Day 5: July26th
Kory recovered Brice's camera the next morning. He saved many great pictures. Today involved continuing up the East inlet trail to Lake Verna, Lake Spirit Lake, and Fourth Lake. After Spirit Lake the trail is no longer maintained and required avoiding down trees and large brush. It is well worth the extra effort to see forth lake. Fifth lake is supposed to be great, but we avoided the long hall up it to make it over our pass before afternoon storms. The lakes were absolutely breath taking and had plenty of fish which we used for a afternoon meal (avoid the Greenback Cutthroat Trout as it is an endangered species being reintroduced). We all had access to GPS units which we decided not to bring because of weight. Bad idea at this point. Boulder- Grand Pass is North East of Forth lake up a very steep bushwhack. It is difficult to know where you are and whether you are headed in the right direction. I brought a compass which I managed to crack on day two. It worked still but not with any stability. As you walk it would bounce all over. Not good. I also made Brice and Kory backtrack with me to the north west corner of Forth Lake to be sure of where we were. I felt we went too far north before veering left. After making it to the flat section that leads to the pass, I realized we were on track and I made us backtrack for nothing. Sorry guys...
The view from the pass was incredible. I wasn't able to enjoy the view much though because I did not know how to get off the pass to the east side of the Continental divide. To the left was a steep drop off that appeared to be around a 60 degree angle with snow. No Crampons, no ice axe, and that angle... No way!! We finally found a cairn to the far left of the pass that led down a steep gully (it wasn't that steep after the first 30 feet down or so, but the beginning was a little terrifying though especially when we didn't have clear instruction on where to down climb. Thanks Backpacker.com. Now I know why the ranger's in the park don;t care for you). At the bottom of the gully was Lake of Many Winds and Falcon Lake which were both lifeless. We went around the south side of Lake of Many Winds to begin a descent to Thunder Lake where our next camp spot was. The National Geographic TOPO map does not clearly show where the sites are. You must go east of Thunder Lake and part way up the Thunder Lake trail. These sites are well off the lake, but still had water access from a creek flowing to the lake. We all downed full two serving Mountain House meals each before sleeping. This was the first night we did not encounter rain. How about that? We get to Thunder Lake and and avoid thunder and rain.
Solitaire campsite after rain
Not cool fox, get your own coffee
Lone Pine Lake, where Brice dropped camera
Kory recovers camera in the morning
Bushwhack up to Boulder- Grand Pass
Look at Boulder- Grand Pass, still 45 minutes away
View of Longs Peak from the Pass
Gully to Lake of Many Winds
Look back up gully
Panorama of Lake of Many Winds
Day 6 would take us from Thunder Lake to Lion Lake number 1. We had two options here: go down Thunder Lake Trail 1.4 miles and back up Lion Lake Trail 2.2 miles to gain the lake or bushwhack with our broken compass east to the Lion Lake Trail avoiding a descent just to reclimb. We decided to bushwhack and got to the Lion Lake trail fairly quickly and had roughly a mile hike to the lake from there. The lake does not have many trees around it at its altitude. It began to rain with thunder and lightning. We quickly took cover back in the tallest trees we could and waiting for the 20 minute storm to pass. The next part of the day was a little tricky. The Grand Loop trip on Backpacker.com takes you over the North Ridge that connects Cheif's Head Peak and Pagoda Mountain to Mt. Orton. We found three spots that could be possible climbs. We took what we felt was the easiest and I truly believe this is where Backpacker.com intended you to go. I have pictures below if anyone wants to attempt this. This climb up this gully began with solid rock and quickly turned to loose dirt and rock. There are several points were hand holds or foot holds would slide. Try to have four points of contact while gaining the North Ridge. When finally getting to the top of the ridge we found an unexpected plateau that you could have had a football stadium on. It would be easy to bag Mt. Orton from here, but we wanted to get rest for our much anticipated climb up Keplinger's Couloir to gain our summit of Longs Peak. You are required to camp in tree line here to avoid killing alpine tundra. We found a nice flat spot and got rained on again.
I know personally I got very little sleep. It continued to rain and the wind would howl with huge gusts all night. I was already nervous as my last class 3 climb scared the crap out of me. All night I wondered what we would do if the weather continued like this. The 14er jitters were killing me. I consulted with my partners the next morning to find they felt the same way all night.
Thunder Lake and Boulder- Grand Pass
Lion Lake No. 1
Where we started to climb the North Ridge
Gully to North Ridge
Getting a little more technical
Where is the football game at? This thing is huge
Oh boy. I have to climb that tomorrow. Nervous as ...
Wet Bushes that soaked all of us
This is where my apologies go out to the 14ers.com group. Day 7 is the only day we climbed a fourteener. So this might be where most of you would have wanted to start reading. So I am sorry if the rest of the trip report bored you.
We were all very nervous about this climb. Brice and I scared ourselves out of doing a class three until this point after doing Snowmass in Aspen. Kory did not finish Snowmass with us so this would be his first class three. He seemed to be fearless through the whole climb however. I used 14er.com and Summitpost.com information to complete Kelpinger's.
The beginning of the climb was very easy. We tried to stay on the bigger more stable rocks. As you turn right at the Y in the Couloir things began to get much more difficult with exposed moves that made me rethink why I chose this route, but climbing Longs on a Saturday, I wanted to avoid the crowds which we did. This route would have been much better without the extra 35-40 lbs of gear on our backs. There were only two times where we did take them off to do a class 3/4 move and then hand the bags up or down. We summited with about 15 other people which I hear is not to bad for Longs on a Saturday. There were many people that you could tell did not belong on this mountain including inexperienced hikers/ climbers to a wife that could barely descend the homestretch out of fear. At two points we witnessed two parties in a group make jumping moves on the narrows from a high section to a low section. Both instances turned out to not be deadly by about 1 foot. I wish more people would be educated about the difficulty of this climb before setting out. I guess that goes back to the park rangertrying to talk us out of the trip. I am going to let the pictures tell the rest of the story for this day. We camped in the Boulder Brook Campsite #1 after our descent and fell asleep worn out at 8pm.
Start of Keplinger's
Brice and Kory climbing Keplinger's
Whoa, that's a long ways down
Brice on a exposed section being very cautious
Homestretch, watch for people being stupid
SUMMIT! And yes no boots, they were drying from our constant rain
Time to move slow and careful
Are we to the Keyhole yet?
Longs Peak gets storm clouds after descent
We woke early on day 8. I think we all had enough of camping and hiking even though the trip was very rewarding. Our hike out to the Bierstadt Lake Trail Head was only about two miles and we took the free shuttle bus back to Bear Lake Trailhead. We ate enough McDonalds in Estes Park to kill a small horse.
Bus ride back to Bear Lake, our fastest pace in a week
Thank you for taking the time to read our report. I hope other may enjoy this trip and anyone is welcome to email me with questions regarding route finding. I apologize for the lack of beta.