Thursday, November 27, 2008

Twin Sisters Peaks - Nov. 3, 2008

Still on vacation and two days after the trip to Evans I decided to hike up Twin Sisters Peaks. The hike came highly recommended by my hiking buddy Ron. The weather was going to be great this day and it given it was a Monday I could expect less than excessive trail traffic on what would probably be an extremely busy weekend trail.

Though I had planned on getting a very early start, this day I had a harder time than normal getting out of bed and didn't make it out on to the trail until after 9:00 am. Forgetting my map at home, which I know is a cardinal sin and my late start made me a little nervous about the distance I was going to be traveling to the summit having never done this hike before. Again the weather was great and being this late in the season afternoon thunder storms were probably less likely than a snow storm, but nevertheless I was a bit concerned about the possibility for weather change and made for the summit at just short of a jogging pace. Realistically though Twin Sisters Peaks are located for the most part just outside the Eastern edge of Rock Mountain National Park, separated by highway 7 from Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak which unless on the East side of the peaks are always visible from the hike so even if losing sense of direction without a map or compass it would be hard to be entirely lost. I could more or less just head downhill and would eventually end up on highway 7.

Heading up the trail through a beautifully carved path through the trees the trail gave many opportunities for spectacular views of the Northeast face of Longs Peak eventually giving way to progressively more difficult terrain as the summit approached.

Making my way to the summit of the first of the two summits that make up the Twin Sisters Peaks the views of Longs Peak were what I imagine the best to be had without actually being on the Peak itself.

Having now made it to the summit of the first peak and from what I could tell the end of any clear cut trail, I was a little in need for some additional excitement so decided to attempt to climb down the South side of the first peak and up the second.

After down climbing the class 3 South face of the first peak I decided to break for lunch and snap some more shots of Longs Peak.

By now the time was near 2:00pm and some ominous weather looked to be approaching from the West over Longs. Given the time of day and the additional climb that I must now make back up over the first of the two peaks I decided that I should probably call it a day and head back. The decent as with the ascent was quite easy although now knowing the distance to travel I set a much more leisurely pace arriving back at the car in nearly an hour from the summit of the first Peak. In no way a disappointing day but definitely a beginners hike... which I suppose in terms of days spent hiking I would be but in terms of experience I'm now quite past.
Additional Photos

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mt. Evans (West Face), 14,264 Ft. - Nov. 1, 2008

Now that the weather has begun to head towards the winter side Ron has lost the desire to go stomping up the mountains in knee deep snow and 20 degree temperatures. I've yet to be discouraged so this weekend which happened to be an extended one for me due to a much needed vacation, I decided to head up and make an attempt on Mt. Evans via its
west face.

Mt. Evans like Pikes Peak is one of the two Colorado 14er's that you can drive to or nearly to the summit. It must be frustrating and glorifying at the same time to to spend all day grinding up a mountain to finally reach the summit and find minivans full of families taking pictures and tossing rock down into the pit you just climbed out of. But alas this time of year at least in the case of Mt. Evans, the road up to the summit is closed, which leaves you with a few winter/fall options. The standard ascent of Evens starts from Summit Lake and can be considered a low challenge day hike. With the closure of the road leading up to summit lake this adds an additional 14 miles to the overall climb. With that in mind I decided that an ascent via the West face, the gully between Mt. Spalding and the Sawtooth was in order. Seen below on the far left of the picture.

When I arrived at the trail head, as with the day I ascended Bierstadt I found many more people than expected. I loaded up my pack, the first hike in my new Marmot pack that I purchased just for the added room for winter layering and carrying of winter tools. For a short while I followed the standard trail up towards Bierstadt, passing over the multiple bridges that span the trip through the willows. A short distance past a large rock on the left of the trail I chose a spot to make a break and headed off towards the base of the gully separating the Sawtooth and Mt. Spalding. For the entire hike up to the gully I was bushwacking through thick willows, around the base of the north face of Bierstadt, coming to a small beaver pond which gave me a full view of the gully that I was about to climb.

Shortly after crossing a beaver dam I had full view of the true height of the gully and began my ascent. I attempted to skirt to the left of the gully climbing the adjacent side of Mt. Spalding for as much of the ascent as possible, this maybe in vain but seemed logical to me that the higher I could get on the side of Spalding the shorter distance I would have to scramble up the talus in the center of the gully. Not entirely sure if this helped or hindered the approach significantly but after about two thirds of the ascent the grade grew enough that I had no choice but to drop into and begin ascending the gully directly.

The remaining portion of climbing the gully could be described as vigorous and after a short time I eventually reached the top to be greeted by a large snow filled cirque with the summit of Spalding to the left the top ridge of the Sawtooth to the left and a false summit of Evans straight ahead. At this point the weaker voice in my head was telling me that this might be a good place to turn around, knowing that more than a mile of climbing was still ahead and climbing the gully was much more difficult than expected. The other voice, the one that puts me into these places and feeds the soul was compelling me to push on. After coming so far I felt that it would be a shame to turn back so I marched on, up towards the top of the classic snow route overlooking Summit Lake. With the road to Summit Lake closed this late in the year and unplowed the view of the lake was quite a spectacle.

From here I followed a cairned route just below the south face of the ridge, pausing frequently to take pictures of Bierstadt and the Sawtooth.

After around another hour I approached the summit and the upper parking lot which during the warmer seasons boast many day tourist who drive to near the summit then make the final 50 Ft. walk to the summit to take in the grand views of Summit Lake, Bierstadt and the Sawtooth. Quite exhausted and hungry I stopped for lunch and an obligatory summit photo, Bierstadt in the background.

Just past four hours after my start I headed back for the long descent back to the parking lot, again stopping frequently to snap photos of the journey. At the top of the gully I took the opportunity to document the distance that I had traveled from the parking lot and during that time saw the first glimpse of other hikers since breaking from the Bierstadt trail. A man a woman on just reaching the top of the gully, obviously exhausted from the ascent. We briefly stopped to swap stories of the climb, these two also exclaiming their inner voice questioning whether to continue on just as I had. Given the time of the day, now somewhere around 2 - 2:30, I questioned to myself their ability to reach the summit and make the return trip to the parking lot within the remaining hours of light.

Downhill travel is both a blessing and a curse, in exchange for the lung burning stairmaster routine you get knee grinding, ankle crunching impact. On this descent I learned two lessons about the type and quality of hiking shoes. My shoes, which are quality shoes and have served me well, taught me the value of ankle support and weather proofing. My shoes low on the ankles don't provide much for support as they don't immobilize lateral movement and as I came to find when I worked my back the willows over the now melted boggy areas, the shoes aren't as water resistant as I would like and by the time I reached the parking lot my shoes were soaked and feet were cold. Fortunately I had a spare pair of socks. Overall the climb was great, I could check another 14er off the list and had decided that winter boots were much higher on the priority list.

Additional Photos

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sky Pond via Bear Lake (Glacier Gorge TH) - Oct. 25, 2008

Oct. 25 Ron and I set out for Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park via the Glacier George trail head at Bear Lake. This was the first time I could remember being in RMNP and at first site entering Estes Park from U.S. 36 I was greeted with a predominant rage of 13,000 Ft. peaks that border the park... more items for the to-do list. Not to mention an incredible view of the Northeast face of Longs Peak.

We left the car and headed out on the trail head around 8:30am, I don't think either of us were prepared for how cold and windy the day was going to be. Or rather I should say we were adequately prepared for the cold physically but not mentally. Nevertheless it was a beautiful morning and despite being a fairly popular "day touristy" spot due to the beauty of Berthoud Falls, it was still quite early and we had planned to get up as close to Sky Pond as possible which meant that as the day went on the chances of seeing many other people diminished.

Making our way up the trail we passed Berthoud falls which was completely frozen over by this time of year. Continuing on I was surprised to find that there's a trail up to Longs Peak via this trail head, just over eight miles past the break from the Glacier George TH to the Boulder Field. Ascending Longs via this route would make an already extremely long hike even longer calling for either a night camped or a very long day. Just short of 3 miles from the TH the trail splits heading either towards Black Lake or Sky Pond via Loch Vale, our destination. Judging from the amount of tracks in the snow, the trip to Loch Vale and Sky Pond was obviously the less traveled.

Once we reached Loch Vale the views began to open open up, first of Taylor Peak in the distance with a backdrop of Taylor Glacier and The Sharks Tooth obscured but to the right, and ultimately the base of our destination.
On the north side of The Sharks Tooth is part of the long ridge of Otis Peak with Andrews Glacier partially visible between.

As we gained elevation and approached Sky Pond, exposure increased and the wind began to be a factor, freezing everything in its path. This created some great scenery as well as slightly more challenging terrain as we made our way up through an arguably class three frozen drainage. Above the frozen drainage area opened up into the the basin of Taylor Peak and with little to nothing to knock down the wind it began to be quite a struggle to continue, at times being necessary to take a defensive stance to keep from being blown off the edge the we just climbed. After a short break and few pictures of the path up we turned back for the day. By now nearly 12:30.

The view of the climb back down from the basin of Taylor Peak.

Once we got back down out of the wind we took a break to eat lunch and encountered the first set of people since we split from the path to Black Lake. One of the interesting things about this hike that in way boosts the ego are the looks that people give you as you get closer to the cars and begin to see many more people out on their nature hikes. On a day like this near Sky Pond I venture to say that the temperature wasn't much above the 20's, near the trail head though temperatures are pushing their way out of the 60's. People in shorts without shirts look at you like wow that guy really over dressed for the occasion. Little do they know.
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Mt. Bierstadt (West Slope), 14,060 Ft. - Sept. 27, 2008 and an Introduction.

For a few years now I've been an avid mountain biker with each season having at least one will breaking, reality inducing rendezvous with gravity. This year being no different. After a small bout of depression related to lack of adrenaline, my frequent riding partner Ron invited me along on a day hike. Initially I wasn't very optimistic about the joys of hiking as I had always considered such an activity to be a little tame for my taste. For most of life I've bounced from activity to activity, immersing myself with what has been described to me as a compulsion. Hiking had always seemed to be what people do with kids on Sunday before stopping for ice cream and after taking pictures of the buffalo. As I came to realize, hiking can be a very general term for everything from a two mile loop in the local county open space to a mountaineering expedition covering an eight hour approach followed by a class five WI ascent. Though the latter being a little more on the winter mountaineering side, but I digress. What I found during this initial hike was that the rush I achieved by falling down a mountain while sitting on bike seat, or I guess the feeling of opposing my personal prowess on the rigors of such an activity, was perfectly interchangeable with the exhilaration of pressing onward to reach a point where many but with increasing difficulty fewer have reached. And so my latest obsession begins.

The morning of Sept. 27 with much anticipation and a little nervousness I set out to "climb" (in the case of Mt Bierstadt, hike) my first of Colorado's 58 14,000 Ft. peaks. At first fight the mountain was awe inspiring, enormous and isolated enough to appreciate its true size.

Though Bierstadt is considered one of the easier of the Colorado 14'ers the ascent was by no means an easy outing. Regardless and as with many of the other peaks company was not in short supply.

The weather was perfect and as the day rolled on and the hike became increasingly more difficult. Approaching the summit the ascent turned more towards a low class three scramble and gave way to a great view of Grays and Torrey's peaks, on the list for next summer.

From the summit the views were spectacular including Mt. Evans and the path of a future endeavor.

After a short break for lunch a some good conversation with some of the others on the summit we headed back down, notice to left the of the green, above the shadows is where we started. I had definitely found a new activity.

Additional Photos