| First Solo - Meeker via Iron Gates
After hiking Twin Sisters with some friends the weekend before (6/30) and getting some great views of Meeker-Longs, I got the itch to head up there for a hike. Since I have loose plans this summer to hike Longs peak with some other people, I decided against that mountain (plus I've done it before). I had also heard that the Narrows on the keyhole route were a bit iffy (snow), and didn't really want to take the risk of giving up that close to the summit.
I thought Meeker would be a good alternative; it is nearly a 14er, is significantly shorter than the Keyhole route, and I'd never been up there. From Twin Sisters the weekend before, the Loft Couloir looked a bit snowy, and since I don't own an crampons or an ice axe, I decided to try the Iron Gates route in the hopes that it would be more clear (plus I'd always wanted to do that route since first reading a TR months ago). All of my friends were either out of town or unwilling/incapable of going so I planned a solo attempt. Despite the fact that I wouldn't have anyone to share the summit with; I was excited to try a high altitude hike by myself.
I arrived at the East Long's trailhead around 4:15am, and started hiking at 4:30. While I knew the most dangerous part of my hike would be Meeker ridge, I couldn't help but fear the imaginary mountain lions/etc stalking me in the forest on the way up. With no one around and nothing but an LED headlamp; it's surprisingly spooky to be in a dark forest, even on a well traveled trail like this one.
A short time later, I exited the trees and got my first view of the mountains ahead:
I was moving at a good pace and reached Chasm Lake around 6am (1.5 hours). The view of the diamond at sunrise was phenomenal:
At this point the easy part of the hike was over; I now had to gain 2000 feet in just a couple of miles. The slope leading up the gates was a good workout, but overall was a pretty pleasant class 2ish walk. I was very happy to see it completely clear of snow. A couple of times I got caught in some smaller scree that wasted a bit of energy (the ground would just swallow up my foot and slide down under me), but sticking to the larger rocks made for smooth ascending. The gates are pretty impressive up close:
The walk up the ridge was largely the same as the ascent up through the gates (although the boulders were much larger); easy class 2 up to the ridge summit. I had remembered reading reports about class 3 moves on this route, and started to wonder if people were exaggerating the difficulty of the route (or that maybe I'd found an easier path). It turned out that I just hadn't hit the technical stuff yet. At the ridge summit someone painted a rock:
From here, the route changed from easy class 2, to difficult (in my opinion) class 3 with way more exposure than I was expecting. Shortly after passing the ridge summit I hit a spot where I had trouble finding a safe route around. I probably spent 20 minutes exploring around and becoming frustrated with the idea that I might have to give up and turn around before finally finding a route I was comfortable doing. While I was looking around for a way forward; I also got my first view of the "knife edge", which really looked terrifying from that angle (it's less disturbing when you get there). I also realized that, the way I was going, backtracking was going to become increasingly more difficult, so if I moved forward I would have to commit to completing the knife edge and any other unseen difficulties that could lie ahead.
The route ahead from the ridge summit was far more exposed and technical than anything before it:
View from the knife-edge; you certainly wouldn't want to slip here!
Backside of the knife edge, it's not all that bad but this was my first experience with exposure of this magnitude:
I snapped some pictures of myself at the summit, but unfortunately had a bunch of snot hanging out of my nose, so I'll spare you looking at those
From the Loft, it was a great view of Meeker's sheer north face. The Iron Gates are also clearly visible:
After speaking with some other people (on the way up) about the relative lack of snow in the Loft Couloir, I decided to take that route back down (I was also happy to avoid crossing Meeker ridge again). The snow was minimal, but the journey down was less than pleasant. I lost the trail more often than I found it, often getting myself stuck atop cliffs or forcing me to crawl down wet rocks. The bottom of the valley never seemed to get any closer despite the steep slope I was on, but I eventually did make it back down.
On the way down, I took a moment to appreciate the lush green beauty of Chasm Meadow. The roar of the waterfalls with the backdrop of Meeker and Longs was pretty amazing.
Round trip time: 6 hours.
Overall, I started my hike up Meeker thinking it would be an easier consolation prize compared to Longs, but found that Meeker ridge was far more difficult than any 14er I've ever done (I've only done the easier ones). Mt. Meeker is also every bit as impressive a hike as any mountain I've done, despite its 13er status. I think its proximity to Long's also makes it much less popular; I only saw 3 people heading up Meeker all day, but the parking lot was half full when I arrived in the morning. Having the summit to yourself on Long's is probably a rarity, but on Meeker I bet it happens all the time.
This was my first solo hike, and the first time I'd ever faced exposure of that magnitude. Looking back though, I feel more confident in my abilities going forward, and I think I'm now a little better prepared for the knife-edge of Capitol ;)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):