Peak(s):  Copeland Mtn  -  13,176 feet
Ogalalla Pk  -  13,138 feet
Elk Tooth - 12,848 feet
Date Posted:  06/30/2009
Date Climbed:   06/27/2009
Author:  Connor
 Saturday in the Park  

Three remote peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park!

Distance: 18-21miles RT. Can't figure out just how far I hiked for this combination.

Gain: Around 6 or more thousand.

I started hiking from the Wild Basin trail head at about 3am and made it to Ouzel Lake around 4:40. From the lake, I began hiking south west toward the gentle east facing slope of Mt Copeland and broke tree line at sunrise.
The views of Longs peak from this vantage are incredible!
Gaining the summit of Copeland proved far more challenging than I had anticipated; it seems like there are a million false summits.
I had been watching the low hanging clouds bow over the continental divide all morning and began wondering if I would be able to finish my hike. As I summited, I was greeted with a cruel 20-30mph wind. There was a fresh layer of frost on the ground and it was COLD! The clouds continued to boil up over the divide, but the view was spectacular! A perfect 10 for photographs.
Image Looking at Elk tooth on the left and Ogalalla on the right.
Image Longs Peak
Image Toward the Continental Divide.

I ate some peaches and signed both registers (Jennifer Roach (!) left a jam bottle with some paper up there) and decided to start walking the ridge to the divide wondering if I would need to bail on account of the weather. Half way across I stopped for noodles and coffee and enjoyed the view.
Image Looking back on Copeland.

I pushed on and found the route from Coney Pass to the Divided. Lisa Foster rates this a class 4 route in her RMNP guide, however, it didn't seem much harder than the upper difficulties of the upper sections of the Keyhole route on Longs. There seemed to be other viable routes that would flirt with class 4.
Image The first part of the route.
Image Round this bend and gain the divide though an easy class three gully.

Once on top of the Divide, the weather didn't seem too bad, and if anything, had cleared up a little. On to Ogalalla.
Image Looking south toward the Indian Peaks!
Image The Traverse!

The fun of this route is the lack of a predetermined route outlined by cairns. I thought that Lisa Foster's description of the route was a little ambiguous and enumerated the trip from Tooth to Ogallala, not the direction I was doing the trip in. Overall, as Lisa does hint at, staying near the top of the ridge from Ogalalla to the saddle seemed to be the easiest route, and then by passing any hairy down climbs by moving to the south side of the ridge.
I found one section that I felt was a definitive class 4 section, but it was very short while descending the Ogalalla side. I often found myself going after sections of rock beyond the obvious route to bump the difficulty up a notch, however, nothing really got above a good class 4. Easier and harder climbing was very easy to find on this traverse.

Once I got to the low point on the ridge, I surveyed the route up to Elk Tooth and decided the easiest way up was to stay on the south side of the ridge at the base of the cliffs.

There were many gullies to choose from to gain the summit of Elk Tooth, and many seemed not to exceed 3/4 class, I choose the second gully from the west face and found myself in delightful 3/4 class climbing.

Atop the gully, the route to the summit is obvious: up.

Image Lisa Foster!
Image Looking at the traverse from Elk Tooth.

Getting down from Elk Tooth was long and painful. I continued along the ridge line until I found a viable gully that ran to the bottom of the basin. It was loose and steep and not fun until I got a 500ft glissade in. This is where the trip gets funny. Irish luck is not winning the lottery or free beer; it's having a spare pair of shoes.

Not knowing what to expect on this trip, I brought both my mountaineering boots (Crampons and Ice Axe, which never got used) and my light hiking boots for scrambling. To cross the stream flowing into upper Hutchinson lake I realize I would have to take my shoes off and wade the two feet of fast moving water. As I was putting my right shoe on once on the other side of the creek, it slipped out of my hands! I quickly went after it, but soon found myself in waist deep water where the creek empties into the lake still wearing my backpack, windbreaker and rain pants. I watched my shoe bob out to the middle of the lake and realized the water was too cold for me to go for a swim. I am now soaked waist down, my feet are cut up, my two month old shoe is gone and I am 9 miles from the trail head. Now what? Digging though my bag for food, I realized my incredibly lucky situation, and got the boots out. On my hike back to Pear Lake, I meet a very friendly photographer (the first person I have seen ALL day) whom commented on my seemingly bizarre dip in the stream. I explained the situation, and got a couple of chuckles from the photographer and went my merry way!

I got back to my car around 5:30pm, 14 1/2 hrs later. The hike back was spectacular, blue bird day and no wind. I was in complete isolation for 11 hours straight and experienced 3 of RMNP's most secluded summits. The traverse from Ogalalla to Elk Tooth IS a true classic.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
Layne Bracy

Nice report
06/30/2009 23:13
I did a variation of this a couple years ago. From Ogalalla, I went north to Isolation instead. I thought the descent from Copeland to Coney Pass was pretty tedious. Good work on a long outing!


just noticed this
08/26/2009 17:29
what an amazing idea for a souther RMNP outing!! This gives me a lot of hope about avoiding the Middle St.Vrain Rd that apprently is pretty rough. This seems like a hell of a long day, think I‘ll wait till fall when the t-storms calm down. Thanks!!

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