| I Love Talus
Destination: Mt. Meeker (13, 911)
Trailhead: Horse Creek (Near the end of Boulder CR 113N)
Round Trip: 10.5 miles
Elevation Gain: Roughly 5200
Trip Time: 9:15 (1.5 hours summit/rest/wait time)
Cast: Steve (StevieTwoShoes), Doug (Drago), Dustin
After spending the latter part of May and all of June and July traveling great distances to hike 14ers, I was ready to take a break from travel and 14ers with a nice relaxing stroll in the Park. Instead, I accepted my brother's invitation to join him and a friend for their hike of Meeker's east ridge. In an attempt to elicit any pertinent information, I posted a thread in the forum looking for advice from those who had gone before us. Advice was given, but not the kind I was hoping for, as the words "loose" "slog" "talus" and "tedious" were featured prominently in most replies. Ignoring these wise words of wisdom, we set off from Dustin's house in Ft. Collins at 3:45 am and headed for the TH. Just outside of Estes Park, we saw a couple of bears crossing the road, one of which was a very small cub. This is the first bear sighting of my life (that I remember) and I'm glad it was from a car.
By 5:00 we were on the trail and looking for a horse trail that may or may not exist. The plan was to take this (alleged) horse trail to a gully between the east and southeast ridges of Mt. Meeker, ascend the south slope of Meeker's east ridge, gain the ridge, hike it to Meeker's east summit, and cross the knife ridge to Meeker's 13,911 foot west summit. Unable to find the (alleged) horse trail, we instead hiked the rough and often steep, but obvious trail to the saddle between Lookout Mountain and Mt. Meeker. Once in the saddle the trees thinned and I could see Lookout Mountain to the southeast. I followed the trail to a spot in the clearing where a large cairn marks a trail heading northwest through the trees to Meeker's southeast ridge (Meeker Ridge) and waited for my brother and Dustin.
The clearing where a large cairn marks the trail up Meeker Ridge
Back together again, we headed through the trees on what I would realize on the way down was a very well cairned trail. Why is it that trails like this are so much easier to follow on the way down? About halfway through the trees, we came to another clearing where we could see at least three cairns all going in significantly different directions. Looking up, we could see the base of Meeker Ridge, so we ignored all the cairns and made our way up the slope.
View of the base of Meeker Ridge from another small clearing in the trees
Just before breaking treeline, we had our second unexpected animal sighting when we turned a corner and came upon a mountain lion lying on the rocks, no more than five feet in front of us. This was a lucky/unlucky sort of situation. Fortunately for us, the mountain lion was dead. If it had been otherwise I think we would have been in trouble. Unfortunately, it had been dead for quite some time, had a rather off-putting smell about it and was covered with maggots (I have a picture, but find it to be slightly less than tasteful). Once out of the trees, the fun (and talus) began. We all picked our own routes up the talus and over the bands of rock at the top to gain the wide and grassy (for the time being) Meeker Ridge.
There are cairns in this section, but it's easiest to choose your own path. The routes I have marked seem to be the easiest. I took the one farthest to the right while Doug and Dustin climbed the middle of the band of rock and walked across it to the left where it merges with the ridge.
Talus and bands of rock at the base of Meeker Ridge
Once on the ridge, we scouted the route and chose what we thought to be the best line, planning, for the most part, to stay on the northeast side of the ridge. The ridge, however, is very rocky, long, and undulating, forcing us to reassess things often.
This is the general route I took to the top of the first peak of the ridge. On the descent, I went to the other side, which was much easier and less rocky.
Once I reached the rocks in the above picture, the rest of the route and ridge came into view and I realized what a long day this was going to be. Soon Dustin and Doug arrived. Together once again, we eyeballed the ridge and came up with roughly the route you see in the picture below.
I didn't stray much from the route, but Doug and Dustin went to the left of the cliffs you see near the center of the pic
Past this point, the grass disappeared and we entered the talus that Andy, higherhigher, and Chris Gerber warned us about. While there was nothing but talus, it was sturdy, making for fairly easy hiking. The boulders, however, were huge, making route finding a bit difficult at times.
For perspective, Dustin is in the first red circle and I am in the second (Picture taken by Doug)
After a long hike over the talus, I found myself on the summit of Meeker Ridge (13, 860), only a knife ridge walk away from the summit of Mt. Meeker. The views were incredible.
Indian Peaks Wilderness and Wild Basin from the summit of Meeker Ridge
Storm Peak, the Boulderfield, Mount Lady Washington, the Mummies, and Ships Prow
From this point, all that separated us from the summit of Mt. Meeker was the knife ridge that connects the east and west summits (Picture taken by Doug).
I attempted to downclimb straight from the east summit to the ridge, but found the exposure and maneuvering a bit more than I was comfortable with, so I skirted down and around the north side of the ridge summit and back up onto the knife ridge. After clearing my head of all thoughts, good and bad, I was set to go. Figuring my feet got me this far, why go to my butt now, I walked across the ridge. Most of it is not as bad as it appears from above, but there is one 10-15 foot section where it is pretty narrow, perhaps 4-6 inches wide (that could be exaggerated to the narrow side, so please correct me if I'm wrong).
Approaching the narrowest part of the ridge (Picture taken by Doug)
Once across the ridge, there is still a fair amount of class three scrambling to get to the summit block, which I have read is class four, but didn't seem any more technical than a lot of what I had to do to get there. Once again, the views were great, but the weather did not look good. Clouds were quickly and steadily building in the west.
Looking back on the knife ridge from the west summit
The Loft, Longs Peak, Storm Peak from the summit block
Two Shoes Hurricane on the summit block (Picture taken by Doug)
Not liking the clouds, I decided it was time to go. On the way back to the ridge, I found Doug and Dustin about halfway across the ridge and heading my way. After being caught in a storm on Massive in June, I've become quite paranoid about weather, so I told them that I was getting my pack and going. They both made it across the knife ridge, but in the end decided to turn back back. I could see that it was a tough choice for both of them, being so close to the summit, but I think the right choice was made. The weather actually held up (no lightning or thunder), but there were dark clouds over Meeker for the remainder of the descent of Meeker Ridge.
I snapped a picture of Doug on the ridge, climbed back to the east summit, grabbed my pack and hauled a** down the ridge toward treeline, stopping occasionally to see if I could see Doug and Dustin. I never did see them, but could often hear them talking. On my descent, I stayed to the left of the cliffs, but then headed far to the right, where the grassy tundra was calling my name (my knees were very grateful). In my haste, I managed to roll my ankle, but came out no worse for wear.
The view back down the ridge from the summit of Meeker Ridge with a rough line of my descent.
The rest of the descent was uneventful. Once I reached the clearing in the saddle, I waited for Doug and Dustin. Together once again, we descended to the TH together. While this was not the original route we had planned, I'm actually thankful we went this way. Based on what Andy and the others posted to my original question in the forum, the east ridge would have been similar, but with loose talus rather than the sturdy rock we had. It was a long day above treeline, but overall, a great day and a great hike.
A look at Meeker Ridge from near the Longs Peak viewpoint on Hwy 7, south of Estes Park with Lookout Mountain on the left.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):