| Storm Pk / Mt Lady Washington
Last Sunday, I decided to hike up two 13ers, taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather. So, 6:40 in the morning, I'm at the Longs Peak trailhead, just south of Estes Park. The sun is just beginning to rise, and so I needed my flashlight for the first half hour as I hiked through the Goblins Forest. Fortunately, there were no goblins -- just a well-packed trail. My microspikes were perfect for the trail as it wound gently through the woods. There were numerous places where people had shortcutted the switchbacks through the woods, and if I had brought snowshoes I could have cut a little distance off of the trip -- but at the cost of increased weight. I made the right choice leaving the snowshoes in the car.
As I exited the woods, I got my first views of Mt Lady Washington, Longs Peak, and Mount Meeker. Trailfinding was challenging across the open expanse, as there were numerous rabbit-trails where people had taken their own creative routes. However, the goal was obvious, and whenever I lost the trail I just kept going until I reacquired it. The bulk of Mt Lady Washington was ahead, and the trail around its east face was easily visible as a ribbon of snow across it. I reached Chasm Junction with its nice view of the Diamond after two hours -- if there was time on the way back, I might go down to Chasm Lake. But for now, around Mt Lady Washington toward Granite Pass. There were a few small and hard snowfields on the east face. The trail crossed several of them. The snow was hard enough that it would have been slick with just boots, but with spikes it was an effortless walk. When I reached Granite Pass, I could see down toward the Glacier Gorge trailhead and was treated to a great view of a large swath of Rocky Mountain National Park. I was also treated to my first view of Storm Peak, its snow-covered slopes standing out sharply against the dry rocks of Mt Lady Washington. I continued on toward the Boulderfield, reaching it a little after 10am.
It had been a steady climb. The forecast of warm and sunny had never materialized, and the temperature stayed around 15-20 beneath overcast skies. Over Glacier Gorge to the west, snow was falling enthusiastically. It was blowing over the ridge onto Storm Peak as well, but only a few infrequent flakes made it to the Boulderfield, which was completely snow-free. Judging from the several feet of snow on Storm's slopes (image #1), I suspect this is actually a common weather pattern. But at least there had been no wind today.
From the Boulderfield, I cut across to gain the north ridge of Storm Peak -- it had less snow on it than the east face. I had never been to the Boulderfield before, and it is an amazing place. Thousands of large boulders lying everywhere, covered with lichens and moss in all shades of reds and oranges and yellows and blues and greens and browns. Amazing. And so I began the ascent of Storm Peak. Where I had to cross the snow wasn't that big of a deal... it supported my weight, until...
Apparently, as the wind had blown the snow over the ridge from Glacier Gorge, there were open air pockets which formed leeward of some large rocks. The snow eventually filled in over these pockets, but the thinner surface was not sufficient to hold my weight. One second I'm doing fine, the next I'm post-holed up to my crotch, with one leg hanging in open space beneath the snow and the other splayed out sideways. Ouch. It's not nearly as much fun as it sounds like it should be. After doing this twice (what can I say, I'm a slow learner), I was much more careful picking my route up the slopes. But I would swear this mountain is playing games with me. The more I climb, the further away the summit appears. Must just be an optical illusion, but still it feels that way. Plus, it is snowing lightly but steadily.
Finally I gain the north ridge, and am greeted to an amazing view of the world of Glacier Gorge about 3000 feet below. It was absolutely breath-taking. And so was the blast of snow-filled wind which nearly knocked me over. But now I had a choice... the occassional snowfields of the eastern edge of the ridge, or the blasted clear rocks of the western edge of the ridge, but with the heavy wind and blowing snow. I generally stayed on the eastern side where I could pick a route along the rocks, only venturing into the wind when there was no other good option. Finally, at 11:40, I gained the summit of Storm Peak. A hard-earned summit, but the breath-taking views of Glacier Gorge were totally worth it. I usually don't linger on summits, but I lingered up here for a while just taking it in (images #2 and #3). This is why I like to climb mountains.
OK, so now it's time for the descent. I decided to go down the snow-covered east face, using a classic five-point stance (two hands, two feet, and a rear). With the spikes, I had good traction, so I basically stepped myself down, sliding to prevent the post-holing problem. Very quick, very easy, pretty fun. I ended up high on the Boulderfield, with great views of the Keyhole and the North Face of Longs.
A quick trek across the boulders, and now Mt Lady Washington awaits. After Storm, this is a straight-forward climb up the boulder-strewn south-eastern slope. In hindsight, I should have gone back toward the center of the Boulderfield, because I did not choose the easiest route up by any means, but it was some fun class 2+ climbing, and I was having a fun time. At 1:40, I have reached the summit, with its stunning views of the Diamond (image #4), and great views back east toward Denver and north toward Estes Park.
I descended via the north ridge -- much easier -- and rejoined the trail. I reached Chasm Junction at 3:20 -- too late to make the short trip down to Chasm Lake -- and made it back to the trailhead at 4:40. A ten-hour hike, but two 13ers and some amazing views as my reward.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):