Peak(s):  St. Vrain Mountain - 12,162 feet
Meadow Mountain - 11,632 feet
Thunder Peak - 10,134 feet
Post Date:  11/29/2012
Modified:  03/02/2014
Date Climbed:   11/25/2012
Posted By:  kimo

 Small Gems in the Park  

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.
—John Muir

On the Mount St. Vrain Trail.

"Thunder Peak" (UN10134)

Elevation and rank: 10,134 feet, 84th highest in RMNP
Trailhead and elevation: East Portal, 8,275 feet
Round trip distance: Approx. 4 miles
Vertical gain: Approx. 2,000 feet
Climb date: November 24, 2012

Ascent route shown in red, descent shown in blue.

We take a look at Lisa Foster's guidebook before starting. There are too many words. The best advice we take from her guide is where to park: The East Portal Trailhead. From there we follow our instincts to the top of "Thunder Peak." Her book is great. But it's only a guide. Make your own adventure.

Captions on top of photos.

Pretty vacant: The East Portal Campground on a beautiful Thanksgiving weekend. We park outside the gate and start hiking.

Two prominent rock towers rise from the forest to our southeast. We aim for the saddle between them.

Our view is choked with trees. We continue up. And up.

We pass the Park boundary.

Drats. A cairn. We will find a few of these today, located in random spots around the forest.

Nature's curiosities.

We take a closer view at our objective. We continue towards the distant saddle.

This bushwack goes easy. We reach the saddle between the high rock towers.

We have now gained the northwest ridge of "Thunder Peak."

The landscape is stark.

Paolo and Francesca.

We cross over the ridge, onto the eastern slope.

We ascend steep talus to gain the ridge.

Surprise, surprise...we find someone's fresh boot print in snow. But we see no one the entire day.

The view from the ridge is spectacular. On the horizon is the Mummy Range.

We catch our first view of the summit, seen here in the distance.

We cross over the ridge and scamper to the right of the last prominent tower on the ridge.

Up, through trees.

Soon the trees give way to talus and the views expand.

From here, the high peaks of the Continental Divide spread out across the horizon.

We continue on.

It's not long before the true summit of "Thunder Peak" comes into view.

Anna scrambles up the northwest ridge direct.

I take a more conservative approach up the west face.

And together we meet on the summit.

The Mummy Range in the distance.

The register left here 10 years ago by some guy named Mike Garratt.

The view of Twin Sisters to the east. The clouds are fantastic today.

The summit is cold and gusty...our time on top is short. We start down the mountain after some laughs and a few minutes soaking it in.

We aim down towards the saddle with "Lightning Peak."

We scamper down the steep slope. "Lightning Peak" is across the valley. Nearly lost in the distant white wash is Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak.

Yes, I love 'shwacking.

We enter the land of tiny widow makers... fallen houses.

We scamper over and around the deadfall.

And after four miles of subtle gymnastics, we near the end...

...and find this horse corral and the Wind River Trail.

We cross the dam and call it good. As "Thunder Peak" catches the last rays of day, we walk into Ed's Cantina. Creamy queso, delicious fish tacos, and a couple satisfying Dales cap a great day in the hills.

St. Vrain Mountain and Meadow Mountain

St. Vrain Mountain elevation and rank: 12,162 feet, 53th highest in RMNP
Meadow Mountain elevation and rank: 11,632 feet, 65th highest in RMNP
Trailhead and elevation: Mount St. Vrain, 8,940 feet
Round trip distance: Approx. 9 miles
Vertical gain: Approx. 3,700 feet
Climb date: November 25, 2012

Ascent route shown in red, descent shown in blue.

We used Gerry Roach's IPW guidebook for this one. Think what you want of Gerry...I enjoy his writing. His advice is to drive to the Mount St. Vrain Trailhead and hike good trail from there. We take his suggestion...until we miss a switchback in the snow. From there it becomes our own adventure...

Captions on top of photos.

Drive to Allenspark and then turn right here: Ski Rd. 107.

The trailhead is up the road a few miles.

Partner in crime.

I quickly realize this would be a great autumn hike.

Through the trees.

I haven't visited the IPW since early June. It's been much too long.

We find cat tracks beside the trail.

The trail rises gradually.

The views open up.

Gnarly trees line the trail.

The snow coverage increases as we ascend.

We miss a switchback and begin to flounder in someone's "gumby" track. Smiles turn to obscenities in the sugar snow.

But soon enough the trees get smaller and Meadow Mountain comes into view. The dry trail can be seen at the base of the hill.

We break from trees.

We reach the top of unranked Pt. 11 479. St. Vrain Mountain rises another 700 feet above us.

We start for the summit of St. Vrain Mountain. The cities and plains expand behind us.

Over to our right is Longs Peak and friends.

We approach the summit.

Wind rips over the summit of St. Vrain Mountain. I estimate 30mph constant with higher gusts. The expansive views bring a sense of peace and tranquility to this charged environment.

We continue our hike over to the lower western summit.

The view from the western summit is one of the best in the Park.

To the west is Elk Tooth and Ogalalla Peak.

Copeland Mountain in nearby.

Across Wild Basin is Chiefs Head Peak...

...along with Pagoda Mountain and Longs Peak.

Wild Basin is vast and beautiful.

We turn back toward the higher eastern summit. The view seems to go on forever.

Our time on the summit has ended. We head down.

The shadows get long as we size up our next objective: Meadow Mountain.

We re-enter the Park on the Mount St. Vrain Trail. The view is sublime.

We approach Meadow Mountain at 4pm.

Longs Peak dominates the horizon to the north.

The diamond of St. Vrain Mountain.

We start up Meadow Mountain. The wind rips over the saddle.

A warm view betrayed by cold wind.

The talus grows larger and more rugged. We approach the summit...

...and circle the summit windblock making hardly a stop in the ripping wind.

The view of Longs Peak from the summit of Meadow Mountain.

The summit is not welcoming and so we head down.

We regain the trail at 4:40pm. I take one last look at the mountain and say thanks.

We sink into bliss.

The blending of day and night.

At first the change is subtle...

...and then the sky erupts in a cacaphony of color.

The delicious rapture lasts for only a moment...

...and we enter the forest by the light of the full moon.


  • Comments or Questions

Autumn hike indeed!     11/30/2012 13:02
I have been wanting to get back up there. I was in that area 2 or 3 times a couple years ago during winter. Perhaps you could do something with your pictures so that is doesn't look so beautiful and thus attract too many hikers! Thanks for the report/


Nice     11/30/2012 13:13
Great reports. Thanks for posting.


Awesome!     11/30/2012 14:19
As usual, great pictures and elegantly lyrical text.

I too found the summit of Meadow Mountain unwelcoming when I was up there, but boy does St Vrain have a lot to offer - moderate distance, all season appeal and that tremendous view. Someday I'll make it up there for a sunrise.


Some guy ...     11/30/2012 14:53
Yeah, I would guess that Mike G. would be amused. Just a beautiful trip report. I particularly, as you well know, like the late day photos on Meadow Mountain. I appreciate your patience in waiting around for the awesome lighting. I cannot wait to be able to hike again, and this trip report really makes me appreciate some of the lesser known goals in the area. Isn't it interesting to find boot prints or a cairn in the most isolated places? You've got some great lines ... ”we sink into bliss”; ”a warm view betrayed by cold wind” (been there, done that); ”smiles turn to obscenities”; ”the diamond of St. Vrain Mountain”. Thanks so much for posting. Nice to see your smiling companion ... she's a bright spot in your already entertaining gift to us. Happy trails!

Steve Knapp

Fun peaks     11/30/2012 17:00
Those are good ones, proving once again that some gems lie below 14 or 13k. I'm glad you are enjoying the Park Anna, one of my favorite places too. Great pics Kimo! Its always nice to be out in the dark on a peak with views onto the plains. All the twinkling lights makes a neat scene.


Great stuff!!     11/30/2012 17:13
Great way to spice up a boring day at work! Yes, the clouds looked especially super for highlighting the mountains. Nice ventricular clouds and gorgeous sunset pics! I will keep this route in mind next summer if I have a ”free” day in RMNP. Thanks for sharing your beautiful trip!


Thunder     11/30/2012 18:45
Havent made it up there yet, but im surprised that the bushwhacking on your ascent didnt look too bad. Good news

Dont remember the solar panel on Meadow when I was up there. Nice photos! I barely remember them from the pass between St Vrain and Meadow.


Great read     11/30/2012 21:02
Like Dan above, I too found the summit of Meadow an unwelcoming place when I was up there. Don't think I felt my toes for a week. Also, last time I was up towards Thunder/Lightning, there were signs scattered about warning of an aggressive lion in the area, any of those still around?

Thanks for the reminder that I need to head back up for St Vrain soon. Maybe next week.

Again, great write up. Lets get out soon.



Beautiful!     11/30/2012 21:16
Can't go wrong with RMNP! Great TR and I love your photography so much!


Derek     11/30/2012 21:54
Last year when I was walking along some of the trails near Lily Lake I saw a sign warning visitors about an aggressive raptor on the trail section between Wind River and Sprague Lake. I'm going to carry a club next time I'm around there...


Nice!     12/01/2012 04:55
Thanks for sharing this beauty with us, Kimo and Anna.


Sweet!     12/01/2012 13:43
Love that John Muir quote, as if I needed more bait to get sucked into this treat! Thanks for posting - such a great area, fantastic pics.
Carry on and thanks for sharing the journey!


RMNP goodness!!     12/01/2012 17:54
Did these 2 peaks end of October and I believe there was MORE snow then!! Gorgeous pictures! Anna, if you're just experiencing RMNP, you have some wonderful experiences ahead of you--Off-season, weekdays, venture more than 2 miles from any trailhead--it's a real paradise!

Doctor No

Very nice!     12/02/2012 02:21
My wife and I were on Twin Sisters that day - great views and cold winds.


Day and night     12/03/2012 22:24
Love the day in to night shots, as well as those views of Longs from Meadow Mtn.

And no RMNP report is complete without a trip to Ed's, no shots of the feast?


Your comments     12/06/2012 07:03
They are always nice to read. Thank you all.

Johnson - The Park is the kind of place where one would have to leave the lens cap on in order to take bad picture. I tried by wrecking my dslr the day before Thunder but my old unloved point and shoot came to the rescue.

mike_kadow - Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the kind comment.

DanR - I had the same thoughts about catching sunrise from St. Vrain someday. Her modest summit is a real diamond in the rough.

Presto - It's easy to find inspiration in a place like that, with a partner like Anna. We didn't wait around for good light, as luck would have it we just happened to find it. It's much too easy to sleep in and start late on bluebird days in autumn. Another bonus with late starts is catching the sunset, my favorite hour, from up high. And then walking out in the dark always makes a surreal and strangely exciting finish to another great day in the hills. Thanks...your comments are always nice to receive.

anna - You are right. Camera or eyes know a good thing when they see it. The holiday week was lovely in all ways. I look forward to our future adventures in the Park.

Steve Knapp - Anna and I laughed as we set out for Eagle Cliff Mountain on Thanksgiving Day; we talked that we were going to ”Knapperize” the park that weekend. Words are fun! Turns out we weren't so productive, but the places we did see were absolutely fantastic. Fun doubt about it. Real gems.

MtnHub - Mountains have a great way of making the work day just a bit more inspiring. But much better than work days are ”free days.” I'll think you'll be pretty pleased with the St. Vrain experience if you head up there next summer. As always, thanks for your kind comment.

ChrisRoberts - The bushwacking on Thunder is not bad at all. It's a lot of fun and well worth the effort, and the route is short enough to not be a drag. The solar panel and equipment are located in a fierce environment...I wonder how they will fare? That summit of Meadow Mtn is windy!


Continued...     12/06/2012 07:03
Derek - There were no warning signs for an aggressive lion. A couple years back, I was in Dave's talking with an old timer at the bar. She had lived in Estes for over 70 years. The conversation started with the rich history of Estes Park and eventually moved on to wildlife, and the animals she had seen in her own back yard on Fish Creek over the years. There seem to be a few cougars in that area, and they are known to make an appearance every now and then. Yes, we must get out soon.

SilverLynx - That's very kind of you. Glad you enjoyed it. I recall you like Longs. The mountain is beautiful from all sides, but the view from the south is a rarer treat well worth the effort to see.

Dancesatmoonrise - Glad you enjoyed it, Jim. The Park is a beautiful place.

sunny1 - Well that was a very nice thing to say, as you always do. Thanks for your kind comment. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

ctlee - RMNP has plenty of goodness to share. On any visit it quickly becomes obvious why the area was chosen to be protected and preserved as a national park. I could go on and on about the fantastic experiences I have enjoyed there over the years. Anna is in for a great time as she keeps heading back for more.

Doctor No - If comfortable with wind these were some great days to be in the Park. One of my most memorable wintry days was on Twin Sisters, where I reached the old building just below the summit but couldn't go any further because the cold wind was absolutely roaring.

jasayrevt - Glad you enjoyed the views. It truly is a special place. Thanks for your comment.

lordhelmut - That decadent feast wouldn't fit in a picture. But let's say that it did, and I had posted a photo. That would be like sharing the details of one's intimate life with the world. Yes, I know it's just food, but on that night, Ed's was that good. I think it was Van Gogh who said night is often more colorful than day. I'd have to agree.

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