| Mt. Meeker via Iron Gates
Peak: Mt. Meeker (13,911')
Date: Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Route: Longs Peak Trailhead, Chasm Turnoff to Iron Gates
Roundtrip: ~10 miles
This is my first TR in a while, so forgive my absence. I do a lot of hiking but (now) figure I should be posting routes that have a bit less beta, or for one reason or another, were extremely memorable and offer something to the 14ers.com community. Hopefully this helps someone out.
I left Denver at 3am and arrived at the Longs Peak TH around 4:20am since the traffic was still asleep. This would be my first big hike without skinning (splitboard) since I dislocated my patella playing basketball in February. Skinning is so much easier on the knees compared to hiking.
Register signed at 4:27am and I was off, part delirious and part excited at the day ahead. I have mixed emotions about this trail, being that it was the holy grail during family vacations when I was younger and gave me many epic days as a youngster. After a long day on this trail those last 2 miles seem like 4.
The trek through the night was uneventful and as I broke above the trees first glow crept in on the day. The wind did, too. From here on out there would be a consistent 5-15mph wind. Later in the day on Meeker's ridge, gusts were easily in the 20+ mph range, sucking energy at times.
I saw one person ahead in the distance (keep in mind this was a week day) and never anyone behind me. Certainly breaking away to the Chasm trail assured less traffic. I took a break past the junction at about 6:15 and assessed the Gates in the distance. The views were clear this morning and aside from the wind, conditions were great, too.
Once you pass the ranger station and privy you can shoot straight up the loose rock or choose to head towards the Loft and follow a faint hikers trail. I chose to do this, so a small snowfield needed crossing and then I was up a level and able to assess the Gates even closer. At this point I aimed right down the middle and headed up.
The climb can be summed up as relentless boulder hoping with some loose stuff mixed in. It's not hard, nor technical, just arduous. What kept me going were the amazing sights of Chasm and Longs from an angle I hadn't witnessed before. Working through 12-13k feet, the air starts to get thin here as well.
As I approached the saddle, I was on the lookout for Class 3 scrambling I'd read a lot about, but ultimately didn't find much. If you keep to hiker's left, you make only a few moves I would consider Class 3. It seems you would need to be hunting for these moves further right, which is unnecessary.
Once atop the saddle (~8:30am), views towards Wild Basin came into focus, as did the sharp ridge winds. I recall seeing one additional hiker ahead of me in the register at the trailhead mentioning a Meeker Ridge route, but I never saw him (ultimately he had turned back and returned to the trailhead at 11am).
Not knowing what to expect, I stuck to the ridge proper most of the way, traversing north and south depending goon the location, but always sticking close to the top. In hindsight, I did extra work as multiple false high points roll up and down. More on this later.
The ridge scramble was a bit mundane and long. It was probably the wind, my legs, and the altitude, but I was beginning to lose high spirits. I wanted to see the knife edge though, and since time or weather wasn't an issue, I pressed on. Approaching the knife I wasn't let down. While I would have preferred a partner at that particular moment, the moves required to get through this section were both thrilling and intimidating with wind whipping up both sides.
I recall looking up at Longs and seeing a few ants standing on top, wondering if they were pointing at the crazy guy on the knife edge. Tricky Class 3 moves is what it came down to, and if you aren't mentally prepared it can be a bit spooky. I haven't been on Capital, but it reminded me of a longer Kelso Ridge knife edge. A few more holds, but longer time with air below your butt.
The final scramble to the summit was uneventful. The summit register was busted so there was nothing to sign (bummer). Views were great but the wind wasn't letting down on this day so my 10 minutes went quickly before I headed down.
The route back was similar, but from above you can more clearly see the descending ridge and, more importantly, ways to stay off the ridge proper and save yourself from unwanted gains. After scooting back across the knife edge I petered hiker's left and avoided much of the fluctuations, then at some point, flipped to hiker's right (south side) and did the same until I reached the Gates. This photo shows the Gates in the distance on the left, and ways to avoid the high points:
I should note that it seemed a bit tricky finding the Gates. I found myself scrambling back up to the ridge a time or two and peering over to make sure I didn't go too far. There is a cairn (now) in place that will hopefully help some folks. Once down through the saddle it became a tough-on-the-knees loose rock fest. Wasn't a fun bit at all. I swerved a bit west to avoid some of the steepest slope, but lose rock was everywhere.
Once back towards Chasm, the trail levels out and all is well. Unfortunately for me, I postholed on the snowfield crossing past Chasm on the way out, successfully tweaking my bad knee. I haven't seen the field this filled in, this late in the season, for a long time. Be careful out there as weak spots are hard to see. For me it made for a slow and a bit painful hike out.
I arrived at the trailhead at 2:15pm, 15 minutes after my estimated return. I was hiking moderately paced overall, but it was a good idea to get started early. Looking back, it was great being out there and nice to visit Longs' sister, but the gain was a lot and the knee soreness made my hike out a bit tough. Mother nature is a beast, though, and we all know that, so I was glad to enjoy the good with the bad! And on a week day. Cheers.
Yellow = up, Red = down (approximate)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):