Sunday, November 18, 2012

Battle Mountain - Storm Pass - Estes Cone

I needed to make up for the disappointment of yesterday - on a beautiful morning at South Mesa I wanted to scale South Boulder Peak and Bear Mountain but the seasonal raptor closure is much more aggressive this year and all trails to both mountains are closed. I was annoyed. I completed a short 8 mile loop to North Shannahan, and although it is a great trail system I felt that it was a wasted opportunity to get some altitude.
A deserted Long's Peak parking lot

Pulling into the Long's Peak trailhead in the early sunlight this morning I aimed to make amends. But even today...on my bigger objective...I was thwarted, and the day was only recovered by some adjustment to my schedule. I know it's the middle of winter in the high mountains, but I thought, after the pleasant temperatures yesterday, that I might be able to make it to Chasm Lake at around 11,800 feet. But although the sunlight was streaming onto the lower slopes the outlook wasn't great. The first clue was the snow storm that started while driving through Allenspark. It wasn't quite "whiteout" but the roads had an inch of quickly accumulating snow and the cloud was low over the mountains. I could see huge plumes of spindrift being blasted into the air with the high level winds.
Approaching the tree line with the wind picking up

It was below zero as I geared up but it didn't feel that cold. The snow was swirling around the car and the lot was deserted. The snow cover on the lower trail concealed sections of thick ice and I jogged slowly to avoid getting upended. It was a little surreal - the sun was shining low and brightly from the east yet the snowstorm was raging. It was a pretty outlook as I gained altitude through the trees, passed Goblin's Forest campsite (absolutely no tents there) and then reached the point where the trail heads south as it breaks out of the tree line. It was here that the wind really picked up and I realized just how much shelter the forrest had afforded.
Twin Sister obscured by snow

I surprised a mountain hare. I almost stepped on it by the trail and it shot off too quickly for me to get out my camera. Apart from the occasional alpine Marmot that was about it for wildlife. It was now getting difficult to see, and I had forgotten to bring my glacier glasses. The snow and ice were peppering my face and it was stinging. I pulled down my hat and raised my neckscarf. I didn't feel too cold, but I didn't want to slow down and get cold. The temperature gauge on my sac showed -4F (about -22C) and there was no point trying to drink water. The section up to the Battle Mountain trail junction was just brutal. The wind picked me up at one point and blew me into a prickly patch of krummholz - with Chasm Lake above the cloud level and another 1000 feet higher and 1.6 miles away I quickly rethought my options.
A brief glimpse of Mount Lady Washington with Chasm Lake in the depression to the left

I didn't want to go straight back to the car, but when planning this trip I also considered the Estes Cone trail from Lily Lake. I knew there was a connector trail from near the Long's Peak trailhead that joined this route at Storm Pass - maybe that would save the day. At 11,000 feet I had always wanted to climb Estes Cone but it looked too short a trip just on its own. With me already having about 5 miles under my belt this might be a good time for the ascent. The other attraction to the Cone was that it was bathed in sunlight, and although it would still be windy maybe the snow wouldn't be as heavy in the air or thick on the ground. It was worth a try.
Sheltering from wind just below Battle Mountain
The descent back to the trail split seemed to go quickly. It is great fun running quickly on a snow packed surface and once down below the tree line I was no longer being battered by the wind. I passed a couple of parties who were bravely heading uphill - they looked well-equipped but were making heavy weather of the terrain.
Estes Cone in sunlight

Rocky scramble to summit ridge
On the summit with what should be Long's Peak behind me 
The connector trail to Storm Pass breaks north only 0.6 miles from the Long's Peak trail head and it was hard adjusting from running quickly downhill to applying effort on a rising trail. I quickly got back into rhythm and was passing the Eugenia Gold Mine in no time. Another mile and I was at the Storm Pass junction. It was a calm place, despite its name, and although the snow was still falling it was only light and I began the final 0.7 miles and 1000 feet to the summit. This was hard work. Only short sections are runnable because most of the trail requires high stepping on large boulders and blocks. I was blowing hard when I reached the summit. It is a lofty place with steep crags on all sides. To attain the summit proper requires some basic rock scrambling up a steep icy gully. I quickly skipped up and was whipped by the wind on the summit block and ridge.
Lily Lake on the right and Estes Park in the middle distance through the snow

The snow made visibility difficult but an occasional lull brought Estes Park and Lumpy Ridge into view and I had a hazy view of Lily Lake 5 miles below. The high mountains were completely obscured by cloud and snow. I messed around taking a few photos then retraced my route to Storm Pass and then back to the car. There were a few more folk near Eugenia Mine and on the trail but I quickly ran by and was a little disappointed it was over so quickly. The trailhead parking lot had about 10 cars and the snow cover of early this morning had now melted. It was about 38 degrees...almost tee shirt weather.
Estes Cone from Long's Peak trailhead

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