April Showers Bring May Blizzards: Winter on Hallett

Zambo approaching the Continental Divide. Mother nature has other ideas.

It’s been quite a whirlwind of weather, outings and new climbing partners since getting back into the full swing of things. East Partner in the the Gores, New Mexico’s high point, Silverheels, Hagar, “The Citadel”, and a Crystal outing never to be spoken of again, just to name a few, and all within the past month or so. With another cataclysmic weekend weather forecast, and a “ski” trip to the Elks and/or the Gores not exactly safe or logistically possible without a long wait at the car for that guy on his snowshoes, Zambo and I decided it was best to stay close to home and hit the Park. Thoughts of Taylor Peak from Bear Lake danced in our heads. Along the way we could take in the views from Flattop, Hallett and Otis.  It had the makings to be a great morning if we could just get that small weather window that had been forecast for Saturday AM. After much thought, we left for the Park and decided we’d get up to the Divide and play the rest by ear based on conditions. At the very least it would be time well spent getting to know the Zambino and there is technically no such thing as a bad day in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Traversing Trail Ridge

Trail Ridge Road, Never Summer Mountains
The view southwest along Trail Ridge Road near Iceberg Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, with more than 10+ miles lying above 11,000 feet. Contrary to popular belief, the entire road is actually always “open”. You just can’t bring your car with you from October through June. With the absence of a motorized vehicle and the addition of snowshoes, even an easy peak, one just a half mile off of the road like “Trail Ridge”, becomes quite a feat. Scot drew up the plan. It included 3 ranked peaks that would make any driveaneer drool in the summer. While Scot was certainly up to the task, I was unsure if I had it in me after sitting in a chair for 3 months, but knew I had to give it a go. Fast forward to Friday and we both found ourselves standing at the gate at Many Parks Curve ready to put in some miles.

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A Walk in the Clouds: Pagoda Mountain from Glacier Gorge

Above the clouds on the summit of Pagoda Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Pagoda Mountain sits at the southern end of Glacier Gorge in between two of Rocky Mountain National Park’s beasts: Longs Peak (14,255 ft.) and Chiefs Head Peak (13,579 ft.). With an elevation of 13,497 ft., Pagoda Mountain is the 7th highest ranked peak in The Park. It’s been said that Pagoda’s summit register (which we unfortunately couldn’t locate) may receive on average about 75 signatures a year, while its neighbor may receive that many visitors in one summer day.

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No Walk in the Park: Meeker’s South Ridge from Wild Basin

Sunrise along the Sandbeach Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.

“There is nothing so American as our national parks. The scenery and the wildlife are native. The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. It is, in brief, that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us. The parks stand as the outward symbol of the great human principle.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Peaks: Mount Meeker (13,911′), Meeker Ridge (13,860′) – Rocky Mountain National Park
Date Climbed: May 18, 2013
Trailhead: Copeland Lake (Sandbeach Lake Trail)
Route: South Ridge (ascent) / Meeker Ridge (descent)
Distance: ~ 13 miles
Elevation Gain: ~ 5,600 ft.
Participants: Andrew Knox, Dillon Sarnelli
Time: ~ 13 hours

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A Long Weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park

Four deep, walking the saddle between Chiefs Head and Alice along the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Peaks of the Park: Chiefs Head Peak (13,579′), Mount Alice (13,310′), Longs Peak (14,255′)
Dates: June 21-24, 2012
Distance: 30+ miles
Elevation Gain: ~12,000 ft.
In attendance: Dana Sanford,  Kevin Sanford, Miguel Gonzalez, Nathan Watts, Ray Priebe, Dillon Sarnelli

About 6 months ago Dana called me up from the other side of the continent with this idea of a trip to Half Dome in the works. He wanted to know if I would be interested in coming along and I said, “For sure”. A month later, plans had changed and the crew was now considering the Wind River Range in Wyoming. Another great spot and I again said, “Count me in”. A few weeks later plans were changing again and I said, “Dana, I live in Colorado! Come here dude and I’ll be your tour guide”. And so the story goes. The following is how it unfolded.

Day 1: 4 PM arrive @ Wild Basin TH, Bluebird Lake
Day 2: Lion Lake #1 & #2, Snowbank Lake, Chiefs Head Peak, Mount Alice, Thunder Lake, Denver
Day 3: Red Rocks, REI, Wahoos, Longs Peak TH
Day 4: Longs Peak (Keyhole Route), Highland Tap & Burger, Denver Beer Company

Thursday, June 21, 2012 – Kevin, Miguel, Nate and Ray flew in from Massachusetts and Dana from DC. Dana arrived a few hours early, the rest of the gang around noon. We hit up REI for some last minute supplies and the bear canisters and we were off. The Destination: Wild Basin Trailhead (8,500′) – Rocky Mountain National Park.

Arriving around 4 PM, we eventually set off for the North St. Vrain Campsite, 1,000 feet and 3.5 miles from the Wild Basin TH, our basecamp for the evening.
Migz checks out Ouzel Falls.
Nate takes in the falls from a different perspective.
“Are you kidding me?”

After we dropped our packs at camp we headed for Bluebird Lake, arriving just before dark. The lake is 3.3 miles from the North St. Vrain campsite. We took a breather, enjoyed the lake, ate some trail mix (and some ibuprofen), and then headed back to camp using our headlamps and called it a night.

Late evening on a peaceful Bluebird Lake (10,978′).

Friday, June 22, 2012 – Today’s mission: A loop consisting of Lion Lake #1, Lion Lake #2, Snowbank Lake, Chiefs Head Peak, Mount Alice, Thunder Lake, back to basecamp and then back to the Wild Basin TH.

Basecamp – North St. Vrain Campsite (9,560′).

We woke up a little after 7 and hit the trail around 8. Bivvies make for a pretty quick setup/take down. Destination #1 on the day: Lion Lake #1, 2.2 miles from camp.

This shot was taken just before arriving at Lion Lake #1 with Chiefs Head Peak in the distance.
There are still a few pockets of snow, but nothing that would require any sort of traction. Post-holing not an issue.
Mount Alice (13,310′) as seen from just before Lion Lake #1.
Dana is in his happy place. Lion Lake #1 (11,075′) with Chiefs Head Peak in the distance.
Ray goes for a swim. He still can’t feel his toes.
The gangs all here.
Mount Alice from Lion Lake #1.

Next stop: Lion Lake #2 and Snowbank Lake, perched a few hundred feet and short distance above Lion Lake #1.

The stream and falls between Lion Lake #1 and #2 are good spot to fill up.
Snowbank Lake (11,521′).

Below is a shot of the saddle between Mount Alice and Chiefs Head Peak. The defined trail ends at Lion Lake #1. There are some cairns which will get you to Lion Lake #2, but from there you’re on your own. We headed right, towards the eastern edge of Snowbank Lake and around to the middle of the saddle.

Our line was a straight shot up the middle of the saddle, immediately to the right of the snow field.
Making our way up the saddle.
Approaching the top of the saddle and the Divide.
The Continental Divide. Alice looming higher in the distance.
We begin the ascent up Chiefs Head.
Looking down on Lion Lake #1, Lion Lake#2 and Snowbank Lake from Chiefs Head.
The fire in Estes Park as seen from Chiefs Head.
Longs Peak as seen from the summit of Chiefs Head.
127 Hours.
Summit of Chiefs Head Peak (13,579′), the 3rd highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park – June 22, 2012 (approx. 1.8 miles and 2,058′ elevation gain from Snowbank Lake).
Descending back down Chiefs Head the way we came up.

We began working our way across the Divide after descending Chiefs Head. Mount Alice was next on the day at an elevation of 13,310′ (approx. 1.5 miles from summit of Chiefs Head).

Approaching the hourglass on Alice.
Ascending Mount Alice.
Summit of Mount Alice (13,310′) – June 22, 2012.
Descending the ridge that forms a T with the saddle. This would have been a viable option on the way up if we had ascended Alice first. Lion Lakes and Snowbank Lake off to the left with Thunder Lake (not visible) to the right just below treeline. Next Stop: Thunder Lake, ~ 4 miles from the summit of Alice.
Thunder Lake.
Other than a group of 3 fishing at Thunder Lake, these were the first signs of life we had seen all day.

After Thunder Lake we headed back to camp, grabbed our overnight gear and then trekked back to the Wild Basin TH to our cars (6.8 miles from Thunder Lake to the cars). We then drove back to Denver. It was a long and ambitious trek and we were beat.

Saturday, June 23, 2012 – We hit up a great breakfast joint on Tennyson in the Highlands, ate way too many pancakes, drove out to Red Rocks, grabbed some gear at REI, ate way too many tacos at Wahoos, and once again we were off to the Park. This time headed for the Longs Peak Trailhead.

Happy to be leaving this nonsense!
We arrived at the Longs Peak TH a little before 6 PM and headed for the Gobblins Forest campsite, about a mile from the TH.
Gobblins Forest site.

We unpacked the bivvies and were fast asleep before dark.

Sunday, June 24, 2012 – Longs Peak – Keyhole route – 2 AM start. The mountain was all ours. I’ll let the pictures tell the story from here. It was one hell of a weekend to say the least. Great having you guys in Colorado and I’ll see you next year in the White Mountains. Come back soon!

Summit of Longs Peak (14,255′) – June 24, 2012.

The Keyhole – June 24, 2012.