Monday, July 23, 2018

Forever Botany Traverse- East Portal to Berthoud Pass (and back)!

I hope the conceiver of this route doesn't mind me giving it a name, it was her idea and I think she should get naming rights, but then again I don't think Forever Botany Traverse is a name she'd object to.
Another early wake up and drive to meet Erin, fellow trail runner and Botanist.  A lonely drive through Ned, continuing south to Rollinsville, and then west on East Portal Road from town.  Drive the dirt road to the end, where you'll find Moffat Tunnel (check the link for some interesting history) and copious parking.
While the trail is popular, I'd never been there and we didn't see another person until pretty high up, near the lakes.  
We started out at an easy jog, but dropped to a hike as the trail steepened up.   I'd recently had a conversation with a few people about blazes from trails, since I found a trail close to home that was blazed with black paint.  Someone said that black is often used when a trail is closed or decommissioned, to paint over the existing brighter color and render it less visible. 
On this trail, we could clearly see a blue blaze that looked like it had been painted over twice, with brown and grey, but was still visible.  The trail is certainly well enough put in that blazes aren't necessary, perhaps they are from an old mining trail which became this trail, or an earlier era when the ethos was different.  
Erin found and wanted a photo of the horse hair like brown lichen pictured lower on this branch.  I can't remember the name, perhaps she'll comment?
A small waterfall along the way.
We reached a few bodies of water, here Rogers Pass Lake.  We saw the first people we'd see over the course of the day here, all at a distance.  This lake and the smaller unnamed bodies of water above it are the headwaters of South Boulder Creek.
Heartbeat Peak from the top of Rogers Pass.  While we intended to visit this summit, we decided to do so on the way back.
Looking south to James Peak (named for Dr. Edwin James, botanist), Mount Bancroft (named for Dr. Frederick J. Bancroft, public health), and Parry Peak (named for Charles Christopher Parry, botanist).  It is both good and bad you can't see the entire traverse from here, because it looks long, though you can see most of the way to James Peak from the other side.
Down through a couloir to snow fields below.
We started up the climb to James, taking (at least on my part) small steps and breathing hard.  There is a trail to the summit, though it is not always distinct.
One mutual concern we had was water, always a consideration with these ridge line traverses.  We were able to find several seasonal trickles fed by snow melt in the area of James, but not much of anything beyond that.  Would we find water at Berthoud Pass?
Erin on James Peak.  The people in the background were part of a group of three through hiking the CDT.  Bad ass!
The views from the summit were great, and we could now see more of the terrain ahead.  Was that our destination, impossibly far in the distance?
The next section provided some of the most interesting movement.  From looking at the satellite images, there was a rocky area ahead that likely held some scrambling.  It wasn't much of a deal really, easy stretches of maybe up to third class.
We also found a nice COLD source of snow fed water in this area, which we thought might be good to remember for the trip back.  The views of Ice Lake below were pretty cool, as were the views back to James Peak as we started to gain elevation again.
James and beyond!
The movement between Bancroft and Parry was pretty easy, save for the elevation, as the entire stretch is above 13k.
Parry, 13397 feet (highest in James Peak Wilderness, which meant it was all downhill from here.  Not really.) and James, 13300 feet.
Erin descending Parry.
I rather enjoyed the views each pass brought to the east and west.  Pretty spectacular drainages.
Next up was Mount Eva (named for Charles Parry's wife), Mount Flora (named, of course, for the plants of a particular region), and Colorado Mines Peak (you can probably guess that one!).
It seemed to take forever to get to the top of Eva, with multiple false summits.  In reality, it was 13ish whole minutes from the saddle to the top.
Mount Eva, 13130 feet, looking north.  Find the interesting structures in the area (not pictured).
We headed to Mount Flora, the longest stretch above treeline without a summit for a bit.  Of interest, the actual summit of Flora is the closed loop north of where it's marked on all the maps I've seen.  This is visually higher, and you'll find a register there.  The trail from Berthoud Pass also goes to the incorrect southern summit, so just keep in mind you'll have to break from it to get to the true top.
Mount Flora, 13146 feet, looking north.  We were pretty close to the end.  Almost halfway.
We passed several people on their way up on our way down and talked about how the positions would soon be reversed, and how we'd probably get those "Didn't we just see you?" questions.
We followed the trail down to another saddle, then picked up a trail around Colorado Mines.  When it looked like we were below the summit, we cut directly to the top.
Unfortunately, none of the equipment there made fresh potato chips.  We both agreed we could've destroyed a bag or more right about then.
With the parking visible, we descended directly down the hill to it, avoiding any brushy stuff easily, and eventually picking up a trail.  Now, the next challenge of the day: water.  I had just finished the last of my two liter hydration pack, and had a as of yet untouched half a liter in a soft bottle, but that wouldn't be enough to get us back, especially with the warmer afternoon temperatures.
We first headed to and checked out the building- no luck.  There was what looked like a cistern behind, and we both had purification methods, but no way to access it and unknown if anything was in it.  There were a few people in the parking lot who we could've asked, but in the name of exploration, we walked SW to the end of the parking lot.  We'd both looked at the satellite images and this seemed like the most likely place.
Paydirt!  Erm, paywater!  From what I can find, this is the Berthoud Pass Diversion ditch, which is owned by the cities of Northglenn and Golden.  I'm not sure if it's a year round source or not, but we were glad it was flowing this day.
Now fully restocked for the trip back, we looked at the hill ahead.  It was steep.  We'd already been out for seven hours, and had spent an extended time above treeline.  Thus, an easy pace was agreed upon.  Step by step.  We decided to skip Colorado Mines Peak on the way back.
Low and slow was the name of the game on the return, or at least it felt like it.  I guess it always feels like you're going slower later in the day, but it looks like we essentially kept the same pace, going slower on the ups and faster on the downs.
We passed one group we'd seen on the way down, and the interaction made me smile.  It was a couple with their maybe ten year old child, who said, "Didn't we see you going down?".
Erin was in front and answered, "Yes, but since we started from the other side we had to go back."
I stuck out my hand and got a low five from the child.  "That'll keep me going the rest of the way," I said.  And it did.  I was just happy to see a family out there enjoying the day as we were.
Another captivating drainage.
The weather was looking concerning in places.  Lots of those big puffy clouds which can turn into something, but fortunately didn't though we did catch a few rain drops.  If you attempt this, it is imperative to have a good weather forecast or to know you'll have to stick it out, because there really isn't any place you can bail and get back to the car without turning a long day into a really long day or possible overnight bivy somewhere.
I was moving slowly as we climbed back up Parry and it seemed like Erin was just going, going, going.  I was struggling, but got to the summit aided by several short breaks (and she stopped to take photos of some of the local flora).  I felt better from there on out, maybe it was just getting over that final highest hump.  Or maybe she saw it and slowed down for me.
Over Ice Lake, note the smoke on the horizon.  I checked the news when I got home, and it looks like this was from a vehicle fire.
We paused for a bit at the small Shangri La we found between Bancroft and James, and filled up on some icy cold water.  It was a nice break at a nice place to be, if ever so briefly.
Down another drainage.
We got back to Rogers Pass and looked toward Heartbeat Peak.  So close, yet so far away.  It was already 6pm, and we decided to head back.
At Heart Lake.  I spied a tent on the far side.  What a place to wake up.
I saw alot of this over the day- beautiful scenery, and the back of Erin's head as I struggled to keep up!
We struck up a nice pace on the way back through the lush valley, and beat sunset back to the car.  Funny, in the morning I'd put a headlamp in my pack, "just in case", and got pretty close to needing it.
This was a fun day, though of course not easy.  The main challenge in my mind is one I've highlighted alot recently, which is the extended time spent at elevation.  You'll be above 11k from before you even get to Rogers Pass Lake, and all the way back to that point.  Above 12k?  Count on over 18 miles of the total of 32 at this elevation, with only 2 miles back in the 11's as you descend to Berthoud Pass anbd start back.  In fact, the average elevation of this day was 11,856 feet.  To put that in perspective, the famed Hardrock 100 has an average elevation of 11,186 feet, though it is of course, much longer and does have higher highs.
Finding water along the route will definitely be a challenge as previously highlighted.  I am not sure if the diversion ditch is in use year round or not, but the source above Ice Lake should be considered seasonal, and with the higher temperatures on the way back, I was almost out by the time we got there.
The elevation comes with no cover.  Make sure you are well sunblocked to start, and consider taking some along if you would normally for reapplication (I didn't but Erin did).
This is a difficult day for sure, and I think several factors make it more difficult than other similar long days I've done.  Notably, while on my last outing, I could have bailed at any time.  Yes, it would have still been 10+ miles back to the car from the farthest points out, but the trail goes right back to the parking area.  Here, that is not the case.  If you have to bail from anywhere other than in the area of James Peak, it's going to be a long way back.  If you go west... well, don't go west.
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.
Forever Botany Traverse:
James Peak, 13294 feet: 7.15 miles, 4065 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Mount Brancroft, 13250 feet: 8.7 miles, 4021 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.
Parry Peak, 13391 feet: 9.6 miles, 4162 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Mount Eva, 13130 feet: 10.5 miles, 3901 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Mount Flora, 13146 feet: 12.55 miles, 3917 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous+.
Colorado Mines Peak, 12493 feet: 14.65 miles, 3264 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous+.
Berthoud Pass, 11307 feet: 15.65 miles, 2078 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous+.
Mount Flora, 13146 feet: 19.5 miles, 1839 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Mount Eva, 13130 feet: 21.55 miles, 1823 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Parry Peak, 13391 feet: 22.6 miles, 2084 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Mount Bancroft, 13250 feet: 23.45 miles, 1943 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
James Peak, 13294 feet: 24.95 miles, 1987 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous+.
As a whole, this day covered 32.12 miles with 11600 feet of elevation gain in up to third class terrain, and took us 14:03 car to car.  Strenuous+.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

North Fork Basin loop.

I mapped this monster a few years ago, I believe shortly after my first visit to the area with Dan in 2013.  Doing a loop to connect all of the peaks above the basin seemed like a logical choice, and while entirely off trail, there isn't too much scrambling.  In fact, with good route choice, casual rock touching is minimized to almost zero.
This marked my second attempt on this route, with the first being a week prior.  I think that one was destined for failure from the start.  I went to bed the night before with my stomach feeling a little upset, and it didn't feel any better the next morning.  I didn't sleep well, or long enough (though that in itself is not unusual), and I was really feeling it.  And it was windier than predicted.  And my heart just wasn't in it.  
That happens, and it is important to listen to your body and evaluate the conditions rather than force things.  The first attempt did come with a lesson in the route choice, as I'd planned to go clockwise.  But the bushwhack up to Mount Dickinson was not fun and rather difficult.  Perhaps going counter clockwise was a better option.  I'd still have to do the bushwhack, but would have the assist of gravity to go downhill.  Maybe that would make it easier?
The original route I mapped started and ended at the Dunraven TH, taking the Bulwark Ridge trail to Signal Mountain(s).  After a rather jolly time on the trails east of the Signals last year (and a hellacious bushwhack on a trail on the map that isn't there in real life), and wanting a little bit of a bigger day elevation and distance wise, I decided to add on some time on these trails.  Why not?
I started from the Dunraven TH at 5:43 am.  The initial climb is pretty steep, taking down about 1000 feet in 1.3 miles or so.  The other side brings a fun and fast descent on the Indian Trail to Miller Fork.
I took a left here to head west- it is not necessary to cross the creek though it looked like it was.  At the first fork after this, I stayed left for the Donner Pass Cutoff trail, then left at the second intersection to take the Donner Pass trail.  
Early signs...  These trails don't appear to get much use, but someone had been through fairly recently with a chainsaw.  That made things alot more pleasant.
Along the Donner Pass trail.
This is the meadow where I decided I was going the wrong way last year, and then went the wrong way to a trail that was on the USGS map, but not there in real life.
I arrived at Donner Pass at 8:13, and took the short and not in great shape or distinct trail to Lookout Mountain, the first peak of the day.
The start of the Lookout trail.  It gets worse with deadfall, though it's still mostly ok to follow until the trail seems to disappear.  There are cairns up to the summit, but those are widely spaced and also difficult to follow.  So I just kept going up.
The views from the top are quite enchanting.  It was pretty hard to wrap my head around the idea that I'd be over there in just a few hours.  It was also a little intimidating!
I took the trail back down to Donner Pass, and then continued on trail 934 west.  Here I could see some signs of usage, as dirt bikes are allowed and it was clear someone had been through.  Peak 10582 is right off the trail, and I made sure to visit the summit if oh so briefly.
I continued along this trail at an easy jog/hike.  Next up was the clearing with the intersection with the Signal Mountain trail.  There was a little bit of deadfall here, but nothing major.
Signal Mountain trail intersection.  This is trail 928.
It breaks treeline soon enough, and the views are awesome, though the trail becomes a little less distinct.
At the summit of Signal Mountain, 11262 feet.  Over there was still looking pretty darn far away.
It was a quick jaunt over to South Signal Mountain.
Looking forward.
I can't say you're above treeline for the rest of the day from here, as you aren't.  But the lowest elevation you'll face until the final descent from Dickinson is between Pennock Peak and Stormy Peaks, at around 10500 feet.  In my mind, the extended time at elevation/above treeline is the main difficulty.  Starting at Signal Mountain, it's about 20 miles at elevation.
Another benefit of doing the loop CCW was that the now very faint Signal Mountain trail between Signals and the Stormy Peaks trail is alot easier to follow going down.  Last year I lost it multiple times climbing, and faced more hard bushwhacking.  As it was, I still lost it once before refinding it and topping out Pennock Peak, 11058 feet.
Looking back from Pennock.
Down into the valley.
Here is where the Signal Mountain trail ends/starts on the other side.  Note that there isn't a sign indicating it is a trail.  It's hard to follow from this side, with deadfall in multiple places and numerous animal trails crossing/taking off from it.
I headed up towards Stormy Peaks after a sit at the intersection.  I was already thinking maybe I should head back.  It was already noon.  Continuing on would give an exceptionally long day.  But I'd come this far.
I stayed on the Stormy Peaks trail for what seemed like a long time- I didn't want to go too far past the east summit to have to backtrack to it, yet I also wanted to be high up enough to avoid the bushwhacking and willows between myself and the summit.
In the end, it worked out completely fine.
Back down.
Stormy Peaks West (the true, ranked summit) from Stormy Peaks East.
It was a fairly quick jaunt between the two, with a touch of scrambling to meet the summit.  East from West.
I made the quick descent west from there, and stayed down and north of the next small bump to continue on to Sugarloaf Mountain.
Things fell apart here a bit.  I was really struggling even though the terrain is pretty easy, and the gain is not steep.  I was extremely disappointed to top a small rise and see I still had a bit to go to Sugarloaf.  I sat for what felt like a long time but was in fact a few minutes.  It was now around 2:30 PM.  I could just turn around and take the nice, easy trail back down, which meant I'd be home at a reasonable time.  It would be nice to be back home, comfortable, eat some real food, cuddle with the dogs, pet my wife.  Oops!  Reverse that.
But then again, I mapped this day.  I planned on it.  I already tried once and turned back.  I was pretty far in and to turn around now meant I'd have to come all the way back here once again.  I wanted this day.
To Skull Point and the climb up beyond.
Onward I went.  It's weird to describe what I was feeling, both wanting to quit or be done and wanting to continue on.  I guess part of the reason for continuing was that even if I turned back now, I'd still be facing a not very short run/hike back, even though it'd be mostly downhill.
Skull Point was a quick and easy rock hop to the summit, and then a quick descent to Icefield Pass.
Great views to the east, down the entire basin I was looping around.
The permanent snowfields between Little No Name and Rowe Mountain look to be the highest elevation/farthest out feeders for the South Fork of the Cache la Poudre River.  There was a mini waterfall, rushing, icy cold water, and astounding views.
I found the view to the north west to be particularly striking.  Of all the special places I've seen and been in the park, this one was extremely memorable.
One aspect that bears mentioning for these long days above treeline is water access.  I'd planned on several, some of which will be seasonal only, fed by the snow melt from the year before.  Thus, doing this in September might mean long stretches without.  The only definite accesses I'd count on then would be Miller Fork, the above melt stream, and Rowe Glacier Lake, so one would need to make sure to have enough to get through the sections between those.
The view from Little No Name was awesome, but getting there definitely took some time.  I was moving pretty slow and really felt like I was dragging.  Aided by several breaks, I made the top eventually.
I felt a little bit better from there up to Hagues.  Maybe the lack of oxygen was helping!
Gibraltar Mountain from Middle No Name.  Middle No Name is pretty silly as a summit, with virtually no prominence.  Gibraltar isn't much more impressive, but at least the movement is a little more interesting.
I made the quick trip out to Rowe Peak from there.  I'd looked at and planned to include Rowe Mountain while I was close, but the day was getting on.  Even just twenty minutes out and twenty back would be another forty minutes.  As I thought about it, if the goal was to do a loop of the North Fork Basin, Rowe Mountain wasn't a peak that bordered it, nor would it contribute to the drainage at all.  Thus, I decided to skip it.
Looking across to Hagues and Rowe Glacier Lake.
I made my way down some talus to the lake and enjoyed the silence and beauty of it while I filled up on water part of the way- I knew there was a place I could fill up between Hagues and Dunraven, and the less weight I had to carry, the better.
The climb up to Hagues felt like it took forever, but the reality was about 20 minutes.  I signed in for the third time this year, and then headed east.  Though I've done Hagues multiple times, I only discovered a really great end to the traverse this year, as I previously stayed up on the ridge as high as possible.  I stay north and down from the summit, which gives a nice, relatively flat and wide passageway to a series of social trails up the north face, which go easy.  There is almost no rock hopping at all, and it seems alot easier than staying on the ridge.
As I headed east, I considered where I was.  It was now around 6:30 PM, and while I had also planned to visit Mummy Mountain, I decided to disqualify it for the same reasons as Rowe Mountain.  Time, and most importantly, it does not border the North Fork Basin, nor does it contribute to the drainage.
With the impending sunset, I was hoping to be at least somewhat into the bushwhack downhill before I had to get the headlamp out.
A herd of Elk between Hagues and Dunraven.  I stopped to fill up water here for the last time above treeline.
Up to Dunraven.  I gave myself the goal to get to Dickinson from Hagues in two hours.  It looks like it's about 5.7 miles between the two.  I guess that seems like a reasonable time goal, and I was motivated to reach it as I wanted to minimize the whole bushwhacking in the darkness thing.  Funny, as Erin remarked the week before as we bushwhacked up to Dickinson how much it would suck to do it in the dark.
I tagged Dunraven, then Dundicking, and finally made it to Dickinson in 2:07.  Close enough I guess.  I turned north and started the descent.  Upon reaching treeline, I found and followed some cairns and a goodish trail.  I'd like to know where that ends or goes to if anyone knows, as I lost the cairns and descended as directly as possible.
A last sunlit look back at a long day.
I've usually stayed to the east of the rock face on the north side of Dickinson, but decided to stay west of it this time.  The theory was that the route to the east looked like it had a longer stretch above treeline, but the route to the west looks like it is more direct.  In reality, it probably doesn't matter at all.
The going was pretty ok and easy at first, as I was able to find clear avenues through the trees.  But I got lower, turned on the headlamp, and darkness came.  The bushwhacking got alot more difficult and thicker.  Now I was cursing my route decision (CCW vs CW), as if I'd went the other way I'd be on a nice easy trail at this point.  But on the other hand, the bushwhack was definitely easier going downhill.
I used the app on my phone a few times to see how progress was going.  While steep here and there, the going was pretty okay other than the brush I was fighting!  This section actually felt pretty quick, and looking at my tracker, it was exactly 50 minutes down from the summit to the trail, about 2300 vertical, bushy feet.
I ended up in a flatter meadowy area and scared something big that I never saw which fortunately headed opposite me.  I also got my feet wet.  I'd managed to keep them dry until now.  I hit the North Fork of the Big Thompson, the namesake of this day.  I quickly looked for a down tree to cross, but I was still in a meadow and there were none.  The creek didn't look too deep and my feet were already wet, so I waded it.
Joy of joys, I happened to cross at the one place where the trail practically touches the creek, and found it in a few paces once I climbed the bank on the other side.
"Could it be?" I said.
And it was.
Now it was simply motor on down.  I surprised myself by actually feeling like I wanted to run and could do so, and alternated between jogging and power hiking the remaining 7ish miles or so.  This felt like it took awhile, but I was finally back to the car about an hour and forty minutes later.  I'd been down the trail six days prior and nothing looked familiar, but at least I had the comfort of passing the signs for the various campsites.  There was also a ton of insects and mosquitoes out, one of whom bit me in the face.  This face needs all the help it can get, thanks jerk.
This was two days before a full moon and I kept thinking I was seeing things off the trail, as white flowers appeared to almost glow in the night, shadows were longer and exaggerated, and the white water on the creek looked like tents with lights in them.
I am pretty sure I saw some campers at one of the spots in RMNP, but when I though I saw a bunch farther down, I realized it was actually the moonlight on the water.  Several times, until I was like, "Wow, there's alot of people camping here.  Great spot right next to the river.  Hey, wait a second...."
I arrived back at the car at 10:51 PM, just over a 17 hour day.  Phew.
What a day this one was.  I was particularly enthused to link these peaks together since I first mapped it a few years ago, perhaps it has taken that long for my fitness to rise to the level of my ambition.  This loop covers alot of incredibly scenic alpine terrain.  The extended time at altitude is certainly the biggest difficulty here, in several ways I've already touched upon.
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.
North Fork Basin loop:
Lookout Mountain, 10626 feet: 8.3 miles, 2826 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate.
10582: 10.15 miles, 2782 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate.
Signal Mountain, 11262 feet: 14 miles, 3462 foot gain.  Moderate+.
South Signal Mountain, 11248 feet: 14.75 miles, 3448 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Pennock Peak, 11058 feet: 16.7 miles, 3258 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Stormy Peaks East, 12020 feet: 20.95 miles, 4220 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Stormy Peaks West, 12148 feet: 21.5 miles, 4348 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Sugarloaf Mountain, 12140 feet: 23.65 miles, 4340 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Skull Point, 12060 feet: 24.55 miles, 4260 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Icefield Pass, 11840 feet: 24.85 miles, 4040 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Little No Name, 12530 feet: 25.65 miles, 4730 foot gain.  Strenuous+.
Middle No Name, 12760 feet: 26.2 miles (a marathon), 4960 foot gain.  Strenuous+.
Gibraltar Mountain, 13300 feet: 27.05 miles, 5500 foot gain.  Strenuous+.
Rowe Peak, 13420 feet: 27.75 miles, 5620 foot gain.  Strenuous+.
Rowe Glacier Lake, 13100 feet: 28.3 miles, 5300 foot gain.  Strenuous+.
Hagues Peak, 13560 feet: 28.85 miles, 5760 foot gain.  Strenuous+.
Mount Dunraven, 12571 feet: 31.25 miles, 4771 foot gain.  Strenuous.
"Dundicking", 12312 feet: 32.15 miles, 4512 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Mount Dickinson, 11831 feet: 33.75 miles, 4031 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
As a whole, this day covered 41.5 miles with 11219 feet of elevation gain.  A slightly shorter and less elevationous day could be had by taking the Bulwark Ridge trail up or down from the trailhead, but any way you go, this is a big day.  Again, the time above treeline is extensive, and the difficulties that come with that are the main obstacle.  Strenuous+.