| Copeland Mtn (RMNP)
Copeland Mountain – 13,176
From Wild Basin TH: 13.5 mi, 4800 ft
This turned out to be a spectacular hike. It was my first trip to the Wild Basin area of RMNP and I was impressed. We started hiking from the Wild Basin TH by headlamp at 5, hoping to beat any early thunderstorms. The nicely constructed Thunder Lake Trail was well trodden – any snow patches were hard packed. North St. Vrain Creek was absolutely roaring! Calypso Cascades was beautiful in the early morning light. Ouzel Falls was really cool too. I scrambled up some rocks to get a better look and got refreshingly wet from the heavy mist.
We decided to leave the trail at Ouzel Falls and follow the path of least resistance to gain Copeland's gentle northeast ridge. From the map, it looked like the easiest, shortest ascent route. We'd seen the long, gentle ridge when we climbed Chiefs Head Peak in March and noted that it looked like a nice easy route. It was however not easy making this decision when we had such a great trail we could have continued to follow instead at the expense of adding some extra mileage.
From the falls we climbed southwest up a partially dry slope in a burned area ( from the fire in 1978 ). There was a ton of deadfall to negotiate, but it wasn't too bad. We had to put snowshoes on around 10,000 ft when we entered the trees above the burn area. The snow was generally in good condition but of course there was some postholing. Since Copeland's northeast ridge is so broad and gentle and not very well defined, we navigated by maintaining a southwest compass reading.
Treeline came fast – around 11,000 ft. At this point the ridge steepened considerably. We snowshoed up an initial snowfield but soon ran into huge chunks of talus that required us to remove our snowshoes and do a lot of rock hopping. Snow was easily avoided until near the summit. We hauled our snowshoes the whole way up to give ourselves the chance to take a different route on the way down if we felt like it (or to climb another peak, say Isolation).
We reached the summit at 10:30 and retreated down the north side a little bit to take a break out of the wind. Longs, Meeker, Pagoda, Chiefs Head and Alice were all right in front of us. Clouds were beginning to build, but there was no immediate threat. We tried to call Dwight to see about the ridge to Isolation but didn't have good enough reception. We ultimately decided to save Isolation for another day since the weather was iffy, it would have added several miles to our hike, and we weren't sure about the ridge we would have to traverse. It looked like it could be difficult and/or time consuming. It was so early that I figured we may as well really enjoy the summit. We spent nearly an hour up there. We were the first ones to sign the summit register since last September and there were many familiar names in there.
After we'd had our fill of the views we started back down the ridge. Since it was still early, we decided to investigate the other obvious route option that we hadn't chosen on the way up – following the Bluebird Lake Trail to Ouzel Lake. At around 12,200 feet we descended north off of the gentle ridge and hiked down easy snow slopes to treeline. Postholing to out waists quickly commenced and we had to put our snowshoes on. The remainder of the hike to Ouzel Lake seemed to take forever. We were forced to remove our snowshoes to cross talus fields and put them back on to negotiate snow fields. There was also a lot of deadfall closer to the basin floor.
We chose to round Ouzel Lake on its west side since it looked like the slightly better option. We followed along the edge of the lake, but since it was still partially frozen and snow covered it was hard to discern its boundaries. Plus there were countless streams flowing in to it that we had to get over or around. On the other side of the lake we continued on to Chickadee Pond and found the Bluebird Lake Trail. It was dry in a lot of places, and in the snowy spots there was recent footprints (from earlier in the day). The huge burned area along this part of the trail was interesting. "Treeline" was lower because of it.
We were following the tracks in the snow and missed the sharp curve that takes you to the Thunder Lake Trail. The tracks soon started heading toward the trail again though and we saw a group of hikers ahead of us (the first of MANY). The trail walk back was long but easy. We felt out of place amongst the numerous tourists we saw along the way. Some were wearing sandals through the mushy snow. Burrrrr! Its such a pretty place right now that I can understand its popularity. We got back to the car a little after 3. It had been a slightly shorter hike than I'd imagined but that was a good thing since we heard grumbling from the time we passed the lake to the time we got back to the TH.
For this time of year I would strongly recommend our ascent route over our descent route. I think it would be quicker and easier to go up and down Copeland's northeast ridge instead of trying to ascend or descend near Ouzel Lake.
pictures and map: