Monday, June 25, 1990: Flattop (12324'), Hallett (12713'), and Otis (12486') Peaks

One Monday I took off from work to go hiking with another HP ite, Bill Vodall, and a friend of his. Well actually as it turned out we never saw each other, except they got a distant look at me once, but we were in touch most of the day through the magic of ham radio. I took the high road and they took the low road.

For various reasons, including waiting a while for a parking space, I got a really late start from the Bear Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park, 9475', at 1145. Earlier the weather had looked quite nice, but by then some puffy stuff was appearing over the Divide. I took it slow up the trail, played with the radio a lot, and watched the weather.

Several dark towering clouds formed in succession and came over me. I sat out the edges of two thunderstorm cells under a poncho, the first under trees at 10800', the second above timberline at 12000'. There was very little lightning. I finally reached Flattop Mountain, hiking briskly under now blue skies, at 1715. If you're counting, that means I gained 2850' in 5:50. Pretty mellow. I figured I'd stay out late, and I did. I spent much of the time chatting with various folks on the radio, including Bill and his friend, who started out even later than me and went to Emerald Lake.

I turned left (south) at the Continental Divide atop Flattop and cruised on up the 400' of bouldery slope to Hallett in 20 minutes. Once on the summit I kicked back for an hour to survey the scenery, relax and recuperate, eat ``dinner'', and talk with people on the radio. Bill and his friend were by then arriving at Lake Haiyaha well below me. Hiking with a radio is... different.

I debated where to go next. At 1838 I decided ``what the heck'' and continued south down to the saddle at the head of the well-named Chaos Canyon. This section of the Divide is an interesting bit of terrain. The high line rises and drops over a series of summits. The gentle slopes to the west contrast sharply with the steep glacial cuts to the east. There is a series of spectacular canyons south from the Flattop ridge to Glacier Gorge, which washes up on Longs Peak.

At the saddle above Chaos Canyon, 12040', there was a weathered sign warning of the steep drop to the east. At this point Bill reported that he could see me silhouetted against the skyline over a mile a way. I peered down at Lake Haiyaha, but didn't have time to dig out binoculars and return the favor. I was going to glissade down ski-tracked snow into Chaos Canyon, but Bill convinced me I might as well avoid the boulder-strewn floor and go over Otis Peak to boot. So about an hour before sunset, I plowed up another 440' in 19 minutes to reach the top at 1937, one hour from Hallett.

Otis appears to be a seldom visited peak. There's only a rough cairn on the small, rocky top. It was a spectacular place to watch the long shadows grow across Longs Peak and surrounding pinnacles. I was torn between staying to soak up the sunset, and reaching a trail before darkness.

Here I made a phone-patch call to my daughter and discovered my last grandparent, Evelyn Baron, had finally succumbed to her infirmities that morning in a hospital at the age of 83. It was not unexpected. My parents had cut short a vacation the day before to return to Florida. Still, it was painful news. I turned off the radio, my magic link to the outside world, and said my goodbye to her there, surrounded by the raw magnificence of stark rock walls bathed in crimson.

After 40 minutes on Otis I regretfully started the long journey back home. I left the marvelous view at 2018 to descend the east ridge. I had to drop way, way down to Lake Haiyaha. It took ``forever'' in the gathering gloom. Eventually I cut down from the top of the ridge toward the lake, apparently a little too soon, for I had to downclimb some steep, loose rockfalls in the fading light. Just above the lake I finally dug out a flashlight and entered primeval forest.

Playing with my radio made me late, but it kept me in touch as I descended. I checked in periodically with hams Jack Wheeler in Estes Park and Doug Baskins in Fort Collins. It was reassuring to hear friendly voices in the darkness. After 1:45 from the summit, and some nasty bushwhacking, with a little advice from Jack since I hadn't been there before, I found the trail below the lake. Just as I reported this to Jack, my second radio battery died. Timing!

From there to the Bear Lake parking lot was merely another 50 minutes of putting one foot before the other in the darkness. What a day! 11:10 on the round trip. Even better was how good I felt back at work the next day.

By Alan Silverstein