Peak(s):  Meeker, Mt  -  13,911 feet
Date Posted:  07/28/2020
Date Climbed:   07/18/2020
Author:  quandary34
 Meeker - Southwest Ridge  

Mt. Meeker is one of the more difficult front range peaks that I've hiked, but the views of Long's Peak, the Wild Basin area, and beyond from the top certainly don't disappoint. A few general tips for hiking Meeker via the Southwest Ridge: make sure that you have a full day of good weather, get started earlier than you think you should, and bring a GPS or a phone with GPS capabilities (with or without service). Most of the time, the route is relatively clear, but Hunter's Creek and the final push to the ridge both have their fair share of bushwacking and/or route-finding if you aren't careful.

We got to the Sandbeach Lake Trailhead at around 5:25am, although it might have been better to start even earlier. Currently, Rocky Mountain National Park has a timed entry system, and Sandbeach Lake Trailhead is right inside the boundaries of the park, but you don't need a timed entry permit if you get to the trailhead before 6:00am. We didn't see anyone at the ranger station, so we were just able to drive right into the park. The RMNP website is unclear when it comes to general entrance passes (which I think are separate from timed entry permits but who knows at this point), but we didn't have any issues entering or exiting the park even though there was a ranger at the station when we left.

The initial stage of the hike goes by very quickly. It's about 3-3.5 miles to the Hunter's Creek Trail, and although there's a bit of elevation gain, it didn't take us very long to reach Hunter's Creek.

20437_01
Sandbeach Lake Trail at sunrise.

The Hunter's Creek trail is pretty obvious at first. Right before the creek, turn right and head up into the woods. Unfortunately, the trail quickly dissipates into nothing if you aren't paying attention. In the morning, we completely lost the trail and ending up bushwacking through some dense trees, plenty of downed trees, prickly bushes, and eventually a swamp before finding our way into Meeker Meadows. This fate is avoidable if you stick as close as possible to Hunter's Creek, as we did in the afternoon. The trail isn't well maintained and there are a lot of downed trees, but it continues all the way to Meeker Meadows.

20437_02
A section of what might or might not be trail near Hunter's Creek.
20437_24
Hunter's Creek Trail, parallel to the creek and at most 30 feet away from it.
20437_22
At points, the trail is much more obvious and easier to follow.

20437_23

20437_21
A few more trail segments leading into Meeker Meadows. If you lose the trail, just follow the creek.

Other than a small section near the ridge, Hunter's Creek presents the most difficult route-finding of the trip. We entered Meeker Meadows a bit before 8:00am, and soon, the rest of the route was in view. The trail disappears, but there are a few sparsely distributed cairns that guide you up to the first gully. We crossed Hunter's Creek in order to get to the gully, and the creek quickly becomes more narrow and easier to cross as you approach tree line.

20437_25
Meeker Meadows with a view all the way to the summit.

The Dragon's Egg rock is visible in the above picture (directly at the lower left corner of the cliff next to Meeker's summit slab), but you don't really need to use it as a landmark. Instead, just head straight for Meeker's bowl. Up to this point, we'd hiked almost 4.5 miles, but elevation gain didn't really present any difficulty. Once we reached the first gully at the base of Meeker's bowl, that all changed. The last 1.5-2 miles of the hike are very, very steep and contained well over 50% of the total elevation gain of the day. You can try to alleviate the pain of gaining 3,500 feet in 1.5 miles by making some switchbacks as you head up Meeker's bowl, but at some point, it's better to just send it and go straight up. After the steep, tree-lined gully that I mentioned earlier, we finally got above tree line and into the boulder field that fills the entirety of Meeker's bowl. The hiking is pretty much the same from here until the ridge: steep with some loose rock/dirt, but nothing exceeding easy to moderate Class 2.

20437_20
Boulder field that extends all the way to the ridge.

After some very tedious and steep hiking, the Dragon's Egg rock will gradually come into better view as you approach the ridge, and soon you'll see the notch that connects to Meeker's southwest ridge and the final push to the summit.

20437_18
The Dragon's Egg rock near the top of the bowl.
20437_14
The view down into the bowl, Meeker meadows, and Sandbeach Lake from near the Dragon's Egg.

There was bit of snow at this point, but nothing that couldn't be circumnavigated easily. Near the ridge, we were faced with a choice; we could either climb up some steeper and more exposed sections to gain the ridge more quickly or hook around onto the ridge through a less exposed notch. We chose to climb up the steeper, more exposed sections, and while it wasn't incredibly difficult or dangerous, I would say that it reached into Class 3 territory. Some of the ledges that we had to climb were close to 6-8 feet high, and there was some decent exposure below us.

20437_17
You can either go up either side of the rock band in the center of the image. The left is less exposed but a bit longer while the path up the staircase-like formation to the right is likely Class 3 rock with a very direct route to the ridge.
20437_13
A closer view of the options near the ridge.

Once we gained the ridge using the more difficult route to the right, the path to the summit was straightforward. Sticking to the ridge definitely didn't have as much loose rock as the gully the parallels the ridge, but there were some more difficult formations along the ridge. It's probably best to stay about 30-40 feet to the left of the ridge where there's not too much loose rock/dirt and the path to the summit is direct.

20437_11
The final push to the summit, directly left of the ridge line.

The hike along the ridge is a bit longer than we anticipated, but it wasn't incredibly difficult (nothing exceeded Class 2). After about 6 hours of hiking (around 11:20am), we reached the summit of Mt. Meeker, met by ripping wind and incredible views of The Loft and Long's Peak. Mt. Meeker can have some serious weather near the top even if the forecast is clear, so try to be heading down before 12:00pm at the latest.

20437_08
On the summit of Meeker looking west.
20437_09
Looking east along the summit ridge to Meeker Ridge in the distance.
20437_06
Long's Peak and The Loft.

After spending a bit of time in the wind at the top, we had enough and decided to head down. The route down is exactly the same as the way up (although we took the easier and safer path through the notch to get off the southwest ridge and into the bowl), and it seems even steeper and more grueling on the way down. With 6.5 miles of hiking and around 5,300 feet of elevation gain on our legs, we haphazardly hiked and slid down through the bowl and into Meeker Meadows as a storm approached. Luckily, we got below the trees well before the storm reached the mountain, although I slipped and broke one of my hiking poles in the process of hurrying down. Once we reached Hunter's Creek, we tried our hardest to not repeat the morning's mistakes and stuck as close to the creek as possible. With the help of my GPS, we mostly stayed on the trail on the way back to the Sandbeach Lake Trail. The well-maintained trail for the last 3.5 miles of the hike is nice, but it can drag on due to fatigue at the end of the day. We finally got back to our car at the trailhead after 11 hours and 29 minutes of hiking, 13.5 miles, and 5,394 feet of elevation gain. We probably could have gone a bit more quickly, but the weather was good enough that it didn't matter in the end.

Mt. Meeker is definitely not a front range hike for beginners, but it is an awesome mountain with some of the best views in RMNP, and if you take the Southwest ridge route, you'll probably have the whole mountain to yourself (for better or for worse). We only saw 3 other people past the turn at Hunter's Creek, and they were on the summit after coming from The Loft. Not the easiest day, but definitely one of my favorite in the front range so far.


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 12 13 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25


 Comments or Questions
Jay521


Nice!
07/28/2020 12:53
Meeker has been on my short list for some time. This report will definitely help me. Thanks for taking the time and effort to put this up!


mathguy

Great report.
07/29/2020 13:01
Your TR is very well written and will be a useful guide for people
contemplating a climb of Meeker from the southwest. One advantage
of that route is that you gain the (true) summit without having to
negotiate the knife edge ridge, which I and my partner bailed on
last year when doing the Iron Gates route (I'll confess I was the one
that "bailed"). As you say though it's a long route and demands good
weather. Nice pics and narrative too. Thanks.



   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here


Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.




© 2020 14ers.com®, 14ers Inc.