Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mount Wilcox

Mount Wilcox
Mount Wilcox has been on my list for some time now.  I have gridded the area from I-70 to the north covering all the major peaks along the corridor to Geneva Mountain to the south.  This was the last peak I needed to finish the Guanella Pass area.  I have been to the Wilcox area about four other times, but multiple peaks sometimes don’t work.  Here I am back to climb Wilcox, and from a different route.  I find it’s always good to have company and it didn’t take much convincing to get Cole and Jenny to head out with me.
We met at 5am in Denver and made the drive up to the Silver Dollar Lake TH.  To get to the TH head to Georgetown and follow the Guanella Pass road till you pass the Guanella Pass CG.  Just after the CG there will be a road heading off to the right called Naylor Lake Road.  This road is a dirt road and can be a little rough.  We had no problem with Jenny at the wheel of the Subaru.  About a mile up the road is the parking for the Silver Dollar Lake TH.  We arrived about 6:30am and were off on the trail a bit before 7.
Silver Dollar Lake and Squaretop Mountain
The area surrounding Naylor Lake is all private property so this trail is the best access to the mountain.  Beware that we heard gun shots on our descent, so this area is probably a gun club or militant camp..haha.  One thing to note was my GPS was not working well at the beginning of the hike.  It kept beeping saying it was losing satellite service.  That is why I don’t have complete data for this trip, but I’m sure you can piece together all the missing parts.
I made the bad decision of eating some McDonalds before the hike and I wasn’t feeling to well from the start.  We slowly made our way up the trail until I got my body working.  There was quite a bit of snow along the trail, as it opened up above the lake the snow fields were quite large.  Depending on your comfort you could bring micro spikes or walk across it with good boots.  I was fine in boots, but then again I love snow.
As we worked on the traverse towards Silver Dollar Lake we saw a Mountain Goat high up on Squaretop Mountain.  The picture I took was zoomed in as far as I could get, so he was up there quite a ways.  Cole was naming of the birds as they buzzed by us, it’s always good to have people around with different knowledge banks.  The trail got muddy and wet as we approached Silver Dollar Lake.  Jenny got a good soaking so we took a minute at the lake for personal maintenance. 
The terrain rises a bit towards Murray Reservoir and the trail disappears beneath the large snow fields.  We just headed directly up and had no problems not using any traction.  As we approached Murray we started discussing our options for the day.  This route is really easy for a combination of a couple peaks.  Argentine is just to the west of Wilcox along the same ridge.  Cole and Jenny wanted to go for it, so we started making a more direct route through the rocks towards Argentine.
Grays and Torreys
I recommend our ascent route, primarily because there are some really cool rocks.  With that being said, we didn’t make much progress.  We all love rocks too much and found ourselves rock hounding more than hiking.  At one point we found this large pegmatite boulder and out came the rock hammers.  You have to love geologists.  It is always nice to be on a laid back trip with lots of time for discussion.  All three of us took Geomorphology during the spring semester together so we all love calling out all the different landscapes we see as we go.  Geologic discussions in the field are one of the things I enjoy most, especially in the mountains.
My legs were pretty beat, probably from a lack of use.  These desk jobs are not all they are cracked up to be.  I decided to tell Jenny and Cole to take off for Argentine without me and I would meet them on the main ridge.  They agreed so we split up a few hundred vertical feet of the main ridge.
I found an awesome rock rib to climb up.  There was some beautiful metamorphic rock with very cool pegmatites.  I love to be adventurous so I put together a nice class 3 route, but there are easy ways to navigate around the rocks to stay on class 2 terrain.  I climbed up maybe 50 vertical feet of killer rock then the grass terrain came back in leading towards the ridge.  It didn’t look like Cole and Jenny were running up the mountain so I started rock hounding again.  I found some nice rose quartz among other rocks that would continue to weigh my pack down.
Pano from Squaretop to Torreys
Cole and Jenny had just made it over the first false summit and it looked like they had decided against climbing Argentine, as the weather was starting to turn.  Just then I spotted two ptarmigans in the rocks.  I always love finding these birds, and they seem to like being photographed.  I waited there so Cole and Jenny could check them out.
Now that we were re-grouped we started heading towards Wilcox.  We probably only had about half mile and 700 vertical feet to go, but at 13,000ft that can go pretty slow.  I was breathing pretty hard, so I took my sweet ass time.  The rocks along the west ridge are neat and I kept finding my pockets full of new specimens.  After a good march up the mountain we finally summited.
The weather was getting dark and gray, but nothing bad.  We enjoyed our solo summit, unlike the 100 people on Bierstadt across the road.  Cole brought up our summit beers and they were ice cold.  The funny thing was, we needed to put our gloves on to hold the chilled beer.  It started to snow graupel on us just as we decided to hit the road; I guess someone was telling us it’s time to get going.
Summit Beers
We decided to make a loop out of this trip so we just had to head down the gentle slope of the mountain, find our way through the trees and hook up with the road.  I had been on most of this part before, so it was nice knowing I kind of knew where to go.  We found our first snow field and I wasn’t about to walk down it, a glissade opportunity was finally here.  It was probably only 100 vertical feet down, but I’ll take what I can get.  Cole and I enjoyed watching Jenny do her first glissade, it was quite acrobatic.
The next snow field was rather steep and had no good run out so I told them we should just walk it.  The snow was a bit harder and it took us a while to cross it, but we were never in a hurry.  Always play it safe.
Once off the snow we had the willows to deal with.  Cole took point, and by the time he was done with them you would think a moose had trampled through.  On the other side it was a simple hike through the woods.  The down fall is pretty bad in this area, but we didn’t have any issue navigating our way through.  We started hearing gun shots so that was a little sketch.  As we kept making our way down it seemed like they were coming from the other side of the lake, so we slowly made our way to the road.  We met up with the road about 100 yards into the private property.  It wasn’t well staked so, keep that in mind if you use my GPS map for future hikes.
I highly recommend this route for anyone wanting to do Squaretop, Argentine or Wilcox.  We all enjoyed it, and the bonus is there are no people like the over populated 14ers.  I love the solitude of the 13ers; they are way more fun too.  Our next stop was Beau Jo’s in Idaho Springs for some mountain pie and beer.  And it was amazing.  Till next time. Cheers!
GPS Track
Date: 6/21/2014
TH Elevation: 11,200 feet
Mount Wilcox: 13,408 feet
Total Gained Elevation: ~2,260ft
Class: 2
Distance:  ~6 miles
Time: Lost Data 
Climbing Partner: Jenny, Cole

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rocky Mountain National Park: Estes Cone, Emerald Mountain

Estes Cone
Kristi and I have been talking about getting out and doing some camping this summer and our opportunity finally arrived.  I was able to get the last spot at Glacier Basin Camp in Rocky Mountain National Park.  We just bought a new tent last week since our old tent ripped on our last adventure to the park about a year and a half ago.  Cole and Jenny were able to join us, so we had a small crew heading up for two days hiking and one night of camping.
The tough decision for RMNP is deciding where to hike.  There are so many great places, and the hard part is getting away from the hordes of people.  I really wanted to do a summit hike so I could get a nice view of Longs Peak in.  A few years ago I did the Twin Sisters Peak hike which I highly recommend, so I wanted a new peak.  The answer was easy and it was literally across the road; Estes Cone.
Estes Cone
The hike of Estes Cone starts from the Longs Peak TH.  This is located along HWY 7 to the south of Estes Park.  The parking lot will remain full for the remainder of the summer since this is also the TH for Longs Peak, so expect a lot of people.  The good news is that most of the people will be making their way towards Longs or Chasm Lake, leaving the trail to Estes Cone relatively free of traffic.
Cap Rock
From the TH, the hike is about 3.2 miles to the summit.  The first half mile runs along the Longs Peak Trail, then there will be a split that is well marked heading to the north; this is the Estes Cone Trail.  After this split it’s roughly another mile to the Eugenia Mine which is located along the Inn Brook Creek.  There is little left of what was apparently “produced more dreams that gold” as the sign states.  It is a nice area for a breather, but the mosquitos were pretty heavy so we pushed on.
The trail kind of tricks you here, instead of going uphill the trail heads down.  There is a nice meadow after the short descent that gives a open shot of the mountain.  Once meeting up with another trail junction the gain is steady to the top.  Another junction .7miles up the grade is where Estes Cone Trail and Storm Pass Trail meet.  From here it the main trail fades in the first few hundred yards and a climbers trail leads to the summit.
Nick and Cole Checking in on Longs
Follow the cairns and it’s pretty easy to stay on a decent trail to the top.  It is only .7miles from the last junction so it can go pretty quick, or not.  We took our time because this was our only hike for the day.  There is a nice short scramble through the cap rock to the summit.  Once on top the views of Meeker and Longs are amazing, even better than from the summit of Twin Sisters.  I took the opportunity to do a father’s day photo.  We hit the road to get back to camp and relax for the rest of the afternoon.
I must say one of the funniest parts of the day was driving by the line of cars waiting to pay at the park’s entrance.  Sometimes those annual passes are really nice; you get to open the gate with a swipe of the card.  At camp we were discussing options for the next day.  We came up with the idea of hiking Emerald Mountain from camp.  This was barely 500ft, but it still counts in my book.  Then after our morning hike we would head to the Bear Lake area and do a hike to one of the many lakes with all the other tourists.
Emerald Mountain
Jenny, Cole and Nick on Emerald Mountain
This is a small peak, but it we made a fun route through the woods and up the rocks.  There may have even been some prospecting along the way, but I can’t confirm that.  We took about as direct of a route as possible, once through the trees there was a good game trail leading up through the large rock outcrops.  This just took us over half hour to ascend, a good way to start the day.  This was a great place to view a lot of the glacial geomorphology of the park.  The moraine park to the north was quite impressive as were all the cirques to the west.  This made it well worth the effort.
Nymph and Dream Lakes
Longs Peak
We were looking for an easy hike to lakes or waterfalls, unfortunately so was everyone else.  This part of the park was packed full of tourists getting in an easy hike.  The beauty of this area is the backdrops of the mountains.  Hallett Peak looks like it made my list, and has an amazing view from Dream Lake.  This would be a great place for a snowshoe in the winter and maybe the traffic would be down around then.  As we descended the trail the arĂȘte to the east was quite impressive.  I was glad we were able to sneak another hike in for the day.
We all had a beer and some lunch from Oskar Blues on our mind, so we made our exit pretty quickly.  I can’t say I recommend hitting up Oskar Blues on a Sunday, the wait was pretty ridiculous.  But, when you’re with good friends it doesn’t really matter.  It was a great weekend, now it’s time to climb some real mountains.
Estes Cone GPS Track

Date: 6/14,15/2014
Estes Cone TH Elevation: 9,375ft
Estes Cone Summit : 11,010ft
Total Gained Elevation: ~2,000ft
Class: 1-2
Distance:  6.4 miles
Time: 4:00 moving, 2:00 stopped. 
Climbing Partner: Kristi, Jenny, Cole

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Devil's Head Fire Lookout

Devil's Head Fire Lookout and Pikes Peak
It’s been two months since my last post, that feels like a eon.  Spring and Maymester at school were quite busy so this was my first opportunity to get out into the mountains.  A month or so ago Kristi asked me about the Devil’s Head Fire Lookout.  I had no idea what it was, but apparently it is visible from her office area.  This is a short hike reasonably close to Denver; we thought it would be a good fit for a Sunday morning hike.  Jenny and Joel wanted to get out on a hike and we were happy to have some new friends along for the day.
Pikes Peak
Getting to Devils Head FL is pretty easy, and any operational vehicle should be able to reach the TH without any difficulties.  Find your way to HWY 85 heading south towards Sedalia.  From the “village” of Sedalia head west on to CO 67 for about 10 miles till the road intersects with Rampart Range Road.  Turn left (south) where the pavement ends and a decent dirt road will lead you to the TH about 9.25 miles down the road.  There are signs the whole way so chances of getting lost are minimal.  I will warn you this is a heavily used road and covered in washboard.  Be careful of the teenage drivers in dad’s truck taking up the narrow roads.
From the TH this is a pretty straightforward hike.  It is about 1.5miles to the fire lookout and the elevation gain is not too bad.  The area is well covered with trees and there are large monolith boulders of weathered granite.  Just expect to see everyone you have never met from Denver; the trail was quite busy for us today.
The Crew: Nick, Kristi, Jenny and Joel
The fire lookout sits on top of a large monolith of granite, so to make it accessible there is a grand staircase in place.  From the base of the steps there is a climb of 143 stairs to the lookout.  Everyone is huffing and puffing at this point so don’t be ashamed.  After the climb is over the lookout seems rather small.  This is a manned lookout, so there will be a ranger present during operational hours.  The views are amazing; I would say this is the best view around of Pikes, so maybe you will get lucky with good weather. 
We hung out at the lookout for about 15 minutes.  Thanks to Jenny for bringing up rice crispy treats for us, one of the best mountain snacks I’ve had in some time.  Next time I would bring up some binoculars for the far off view of the mountains.  As the hordes of people kept coming up the stairs we knew it was time for our exit.  It took a little patience with the other humans, but we eventually made our way down to the earth and rock.  The staircase is pretty impressive and can give you a small rush if you look down in the right spots.
As we descended the trail the amount of people heading up kept increasing.  The parking lot was over stuffed, so If you head up come early or carpool with others.  I think we all really enjoyed ourselves on this short hike today.  Hopefully there will be more of these to come, since everyone in the group wants to get up their first 14er this summer.
One last thing.  My biggest supporter of my blog, my Aunt Janet is not doing well.  I know that you will read this or listen to it.  I think about you every time I'm in the mountains and look forward to climbing my next one since I know you will be there to help me overcome the mental obstacles that always try to bring me down.  I love you and just want to know how much I appreciate your support.
GPS Track

Date: 6/1/2014
TH Elevation: 8,826ft
Devil’s Head Fire Lookout: 9,748ft
Total Gained Elevation: ~900ft
Class: 1
Distance:  3.08 miles
Time: 1:36 moving, 0:40 stopped. 
Climbing Partners: Kristi, Jenny, Joel