Trailhead: Sandbeach Lake TH (Rocky Mountain National Park)
Route: SE Slopes (Class II)
I arrived at the trailhead just before 6am on a clear Sunday morning in the park. I was able to enjoy a beautiful sunrise on the drive in along Highway 7. Since it was still before Memorial Day, the Ranger Station was still "Abandoned for the Winter." Mine was the first car at the trailhead, and I knew I would have solitude for most of the day since probably 98% of the people who take this trail stop at the lake.
Sunrise on Highway 7 en route to the trailhead
I made quick work of the 4.5 miles up to Sandbeach Lake (knowing that I needed to be off the mountain in plenty of time to make my 6:45 flight to Fresno for work the next week). The trail was snow-free until the last half mile before the lake. I arrived at the lake at 7:40 and enjoyed the fresh coating of snow that the area had received the day previous. After downing a Clif Bar and some trail mix, I donned my gaiters for the bushwhack up to Mt. Orton. Once I reached treeline, I was rewarded with the less-often-seen southern views of Pagoda, Longs, and Meeker. Chiefs Head also came into view for the first time.
Route up Mt. Orton
Fresh coat of snow on the pines
Pagoda, Longs, Meeker (L to R)
Chiefs Head (center) and Pagoda
Once the summit of Mt. Orton is visible, the route flattens out significantly for the next ~.75 miles. I chose to skirt around the east side of Orton, but a quick scramble up to the summit is certainly available. The south side of Chiefs Head provides a pretty straightforward class II ramp up to the summit. In most of the other trip reports I've read, people headed to the right side of the ramp in order to gain the ridge, but I preferred just heading up the center in a direct line to the top. I reached the summit at 10:40, and I must say that it's one of my top five favorite summit views. Glacier Gorge to the North, Longs massif to the East, Wild Basin to the South, and McHenrys to the West. Of course, I had to take the classic photo of feet dangling off into Glacier Gorge. After the photography was complete, I signed the summit register, and couldn't help but notice the name a couple up from mine. Good prediction Aron of being the last summit of 2011!
Longs massif from the summit of Chiefs Head
The classic summit shot looking down at Spearhead
Nice prediction Aron
I was blessed because the recent snowfall was not enough to hinder my progress at all, and it enhanced the views tenfold.
Clouds began moving in during my descent, but none of them were threatening (just cooled off the temps a little bit). The eastern slopes of Mt. Orton made for an excellent glissade on my way back to Sandbeach Lake. When I ventured out of the trees back at the lake, I saw the first people that I'd seen all day and enjoyed a quick lunch before heading back down the 4.5 miles of trail to my car. I returned to my vehicle at 2:30 pm, plenty of time to make it home, shower, and catch my flight to California.