Saturday, May 19, 1990: Twin Sisters Peaks, 11413', 11428', 11376'

Twin Sisters Mountain is east of Longs Peak in a detached section of Rocky Mountain National Park. It forms the small grey ``M'' visible from Fort Collins below the higher and more impressive Mount Meeker and Longs Peak. Last weekend I climbed it for the fifth or sixth time. Yet it appears I never wrote trip reports about those hikes. This time, for the first time, I reached the seldom-visited south summit. I was accompanied by Sherry Perkins; it was her first hike in the area.

I considered doing a solo night hike, to watch the sunrise from the first peak, but we compromised on a 5am start from the trailhead. Thanks to the early start, we had the mountain all to ourselves, encountering no one else until nearly back to my car. We departed the parking lot off Colorado 7 (9080') at 0510. In the cool, clear air of dawn we hiked vigorously up the worn, well-marked trail NE to the north saddle, 10600'. Almost immediately we encountered patches of hard packed snow on the trail. They were easy to cross, except where icy, because of the morning chill - no postholing was required.

After about 20 minutes underway, we caught glimpses through leafless aspen trees and between the pine trees of the pink glow of sunrise on the expansive snowy east flanks of Meeker and Longs across the Tahosa Valley.

Lost in conversation, the 21 switchbacks to the saddle passed rapidly. The rest of the way SE to the first summit, we were almost continuously on deep snow between trees. The climbing continued to be quite reasonable because the snow had warmed and compacted, but was still hard frozen that morning.

The north ``Sister'' is a complicated set of small peaks, two of them higher than the rest. We arrived on top of the first point, 11413', at 0750 (2:40 to gain 2330'). It was a gorgeous morning. Numerous small puffy clouds drifted around the higher mountains of RMNP . It was cool, but nearly calm. The air was hazy toward the plains, thick with moisture that formed dark grey rain clouds by noon. The view west across the valley to Meeker and Longs was stupendous as usual, moreso with the thick coat of snow everywhere above timberline.

We did not linger, but proceeded down, over, and up to the second point (11428', with about an 80' gain) after about 20 minutes. After another short interlude, we started the real adventure of the day. At 0840 we departed south down the craggy ridge toward the 11000' saddle between the Sisters. The climb down was a fun combination of steep rocks and snow, but nothing particularly difficult.

It took us about 25 minutes to reach the broad, flat floor of the saddle. I was impressed with the difference between it and the north one. There were no signs that anyone had ever been there. It was adorned with a marvelous amount of gnarled and twisted timber. It was a very pretty, serene place.

The north ridge of the south Sister appeared as a jutting, squarish wall aimed straight at the saddle, flanked by steep, bouldery slopes. On closer inspection it turned out to be quite climbable, albeit challenging. We made our way slowly up the ridge, often exercising great care due to the psychological drama of large (10-100') drops on each side. There were plenty of good holds, though, and the rock was pretty firm. The ridge narrowed to almost nothing in several spots, but there were equally many escape routes down to the left.

At 1010 we finished gaining about 380' and reached the south Sister, 11376' (but the USGS marker on top said 11384'). The weather was still wonderful, so we stayed an hour and a half to eat breakfast and enjoy Mother Nature. There was a small stone wind shelter near the summit, where apparently someone had spent the night.

Finally at 1145, with the mountain clouds darkening, we took an easier route down the bouldery slope NW . We picked our way on rocks and snow, and before long through trees, west to just north of a 9841' point on the map. The snow was softer then and required a bit of caution to anticipate the inevitable punch-throughs. We did find a series of short glissades, though.

From the small saddle SW of and below the north Sister, we walked through a pretty, open forest NW to rejoin the trail at about 9400', and arrived at the trailhead by 1335. It was a quick descent, taking only 1:50 to drop 2300', thanks to the snow. Of course, the trailhead was packed with people and cars... The more I hike, the more I like getting off the beaten path by following it at odd times.

By Alan Silverstein