| Never Summers mega traverse
August 25, 2012
Carpool loop from Lake Agnes trail head to Cameron Pass while summiting the following high points:
Mt. Richthofen - 12940'
Static Peak - 12572'
"The Electrode" - 12018'
Lulu Mountain - 12228'
Thunder Mountain - 12060'
Iron Mountain - 12265'
I didn't even count the total elevation gain on our trip, but it felt like a LOT.
Well, what a great Saturday. At the time I was thinking... ah 12ers, what scenery do they hold that 13ers & 14ers wouldn't? But this part of the state was definitely a satisfying surprise. A place to escape the general crowds & be on mountains that show no sign of erosion from human trampling, what better pick than the Never Summers?
Two weekends ago I met a new friend (T-Dawg) & his partner while solo-climbing in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. After getting to know him & realizing that we both went to the same school around the same time period, we agreed to meet up again & decided at the last second to take a venture into the northern fringe of the Never Summers. He had a route planned out, one that would span roughly 10 miles & include over eight ranked summits, something that made me wonder if I was able to physically do it. But I had no hesitation to the idea, as I had always been curious about the area myself after passing several times over Cameron Pass. Two of the peaks on his list had always held my appeal, Lulu & Richthofen, both which seemed quite far away to both do in the same day at the time when I last gazed them.
We agreed to meet up at Ted's Place, the Shell station at the intersection of US-287 & CO-14 north of Fort Collins.
Approaching Cameron Pass where I parked & carpooledFrom there, we drove separately towards Cameron Pass where I parked & joined him as he headed for the trailhead parking area (day fee of $7.00) for Lake Agnes at the base of the impressive Nokhu Crags. It was my first time I had ever been to this area in the summer, so the perspective of the landscape was quite different & not full of white powder like times past. We decided to venture to the higher terrain first before taking the gentler mountains back to my vehicle since we knew we would be tired from all the hiking & appreciate gentler slopes. From the maps, contours signaled it was quite steep & rugged in the Mt. Richthofen area, which was obvious from the road descending Cameron Pass facing the impressive Nokhu Crags. The time was around 8AM when we started, quickly gaining elevation before arriving at Lake Agnes, which looked like it had reduced in size from this year's lack of precip.
Past the lake, it was cutting along the scree slopes below the crags & into a trail-less gully up boulders & scree to the saddle between Richthofen & Mahler. Mahler seemed like a good side peak, but due to lack of time, we kept onwards towards Mt. Richthofen. I felt pretty energized the more we climbed towards the high point of the Never Summers. The rock had a slight rotten feel to it, w/ plenty of gravelly scree climbing to encounter past the saddle. There was a faint trail that led the way, following along the ridge to the somewhat broad summit. Phenomenal views & hardly a cloud in the sky. Not as hazy from the fires as it could've been in days past, Longs Peak had a distinct backdrop amidst the rest of the Front Range. Further north, one could see Clark Peak & the rest of the Medicine Bow Mountains, which terminated as far south as the Diamond Peaks. Tree line here is a good thousand feet lower than further south.
Ascending the rocky gully towards the saddle. The summit of Richthofen is just right of the vertical crags & left of the saddle
Looking down towards Lake Agnes & the southern tail of the Medicine Bow Mountains from halfway to the saddle
View south from the saddle of the Never Summers
Mahler from high above the saddle
T-Dawg performing a summit handstand atop Mt. Richthofen
From the summit, it was pretty clear to follow the ridge over to Static, from which we could see a noticeable cairn at the top. The terrain seemed more rugged from this perspective, almost serrated & gullied like typical granite mountains in the West Elks. The ridge however was a piece of cake, involving one small in-between hill & a quick climb to the top of Static Peak, where we were greeted w/ an overwhelming view of Snow Lake nearly 1,000 feet below as well as the Michigan Lakes below that. The ridge we would descent from Static was visible only for a certain length before it was unknown whether the terrain abruptly dropped or gently cascaded down.
Traversing to Static
Richthofen from Static's summit
Static was one of my favorites, simply because the scenery was unexpected. What was more spectacular was the drop-offs as we began our descent down its curved ridge, some of them appearing to be slight overhangs.
Dramatic cliff faces, like being in the Wind RiversWhat was flat loose rocks soon became a series of scrambling slabs over a knife edge. From here, the Nokhu Crags began to stick out on the ridge nearby, several immense gaps that blocked an easy ascent up one of the high spires. Nokhu was never on our climbing list, but it sure was a site to see, & no matter which peak we made it to, it always stuck out in amazing beauty no matter the perspective.
Descending the ridge from Static high above Snow Lake
T-Dawg far below me
After the fun scrambling, we picked a route to descend to get to a pass that connected to our third summit, which had an unofficial name of "The Electrode".
False summit of The ElectrodeSome slipping & sliding while avoiding detested high alpine thistles, we combed our way to the pass & began a slow trudge up pointy rotten volcanic rock, making several Class 4 maneuvers around large outcroppings before reaching a vantage point that showed a gentle grassy plain leading to the true summit of the 12,018 foot ranked summit.
From this highest spire viewing the final push up The ElectrodeFrom here, we saw the awesome terrain we had accomplished behind us, & yet the long trudge of rounded gentle summits that still lay ahead. Up ahead past The Electrode was Thunder Pass, a prominent pass for hikers entering or leaving Rocky Mountain National Park.
Richthofen, Static, & Nokhu from The Electrode
Following the ridge towards Thunder Pass & Lulu MountainThe near 1,000 foot ascent from the pass to the summit of Lulu Mountain was something I wasn't looking forward to, since it appeared like an uneventful climb that would expend the rest of my energy.
We arrived at Thunder Pass after a gradual climb down at the boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park. The wind started picking up here & we quickly ate while watching two other hikers who came from the Michigan Lakes Basin make their ascent up.
Thunder Pass, facing our near thousand foot gainBefore long, we were up & ready, and T-Dawg led the way. It was this halfway point in the trip where I was starting to feel myself trudging behind. Just these kind of peaks, where it seemed to be more like a rounded tall hill - these were always the hardest for me to climb, mentally. A trail was visible here and there, but it was hard to find any definite path to the top.
I eventually made it to the summit of Lulu from where I was able to see more features in Rocky Mountain National Park. Nearby was Trail Ridge Road at the visitor center, packed w/ vehicles of course.
Summit of Lulu
Visitor center along Trail Ridge Road was visible across the valley
Static & Nokhu Crags. The crags have a Crestone appearance to them from this angleLongs Peak had its distinct topaz crystal-shaped appearance in the background & the haze cleared up making Ethel & Zirkel visible to the west in the Park Range. I could even see as far south as what looked like Grays & Torreys (Torreys in front of Grays) as well as the lone 13ers south of Dillon/Frisco/Silverthorne.
The traverse from Lulu to Thunder Mountain seemed like a distance away, and one of the other guys who summitted commented that he would be watching us make the next summit from far away 'w/ his binoculars'. In fact, we saw them still up at the top by the time we had traversed over the Thunder. The summit of both peaks, as I later found out, seemed to be of the same material, a type of white rhyolite w/ distinctly small but sparkly plagioclase? crystals. None of the peaks we climbed had the typical granite matrix.
"Unexciting" traverse to Thunder
Thunder seemed to be a flat summit like Lulu, a climb over grassy terrain mixed w/ small pebbly material. Every peak so far had a cairn outcropping w/ some having summit registers while others did not. Thunder lacked a summit register, but T-Dawg placed a new one. With the two other hikers still behind on Lulu, I managed to catch a glimpse of two other hikers far away at the summit of Richthofen.
Summit of Thunder. Red is what we accomplished, yellow is what was left
While testing my GPS, we identified Iron Mountain (our next summit) to be 1.5 miles away, which seemed like a grueling hike considering it appeared one had to climb straight up the center of the mountain w/ no other pleasant options. The flat plains mixed w/ small conifers seemed to be a graceful climb up until the terrain got steep.
The descent from Thunder was fun. It was a long flat plain that one could run straight down. I started doing that until I landed wrong & decided to speed walk down instead. Iron Mountain was probably the most grueling hike of all, just because I was spent & not ready to face such a pile of gravel & misery. But I was nowhere near giving up, as it sounded like not too many people did such a traverse that we were doing. Eight peaks w/ seven of them ranked, this was sure to be worth it in the end.
Following the gentle terrain towards Iron Mountain
When the terrain got steep, this section became a chore to climb. If one had ever climbed a cinder cone before w/o a trail to go up it, this is what it felt like. One step up followed by sliding down half a foot. Getting on all fours and letting gravel fill up inside your shoes w/ each step. But eventually I got to a false summit before seeing my final ascent up this loose knoll. And before long, we were atop Iron Mountain, the final peak before we veered westwards towards Cameron Pass where my car was.
Iron Mountain summit facing southwest
Longs Peak from Iron MountainTwo unnamed peaks were left to go.
Beyond that, it was ridge walking. A descent down on gentle terrain followed by a climb up to the next peak, unnamed Point 12,060. We did find a summit register, a small notepad placed in the cairn nearly 21 years ago. T-Dawg noted that the terrain up here reminded him of the San Juans, w/ high plateau peaks & abrupt drop-offs on the sides. The south side of Pt. 12,060 fell dramatically w/ some unique spires & formations.
Broad summit of Pt. 12060
Notepad had been sitting atop the summit for over 21 years
One more broad summit beyond that, a peak w/ a benchmark elevation of 11,359 feet, not an official summit.
Atop Pt. 11359Two ponds were visible descending on the left side, but they weren't anywhere along our path. A broad plain that soon came to the abrupt treeline, we soon began our bushwhack down to CO-14. I kept the GPS in line to where I was parked as we eventually made it right at the pass. We stopped at the creek briefly right before the parking area while T-Dawg had to clear his socks after finding them infested w/ pokey needles from an understory plant that we brushed against on the lower elevations.
T-Dawg's socks were covered w/ this prickly seedWe weren't sure what the plant was, but it definitely hurt like hell after I found them stuck on my shoes as well.
It was about 6PM when we arrived after a long day of doing an incredible traverse. Never thought in my lifetime I'd be doing anything like that. I was grateful to get two of the peaks completed, ones I had eyed for a long time, but I was nowhere near the traverse mountaineer T-Dawg was - I consider myself more of an alpine photographer than alpine climber. It was a rewarding day nonetheless, & it honestly felt more like a 15 mile hike was completed than 10. After driving T-Dawg back to the trailhead for Lake Agnes, we soon made our way out of the area & drove in the dark down to Breckenridge where we decided to sleep in our cars to get some rest near Alma. After that, we spent Sunday hiking a few 13ers in the Mosquitos. We probably could've climbed more & done a traverse though my right knee & feet had been bothering me from yesterday that I felt like I had no grip or cooperation whatsoever w/ the terrain. I really hated feeling like the trudging cop out since I lived to be in this high terrain enjoying it while I was still physically able. It also was a questionable day weather-wise, though the storms didn't seem to come amidst the continuous cloud buildup. But the Mosquitos - most of you have been up in those hills that you know what they look & feel like that photos aren't necessary.
Our grand traverse from car to car!
Well, this trip report may sound a little dull & uneventful as I'm writing this in haste, however it is a different part of the Centennial State I haven't seen too many reports about. The Never Summers are worth a visit if you haven't already, particularly at least to climb Richthofen & traverse down from Static, or even simply to visit Snow Lake, which we did not do. Not many people do the flat northern traverse from Iron Mountain to Cameron Pass, as is evident by the one summit register placed over 21 years ago. Winter was usually the time period I visit Cameron Pass, so Never Summers is definitely the more fitting name during that time. This visit however was warm & windy. One day soon, I'll be back again, maybe to take on some of the cloud named peaks (Cirrus, Nimbus, etc.).
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):