Peak(s):  Nakai Peak - 12216
Sprague Mountain - 12713
Stones Peak - 12922
Snowdrift Peak - 12274
Mount Patterson - 11424
Date Posted:  08/19/2013
Modified:  08/20/2013
Date Climbed:   08/17/2013
Author:  Steve Knapp
 Nakai, Sprague, Stones, Snowdrift and more RMNP  

24.4 miles RT, 9200' gain, 12.5 hours

"Bushwhack Hill", Nakai Peak, Sprague Mtn, Stones Peak, Snowdrift Peak, Mt. Patterson, Green Mtn.

From Green Mtn trailhead (8800'), west side RMNP. Clockwise loop starting with Bushwhack Hill and ending with Green Mtn. All pics from my phone, sorry if quality isn't the greatest. Plus it was hazy.

For many years I've eyed these peaks and schemed of a way to climb them all together. With about 12 hours of hiking and at least half the hike above treeline, a good forecast was needed. That window finally arrived and off I went, not quite sure what to expect.

I started hiking about 6:30 am, up the Green Mtn trail which dead ends at Big Meadows. Here I killed 15 minutes eating some of the biggest, sweet wild strawberries I've ever seen. It's been a great summer for them in Grand county this year. I then followed the Tonahutu trail north to the Nakai/Bushwhack Hill saddle. Despite it's name, the bushwhacking was easy here as it would all day in the forested areas. Not much view at the top, but there was a register full of comments about world peace.

Big Meadows:
Big Meadows

Nakai was up next. Again, easy bushwhacking on the SW slopes, and an easy tundra stroll once above the trees. I was glad to be above the trees where the views opened up and I could pick up the pace. I reached the Nakai summit about 9am, where I could see much of the rest of my route. Snowdrift looked a bit distant. The air was smoky from wildfires northwest of Colorado, but the view was good enough for me.

Down the north ridge of Nakai, which starts easy then has some rocky sections. It's unlikely many folks come this way, but the 700' drop and reclimb up the other side was a key part of my route over to the continental divide. Once I climbed back up the other side I made quick progress over to Sprague on grassy slopes mixed with talus.

Nakai North Ridge:
Nakai North Ridge

Sprague Mountain:

Sprague Glacier:
Sprague Glacier

Looking back at Nakai from Sprague:
Nakai from Sprague

Well, I knew adding Stones would be challenging but I was not about to orphan it. Two hours and 1200' of gain is much less than coming back to get it by itself. The route over to Stones was mostly talus and much slower going than I had enjoyed thus far. On the way back I had to reclimb about 500 vertical feet to nearly the summit of Sprague, but I was very glad I was able to get to Stones today. It was certainly an outlier and the only peak residing entirely within Larimer county. At 12922 it was almost a 13er and one of my higher remaining unclimbed peaks in the Park. I really felt "out there" at this point, as far as I would get from my vehicle.

Stones Peak from Sprague:
Stones Peak

Snowdrift from Bighorn Flats:
Snowdrift East Side

Snowdrift was up next, about 3 miles of easy tundra walking to the base of it. At Sprague Pass I met the only person I'd see all day. His name was Steve also, and he had helped Lisa Foster with the maps in her RMNP book. Really nice guy, and I'm glad I stopped to say hello. Onward through Bighorn Flats, where numerous streams descend through the tundra. I filled up on water here, unfiltered but hopefully safe. I only took three liters today and was concerned about water so it was good to find it. I also took a splash bath, very rejuvenating for the miles yet to go. Once onto Snowdrift there was plenty of talus but generally easy walking. Again, I was thrilled to get this peak on my loop knowing it is hard to reach. By 4pm I had reached Snowdrift, and didn't even cross any snow to get there.

Snowdrift west side on the way to Patterson:
Snowdrift West Side

There is more, always more! Patterson was next and it took some time to get over there as I re-entered the forest for the first time since the ascent on Nakai. In the low point of the Snowdrift/Patterson saddle I came across a moose antler. This was cool and a first for me, it was huge and weighed probably 20 pounds. The flat treeless summit of Patterson was awesome and the late afternoon light was magical dancing across the higher peaks of the Park. Patterson and Snowdrift were the only two peaks without a register today.

Signs that wild things bigger than me roam the Park:
Moose Antler


Patterson summit looking east at the heart of the Park:
Patterson Summit

Ok, just one more to go. I started down the NW ridge of Patterson to small saddle, then down 1500' of steep slopes back to Big Meadows. This was the spot I feared the most, but surprisingly the bushwhacking was quite easy. At Big Meadows I crossed the 20 mile mark, but I was not about to leave Green unclimbed. So up the NE ridge I went. I made good time up the nicely carpeted forest floor. While there was beetle kill around, I could hardly believe how easy the hiking was on Green. Which was just fine by me at this point in the day. Within an hour of the summit of Green I was back at the car, a bit fatigued.

I'll long remember this grand tour of the west side of RMNP. What a great day!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

 Comments or Questions

Holy Santa Claus s**t
08/20/2013 04:22
Nice walk in the park Steve. I had to do a triple take to believe what I was seeing re: your vert and mileage. Your feast must've been one for the ages - did you eat that moose?


08/20/2013 05:08
what helmut said! haha nice job!


Nice half day Steve...
08/20/2013 14:50
That is a beautiful part of the park. Congrats on Stones too. That would be a painfully tough one to *leave*.

What did you eat after this? A couple of tourists?

Brian C

Why didn't you...
08/20/2013 15:03
...stop for Hayden's Spire too?????

Haha! Nice work Steve!!!

Chicago Transplant

Good stuff
08/20/2013 16:51
Another great ”Knapp-a-thon”, I love seeing the big days you put together, and occasionally participating in them 8)

Hopefully when the monsoon passes we can hook up for another one!


08/20/2013 18:47
way to link up all those peaks! Very cool!!

Also, smart not to go directly back to the TH from Green Mtn, I did that and it was some of the worst bushwhacking I've ever encountered.


Big Day
08/20/2013 19:16
Would expect nothing less from you. Heck of an outing. Was there much damage from that wildfire earlier this year?


08/21/2013 03:59
like a great linkup. Thanks for the beta.


A Knapp report?
08/21/2013 04:20
Cool route. Might prove handy soon (perhaps as a 2 dayer. Good god man). Thanks much!

Steve Knapp

08/21/2013 04:47
for the comments guys. Figured a few RMNP enthusiasts would enjoy. It was amazing to head into one of the most popular parks in the nation in summer and only see one person all day. This one was far from the crowds of Wild Basin, Bear Lake, and Longs Peak. And that was cool.

Helmut and Pap, I knew you'd think of food. Sorry to disappoint, but I ate well on the hike, just had choc milk and a snack at McDs on the drive home. Lack of good cheap food heading back through Granby,Fraser, WP. Plus I recently learned I have celiac and have to go gluten free. I can now only drool at the feast pics you guys post. Mexican OK though, so Cantina in Estes still fair game and Chipotle/Qdoba are my continued favorites.

Brian, very funny. No stupid unranked on this hike. At 5.2 I'm not sure how easy a free solo would be on the spire? Didn't want to get over my head with nobody around for miles. The Sharkstooth is calling my name though, would love to climb it with you.

Mike, you and Scot have bigger stones than me to go after Nakai/Snowdrift on April snow. But you still have to climb Stones, ha. You would have loved this one though, lets definitely get out again soon.

David, good to know what I missed out on! I contemplated that descent as well, but have learned through personal suffering to use trail in the Park when offered.

Scot, you'll have to get below 12k for some of these but all worthwhile destinations. No fire evidence on my route, but could see the burnage from Nakai summit. Tonahutu trail near Granite Falls probably goes right through it. I feel that fire in the Park is a good thing generally, and will be good for this area. It's nice to see the recovery from the 1978 fire around Ouzel Lake. Too bad last year's fire didn't take out a bit more of Forest Canyon though.

Derek, this is all you as soon as you get those pesky 13ers done. Would you hurry up already so we can do some stuff like this.

Monster, I do write them once in a great while if its something I want to document and feel others could benefit from. This trip was almost as much fun as a night raid on Bartlett, not that you or I would ever contemplate such a thing.


< 12k
08/21/2013 15:15
Don't worry, I have crossed over to the dark side and will now drop below 12k in LCW, IPW, and RMNP - generally only in winter or with the kids though.


The dark side is where it's at.
08/21/2013 18:23
Nice link up Steve. We've been flirting with plans for a westside RMNP adventure. Your beta will come in handy for us sometime in the next few months. Thanks!

Btw - wanted to send you a note but I'll say it here: Congratulations on completing the IPW 37 ranked peak list last month. The IPW is such great area to explore and get in deep.


08/22/2013 03:46
Did these 7 peaks run over your dog or something? I thought Snowdrift by itself was a pain! Well conquered

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