| Into the Heart of RMNP
Who: Me, Chicago Transplant
What: Nakai Peak (ranked 1,191) and Snowdrift Peak (ranked 1,158 )
Where: RMNP, Tonahutu Creek
Why: It seemed like a good idea.
Friday 4/20 Pack in: 3.25 miles, 1,100 ft
We planned to meet at 8:00 at the park entrance on Friday night (or at least I thought). I pulled into a turnout just through the entrance and waited for Mike's car right on time, excited to get underway as we had decided to hike into the Sunset campsite if it appeared as dry as we thought. Sure enough, no snow, but no Mike either. Time passed and around 9:00 my phone rang.
MIke: "How much longer you got?"
Me: "I've been here an hour, what do you mean?"
Mike: "You've been where? I've been at the Visitor Center for the last hour."
Me: "Well, $&!t."
We dropped my car off at the Timber Creek TH just in case we decided to pull off the marathon of all marathons - an up and over along the Continental Divide. - in the "off-season" no less. Being the stubborn idiots we are, we hit the trail at 10:00 pm. I was cautiously optimistic that our absurd plans may actually come to fruition since we'd knock out a piece of the approach a night early and it seemed like it was going to be as dry as we had hoped. A couple of miles in, we hit Big Meadows and we were suddenly hit with the realization that we were WAY too optimistic with our plans. One step into the snow and "Doh!" I wish I had a picture of it, because the the look on Mike’s face while waist deep in snow and toting a full pack, in the middle of the night, was pretty funny. We strolled into where we thought the Sunset campsite would be based on the map and found nothing but downed timber and a small field just off the trail. Mike went up trail for a couple of minutes just to see if he could find anything and being unsuccessful, we decided to call it a night around 11:30 and figure out where we were in the morning.
Saturday 4/21 Nakai Peak: 6.0 miles, 3,300 ft. & Pack to Granite Falls Campsite: 2.0 miles, 500 ft.
We ignored our 6 am alarms and finally got up around 7:00 am. As we stepped out of our tent we found our campsite was not only right next to the trail, but also right on the shore of the creek. We packed everything up and hung it from a nearby tree and hauled our day packs up Nakai's southwest slopes, leaving our camp at 8:00 am. Basically, you leave the trail right where it takes a sharp turn to the south down to the creek and pick your line up. After crossing a large field, the slope is relatively steep but made for a nice hike.
Looking up Nakai's SW Slopes
Nakai's Summit from Treeline
We carried our snowshoes but never needed them. Once at tree line we topped out on a small rock outcropping with a great view of the remaining route to the summit.
Longs From Nakai
We had perfect weather and took our time making the summit. Moments later though, the forecasted 35 mph winds welcomed us at the summit. We sought shelter about 30 yards down the south ridge on some rocks where we could actually enjoy the clear April day.
L-R: Longs, Pagoda, Snowdrift, Alice, Taylor, Copeland, Isolation, etc...
Mike Descending from Nakai
The Never Summers
Richtofen (far right)
Zoom of Eagles Nest (photo by Mike)
Straightforward Bushwacking on the SW Slopes
The hike back was uneventful and we returned to our "campsite" at 1:30 pm.
One thing became apparent at the summit was that the upper valley was anything but dry and our intended camp at the Timberline campsite wasn't happening; which also meant that our grandiose up-and-over idea wasn't going to fly either. Since we were in no real hurry to go anywhere, we meandered up the trail trying to figure out where the highest place was to camp on a dry surface. Along the way, we found the Sunset Campsite about 1/2 mile farther up the trail than marked on the map and on the south side of the creek. There wasn’t any way would we have found it the previous night and it was socked in under snow anyways. Snowshoes weren't used until a footbridge crossing a creek between the Sunrise and Lower Granite Falls campsites on the map (this is also the last place we saw any signs of human tracks for the rest of the weekend). We hit Granite Falls a little farther up the trail which were quite impressive and definitely worth a day hike in the late spring, early summer if you are so inclined.
Granite Falls (Bottom Up)
Granite Falls (Top Down)
We spent a good half hour or so at the falls and made it to the upper Granite Falls campsite around 4:30. Beyond the site was a large field blanketed in thick snow so we figured this was going to be home for the night. We debated on whether or not Sprague/Stones would be feasible and, after deciding that a try for those would put us back to the car no earlier than 9:00 pm, we focused on Snowdrift.
Sunday 4/22 Snowdrift Peak: 9.8 miles, 3,200 ft & Pack Out: 5.25 miles 500 ft.
Alarm at 5:00 am, and on the "trail" by 6:00 am. We had no idea where the trail was but a fox seemed to have the right idea so we followed his tracks up the valley. That worked out perfectly well as we saw the signs for the campsites so we were actually on trail, for the most part. Around 8:00 am we found ourselves leaving tree line and we spotted the trail zigzagging toward Sprague Pass up to our left.
Mike reaches tree line below Sprague Pass
The climbing got a little steep for snowshoes so I put on my micro-spikes and kicked up to the trail where we stashed our shoes for the remainder of the climb. From our stash we improvised a snow climb bypassing the switchbacks as I was able to kick in enough to give Mike a safe staircase since he was sans traction device.
Straight up the snow to Sprague Pass
Snowdrift is kind of a pain in the neck to get to as we were still almost 2 miles away from the summit even though we were only 700 or 800 vertical feet below it. I thought we were in for some serious wallowing looking out on the expanse of white across Bighorn Flats, but luckily the snow was only a couple of inches deep.
Snowdrift from below Sprague Pass (still a ways to go)
Snowdrift from Bighorn Flats
Mike takes a breather w/ Nakai as the backdrop
Mike still not moving (the guy is pretty lazy) w/ Nakai as the backdrop
Snowdrift from atop the first false summit
Once at the saddle, the climb up the ridge is straightforward enough. No real surprises to be had except for a cornice on the final ridge that we bypassed by swinging around to the south of the summit. Once on top, you realize that you truly are in the middle of the park. Incredible views were to be had in all directions, Longs was probably most impressive but we enjoyed playing name that peak to our south looking out towards the IPW. We sat and enjoyed the perfect morning as we barely felt a breath of wind up there.
North Inlet 12ers from Snowdrift
Longs, Pagoda, Taylor from Snowdrift
Longs (photo by Mike)
Alice, Copeland, Isolation
South towards the IPW
Mike on Snowdrift (I let him pose)
Mike's shot of me. I wasn't warned, so the exhaustion on my face is evident.
Looking South off of Snowdrift
GORES! (photo by Mike)
Mike descending from Snowdrift
Nakai from the east
The hike back to our shoes was uneventful but the mileage, hot sun, and snow travel was really starting to take their toll on my energy and legs. I was dreading the snowshoe back to camp as the sun was really softening the snow. From the stash, we dropped into the upper Tonahutu drainage and while we took a more gentle descent to the west, we picked up our trail from the approach where the terrain starts to flatten and followed it back to camp. At this point I realized that this drainage was uphill in both directions. I need to make a mental note that if you gain (or lose) less than 500 feet per mile, snowshoeing sucks (even more than usual). Luckily, the snow was so wet that it was supporting our weight nicely (for the most part).
We made it back to camp around 2:00 and were back on the trail by 2:45. The pack out really wore on me. Family commitments and my five year-old daughter's social calendar have only granted me one summit so far in 2012 so I'm not quite in my best form yet. The trail back was an irritating mix of 40 yards of 2 foot snow drifts followed by 30 yards of dry trail. So, pick your poison: snowshoe on rock or post-hole with a full pack on your back. I bypassed everything I could by dropping into the boggy meadows as the snow took every ounce of energy out of me. It wasn’t ideal, but at least the ground was consistent – albeit soupy. The one very exciting part of the exit occurred about 10 minutes from the trailhead when we encountered a moose - my first in the wild.
A couple of minutes later, we saw an even rarer sight on this trip... a family hiking up the trail. After a brief interaction with the first humans we had seen for 48 hours, we were back to the car at 6:00 ending an incredible weekend of good company and enjoying experiencing an area of the park that few take the opportunity to, especially in early spring.
Unfortunately, we wouldn't have time to enjoy a sit down meal as I was in a hurry to get home for my kids' bedtime. Once in Idaho Springs, it took all the strength I could muster to not get violent in the Carl’s Jr. drive thru line as it took 10 minutes to fill some guys' order in front of me – being between me and my post-climb meal is not a safe place to be. I settled for a couple 6 Dollar Burgers, large fries, and a vat of fruit punch since I am trying to lose weight. The grease bomb(s) quickly took the edge off, but I found it to be quite difficult to negotiate Floyd Hill while trying to eat a Guacamole/Bacon Burger.
Thanks for reading.
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