Peak(s):  Point 12,277 - 12,277 feet
Date Posted:  09/30/2013
Modified:  07/07/2014
Date Climbed:   09/28/2013
Author:  dillonsarnelli
 Digging a Trench to "Wonderland"  

Digging a Trench to "Wonderland"

Point 12,277 and Ptarmigan Lake in The Rocky Mountain National Park

Snowdrift Peak... from the summit of Point 12,277 in Rocky Mountain National Park

Mountains summitted: Point 12,277 (unranked peak in RMNP)
Mountains not summitted: Snowdrift Peak - Elevation 12,274 ft.
Trailhead: North Inlet / Tonahutu TH - 8,490 ft. on the west side of the park
Distance: 20.2 miles
Elevation Gain: ~ 4,000 ft.
Date Climbed: September 28, 2013
Time: 12+ hours
Participants: Dillon Sarnelli, Bradley Geiger

The actual game plan was Snowdrift Peak, but sometimes mother nature sends your route-finding skills into a tailspin. However, since this place was so amazing, the TR was mandatory.

Anticipating that the east side of the park would be closed this weekend due to the flooding, I wanted to finally venture in from the west. (It actually reopened last Thursday, but I kept the original plan intact.) My buddy, Brad, all the way from DC, was in town for the weekend and was ready to put in some miles. This would be his 1st excursion into the Colorado mountains...

The 6 AM Saturday morning itinerary at the North Inlet TH ----> Hike 6.7 miles along the North Inlet Trail to Ptarmigan Creek. From there, head northeast up the creek to War Dance Falls. Continue upward around Bench Lake into "Wonderland Basin" and the headwaters of Ptarmigan Creek. Take the middle branch of the creek up to Wonderland Lake and proceed onward to the Continental Divide. Follow the divide southwest to Snowdrift Peak, about 3 miles and 3,000 feet from where we left the North Inlet Trail at its intersection with the creek.

What really happened ----> There may or may not be a trench in place from the North Inlet Trail to the summit of unranked Point 12,277...

Our actual route in red.

Brad points to the spot where we left the North Inlet Trail at its intersection with Ptarmigan Creek.

War Dance Falls, about 500 ft. and a quarter of a mile above the valley floor.

what the?!?!?! a good indication of how much snow we were dealing with as we ascended to the east of the creek and the falls.

Tired might be an understatement.

This was all we needed to get our spirits up. Bench Lake, about 1 mile and 850 ft above the valley floor.

Picture taken on the north end of Bench Lake after trekking around the lake to the east.

I believe this is the area where the 3 tributaries flowing from the upper lakes converge. The only one visible through the snow, being the main tributary leading to/from Ptarmigan Lake. This is the north end of the valley referred to as "The Wonderland" --- the name says it all...

trench building...He's ready to beat my a$s...

more trenching...

This is the smaller body of water below Ptarmigan Lake, a little over a mile from Bench lake.

Looking back... We rounded the smaller lake on its east side... Our trench can be seen off to the left.

A few hundred feet later.... Ptarmigan Lake at about 11,200. This picture and/or words can't put into perspective just how amazing this place really is.

A look back at Ptarmigan Lake as we ascend onward to the Continental Divide.

A good look at the snowdrifts.

Snowdrift Peak to the southwest as seen from the summit of Point 12,277. We contemplated if for a while, but knew that our legs didn't stand a chance on this day.

This view alone was worth 10 miles.

The trek back was wet, but it began to warm up and the scenery kept our mind off of just how tired we really were. I also took a few well deserved snow balls to the head.

The official end to summer. The hardtop is back on.

Extra Credit - Summit of Pikes Peak the day after (by car).

Thanks for reading all. Brad come back soon! Snowdrift, I'll see you in the Summer of 2014!

 Comments or Questions

09/30/2013 14:36
...indeed - what a stunningly beautiful area! Ridiculous amount of snow for this time of year - maybe a sign of things to come. Nice TR.


Can I be your friend
09/30/2013 16:44
In 2014? That's an awesome view of Longs, one I want to see.


09/30/2013 18:52
Way to haze your buddy on his first trip out. Looks like a beautiful day in the mtns, great pics!


09/30/2013 20:41 on a part of the Park rarely seen! Some truly stunning shots, Dillon! Especially loved the shot of the little lake below Ptarmigan, and of course, Longs in the distant. The Park really takes on a totally different look with the snow! Great effort, guys! Thanks so much!


10/01/2013 07:59
Your pictures are amazing. This is my favorite trip report thus far. I hope to get into the deepest parts of RMNP and this just reinforces why. Well done sirs, well done!


10/01/2013 12:31


Nice Shots!
10/01/2013 16:17
Looks like it was a great day up there.

Brian Thomas

RMNP > 14ers
10/01/2013 16:40
This is excellent! Unranked 12ers are underloved and underrated, thanks for posting this.


10/01/2013 18:17


10/01/2013 21:43
Raj - thanks. WINTER wonderland indeed. i may have to learn how to ski this year...

Bill - I thought of you when I stopped a mile from the actual summit that I was trying to get to... haha - highlands, beers, pumpkins, pumpkin beers, you, me, 2013 or 2014, i'm in...

JB - If Taj isn't home when you get back from your trip, we went for a walk. check Local 46!

Doug - thanks. couldn't agree more. I must have said ”think about how few people have actually ever been where we are right now” about 10 times along the way. the snow, lakes, views and solitude all make that area pretty special.

goingup - thanks. I'm glad there are people that read my TR's! The deepest parts require some slogs, but that's half the fun in RMNP. Nice Massive TR. I did a similar ridge route last June.

Johnson - thanks!

Ben - thanks man! Isolation, Copeland... when is the rematch?

Brian - I figured you would love that I wrote a TR on an unranked 12er, haha. That area of the park is unreal. Where you at?!?!

Jeff - OGALALLA OGALALLA OGALALLA OGALALLA OGALALLA - this was plan B after they closed Wild Basin on me. I hear you are missing a shoulder. Hey Kate if your reading this, I have 2 very strong shoulders.


10/02/2013 00:07
for some reason I love slogs, not sure when or how it happened but I like long hard days. Ever since I wandered into RMNP to climb Mount Lady Washington and Storm Peak and then followed up with a traverse of the Arapaho's in the IPW I have been in love with that area of Colorado. I stood a top North Arapaho and did a 360 saying ” I want to climb that and that and that and that....” During my break from school next spring/summer I want to find a partner to do a 2 week long back pack trip through the park with me.

Steve Climber

Nice report!
05/09/2014 12:26
Looking forward to chatting about RMNP romp at HH tonight.

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