Arapaho Pass trail, then bushwhack directly to the peak, going up and over the ridge extending north from Satanta Peak.  It looked like it could maybe work, but first I needed to get to the trail.  I descended west, able to jog at first. 
I aimed for this small body of water, and would then try to follow my friend Gary's GPS tracks which I'd drawn on the paper map I printed out for this day.  I went to where it looked like his route started, and I was on top of a small outcrop, cliffy in all directions.  But I could see a more mellow slope north of me, so I went to that.
This is where the day went off the tracks.  It looks like there might be one good place to descend here, and it's closer to Hopi.  But even that might suck.  I followed a thin stream down, and it sucked.  Steep, bushwhacky, wet, loose- it was all of those things and more, but fortunately not cliffy at all.  Regardless, travel slowed considerably.
With the difficulty of movement here, it was obvious my planned route to Lonesome Peak would not go.  I decided to just descend the trail to the High Lonesome Trail and reevaluate there.
I arrived at that intersection at 4:21 in a light rain and sat to evaluate.  First off, it was raining.  I calculated with around 2000 feet of gain to get to the summit, it could reasonably take me around an hour each way from where I was, if I were fresh, and I definitely wasn't.  Then however long to get back to the car from here.  I'd say three hours in total, which mean I'd get back right as darkness was falling.  Then up to three hours to drive home, where I'd presumably eat, shower, and collapse in bed.
As you can probably guess, I decided to pack it in and head back to the car.  Getting home in daylight seemed like a better choice at this point.  Though that would mean another long drive for one thing.  Oh well.
Arapaho Creek.
This old steam driven piece of equipment was on the south shores of Monarch Lake.  Pretty neat.
Monarch Lake.
Back at the car, I changed, refreshed, and started the drive home.  It took about three hours, due to the time of day and alot of elk related traffic in and around RMNP and Estes Park.  But I was home in daylight, and able to spend some time with my wife and pup before going to bed.  The perfect end to a nice birthday weekend.
This was an awesome trip, a great and memorable way to celebrate 37.  Indian Peaks was certainly a fun goal, and these peaks on the west side are my favorite in the wilderness area.  Maybe it was the time of year, but everything felt remote and out there- plus I didn't see a single person until well on my way back on either day.  Pretty awesome.  The technical difficulty was there too, with some fun route finding added in for good measure.
As I sit at home a few weeks later, the mind wanders back.  I'm stuck inside this weekend due to weather, and I'm sure when the clouds clear the high peaks will be blanketed in a layer of snow.  At this point of the year, it might melt enough for easy access for a few more alpine days, or it might not.  Time passes, and time will tell.
Annotated photo showing the correct access to the fourth class gully on Cherokee.
Link to hike map on Caltopo.  This one is hand drawn, as my phone doubles as my GPS unit and the battery wouldn't have lasted for these two days.  Day 1 in red, day 2 in blue.
Day 1:
Blackfoot, 12113 feet: 6.46 miles, 3713 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Thunderbolt Peak, 11938 feet: 7.49 miles, 3538 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Cooper Peak, 12296 feet: 12.8 miles, 3896 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.
Marten Peak, 12041 feet: 13.6 miles, 3641 foot gain.  Fifth class*.  Strenuous.
Martenette, 11361 feet: 14.75 miles, 2961 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Day 1 totals: 20.35 miles with a laughable (in the slightly ludicrous sense) 8438 feet of elevation gain.  Lots of off trail time on everything from nice smooth tundra to nice loose talus.  Up to fifth class.  There's a good reason most people don't do these five in one day.  Strenuous++.
Day 2:
Cherokee, 12130 feet: 7.95 miles, 3730 foot gain.  Fourth class via SE gully.  Strenuous.
Hopi, 12780 feet: 9.6 miles, 4380 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Mount Achonee, 12469 feet: 10.4 miles, 4249 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Day 2 totals: 16.31 miles with a more reasonable (except it came after a 8k+ day) 6430 feet of elevation gain.  The off trail time is predominately on rock, from smooth slabs to talus.  Up to fourth class.  I would suggest the exact route I took up the gully to Hopi to be third class.  Strenuous+.
Two day total: 36.66 miles, 14868 foot gain.  No wonder I was so tired! 
*= by the method I took, but easier if you can figure out the confusing description.

1 comment:

  1. Nice. Might be doing Hopi/Achonee on Saturday. Original plan was Wyoming. That may be nixed for Hopi/Achonee though. Was looking to add Cherokee, but that seems a bit much for a day hike. Hope you are well. I was thinking about playing hooky a Wednesday or Thursday in mid-July/August. Any availability to hike something? I'll see what you have left that we can do.