| Mt. Alice in Wonderland
The stats …
Total elevation gain (including some up and down on the trails): at least 5,000 feet
Total distance: about 17 miles (it's 18 miles if you take the Ouzel Falls trail and go up and back via Lion Lakes, but if you take the campground trail instead of the Ouzel Falls trail, it's about 16 miles; if you do the loop and take Boulder-Grand Pass / Thunder Lake, it adds a bit of mileage and you'll undoubtedly do some zig-zagging along the Divide, which, based on my rough estimate, brings the total to about 17 miles)
Trailhead: Wild Basin, Rocky Mountain National Park
Route up: Lion Lakes to Mt. Alice's north slopes / Hourglass Ridge
Route down: Boulder-Grand Pass / Thunder Lake
Start: 5 a.m.
Summit: 9:30 – 10 a.m.
Finish: 1:30 p.m.
*Click on images to see larger versions (some panoramas are much larger than they appear).
Let me start by saying this was one of the most scenic loop hikes I've ever done. The diversity of scenery was amazing. Everything from dense forests to broad, windswept ridges; cascades and waterfalls to alpine lakes; 50-ton granite boulders along the trail to boilerplate slaps and sheer cliffs; craggy peaks to rippling creeks. Unfortunately, this sweet loop requires a long approach.
While driving to the trailhead, sometime before 4 a.m., we talked about how most people on the road during those hours seem to be cops and drunks. And wouldn't you know it, we crest a hill on Hwy 66 and come across a riot of lights from cop cars and fire trucks. Jen got excited because she thought it was a checkpoint. I worried that those few beers I had the night before would still be in my system. But it ended up being a crash. A one-car crash, as it appeared. And it looked as if it had rolled many times. Not sure how that happened in a 45-mph work zone.
Our hiking journey began at 5 a.m. when we entered the pitch-black forest. Jen must've been having a good day because I had to put the pedal to the metal just to keep up with her.
Within a half hour we saw the right-hand turn to take the campground trail (the Ouzel Falls trail adds unnecessary mileage out and back). Within maybe 50 yards or so the trail fizzled out. We both scouted around in the dark, darting our headlamps here and there. Nothing. So back down the trail we went … and we found the correct turn-off a very short distance up the trail.
The following photo was taken on the way down, with the red arrow marking the correct turn-off (wrong turn-off in the foreground):
Once we were on the correct trail, Jen started bolting up the trail. Somehow I managed to keep up.
At about 6:10 a.m. I was finally able to see without the headlamp. It's getting later and later …
We hiked for a long time, and then Lion Lake No. 1 came quick.
That's about the time we were afforded our first good views of Mt. Alice.
We cruised around the lake with no problem and found some easy-to-follow cairns up some slabs of rock.
We crossed one little stream, and then we followed a faint trail along a stream that flowed from the Trio Falls. At first, we followed it on the right side, then we went up the left.
Near the falls, we easily skirted up the left side of the snow.
Right after I took the following photo, Jen blurted out a strange string of four-letter words.
As I learned, a bighorn sheep was standing right above her, and it startled her. After I finally got her to complete a sentence, I quickly scrambled up in the hopes of shooting one of those rams (with a camera). Unfortunately they covered some ground pretty quickly, so this is all I got (check out the horns!):
This was about when the trail faded and the cairns disappeared. But it wasn't a problem. We just continued to scamper up the slabby slope, past Lion Lake No. 2, I believe it was.
It was really awesome to see bighorn sheep in the wild. I usually just see them licking salt on the shoulder of I-70.
We were also treated to some other curious creatures – a couple high-altitude trail runners, just ahead of us.
Above the shrubbery, our objective was obvious: follow the gentle ridge to the Continental Divide, then head south via the Hourglass Ridge to Mt. Alice's summit.
Gaining the Continental Divide was quite the slog. But the incredible views of McHenrys, Longs and Chiefs Head made it all worth it.
And then the scrambling fun began.
I should say, this route is rated Class 3, but Jen and I questioned that designation. While you could find yourself on 3, it wouldn't be too difficult to keep it at Class 2+ or super-easy 3, at the most. And by staying to the left of the ridge's crest (which ended in a steep cliff on the right), exposure wasn't so bad.
For the most part, we stayed close to the ridge crest and the climbing was easy yet enjoyable. Also, most boulders were locked in and grippy (very little loose rock to contend with).
At 9:30 a.m., with a chilly wind blowing from the west, we gained Mt. Alice's east summit.
And then we went over to the west (true) summit. (Register tube was cracked and empty.)
Behind a wind block, we took a half-hour break … and got harassed by this little brave bastard:
Instead of going back the way we came, we decided to try the loop. From our vantage point, we couldn't tell exactly where the Boulder-Grand Pass was, but we figured we'd find it on our way down.
Me descending Mt. Alice, with Grand County in the background:
I didn't see any wildflowers on the broad, windswept Continental Divide ridge, but that didn't mean it was devoid of color:
Jen, sauntering along the Continental Divide, with Isolation Peak ahead:
After taking a pee on the Divide, being careful to send a little to the Pacific and a little to the Gulf of Mexico, we started heading down the gully to the Lake of Many Winds.
It was steep, loose and crappy, and it sucked, but at least it was short.
As we descended, the beautiful scenery continued to surprise. We descended bench after bench of incredibly scenic terrain, and my few pics don't even come close to doing it justice. This area is amazing.
The views of Longs, from its uncommon backside, were also stunning. You could clearly see the Narrows, the Homestretch, Keplingers Couloir, the Loft, etc.
And then there were other, smaller sights that were candy to the eyes.
Sure, the hike out was brutal and painfully long. (We cruised and made it back at 1:30, and I have a nasty blister to show for it.) But if you haven't made it to this area of the Park, I highly recommend it. It takes some effort, but it's worth it.
And it truly is a wonderland.
Here's a highlighted map of our route for reference:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):