Colorado Summits: Mt. Lady Washington (13,281′)

The Meeker-Longs Massif. From MLW, Colorado, 2015
The Meeker-Longs Massif. From MLW, Colorado, 2015

This is sort of an undistinguished bump of a summit but it is a strategically located perch, smack in front of Longs Peak’s famous east face, the “Diamond“, which makes it a very worthwhile destination (see the sample view above). It is also a relatively safe and accessible mount even during the winter months (but avoid the high wind days!).

Today, I headed up there in exactly the wrong conditions for both hiking and photography. I didn’t leave Boulder until 12:30p.m., ensuring the snow on the trail would be soft–perhaps too soft (post-holing hell?). Also, that hour, with the afternoon sun falling behind Longs Peak, would ensure the east face would be in shadow (sunrise/morning is typically much preferred) and the best part of the landscape would have me shooting contre-jour.

But up I went anyway, my justification neurons telling me it would just be a photo recon for some future trip under the right lighting conditions–and, it would be a great workout, thus keeping my red-blood cells ready for the next 14er.

Personal note to other spouses: If you start up the trail and realize you don’t have your cell phone and have no way of communicating your situation to your significant other…and, as you climb higher and higher, you realize your late start will have you getting back home well after dark, two hours after your planned return…consider aborting the mission. Your significant other will be happier for it. (It’s now time for me to use my REI dividend for a SPOT Gen 3.)

Some highlights:

–This was an early spring ascent, with plenty of snow still covering the trail up through treeline. If climbing during this time o’ year, conditions can change daily–you could find everything from solid, frozen snow, to fresh powder, to post-holing insanity. Check trail conditions and watch the weather and temperature reports using all available sources. Base your footwear selection accordingly (bare boot, spikes, snowshoes, skis).

–Despite the very late start (up the trail starting at 2:15p.m.) and the short-sleeved, T-shirt temps, my choice of microspikes up through treeline was perfect. The trail has packed enough that post-holing was not a factor, unless you inadvertently stepped off the track (then you might sink halfway to China).

–Above treeline, I took off the spikes and used naked boots all the way to the summit. There were enough wind-blown bare spots and rock-hopping terrain that the spikes weren’t helping that much.

–I chose to go straight up the east ridge from the Chasm Lake trail junction, then back down via the Boulderfield. Good choice. You might consider it, too. Coming back down the east ridge would have been hard on my knees (some steep, Class 2+ boulder-hopping and scrambling). The cruise down the north slope to the Longs Peak trail by the Boulderfield was a quick and fairly easy alternative.

–Once you start up from the Chasm Lake trail junction toward the MLW summit, prepare yourself mentally for a long climb. It looks short due to perspective foreshortening, but you’ll get a pretty good workout. It involves about 1,700′ of elevation gain, all basically off-trail.

–As it turned out, the photography possibilities were not as bad as I had anticipated. You work with the conditions you have, I guess. So, MLW can work for afternoon photography–but sunrise would still be best by a long shot (sic).

–Total time, Boulder to Boulder, was about 9 hours, so maybe just around 6+40 trailhead to trailhead. (I did a lot of walk-jogging on the way back down to speed things up.)

Some selected images:

The big city doesn’t really look that far away…

Denver, above Mt. Meeker Ridge, #2. From MLW, Colorado, 2015
Denver, above Mt. Meeker Ridge, #2. From MLW, Colorado, 2015

 

The Keyhole, famous gateway to Longs Peak’s “easiest” route…

Keyhole View. From MLW, Colorado, 2015
Keyhole View. From MLW, Colorado, 2015

 

The view to the northwest into the center of Rocky Mountain National Park…

RMNP View. From MLW, Colorado, 2015
RMNP View. From MLW, Colorado, 2015

 

The main attraction. If you look carefully, you can pick out the Keyhole on the right side. “Lamb’s Slide” is the biggest snow chute you see, sloping down and to the right–an objective of many an expert skier…

Longs Peak Portrait. From MLW, Colorado, 2015
Longs Peak Portrait. From MLW, Colorado, 2015

 

A closer look at the Diamond. “Broadway” is the snow-covered, curvy ledge in the lower part of the photo…

The Diamond. From MLW, Colorado, 2015
The Diamond. From MLW, Colorado, 2015

 

End of the day…

Three Quarter Moon at Sunset. From below MLW, Colorado, 2015
Three Quarter Moon at Sunset. From below MLW, Colorado, 2015

Spring winds

Spring has sproinged and, along with it, winds and freeze-thaw cycles tending more to the latter. Blowing snow and melting ice in the high country now…although another cold wave will bring a few more inches of white stuff to the mountains tomorrow.

I am working on trying to schedule another 14er into the alpine hiking mix, but high winds at altitude have been in the forecast just about every day lately. When I say “high”, I mean in excess of 40-50mph. Attempting to walk a thin ridge above 13,000′ in that kind of molecular movement is not my idea of fantasy fun.

Saturday is the full Moon…which makes Sunday an ideal day to catch simultaneous sunrise and moonset from a 14er summit. I have Mt. Yale penciled in to the agenda. We’ll see what the weather gods have planned…

Barker Reservoir Wind, #1. Nederland, Colorado, 2015
Barker Reservoir Wind, #1. Nederland, Colorado, 2015

Another color v. monochrome example (with eye movement comment)

Notice where your eye goes as you glance at these two images. Does your eye move differently around the various areas of each? Where does your eye start? Where does it pause? Where does it end?

Maybe one additional morsel for thought when deciding whether to go with color or monochrome…

Looks like a fun place to hang out, no?

The Bar of Good Vibes and Deadheads. Denver, Colorado, 2015
The Bar of Good Vibes and Deadheads. Denver, Colorado, 2015
The Bar of Good Vibes and Deadheads. Denver, Colorado, 2015
The Bar of Good Vibes and Deadheads. Denver, Colorado, 2015

Winter Snow

Six Trees. Twin Sisters Trail, Colorado, 2015
Six Trees. Twin Sisters Trail, Colorado, 2015

 

Yes, we are officially in spring, but there is still plenty of snow in the high country. Until then…

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), painter

The Twin Sisters Mud Slide

The hike to the top of Twin Sisters, just across from Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, is a gem in all seasons. It has some great views across the valley to the west of Mount Meeker, Longs Peak, Mount Lady Washington, and Estes Cone.

To wit:

Meeker, Longs, and MLW, Clearing Storm. From Twin Sisters Trail, Colorado, 2015
Meeker, Longs, and MLW, Clearing Storm. From Twin Sisters Trail, Colorado, 2015

But that is not the focus of this post.

If you drive the Peak-to-Peak Highway (State Highways 72 and 7) between Nederland, Peaceful Valley, and Estes Park, perhaps you have glanced up at the steep slopes rising up to the Twin Sisters rocky twin summits. Perhaps you have even noticed the huge fresh mud or rock slide that has left a mammoth gash in the fir forest on the lower section. This slide occurred in September of 2013 during the Great Colorado Flood.

Here is a winter view of this slide as seen from atop Estes Cone on the west side of the highway (photo made on January 1, 2015):

Twin Sisters from Estes Cone, #1. (Note the huge slide area on the far left.)
Twin Sisters from Estes Cone, #1. (Note the huge slide area on the far left.)

A couple of days ago, I was doing some trail reconnaissance on Twin Sisters and was able to see this slide from close up. Incredible.

It had to have made apocalyptic noises when it cut loose. It also came very, very close to taking out the ranch down near the highway.

Here are four images of the slide as you’ll see it on your Twin Sisters hike:

Your first view. The trail now works its way through the debris (arrows) for 50-100 yards or so to the other side…

The Slide, #1. Twin Sisters Trail, Colorado, 2015
The Slide, #1. Twin Sisters Trail, Colorado, 2015

The view down the hill. Note how the slide split to either side of the large ranch structure (arrow)…

The Slide, #2. Twin Sisters Trail, Colorado, 2015
The Slide, #2. Twin Sisters Trail, Colorado, 2015

Another view from standing in the middle of the slide, looking down…

The Slide, #3. Twin Sisters Trail, Colorado, 2015
The Slide, #3. Twin Sisters Trail, Colorado, 2015

Looking up to where the slide began…

The Slide, #4. Twin Sisters Trail, Colorado, 2015
The Slide, #4. Twin Sisters Trail, Colorado, 2015

Colorado Summits: Lookout Mountain (7,377′)

Downtown Denver, Pre-Dawn. From Lookout Mountain above Golden, Colorado, 2015
Downtown Denver, Pre-Dawn. From Lookout Mountain above Golden, Colorado, 2015

Here is one you can drive to–no walking required: Lookout Mountain, above the Coors Brewery and the Colorado School of Mines town of Golden, Colorado, just west of Denver. Just follow the obvious brown signs at 19th Street and Highway 6.

(Quick Peak Bagger Note: Check out the American Mountaineering Center while you are in town.)

From Lookout Mountain, you can get some great views of downtown Denver and even some glimpses of the high country to the east.

Some photography suggestions:

–Consult The Photographer’s Ephemeris to see when you can catch a full Moon rising over Denver, just after sunset. (Try Sunday, September 27, 2015, for example.)

–Without a Moon to play with, sunrise might be your most interesting time o’ day. Get there an hour prior as the best colors often happen well before the Sun slides above the horizon.

–The most obvious place to set up your tripod is over Bill’s dead body at the viewing platform beside the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave. However, your view toward Denver is partially blocked by trees and tall communications antennas. Consider trying one of the small turnouts just below this high point.

–Probably your most unobstructed photography option is Windy Saddle. There is a parking area there and a very obvious social trail leading to a high point just to the north (a ten-minute uphill walk). From this summit, you have a clear view out to the west, north and east.

–From most areas on Lookout Mountain, as you gaze east out upon the megaglopolis and the Great Plains beyond, you will be looking nearly straight along Denver’s famous Colfax Avenue.

Lookout Mountain points o’ interest:

1) Mountain bikers, road cyclists, soaring hang gliders and paragliders (depending on the weather)…all good photo subjects. Or, you could engage in these activities yourself!

2) The Lookout Mountain Nature Center and Preserve at the top o’ the mountain.

3) Windy Saddle Park for hiking.

4) The historic Boettcher Mansion for your wedding.

Soccer and Beer at Dawn. Golden, Colorado, 2015
Soccer and Beer at Dawn. Golden, Colorado, 2015 (The big factory between the mesas is the Coors Brewery)