Peak(s):  Estes Cone - 11,006 feet
Date Posted:  03/02/2008
Date Climbed:   03/01/2008
Author:  KeithK

 The Disturbing Crunch of Snowshoe on Rock  

Estes Cone (11,006')
Route: Lilly Lake TH - Storm Pass Trail
Elevation Gain: 2,595' total; 2,060' net with 535' loss.
Round Trip: 7.6 miles*(some guidebooks say 7.2, the RMNP signs varied between 7.2 and 7.6)
Trail Mutants: KeithK and Greenhouseguy

After the Winter Gathering on Silverheels, I suggested emphatically that a redemption hike need be easy and below treeline. Although Brian had summitted Silverheels and Flora last week, I don't think he was overly anxious to spend a lot of time above treeline in high winds again, so we went to the top of our 11'er hike list, and chose Estes Cone. After all, it was a cool looking "little" peak right next to the Longs Massif, and at 7 miles round trip, seemed like a good choice for an "easy" hike, especially with the great weather forecast.

We met at our usual winter time of 7:00 a.m., and headed west for the Lilly Lake Trailhead. Sitting at 9400', there are outstanding views all the way around the lake.

Lilly Lake...

The Twin Sisters, high above to the east...

Our destination, with bodyguards looming close behind...

It was a comfortable morning, with hardly a breath of the strong winds that were forecast. Strapping the snow shoes onto our packs, we hit the trail. Only a tenth of a mile or so in, a trail junction guides the hiker to the left.

This trail plays a very dirty trick almost immediately; just as you begin to climb, you realize that you're on a small ridge that divides Highway 7 and Estes Cone. The trail quickly crests this ridge, then descends for a significant distance down into the draw. I noted this with disdain as we reached the bridge at the bottom.

Cross this bridge to begin actual climbing of the Cone...

A casualty of winter...

Ascending amongst the trees, there are gimpses of Lilly Lake below, and after crossing two short bridges, a great view of Lilly Mtn. hovering over the lake.

Lilly Mtn. is supposed to have some scrambling opportunities...

After a switchback, we were hiking seemingly forever, but the sun was warming the day, the wind was a non-issue, and it was a great day to be out hiking!

Greenhouseguy stops for water on the sun-bathed trail...

The views of the Twin Sisters are great during this stretch...

The hiking is easy, and the trail does not change direction as it contours along the east and then south slopes of Estes Cone. Very few glimpses of the summit are in view, though.

Up there... we're going... up there!

I was enjoying the sunshine, and as the route description we were following alluded, some eye-candy soon became visible to the south.

Ah yes, Meeker, where the men are men and the sheep are nervous... ( Come on, I did grow up in Rifle, after all!)

And that big chunk of rock that everybody knows and loves...

Another "lofty" view...

At this point a subtle change begins, but I wasn't really noticing it. We were soon at the trail junction, where the Storm Pass trail continues to the west, and the Eugenia trail arrives from the Longs trailhead. Turn right, and it's a "short" seven tenths of a mile to the summit of Estes Cone!

Go right...

It was obvious that there had not been a lot of traffic up to the Cone, but there was a recent snow shoe track to follow, so we didn't have much concern, expecting to reach the summit in a short time. Uh huh. The tracks came to an abrupt halt, and whomever we were following clearly did not know where they were going! Time for the trusty GPS to guide the way. Now, I've not been up this trail in the summer, so I had no idea what to expect, and as we began postholing and bushwhacking, the small cairns we would come across did not really help to define a trail. It did not take long to realize that "up" was the only direction we could go.

Whack them bushes!

To this point, I had not really been concerned with the time. It was a beautiful day, and although I was definitely tiring, I felt pretty good. It's amazing how a little bit of postholing will change your whole outlook, though! Donning the snowshoes, we began a very tedious, tiresome, and slow ascent up the steepening slope. While Brian tended to weave in and out near the trunks of trees, I found the snow to be fairly well consolidated in the more open, sun-drenched areas, so I chose to aim for those as much as possible. Still, it was exhausting work, and a portent of things to come as spring begins to warm and soften the snow. The sky drew closer, and after what seemed like hours, and probably was, we suddenly burst out onto the rocky summit pitch.

First view of the top of the Cone...

A closer look at the class 2 rock hopping before the final summit climb...

A few cairns mark some sort of route up to the base of a small cliff that guards the northern side of the Cone, and you simply follow the cliff up to a chimney that leads to what appears to be the summit.

Of course, it's not the summit! Dropping off of this sub/false-summit, a very short scramble gains the real summit, finally!

Allens Park...

Twin Sisters...

Estes Park...

The Mummy Range...


And of course...

Greenhouseguy is taller than Longs Peak!

My summit shot...

With only a few gusts threatening to remove us forcibly from the summit, it was quite pleasant, but the day was obviously getting on, and it was time to negotiate an expectedly unpleasant descent back down the rocky deadfall-ridden slope. The rock-hop back down to "treeline" wasn't too bad, and we donned the snow shoes and began the slip-n-slide downhill. Trying to avoid the deep drifts that were sure to be postholing bliss, I cringed as I could hear the crampons on my MSR Lighting Ascents being ground down to nubs. Rocks were unavoidable up there. Finally regaining the trail was a relief, or so I thought. The trail actually ascends from Storm Pass for a substantial distance, and several stretches were melted off, making for more "crunch, grind, crunch". We tried to step between the obvious rocks, and I decided that getting off of this mountain was more important than stressing over a little blunt metal. It seems that on every hike, the descent seems longer than the ascent, and fatigue and exhaustion was setting in in a big way. We were both laboring down the hill, the occasional surprise posthole making life all the more interesting. With the sun out of reach, we finally reached the bridge that marks the wonderful training exercise of getting back to the car. I guess this trail was the reason for those hill programs on the cardio machines; I still protest having to go UP on the way back to the trailhead!

Step one, two, three, four... rest... breathe... (repeat)

Arriving back at the car, we hit the pavement at exactly 6:00, making for a full 9 hour day! We both agreed that the final half-mile to the summit was more than we expected, but it was a satisfying 11'er to be sure!


 Comments or Questions
Slow Moving Fun Seeker

Great photos and TR!
03/02/2008 20:56
However, I can‘t believe it was actually Greenhouseguy in the summit photo; whoever it was, he was smiling. I can‘t recall Greenhouseguy ever smiling on a summit. ;-)


I‘m Sore
03/02/2008 21:04
That was a little more than I‘d bargained for; I‘m sure that it‘s much easier in the summer, when you don‘t have to bushwhack through knee-deep snow. We didn‘t see another human on the trail all day, which must be unusual on a sunny weekend day in RMNP. The rocky summit was certainly more interesting than most. The scenery was world class. Where could you go for a better view of Longs and Meeker? Good trip.


Sweet report!
10/22/2008 10:35
Man, pouring over your pictures REALLY makes me want to get back up there again. It‘s been over 12 years since I‘ve been up Estes Cone and your report kinda makes me jealous.
It looks like Greenhouseguy and yourself had a phenominal day up there.
Nicely done!

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