Another fall week with good weather predicted, another early wake up and long drive to summit a few more peaks in the Rawahs. Due to my earlier navigation error, I left myself with one higher summit in the group north of the Poudre, Cameron Peak. Since that one wasn't enough for me to do that long of a drive, I also planned to visit Table Iron and Iron Mountain, on the south side of the Poudre and an extension to the part of the Never Summer Range that is in RMNP, as well as the three 10ers off of Long Draw Road.
Now it's a few months later, cold, and I'm sitting at home with a sore ankle. 6 summits in a day from four different parking areas seems like alot!
For days in which I do multiple things from different places, I'll usually plan to do either the longest drive, hardest thing, or thing I want to do the most first. On this day, I decided that Cameron Peak was the priority, as that seemed like it might be the most difficult thing to get if it snowed soon.
I wanted to start and end from a different place just to check out the area a bit more, so I planned to start from the Blue Lake Trailhead, which is off of highway 14 not far past Road 103, taken in all previous reports on the area.
Since I imagine most of you will be starting from the east, head west on highway 14. The Blue Lake Trailhead will be on your right, just after the sign for Long Draw Road. It's almost exactly opposite the road in fact. I started just before 6 am, another early wake up with a 2ish hour drive to get there. There isn't a bathroom at this trailhead, fyi.
The trail starts out pretty mellow, with a short descent and not too steep climbing until you cross Fall Creek. There are a few spurs, old jeep roads and the like, but none looked more obvious than the trail, so just keep on.
Things get a bit steeper after crossing the creek, and you start to do some real gain up until Blue Lake. I did most of that in darkness, and made it to the lake just after sunrise. It was pretty spectacular.
Looking down at Blue Lake and summits behind from near the saddle. I continued around the lake, and started up once I was close to the saddle. The week before, I'd sat at the saddle and calculated it would take me two hours up and back to the summit. Now I was there, how long would it actually take? The terrain was ok, right at treeline. I was generally able to avoid it, but did have to bushwhack short sections to continue toward the summit. Once I got past the trees, I just continued up until I popped out on the summit ridge, just to the north of the summit. A quick jog, and I was there.
I've found a bunch of his registers this year, thank you Roger.
Looking to the peaks to the south of the range.
And to the north; note the snow that wasn't present the week before. Guess I got there just in time. I jogged back down the hill to the saddle, slipping and falling backwards to put a hole in my new jacket. Argh!
Blue Lake from above. It took me 1:11 to get saddle to the summit and back. I should've just went for it the week before.
Looking back to the saddle.
The Rawahs and Roosevelt National Forest. While I did run some of the trail down, I wasn't feeling too motivated and fast hiked most of it. I got back to the car without seeing another person on the trail. It took me just over 4.5 hours to do this section. I got into the car and started out for leg two. I continued west for a few more miles along highway 14, and parked at the Cameron Pass Trailhead/parking area. I got empty wrappers traded out for new snacks, and filled up my water. My plan to visit Table Iron and Iron was pretty simple, just cross the road, head uphill until treeline was broken, and then head toward the summits. Turn around at Iron Mountain and go back. Pretty easy. Hopefully. The uphill was pretty intense at first, lots of deadfall and so forth, but thankfully movement got a bit easier as I gained altitude, and I popped out of the trees and on to tundra about 40 minutes after I left the car. The views started, and didn't stop.
Towards Nokhu Crags.
And looking back the way I'd come shortly after. South and North Diamond Peaks are the prominent points on the ridge behind and are accessible from the same place I started.
I reached Table Iron pretty reasonably. The summit is rather flat and broad.
At Table Iron looking toward Iron. I was able to make great time here as the going was generally pretty easy between the two.
As I got closer to Iron things looked a little more imposing, and I wondered if there might be some scrambling on crumbly rock in my future.
One of several outlooks providing great views of the Never Summers.
Looking back to Table Iron and the Rawahs. There was a little bit of loose rock here and there, but nothing too bad, and no scrambling was needed to reach the summit.
Off the summit behind a wind block and the views were great! I thought about the way to go here. I could go back the way I came, but Michigan Ditch Road looked so close below me.
Looking northeast to Trap Park. I got to the saddle between Iron and Table Iron, and it was decision time. A fateful place, I decided that heading down to the road looked reasonable, and I could jog back from there. Within a few hundred feet, it became obvious this was perhaps not the best way to go, as the terrain was very steep, and loose in places. Fortunately, that didn't last too long and I was soon into trees and more manageable terrain. There was little if any bushwhacking; I was generally able to pick a pretty clear route down. I did encounter and briefly follow at least one very old road, I presume a logging remnant. I hit the Michigan Ditch soon enough, and was able to find a shallow and narrow place to jump across. My plan to run the road back was hindered by a lack of motivation to actually run, so I did the best I could to keep the pace high.
Along the Michigan Ditch. I got back to the parking at 2:29 PM, the day still young. Or young enough for me. I started back along 14 east, and then turned onto Long Draw Road, almost exactly opposite the earlier trailhead visited for Blue Lake. I followed this and eyed up the parking possibilities in the area of Trap Lake for my drive back, then continued on Long Draw Road by turning right after Trap Lake.
My goal was peaks 10980 and 10736, on opposite sides of the road. I'd looked at the satellite photos before hand on Google, and found a few likely places to park. I ended up at a pullout at 40.538413, -105.794820, on the east side of the road.
From there, I headed east, initially gaining some scrambly elevation. Movement was generally easy, and the forest pretty open once past the initial gain. I passed though a few grassy meadows before reaching the summit.
Not often signed into register. From the summit, I headed south and then west, enjoying more of those meadows before following a drainage back down to the road. From there, I looked west to 10736. While there was less than 500 feet of gain to get to the summit, it was steep, with that gain coming in half a mile. There were a few steep rock faces that came down to the road, so I had to find a weakness before starting up. Fortunately, the forest was once again open with minimal deadfall, and the summit came fairly quickly.
10736. From there, I headed back east to the road, trying to stay north of the route I took up and to finish closer to the car. I encountered a few of those steeper rock faces, but was able to find a way around them easily enough, and popped out on the road just south of my car. This trip took 2 hours, and it was now 5 PM. Still early enough! I drove back north on Long Draw Road, and turned left at the intersection mentioned before. I decided to park in a pull out at 40.559076, -105.816106 on the south side of the road overlooking Trap Lake. This was almost south of 10472, and it looked like the path of least resistance to the summit. It wasn't at first, with lots of dead fall. But soon enough, things cleared up. I again followed the path of least resistance, trending north while going around anything that looked too difficult.
The summit of 10472. I had a fun run back down to the car from here, making the round trip in 50 minutes. There were a few people at another vehicle there, and we exchanged a friendly hello as I got my stuff off and got ready to go. It was getting cooler with the time of day, but of course with the effort I was still in shorts and a tshirt, while they were in light puffy jackets and pants. This round trip took about 50 minutes, and I was back at the car just after 6. It was around two hours home from here, and nice to make some of the drive in daylight. This day finally dispelled some of my anxiety about not completing a goal for the year. With Cameron Peak, Iron Mountain, and Table Iron, I'd now completed all of the alpine peaks in Roosevelt National Forest. If it snowed, the remainder MIGHT be a little more difficult, but at least almost everything left was closeish to a trailhead and reasonably accessible. All in, another great day in a beautiful area. Link to hike maps/GPX on Caltopo (in light blue). The Rawahs part 5. Cameron Peak, 12127 feet: 14.15 miles, 3523 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous-. Table Iron, 12060 feet: 2.1 miles, 1784 foot gain. Second class. Moderate+. Iron Mountain, 12265 feet: 3.1 miles, 1989 foot gain. Second class. Moderate+. 10980: 1.2 miles, 714 foot gain. Second class. Moderate-. 10736: 2.8 miles (as part of hike), 470 foot gain. Second class. Moderate-. 10472: .8 miles, 483 foot gain. Second class. Moderate-. In total, the four legs of this day covered 25.62 miles with 8027 feet of elevation gain. Strenuous.
As detailed in the previous post, I made a pretty dumb navigational/identification mistake and got pretty close to but did not summit Snowbank Peak in the Rawahs. Hopefully I won't make a mistake like that again, or at least for awhile!
I set out the next week to correct that error-it would've been a pretty mellow day otherwise. Well, relatively speaking. But having to kick back north added about 7 miles and 1000 feet of elevation gain to the day.
Then again, the area is awesome, and I was looking forward to the day ahead. Like the previous week, the weather didn't look so great in the sense that a storm had come through the previous night, and it was predicted to be super windy again-if it weren't late September, I probably wouldn't have gone due to that. But it was late September, and I REALLY wanted to get these ones done this year. Not going now risked the chance of snowfall, which would make these peaks more difficult and maybe impossible to access.
I headed up, sleeping at home this time and getting up at dark o'clock to make the long drive- nearly two hours from my house, and I started from the trailhead at 5:30 am. Follow the same directions provided last time, taking road 103 north from CO 14. Park and start from the West Branch Trailhead, on your left shortly after Tunnel Campground.
Since it was dark and I was covering ground both down in a valley and which I'd covered before, I didn't take any photos for the first few hours. I'd stay on the West Branch Trail until I reached the Rawah Trail, and then take that toward Twin Crater Lakes until I found an appropriate looking place to cut off towards Snowbank Peak.
I used a technique I'd used several times this year to lighten my load a bit, starting with minimal water and a filter, so I could carry less weight initially and fill up at a source before heading up to the peaks above.
I stopped at the creek exiting the lakes, and filled up. I saw and waved to two people who were camping in the area, the only two I'd see for most of the day. I started up, at first following a route I'd mapped as it looked like access might be a little tricky. I didn't follow that completely in the end, and the way I went looked (via the satellite images at least) to cover more grassy/tundra terrain instead of the rocky and possibly loose stuff I'd planned to ascend.
I reached the summit shortly before 9, entering the clouds.
The summit of Snowbank Peak, finally. Though I still felt like an idiot for walking by it the week before. I continued south to Rawah Pyramid.
Looking into my still socked in future.
Out to Dodad Peak from the descent of Rawah Pyramid. I stayed on the south ridge from Rawah Pyramid for a bit longer this time, hoping this might lead me to a better way down, since I would be generally trending south from here. The descent seemed a bit more stable, but no major difference.
Clouds kind of clearing... I was able to get up to a jog here in places, passing Carey and Island Lakes before hitting the talusy terminus of the east side of Mount Ashley. This looked like it would be one of the most difficult sections to get though, with rock of unknown size, quality, and stability. But it really wasn't too bad, with a small loose section here and there. The small lake after the rocky section provided a nice leeward respite, and I stopped to refill my water. The area around the small body of water south of that was slightly marshy and muddy, and proved a challenge to cross while keeping my feet dry. Some animal trails helped me through the brushy small growth here, and soon enough I was climbing yet again, on my way to Lewis Peak.
Finally in some sun looking back. I sat here for what felt like a long time. It was warm in the sun and I was mostly out of the wind. I wanted to stay there forever! But of course those peaks weren't going to climb themselves. As I gained altitude, I tried to find a way to optimize the route to avoid any rock but also keep out of the wind. That was interesting.
Looking south from the summit.
And back to the north. I descended towards Clark Peak, taking the path of least resistance, which put me full in the wind most of the way, though I was eventually able to cross a small rock rib. This made the movement more difficult, but at least I wasn't in the wind!
To Cameron Peak from near the summit of Clark Peak. After visiting the summit, I headed east just a bit and found a nice sunny spot out of the wind. I was cold, right on the edge and also wearing every piece of clothing I'd brought for the day. I felt tired after the early wake up, and was not super enthused on the idea of continuing on. In fact, that east ridge towards Cameron was looking quite appealing. I could take that to descend to the pass, hit Cameron, and call it a day. I even decided to do exactly that. But I sat a bit more and looked at the map. If I didn't do peak 12386 today, it didn't look like there was any easy way to get to it by itself. It looked like the Mongomery Pass trail would be an option, though not a short effort for one thing. Sawmill Creek was another possibility, and the most direct, but it looked like that ended in the trees well east of the summit. More bushwhacking for one thing. I came to the conclusion that the easiest approach was from right where I was at- maybe twoish rolling miles stood between me and 12386. I could stay down east of the ridge as much as possible to avoid the wind, and my mood had improved dramatically as I warmed up in the sun and had a snack. I'd already messaged my wife that I was turning around, now I messaged her back to say I was just kidding and was going for it. As it's something I like to do for motivation, I set a goal of one hour to get to 12386.
Looking south. I let the wind carry me at times, and fought it at times, but I also warmed up with the lower altitudes ahead. Along the way I passed a large cairn on the summit of unranked Pipit Peak, stopping briefly.
At the base of 12386 from the north- aim between the two humps visible at the top, the true summit is beyond those. The final climb went quickly, though the wind was inescapable.
Looking back to Lewis and Clark. This small summit had been visited more than I expected for a random not easy to access 12er. Besides the usual suspects, a number of people with Gnar Runners in Fort Collins had signed in, coming over from Montgomery Pass. Along the way to this summit, I was constantly checking out the terrain to my east. I'd originally planned to climb back north along the ridge from 12386 towards Clark Peak, and drop into the drainage where Fall River starts. This would also put me north of the ridge extending east from Pipit Peak. After checking things out, I decided that option didn't necessarily look any better than just heading east from the saddle north of 12386, contouring around the ridge to the north and going over when appropriate, and then generally trending northish until I hit the Blue Lake Trail. Plus I was out of water again, and the small lake below me was looking mighty appetizing!
And it was! From here, I headed NE until below the ridge. Upon reaching it, I kept looking for a way up and over, but in studying the terrain and the map, I could see no benefit in gaining elevation, and continued at around 11100 feet until I topped out the ridge, and started down on the other side. Things look bad here, lots of forest and no trails. But movement was surprisingly not too bad at all, thanks to various animal trails and open avenues that allowed me to head north. At one point it seemed like things were getting a little steep and rocky, so I descended about 200 feet before continuing on. Eventually I came to a series of pleasant meadows, with some views of Cameron Peak to the east.
It wasn't long after this before I arrived at the trail. I stopped for a short snack break and then started up towards Blue Lake. It was nice to be back on a trail again, as it had been almost 8 hours. As I headed up, I was doing the math in my head. It would probably take me at least an hour to get to and back from Cameron Peak from the western saddle. Then maybe 2ish hours to the trailhead, and 2.5 or so to get home from there.
I sat and looked at Blue Lake below, taking in the views until the group I'd passed lower on the climb nearly caught up to me. It was 4pm and while I wanted to do Cameron, and it made alot of sense to do so now, it also made sense to just pack it in and make some of the drive home in daylight at least with sunset shortly after 7pm.
Looking west from the saddle.
Up to Cameron. I guess it would've been easy to just go hit Cameron and make the entire drive back in darkness, but I already started forming a plan to visit it and some of the others next week. As long as it didn't snow! I started the jog back, met by immense beauty within a few steps.
Scenery: pretty okay. While I'm sure the many switchbacks between the saddle and the intersection with the West Branch Trail must be some sort of are we there yet purgatory to climb, even at an easy jog the descent was quite fun and roller coaster like. I continued on the trail, passing the intersection with the Rawah Trail where I'd broken off that morning. I jogged most of it, but walked some of it. The scenery up here is really too good to speed by, and it's nice to slow down and take some of it in.
I ended up in this grove of Aspen pretty close to the trailhead, and found things quite satisfactory. I got back to the car a few minutes before 6 pm, and made the long drive home. What an awesome day, and a fun and engaging loop. I was kind of bummed to leave Cameron Peak as an orphan, but my plan for the next week was already in place by the time I got home. As long as it didn't snow! And it's difficult to be upset about having to go back to this area. It is astoundingly beautiful, with postcard like views in nearly all directions. And say visiting peaks isn't your thing? With a multitude of trails and several trailheads in the area, it would be easy to plan a several day backpacking trip and visit any number of stunning lakes, or just do a fun loop on trails. Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo (in green). The Rawahs Part 4. Snowbank Peak, 12522 feet: 8.4 miles, 3959 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous-. Rawah Pyramid, 12460 feet: 9 miles, 3897 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous. Lewis Peak, 12654 feet: 12.4 miles, 4091 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous. Clark Peak, 12951 feet: 13.3 miles, 4388 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous. Pipit Peak, 12433 feet: 14.3 miles, 3870 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous. 12386: 15.5 miles, 3823 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous. As a whole, this day covered 29.08 miles with 8664 feet of elevation gain. The terrain was maybe up to third class in short stretches, but those sections could be bypassed if desired. Strenuous+.
Back to the Rawahs, as if my arm had to be twisted at all. My plan was to try to visit the areas farthest and most inaccessible from my house first, while the weather was still good. And now, in wintery weather, visit the closer and easier to get to summits.
Thus I set out with a partner to do a fun loop from the Link McIntrye trailhead, near Glendevey. To get here, take CO-14 to 103. Turn north on road 103, and continue on this dirt road until you get to road 190, where you'll take a left at a pretty obvious intersection. The trailhead and parking are on your left just AFTER Brown's Park Campground.
My partner for the day: none other than peak bagging legend Alyson Kirk. I'd have to move to keep up!
We'd start on the McIntyre trail, which was fun and in pretty decent shape. We were both speculating that probably not many people hike here, so we didn't know what it would be like, but it was generally well maintained, though slightly wet in places.
We got to a point south of our first objective of the day, peak 10100, and headed up. The movement was pretty easy and pleasant, with the forest being pretty open. (Note that I only took three photos on this day.)
From there we continued north and faced a little bit of bushwhacking before reaching our next destination, peak 10148. From there, we dropped west to Shipman Park.
While strolling through this grassy meadow, we discussed how it was unusual that we hadn't seen any animals. It looked like Elk or Moose would love it here.
We also said that this was the first day it truly felt like fall, and this was on August 23rd. Summer always goes by so quickly.
Trees on the other side. From here, we ascended, encountering a little more bushwhacking. But it never got too bad, and soon enough we broke out into some more open terrain near tree line. We hit the trail and had to back track slightly to visit peak 10620 before heading south along the Medicine Bow Trail. This trail pretty consistently flirts with tree line, and the views just get better and better. But the easy movement would come to an end, as we'd drop east to visit our final and highest peak of the day, 10790. It really wasn't too bad at first, with no bushwhacking, but steep terrain. It got flatter, but the bushwhacking increased in difficulty, though again it was never too bad. I stopped to grab some water from McIntyre Creek before we started the final climb. It wasn't too long before we topped out and signed in at the last register. The long downhill back to the car was just stupid fun, fast and flowy, though we never got up to a true run. There was one section where we got off the main trail due to some social trails, but we were back on it shortly. We'd originally talked about doing a few other things in the area, but with a long drive back and a longer than anticipated day, we decided against that. This was a fun loop, and a good way to visit this group of four. The scenery is beautiful and the trails in generally good shape. And the bushwhacking wasn't too bad really. While not a short day, this would certainly be recommended as a fun one. Link to hike map/gpx on Caltopo (in orange). The Rawahs Part 2: 10100: 5.6 miles, 1653 foot gain. Second class. Moderate-. 10148: 8.4 miles, 1701 foot gain. Second class. Moderate. Shipman Park, 9559 feet: 9.9 miles, 1112 foot gain. Second class. Moderate. 10620: 12.5 miles, 2173 foot gain. Second class. Moderate+. 10790: 20.9 miles, 2343 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous-. As a whole, this loop covered 28.32 miles with 5902 feet of elevation gain in up to second class terrain with a fair amount of off trail but not too bushwhacky time. Strenuous.
A few weeks later, I set out for a pretty grand loop. Due to the length of this day, I made the decision to drive up and sleep in the car at the West Branch Trailhead (follow previous directions, and you'll pass it on your left as you head north on road 103 just AFTER Tunnel Campground). These planned early starts are always a crap shoot. While the idea is that I can get up at the same time as I would at home and have that much more time out there, I also never sleep as well, so things are kind of a wash. I tried to sleep in the reclined front seat, then in the back, then in the seat again... I eventually fell asleep somewhere, as I snapped awake when my alarm went off, but I did not feel well rested. I also took a look at the weather, and if it wasn't September with an unknown time before the first snow, I probably wouldn't have gone. No precipitation was predicted, but the winds were gusty (40+ miles per hour), and I could hear it as soon as I woke up. Unfortunately, this wind led to a pretty major navigational error, which really put into question my ability to finish up the goal for the year. I got ready in the early morning darkness and started up the trail. I had a partial GPX file in the Gaia app in my phone, and occasionally stopped to check it since I'd never been here before and was not one hundred percent familiar with the trails. The plan was to do a nice loop, starting with peak 11330, so I kept an eye out for the Camp Lake Trail. I would continue going the way I was for a bit after that, and then break from the trail and head northwest up the hill to visit that summit first. The bushwhacking was okay, nothing too heinous, though it was more difficult in the darkness, as I could only see as far as my headlamp shone thus it was hard to pick the best way forward. Some of the terrain was steep, but most of it was pretty manageable. I was around treeline when daylight broke, and thus far on the leeward side of the peak and out of the wind, but I could hear it ripping. Soon enough, I popped out on the summit and into the full force of the wind. Though the area was beautiful, it was pretty miserable. Not quite enough to knock me off my feet, but certainly enough to alter my course here and there. From 11330, I jogged a bit while en route to the next summit of the day, Sheep Mountain. I was able to find and follow some animal trails that made the going easier. I decided to sidehill north of point 11787, which worked alright terrain wise and kept me out of the wind for the time being.
Looking into the future from Sheep Mountain. This was the first time I was fully exposed to the wind, and I already knew it was going to make the day challenging. I crossed Grassy Pass, and visited Lake 4 to refill on water.
Lake 4. I was quite mercifully out of the wind here, and most of the climb up to North Rawah Peak.
Looking south from the climb. What a stunning ridge!
At the summit and back in the wind.
This would be pretty fun if not for the wind. I decided to stay down a little bit from being right on top of the ridge, this seemed to help mitigate the wind a little. I also felt this got rid of the possibility that a really strong gust might hit me out of no where, and cause me to stumble the wrong way, resulting in a serious fall. At least this way if that happened, I'd only stumble and have a short fall up a slope vs off a cliff.
But still, it was windy and miserable. I'd planned to possible drop down after Rawah Pyramid, and continue on to Lewis and Clark, but the lack of sleep the night before and the conditions today cast serious doubt on this actually happening. At this point, I made a pretty dumb navigational error. I'll chalk it up to the wind. I had the idea in my head that one of the peaks I intended to do, Snowbank Peak, was south of North Rawah Peak. In reality, this one is south of South Rawah Peak. I thought about pulling out my paper map to check "just to make sure", but I thought I was remembering things correctly, and it was so windy I didn't think I could manage a paper map, and that it would likely end up somewhere east of me.
From the "summit" of what was definitely not Snowbank Peak. I did not find a register or cairn, which wasn't really that big of a surprise. There was indeed a snowbank to the east of this summit as well. It had to be it, right? Stupid me, I never realized it until I was back at home that night logging my peaks for the day, and looked at the topo. Uhoh.
A flat, leeward area just past the false snowbank. The summit of South Rawah came pretty quickly and easily, which should've been another clue that this was not a ranked peak- it just didn't have enough elevation gain.
South Rawah Peak.
Back to the north.
Looking back to South Rawah Peak.
And east from the saddle.
I started up again, keeping myself down and east of the ridge as it again looked pretty rocky and with possibility of injury. There were some times with less wind, but I never stopped to check the map because I thought I'd visited the summit!
Looking west to 11580 and the plains beyond. A pretty neat perspective on that one as well as Clear Lake.
Looking ahead. That prominent, hard, peak looking thing? Snowbank Peak.
But I stayed down and east of it, thinking I was easing the way forward. Apparently, I didn't take any photos from the summit of Rawah Pyramid, but this unranked peak provided one of the best views of the day. The terrain eased up a bit from there, so I continued on the east side of the ridge and descended a bit north before heading east.
South from the ridge, what beauty! The decent was a little loose and rocky, but became better as the steepness lessened. It was GREAT to now have that massive land mass at my back and be out of the wind. I was able to delayer finally. It felt pretty good to enjoy the day.
More beauty, but I would not get there on this day. I made my way around the rocky humps between myself and Dodad Peak. It looked like a very easy walk up from there.
On the summit back to Rawah Pyramid.
The sharp tooth looking peak is Snowbank, argh! South Rawah on the right.
Looking back to summits visited earlier in the day.
To past and future- Clark, Lewis, and Island Lake Peak as seen from my 500th summit in Colorado. As I climbed up to Dodad, I kept my eyes open for the best descent route. I spied a gully that looked like it would work well and also not have me descend all the way back to the saddle.
Twin Crater Lakes. The trail starts on the other side of the smaller lake. As I descended, I noticed some haze and a smoky smell from the multitude of forest fires burning over the summer.
Always a unique perspective to be at a lake that is only a few hundred feet lower than one of the earlier summitted peaks.
Peak 11330 as seen from the trail.
Headed down... The trail back down was pretty fun, largely joggable with one steeper switchbacky section. It felt like it took forever, but I was back at the trailhead less than three hours after standing on the summit of Dodad Peak. Well, I had initially planned for more, but I couldn't be unhappy with this day. Except for the wind. The wind sucked. But what a pleasure to spend 12 hours in this place, to celebrate my 38th birthday with my 500th summit in Colorado, and still be able to get home at a reasonable hour and spend some time with my wife and pups. Though I was tired, I enjoyed a nice dinner at home, and was feeling pretty good until I finally took the time to log my peaks for the day. It was only then that I discovered the identification mistake I made. It was pretty dumb, and could've been easily avoided if I'd just stopped to look at the map. But oh well. There went the nice, easy loop I'd do next week to complete the peaks in the area, as I'd definitely have to go out of the way to visit Snowbank Peak. That would take enough time that I might not have the time to get everything else; therefore the goal of finishing up all ranked peaks in Roosevelt National Forest might not happen. But, I suppose time passes, and time would tell. Link to hike map/gpx on Caltopo (in blue). The Rawahs Part 3. 11330: 5.2 miles, 2767 foot gain. Second class. Moderate+. Sheep Mountain, 11820 feet: 7.55 miles, 3257 foot gain. Second class. Moderate+. North Rawah Peak, 12473 feet: 10.4 miles, 3910 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous. South Rawah Peak, 12644 feet: 12.5 miles, 4081 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous. Rawah Pyramid, 12460 feet: 14.5 miles, 3897 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous. Dodad Peak, 12060 feet: 15.7 miles, 3497 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous. As a whole, this loop covered 23.8 miles with 7388 feet of elevation gain in up to second class terrain, and is a supremely awesome way to link up these peaks. Just don't walk by Snowbank! Strenuous+.
I guess now is as good a time as ever to get caught up on some trip reports. 2018 is quickly coming to a close, but even at this point I've visited more peaks this year than ever before. I entered the year with a plan, which was to try to take as big of a bite as possible out of Larimer County, finish Roosevelt National Forest, and hopefully finish Larimer and RMNP next year on the same summit.
With the race I signed up for being a pretty big effort, I also wanted to focus on days that would have alot of elevation gain relative to the distance, and days that would have me spend alot of time on my feet. I like doing long, adventurous days, and I've detailed some of those here already.
This was one of my last bigger days before the race, done with my friend Dave. His primary goals were peak 11667, above Kelly Lake and in Jackson County, and the unranked Mount Ashley. He quite wisely suggested adding on the ranked Island Lake Peak, as that would ease my future days in the area (or so he said, and he was right!).
We met at an ungodly hour in Fort Collins, and started the drive up to State Forest State Park. He took the drive both ways and I got to play the role of deer spotter. It's funny that I'd never been up the Poudre until the Never Summer 100k last year, and now I've been up it so many times it seems like I have every curve memorized.
We started from Ruby Jewel, also important to take his SUV up vs my car as I'm not sure it could have gotten up the road. The first bit was on a progressively rougher jeep road, and we talked about if we could've made it farther up or not. Not that I minded a slightly longer hike.
All of our on trail time would cover the same ground as the NS100K, and I made sure to take some time to enjoy the scenery, as I felt like I didn't do that much last year. We reached tree line, and were provided some great views in all directions.
South down the valley.
And up to 11667. We left the trail and found a way up this slope. It was pretty easy going really, especially compared to what would come. We topped out and headed south to the true summit.
Great views to the west were enjoyed. It was pretty neat to still be in the shade of the taller peaks to our east. We headed back down the way we'd come, ending up in the saddle over Kelly Lake.
Quite beautiful. We'd stay on the trail toward the lake for a bit before cutting east towards Island Lake Peak. Funny, I was feeling a little pensive here, as this peak is third class, imposing looking, and it had been a bit since I'd done any scrambling. Some large talus and rock hopping led us to the base of the ridge between Mount Ashley and Island Lake Peak. We faced a choice here, with two obvious gullies up. We'd ready the trip reports, but couldn't remember if it was the north or south gully to take. Neither really looked great, so we headed up the south gully as we were closer to it. Looking back, this gully bore obvious signs of recent rockfall- namely that the corners of pretty much all the rock in the area looked to be a powdery, lighter color than the rock itself. That happens when rocks fall and bash into each other. It was a little sketchy at times, but we were fortunately very close to the top when Dave kicked a rock loose, which we heard tumble down the slope and initiate a pretty substantial rock slide/fall below us. That was a little scary, but we were nearly on solid ground.
Topping out and looking north along the ridge to the summit. The rock from here out was solid, the route finding fun and engaging, the company great. You'll want to cross over to the west side after the obvious tower, and will have to eventually if you want to keep it under fifth class, or stay on the ridge as much as possible to enjoy the scramble.
Dave signs in as I look to out next and last peak of the day.
North to Rawah Pyramid and Snowbank Peak (made a dumb mistake on that one, trip report forthcoming).
East to Dodad Peak. We had a not great weather prediction for the day, but things were looking good so far. We wisely decided to take the northern most gully back down. There was some loose stuff here and there, but nothing like we'd encountered in the south gully.
Find the person on the east side of Island Lake Peak. The rocky terrain didn't relent as we headed back south toward Mount Ashley, but we were finally able to get into a grassy area to move a bit quicker.
You can see the result of the rock fall we'd initiated here, all the powdery looking stuff at the base of the gully. It definitely didn't look like that on the way up! We sat for a snack and looked at the terrain ahead. There was a pretty obvious gully ahead of us, and it looked fine- great in fact, compared to what we'd previously done. It was fun, very solid rock, and reasonable movement. It was a short stretch to the summit from where we kicked out.
South to Lewis and Clark.
And north back to Island Lake Peak. Note the incoming weather to the east... We had earlier talked about visiting Lewis and Clark before dropping down to Jewel Lake, but the weather definitely wasn't looking like it would cooperate.
Lewis and Clark. The way ahead was clear though, so we kept on. But as we got closer, it became pretty obvious it wouldn't be an option to do both due to the weather. Dave suggested just visiting Lewis, but I was pretty keen on pairing them up, and I'd have to go pretty much all the way back anyway to visit Clark, so we started to descend west.
11667 and Kelly Lake. We descended the pleasant, grassy hillside back to meet the trail we'd come up.
Looking back down, now with some weather inbound.
Lots of beautiful wildflowers were seen.
Shortly after this, it started raining. It wasn't bad at all really, barely enough to warrant rain gear. It was pretty cool to hear the thunder echoing down the valley. I felt briefly wistful about missing the sign up for the 2019 NS100K, and wished I'd been more on top of things, but in the end I am pretty happy to have went to Ouray instead. We got back to the SUV, and started driving down. We'd also talked about maybe visiting one or more of the lower peaks in the area if we had time and want, and we had both. We decided on Bull Mountain, pretty easy by any stretch, particularly so as we could drive most of the way up it. It was just a short hike off trail to the summit area, though it was one of the flat and broad ones, and did not have a cairn or any other marker we could find.
Where we were not too long ago, now completely engulfed in clouds. We made the short hike back to where we'd parked, and started the long drive home. Thanks to Dave for making the drive, as I was pretty tired and had some trouble keeping my eyes open. This was a pretty awesome day, and a great intro to the peaks in the area. As Dave suggested, it was a smart move strategically to visit Island Lake Peak with these peaks, as it is the only thing on the ridge that is more technical and difficult to visit versus the much easier peaks around it. If not for this one, you'd have nearly 30 uninterrupted miles of rolling peaks from 10833 in the north to South Diamond Peak in the south, with much of that above treeline. It made sense to plan for this day and the more time consuming movement that came with it to facilitate later days in a more timely manner. And later days would come. Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo. The Rawahs Part 1. 11667: 4.4 miles, 1998 foot gain. Second class. Moderate. Island Lake Peak, 12220 feet: 6 miles, 2551 foot gain. Third class. Strenuous-. Mount Ashley, 12380 feet: 7.3 miles, 2711 foot gain. Third class. Strenuous-. As a whole, this day covered 12.15 miles with 5306 feet of elevation gain in up to third class terrain with engaging route finding. Strenuous-.
After a several year hiatus from Wild Basin, this year has marked a return to the place where it all started. Earlier in the year, I decided to "run" Isolation Peak in preparation for the race. While I say run, it was really more of a fast hike, particularly with the off trail time after Bluebird Lake.
It was a rather pleasant and peaceful day, and it was awesome to revisit the area that captured my imagination years ago. A return to the memory of some big and fun days.
It was several years later on a pretty big day with Dan that I finally got to see the west side of Isolation Peak. Like many others, it was interesting to get a different perspective on the mountains I was so familiar with from the east. And that west ridge looked extremely fun!
With other goals and wants, a return has taken a few years, but another friend proposed a long and adventurous route to visit Fleur de Lis and Mount Craig. We'd start and end at the Wild Basin trail head, going up and over Isolation, taking the west ridge out and back, with a brief drop down into Ten Lake Park. My kind of day, it took zero arm twisting to get out for these repeats!
We met and started just as the sun was rising, headlamps not needed, but brought along just in case. Dave beat me to the trail head by a few minutes, and said one person had started before us, though we never did see them. In fact, the only people we saw the whole day (besides each other), was a couple near Bluebird Lake who had camped at the site close to there.
Bluebird Lake, Ouzel Peak. With my visit earlier in the year, it was pretty easy to follow the cairned social trail around Bluebird Lake and to the bench above Lark Pond and Pipit Lake. There's some bushy stuff in this area, but it's generally easy to avoid. We stopped at the beautiful and isolated Isolation Lake for a snack and water. While there were possibilities on the other side, this was the last definite water we'd come across for a long time-possibly until we made the return trip and went by this lake again. We started up the scree slope towards Isolation.
Somewhere up there, Mahana Peak and Copeland Mountain behind. We made it to the summit of Isolation relatively easily. There aren't any technical difficulties along the way, it's just the gain to get there.
Dave on the summit. He'd copied and brought the route description from Lisa Fosters book along. This suggested staying on the ridge direct as fourth class at the easiest, with multiple towers to go around. With this in mind, we decided to drop down a little and contour around, staying at around 12700 feet. The terrain was pretty manageable, with just a touch of loose stuff here and there.
Looking back towards Isolation and those deep blue skies that only seem to happen in September.
Copeland Mountain. We reached a flatter section and headed north to meet the ridge, which was outstandingly fun third class.
Dave descending the ridge. This ridge was pretty awesome, with fun and engaging route finding. As we kept remarking, we'd yet to hit any real difficulties, and the day was going swimmingly. On the way out, we bypassed the small lump west of the ridge at around 12200 feet on the south side. On the way back we stayed up higher on it and it was fine either way. We crossed a small social trail at the saddle between Isolation and Fleur de Lis, then started up. Though this peak is second class, the easiest approach is from the west side, and we found a little bit of scrambling to get to the top.
Looking back at Isolation. We continued on to Mount Craig. From previous experience, I knew we should stay to the south of point 11902, as it's scrambly and difficult to go over. On the other side, we took what was probably not the best route up. This was probably the hardest few moves of scrambling of the day, or so I felt. But it was short, and we were soon back on tundra.
Looking back from near Mount Craig.
Right near the summit. Well, it's probably easier to get Fleur de Lis and Mount Craig from the west, but I wouldn't say that day is "easy". I do vividly remember my previous visit, with friend and oft hiking/running partner Dan. Near the end of the day, he told me (I *think* in jest) that if we'd done the loop we did in reverse, he would've never spoken to me again. At the very least, that would've made for an awkward ride home. But here Dave and I were at our furthest point out. Now all we had to do was turn around. And go all the way back. We decided to drop down into Ten Lake Park and take a promising looking gully up, and skirt around Isolation. (Now that I'm writing this a few weeks later, I think that was the intention here.)
Beauty. Of course, just as we were wondering aloud how long it had been since someone had been there, I found a German made Swiss Army style knife on the ground. It had been out for awhile, but at least we can say people sometimes come here. And I again learned the hard lesson that when water is getting lowish and the next definite source is a good bit away, you should fill up. Figured I'd know that now, and I never seem to do it. Ah well, not having water for an hour didn't kill me!
Now looking back on Mount Craig. What an awesome day! We were both getting tired, and as we got back towards the west ridge of Isolation, made the choice to just go back the way we'd come, but to possibly stay on the ridge the entire way. Fosters book calls this fourth class and talks about bypassing towers to stay direct on the ridge. I felt and we talked after that we both felt this ridge was no more than third class, and we didn't find any towers to bypass. So I'm not sure where her description came from. Sure, there's some route finding, but it's pretty easy to stay right on top. "Easy". We made it back to Isolation, and ended up meeting the south ridge maybe forty vertical feet below the summit. Since I have a sick desire to visit isolated peaksmultiple times in the same day from different trailheads/directions/whatever, I climbed back to the top while Dave descended and waited for me.
The same view as earlier, hours later. Different and just as spectacular.
The south ridge in the afternoon. We descended back to Isolation Lake, where we were both happy to filter and drink some water and eat some food. Though we were still a good distance from the trailhead, there was finally some sense of being almost done, at least for me. There were no more major elevation gains, and while there was still some off trail time, we were past the hardest and talusyest terrain. Soon we'd have a trail, and from there we could just motor on down. We wanted to see how far we could make it without headlamps, but it wasn't much beyond Bluebird Lake. Ah well! Now with food and water in us, we enjoyed some conversation on the way back. I think we were both suffering a bit for various reasons going back up over Isolation. But we identified the problems, corrected them, and got over it. I generally like my work schedule and love my job, but after days like this I wish I had more weekend time available. This was my second time hiking with Dave this year, and what awesome days they've been with a more experienced partner. It's been particularly nice to hike or run with some new people this year, and to find some other kindred spirits out there. We got back to the trailhead and got situated before saying our farewells. At least this time it was me who had the shorter drive home, I was definitely tired! While this day was all repeats for me, I certainly had an awesome time going along. I'm sure not many people will venture in far enough to do the west ridge of Isolation Peak, but if you are looking for a fun scramble, it's pretty great. Though not on the map, there is a pretty good social trail all the way up to Fifth Lake, and it would be pretty reasonable to do from there. Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo (like last time, there might be some bonus miles here). Isolation Peak, Fleur de Lis, Mount Craig, and Ten Lake Park from Wild Basin: Bluebird Lake, 10990 feet: 7.4 miles, 2490 foot gain. Second class. Moderate+. Isolation Lake, 12000 feet: 9.5 miles, 3500 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous-. Isolation Peak,13118 feet: 10.25 miles, 4618 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous. Fleur de Lis, 12250 feet: 12.3 miles, 3750 foot gain. Third class. Strenuous. Mount Craig, 12007 feet: 14.4 miles, 3507 foot gain. Third class. Strenuous. Ten Lake Park, 11228 feet*: 15.5 miles, 2728 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous. Isolation Peak, 13118 feet: 18.7 miles, 4618 foot gain. Third class (from the west). Strenuous. Isolation Lake, 12000 feet: 19.6 miles, 3500 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous. Bluebird Lake, 10990 feet: 21 miles, 2490 foot gain. Second class. Moderate+. As a whole, this day covered 29.15 miles (maybe a little less, again got some GPS interference) with 8794 feet of elevation gain in up to third class terrain. One of the big difficulties you'll face is the time above treeline, which is from around mile seven to mile 21. Water is scarce, make sure you take advantage of what you find when you find it. Strenuous+. *This is the approximate elevation of the lake we were at.
I have to thank my wife for motivating this day. Though I am very close to finishing off RMNP (only 15 things left!), it's going to be a full day to visit alot of those, and that full day spent to visit just one thing. I guess it's been poor planning to leave those orphans behind, but I'd planned to visit this one multiple times, but wisely turned around due to weather on all of those.
With other outdoor goals on my mind, it's been difficult to commit a whole nice weather summer day to just one thing when I can head elsewhere and check off multiple other goals. But early last week, Katie was kind enough to ask, "What about RMNP?"
What about RMNP?
With a long outing on Tuesday, I was happy for a shorter drive and shorter day two days later. Despite a good(ish) weather prediction, I decided to play it safe and get above treeline early, and back down by noon. The Spearhead was the perfect choice for the day, just long enough that I'd feel accomplished, a little bit of scrambling, and great views, or so I hoped.
I started from the Glacier Gorge trail head just after sunrise, and passed a person on the trail shortly after, which would turn out to be the only person I saw until much later in the day. Wanting to be as efficient as possible, I took the Fire Trail and popped out just below the Black Lake trail. It was a short jaunt from there to the ever charming Mills Lake, aka sexy lake.
One sexy lake! Any time of the year, any time of day, except maybe for at night. I like this lake alot, and I like that one can see the farther and higher destinations from it. Always fun to know I'll be "over there" soon enough. I continued along the trail to Black Lake. While there's only 600 feet or so of elevation gain between the two lakes, it seems to take some time as there are lots of ups and downs.
Nearing Black Lake, which is late to get sun due to being situated down in a bowl. But the peaks to the east catch the early morning sun...
here, reflected in the lake. The trail takes another turn uphill here, paralleling a pleasantly gurgling stream. Soon enough though, you'll top out into Glacier Gorge, a place of endless beauty.
The goal for the day directly ahead. Once you get here, you can either follow the many cairns and hope you're going in the right direction, or just pick the way you want to go and do your best. There's alot of cairns up here.
A favorite, McHenrys Peak(also). I approached the monolithic northeast face, and followed a climbers trail to the right/west. While I'd love to actually climb this peak one day, it was not in the cards today. I planned to go up and back down the third class down climb. The trail was easy enough to follow, and I soon helmeted up and started up the scree slope. While I never saw anyone above me, I did see signs of recent rockfall throughout the day, and heard rockfall as well. So a helmet is definitely a great idea, if you want to keep having ideas.
Looking down the slope to Frozen Lake. Also as a reference for later. As I came down a different way, there is a place where you might face a choice to go left or right. I stayed right going up, but came down the left option. Both work fine, maybe a bit more technical movement on the left side, which is more direct to the summit.
Getting there, just a look at the terrain. I was close to the summit ridge when I saw a cairn above me, so I climbed up a crack. This was the most difficult movement of the day, and unnecessary as it turns out. I got to the top and started to traverse over, but found a unfeatured slab in the way. If it were right off the ground, no problem. But at these airy heights, I decided to go back down and go around.
Looking over to Chiefs Head(also). From here, it was a mostly easy scramble up to a thin catwalk, then a careful walk across this to what looked like the summit. I sat for a minute, and then headed back. Then I turned around, and looked back.
Now I could clearly see the summit was a few inches higher than where I'd just been. The rectangular block on the left is it. It's just a few third class but exposed moves to reach the top.
The view down all of Glacier Gorge. Pretty spectacular!
A view downish the north ridge. I turned back, and made the few moves back to more solid ground.
The Spearhead, Glacier Gorge- Rocky Mountain National Park - Vimeo
Looking back down Glacier Gorge from near the summit. On the way back down, I stayed a little more east than I did on the way up. It looked like both ways are down climbs, as there was a pretty obvious and occasionally cairned social trail. The east route was maybe slightly more technically difficult, but not bad at all.
Looking up the pile of rubble I'd come down.
Near the bottom, Frozen Lake. I stopped to take my helmet off and get situated, and then started the jog back to the trailhead.
I saw alot more people on the way down than on the way up, but none on the Fire Trail. It was nice to get back to RMNP, if ever so briefly. It will be nice to finally finish this project/list. I just need to remember to dedicate a few days to it here and there!
I hemmed and hawed on signing up for a race this year. In the end, I decided to retry the Never Summer 100K, but alas too late. Apparently word has gotten out and the race was already full- the race which still had open spaces when it started in 2017. So I signed up for the waitlist and wondered. It seemed likely that I would get in, but at the same time I heard a whisper in my mind. "Ouray," it said. I'd only heard of this race the summer before, when a friend of a Facebook friend completed it. You can check the website here- I did and thought the race looked ridiculous. Not only was it just over 100 miles, but you'd do just shy of 42,000 vertical feet of elevation gain in the course of those miles, more than the famed Hardrock 100 at 33,000 feet (so about 411 vertical feet per mile for Ouray). Of course, this instantly captured my attention. Over the winter I played my usual game of staying low. Larimer County is now firmly within my sights, and there are a large number of lower peaks one can do generally avoiding snow and worse conditions higher up. Some are easy, but many come with pretty absurd amounts of elevation gain, particularly along the Poudre Canyon. Something like 400-500 vertical feet per mile. Sound familiar? It was finally time to make a decision. In the end it was easy, as I couldn't find a place to stay for the NS100K. But I did find a place to stay in Ouray. It was like it was meant to be. And I am glad it happened this way. Though I am now hopelessly behind on trip reports, this allowed me more flexibility to do what I wanted, which was visit peaks (123 so far this year- 2017 total was 139). This isn't always the best for training to actually run, as many are off trail bushwhacking adventures, with too much vertical gain and loss at too slow a pace to really be called a run. But doing 350+ feet per mile on steep, difficult terrain? Yep, training left me feeling pretty happy this year. I got to check off some big days I mapped years ago. I made a new friend and joined her for some big days she mapped years ago. I felt more freedom, doing what I wanted to and not necessarily worrying that I wasn't going fast enough. Averaging in the 20's minutes/mile was perfectly fine. Spending long days with lots of time on my feet didn't even feel like training because it's something I like doing in the first place. As things wrapped up, I was feeling good. I did my last taper run on some local trails and posted a personal best on the initial climb AND on the final descent, and it felt like I was going easy. I was ready, or as ready as I was going to be. I was feeling pretty confident and good with how things were... that was until we arrived the afternoon before the race. Hmm, things are a little steep in Ouray. Coming south on 550 from Montrose, I could clearly see the lay of the land, the huge prominence in front of us that contained both Hayden and Richmond Passes.
I was a little intimidated. "So wait, we have to go over that, and then back, and then a different trail, and then back over it, and then back over it again?" I felt like maybe I wasn't ready, like maybe I couldn't do it. Like maybe there was a possibility that despite all the training I might physically not be able to do it. Which brings me to a brief interlude on why. Alot of people have asked me why, and I think the answer could very well be different for everyone. I am definitely one of those people who *gasp* actually likes exercise. I love doing big days that look like they might be too much on paper. I love being out in the middle of no where, by myself, or with the company of a select few. I am definitely an introvert and stuff like this leaves me feeling both tired and recharged. I picked this race because it looked fucking hard. Because I wanted to push myself. Because I wanted to see if I could. Because of that voice in my head that tells me I can't, or I'm not strong enough, or I'm not good enough. Because I liked and found something in the quote from Theodore Roosevelt on their website: Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. Isn't it better to try something really hard and fail, than to never try at all? I met up with my friends and pacers/crew Dan and Nora as the prerace briefing ended in Fellin Park. While it was mostly a rambling (but interesting) discourse on the four year history of the race from the race director, there were some useful tidbits of information provided. We stayed at a place in downtown Ouray which was pretty nice and central to the event. We made and enjoyed a dinner together, then had our own little prerace briefing. I gave Dan and Nora carte blanche to figure out the pacing, just saying that I definitely wanted someone for these certain sections, but that the whos, whens, and hows could be entirely up to them. They opted to alternate shorter stretches, which we all agreed worked quite well in the end. I packed my bag that night, including water, snacks, a rain jacket, long sleeve shirt, and, after some debate, rain pants. Though they are light (150ish grams), it's still something that takes up space to carry along, and the weather looked ok the next day. I'll tell you now-rain pants were a great choice. There were things we had to carry- two light sources, and the race supplied emergency kit as well as a tracker we'd pick up the next morning. I debated on taking some sort of sleep aid, but felt nervous and did in the end. I guess it helped, as I did sleep some once I got to sleep. Fortunately, I had slept as much as possible in the days leading up to this as I knew it wouldn't come easy. I got maybe six hours, and got up at 6am to start getting ready, as we were supposed to be at Fellin Park to check in by 715. Waking up was weird, as it would be fully two whole days from that point before I'd be back to sleep, or maybe more. We walked to the park, heck what's another half a mile? A good way to stretch the legs. We got there and the waiting began. At times, I felt the race was a little disorganized, and this was one of those times. The RD and trackers weren't even there yet, though we were told to be there by this time to get them. In this particular case, that could've been because the company who was to provide the tracking service backed out the day before the race. Fortunately, they were able to set up the race with a different company, who did tracking for the Hardrock 100 the weekend before, and the trackers were still in Colorado. He arrived shortly after, and got the trackers set up on a table. I only had one drop bag, for Weehawken, and added it to the pile. Finally things were ready to go. We just had to pick up the tracker matching our bib number. Mine was 179. I picked up my tracker, and took a look at it. The bib number and name of the person who had it at Hardrock was still on mine, and I was absolutely thrilled when I saw who it was:
Some seriously good juju. Really, this meant alot, as I would not have been as happy to get even the men's or women's winners tracker. Nikki is a legend and super inspiring human being. I was pretty happy!
Nora, Dan, myself, and random guy at the start. While I still looked fresh and happy. And that thing behind us? By the next time I set foot in Fellin Park, I'd have climbed that beast four times. FOUR TIMES! I could hardly believe it. It looked huge!
Getting ready to go, thought "I'm going up that?". Photo by Katie. The RD said a few words, and we were off. I started near the back. I'd never be in contention to actually win, and it seemed silly to really try at all this early in the race. I think last year, the eventual winner and eventual last finisher were separated by eight minutes at the first aid station. So I didn't see much point in running hard. We started on a road, but quickly got on the perimeter trail, went over a footbridge, and through a tunnel where I bonked my head. Yay! We ended up on the road to Camp Bird, the first aid station. By now, most people were walking the uphills, with some occasional running. I did it just to keep up I guess, and was feeling good so far. Last year I had some major GI issues which really slowed me down, and I hoped to avoid that this year. Thus, the night before I ate a small dinner. I ate a small breakfast as well, and carried with me some candied ginger, as I hoped that would help calm things down. And I was being proactive, already eating a few pieces so it didn't start. But somewhere after Camp Bird it started anyway. My stomach felt full and unhappy, my legs which felt so peppy the week before now felt like logs I was struggling to move. I wasn't drinking much and eating pretty much nothing. But I kept up the plan, which was to just keep moving at any pace. Even if I had to slow way down, just keep going step by step. And I did.
A small lake enroute to the first hole punch at Silver Basin.
The end of the first climb. I'd read a few trip reports, and some did something I felt was very smart. It's easy to get overwhelmed by distance or elevation gain, so they broke the race down into climbs, a total of 14. 14 seems much more manageable than 102 or 42,000. Since this race is alot of out and backs, you will often go to a high point and use a hole punch to punch your bib to prove you were there. Hole punch one was in the books. Unfortunately, my stomach didn't feel any better. Seeing the people come down ahead of me and going back down, I was able to determine I was in the middle of the back, but probably closer to the end than the front. I guess that was ok. We got back to the Camp Bird aid station. I had taken an empty soft bottle to be able to carry some of the beverages provided, whether it was soda, or one of race sponsor Hammer's products. I think that was a good idea, and I made use of it pretty steadily in the beginning, as liquid calories seemed to be the only thing I could intake.
Camp Bird enroute to Richmond. I left Camp Bird with two runners from Mexico, one of whom asked the volunteers at the aid station how far it was to Richmond. 2.1 miles was the reply, and I, in all my smart assed wisdom, added, "But it's going to take five hours to get there." The runner thought that was about the funniest thing he ever heard, and I stuck with them for a bit until they dropped me. And he had a beer belly! I was going slow and felt like I could muster no more. Again, I told myself it was early, and that it didn't really matter at this point. This climb was hard, fully exposed to the sun and hot. I left Richmond just as it started to rain. I stopped to put on my rain jacket and kept on. The storm intensified and it started to hail. I stopped to put on those rain pants, and wore them for the rest of the way to Ironton. It was freaky climbing up into a thunderstorm, as I would never do this normally. Eh, I knew it wouldn't last long. God bless those rain pants! Above Richmond, the route splits into two out and backs. The first, to Chicago Tunnel, was nice enough except that I was literally gagging and trying not to puke, but very nearly did anyway. One thing that rather sucked was that this first part of the race used still active jeep roads. Well, all of the drivers of jeeps, ohv's, and dirtbikes were friendly and respectful, always yielding right of way and giving a wide berth, but we were still sucking exhaust every time they went by, and it happened ALOT. The road to Chicago Tunnel was mercifully unpopulated, and the climb was ok. I didn't puke at least. And there was someone at the top who looked WAY worse than I felt. But I could look across the way and see the next climb up to Imogene Pass. Ugh! This one was alot more jeepy, and while it had since stopped raining, the weather continued to get worse, skies darkening, occasional distant thunder, light rain. Someone in a jeep stopped to tell me they would give me a ride if I wanted to cheat. I told them I was tempted, but had to decline! But the time I got to Fort Peabody, the storm was becoming a real threat. I also knew this was the highest elevation point of the race, at just under 13,400 feet, and it was all downhill from here in some manner of speaking. Fort Peabody seems like a pretty regal name. In reality, it was more like Shack Peabody. I punched my bib, and started down the road as quickly as I could with the impending storm looming. Oh, and I'd just finished climbs two and three. Something magical happened here. One of my biggest fears is getting caught above treeline in a thunderstorm. I actually started to run the downhill. I don't know if it was the jostling or what, but by the time I got back to the Richmond aid station, I was feeling alot better. Like alot alot. And I'd been getting rained on for hours. I'd eaten nothing. I'd drank not enough, in fact still had not peed, not good 8 hours in. I had pretty much resigned to dropping here, but now felt I'd at least go to Ironton and see how I felt. Besides, my crew and pacers were there and I had no way to contact them. I'd have to tell them in person. I know a few of the people I was with at this point were SUPER pissed (rightfully so) that Richmond had nothing- no clean water, no food, no nothing. On the other hand, I rolled with the punches and was happy that I was starting to feel good. I still had all the food I started with, and a guy who was dropping there let us all use his BeFree filter as much as we wanted. I filled up my soft flask and popped in an Endurolyte tab, one of the things they had plenty of. I was getting cold and had to take off, but suggested to a guy that if he caught me, we could do the next section together. It kept raining on this climb, and I got wet and cold. My gloves got wet. My long sleeve shirt was in my pack and got wet (should've put it on at Richmond). By the time I was getting super cold, I had nothing dry to layer with, and didn't want to stop as I'd get colder, and couldn't take off my jacket anyway as it was coming down and I'd get wetter. So I used the emergency poncho in the kit we were given and put that on over everything. It was enough insulation to keep me on the warmer side of being on that edge. And the guy behind me caught me, which was probably one of the best things that could've happened at that time. We talked as we did the climb. He had alot more experience than I, saying this would be his 11th 100 mile race, while it was my first (and second race ever). We talked about cutoffs and dropping. While I was now moving and feeling good, I was still kinda iffy on continuing. "I'd think long and hard about that," he said. I took those words to heart. So thanks to Tom from Massachusetts, as I might not have done it without you. He stopped at the top of the pass, but I was still cold and said I'd see him below. I think I saw him once more later, but that was it. This descent was fun, probably should've tried to run more of it.
The person in front of me on the descent to Ironton. Things had cleared up and the rain finally stopped, but I was still cold and kept myself geared up. We hit 550, and followed it for a short time before taking a right and heading along a road past a few campgrounds. A guy told me it was just a quarter mile more, it seemed to take forever. Then I was there. My crew spotted me and immediately started getting me ready. I gave them all of my wet clothes to dry somehow, and said I was now feeling pretty good and wanted to keep on. I took a spare pair of socks to use as gloves, and from this point out, I'd have them meet me with a premixed bottle of Perpetuum or Sustained Energy, both of which were great fueling options for me. I also experimentally bought a large container of maple syrup and had some of that in a small flask as energy gel (*note-make sure you are getting pure maple syrup, not "maple flavored" syrup). It was amazingly great, and another one of the liquids that had gotten me this far. Nature's energy gel I suppose. I asked for more, and thought of Super Troopers. I am all that is man! I started out the loop (CCW the first time) with Fanny from Canada. She was great to talk to and spend time with. We passed several people on the climb and got passed by none. Eventually we topped out and started down the other side. She stopped to use the bushes here, and I saw her several times after that, but we were never going the same direction at the same time again. The backside of Ironton (Grey Copper Trail) was super fun. I was really starting to feel pretty great and happy. It also helped that I was now catching people who'd passed me hours ago whom I thought I'd never see again. I saw someone coming up who was way ahead of me, and said hi. I think he said something about having a rough time, because I held up my hands and said, "It could be worse, you could be wearing socks for gloves like me." It got him to laugh at least. I resolved and tried to make to back to Ironton by dark, but fell a short amount of time shy of that.
Close to sunset on day 1. I saw the crew again, and was as happy as ever to see them. If there is anything better than having your wife and best friends waiting for you, I don't know what that is. They definitely kept me smiling, and I was always looking forward to seeing them. I got a new mixed bottle of something from Hammer, had some ramen (one of the only Vegan options), a new flask of maple syrup, and took off. Another goal for this race was to be in and out of aid asap. Sure, it can be comfortable to sit and warm up and talk and so on, but the clock is running the entire time. In fact, when I got back to Ironton, I saw two people still in the aid that I'd passed going down the first time! That's like 3 hours! Going up in the darkness was cool. It helped that we were pretty close to a full moon and things were very bright anyway. I kept my headlamp on most of the time to follow the course markers, but once i left the trail, I'd turn it off occasionally and let the moonlight guide me. I thought the night was going to be pretty hard mentally, and that I'd really have to stop and pep talk myself to keep going, but it never came to that. It never even got close. The moonlit scenery was sparingly beautiful in a way it wasn't during the day. I'll admit it, I was having fun. I was drinking, peeing, and most importantly, eating, and I think that helped keep the gremlins at bay. But I was also doing something I love to do, out in nature, pushing myself to try harder. I was making up ground on people who passed me long ago. I was feeling great! I got back to the aid and changed socks, shoes, and shirt, grabbed a poofy jacket in case, and headed out again. I planned to change shoes several times, and my strategy there was to go lighter. So I changed from the heaviest pair I used during the run to a lighter pair here. I'm not sure if this helped, or not, but it seemed like it would. The climb up Richmond was my least favorite of the race. It just felt like it took forever. Even once you cross treeline and flatten out, the pass is still a good distance away. But it was cool, fun and desolate to be up there and feel truly alone. I could see a headlamp above and below me once in awhile, as well as the shine from a few people still on the Ironton loop. I know others were really freaked out by these things, but again, this is something I do pretty regularly, so I felt fine. There is a short off trail section between the east and west sides of the pass, and it was well marked and easy to follow. I passed a guy here, then hit the..
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+.
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.
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..
I have visited and revisited Mummy Mountain and Hagues Peak a number of times now. These two have become a early season tradition of sorts, due to proximity to home, ease (or difficulty) of access, and at least one of the access options being pretty well traveled, with any snow well packed. There might be a short stretch of snow around treeline, but the going is generally pretty clear and easy once you get to the enormous east slopes of Mummy, which don't hold much snow due to exposure. It's also a good way to have a stretch above treeline and work hard. Last year I had a heck of a time on these two, and not due to any difficulty. I just was not in a good place mentally and very upset due to the very recent death of my dog. It was a hard day all around. This year I've generally been feeling good, and wanted to give it another go for the aforementioned reasons, as well as for perhaps some chance at a redemption of sorts. Again, I planned to start and end at Lumpy Ridge, looking for a longer day and more elevation gain than last years route selection. I was (not unusually) the first car in the parking lot at 530, and on the trail shortly after. I resolved to run as much as possible this year, and to try to keep my mind and memories on a positive track.
It was easy at first, as I arrived just as the sun was starting to rise, and got to witness the alpenglow light show on the peaks to my south. One of the major obstacles to any speed last year was the amount of dead fall on the Black Canyon Trail west of the intersection with the Dark Mountain Trail. Fortunately, that was largely not an issue this year. Maybe it wasn't as much of an issue as it felt like last year either, and it was all in my mind.
I was looking for it, and did manage to find the same exact rock out there on the trail. I noticed its likeness to a heart shape last year, which lead to one of the many breakdowns as I thought about my pup who had died the day before. As you near the apex of the trail, the terrain changes a bit, going from a heavily forested to a more open character. You cross the Black Canyon Creek a few times, and I was able to fill up on water from it.
Close to breaking north to visit Mummy. There is a pretty well put in social trail up here, which leads from the trail up to the east face of Mummy. I've found it several times, but missed it this year and eventually went for it, deciding I was past it. Thus, the initial gain was a bit more difficult, with some bushwhacking and maneuvering to avoid the little snow there was. And how little snow there was; this year is the driest I've ever seen it around this time of the year.
Looking up at Fairchild Mountain and the Crystal Lake basin from the climb.
And up the east face of Mummy- no snow! Not that the climb was any easier.
I finally reached the summit and looked across to Hagues. Some years there's been enough snow that I haven't visited Hagues at all, this year...
Largely clear sailing. I don't think I stepped in snow once, as it was all avoidable. I was able to stop and refill water between the two from a melt pool, the good thing about doing these ridge traverses in the early part of the year.
Hagues brought the usual good views, though I actually found a better approach by staying down and north of the ridge a bit. The air was still, and I met the ravens who must live in the area at the summit. It was pretty neat to actually be able to hear them flying, the air rushing around their wings and bodies.
I was equally surprised to look north and see Rowe Glacier Lake and area were largely clear- or at least the snow could be avoidable. I made a decision here, which was to not go back the way I came, but head east out to the Dunraven ridge, and then descend down the Husted Trail to North Boundary, and then take that south over the few lumps in the way.
Looking out to the Dunraven Ridge, some rock at first and then smooth sailing on tundra.
The dramatic east face of Gibraltar Mountain. I found running water in this area and filled up yet again, as the next definite place I'd be able to fill up was at West Creek, and definitely a good bit away from where I was. And as it was pretty warm, I'd need every drop.
The undramatic Mount Dunraven.
The last time I'd see water for awhile. The excursion out to Mount Dickinson went without issue, and I saw several herds of elk along the way. I briefly headed back west from the summit and then dropped south, following occasional cairns.
Due to the 2010 Cow Creek fire, there is a ton of dead fall along the way. Up until now, I'd only done this in winter and it was alot easier with the snow covering everything. Travel was pretty tedious until I reached the still living portion of the forest and got on a good trail. At North Boundary, I turned south and was able to find water almost immediately. Great, because I'd been out for at least half an hour already despite the fill up near Dunraven. There was a RMNP trail crew out, and I made sure to thank them all for their hard work. I jogged and actually ran some of the fun downhill to West Creek, crossed it, and started up the steepish climb on the other side. It's only about 500 feet of gain, but it always feels worse, particularly this late on a big day. I took the Cow Creek trail west, and realized I'd forgotten how long it takes to get to the Gem Lake trail, but it came soon enough. And now for the final 1000 feet of vertical. There are some steep parts here, but I was able to keep a high pace and power hike most of it. I arrived at a peacefully deserted Gem Lake. I expected to see a ton of people there, even though it was now around 530 at night.
Low wind led to a nice reflection.
I passed several people heading up and a few on their way back down to the parking, jogging as much as I could. I got back to the car at 5:51 pm, a 12:20 day. It's always nice to change into some street clothes, and I've recently started taking along a thermos of ice to enjoy a cold coconut water on the way home.
In last years outing, I compared my effort to previous efforts on these peaks. It's not a direct comparison of course, as this years' effort included about 5 more miles and 1200 more feet of gain in much more bushwhacky and deadfally terrain from Dickinson than if I'd just visited Mummy and Hagues and went back the same way. I was about 12 seconds per mile faster than I was last year; certainly not alot of time, but with the above difficulties added in, I'm happy with that.