This was the first time I had climbed above 13,000ft since March of this year. It was nice to be back in this area. Mt. Lady Washington is a 13,281ft sentinel to the 14,255ft Longs Peak. It also appears to be the only peak in Rocky Mountain National Park that is almost entirely free of snow.
I had thought that since Longs Peak was closed to non-technical climbing, and that this was a Wednesday, I wouldn't see too many people. Actually, a suprising number of people ascended Lady Washington this day. However, I left early enough that I missed the crowds.
I rolled out of bed at 4:15am, ate some breakfast, threw my gear in the car and left. I started by hike at 6am. The Longs Peak Trailhead parking lot was about 1/3 full at this time.
The trail starts a little steep (steeper than I remember), but becomes more gradual around Goblin Forest, just over a mile up the trail. I kept going, enjoying the forest, until 6:45, when I reached Alpine Brook's bridge, and treeline. I passed two men apparently attempting a technical climb. Considering the warnings about technical climbing on the snow during the day at the ranger station, I pitied these two.
The trail meanders up Mills Moraine. The hike became a bit hot, so I stopped to chug some water and remove some layers. At the Chasm Lake junction, I had a decision to make. I could climb the east face, which is only 0.8 miles long (and very steep with big boulders, and according to the two guidebooks I read, is not very fun), or hike up the trail to boulderfield and climb the less steep west face (also 1,000ft shorter than the east). I elected to go up the trail, though it would add some 2 miles to the trail.
The trail, well, was under water. Trails make the neatest drainages for snowmelt, and there was a lot of snowmelt. I tried to hop from rock to rock to avoid the raging stream that was Longs Peak Trail, and also avoid stepping on the trundra plants (they have a hard time this year). Across a few snowfields, and up a bunch of switchbacks... and I had finally reached boulderfield. I left the trail and headed up the west face.
The west face is boulder-strewn (like every face on this mountain). I made a beeline for the lower south-western summit, mainly because two folks reached the main summit, and I didn't want to disturb them (it was early, I would wait). The view from this point of Longs and Meeker is tremendous, and I was able to check the snow conditions on many of the main routes on these peaks. After a bit, I headed for the main summit, a traverse which takes only a few minutes.
The two folks on the summit ducked down behind some rocks to avoid a sudden blast of wind. For some reason, it wasn't windy on the lower summit, but the true summit was a raging windstorm. I opened the register, and noticed that there wasn't one in there (just two business cards. Earlier this year, in CMC's Trail and Timberline, I noticed a request for people to carry extra registers. I gotta get me some, because every mountain I've climbed since last summer with a CMC register canister has had no register in it). I had a notebook with me, so I ripped out 6 or 7 sheets, wrote the mountain name and elevation on it, and then put my name on (plus a quick congrats to my brother Erin, who is getting married on the 14th, two days after this climb. I am an usher at his wedding, meaning I have to stand a lot, and I am currently in pain. Good going, Michael). As I pulled the notebook out, a breakfast bar wrapper went flying to the winds. Luckily, it flew below a rock, and the group below me were able to pick it up. I felt pretty stupid, though. Ce La Vie.
After some intense picture taking, I started down the east face. The boulders are *huge* on this face, near the summit. I carefully plodded down the slope. At the Chasm Lake junction, far below me, I could see a bunch of people resting, and soon a group started up the east slope (ouch). I kept going down, plunge-stepping down a rather large snowfield. At one point, a rock about as big as a person and about 10 feet below me started to move. It slid about 10 feet and crashed against another boulder. It was neat to watch (and smell -- the friction caused a real nifty "burn" smell in the air), but I was very glad that it decided to slide down *before* I reached it, rather than if I was standing on it.
Near the bottom, I reached the group that was attempting the east face. The leader of the group had climbed the mountain once before, and was leading a group of 4 others up the much shorter east face. They were a nice group, and I didn't have the heart to tell them that they were taking a much harder route up (though I did tell their leader that as an aside. Their leader was climbing about 100ft ahead of the rest of the group). I hope they made it.
At the Chasm Lake junction, another group of about 8 people (mostly kids) were resting. I told them all about the trail conditions and my adventures. They didn't know where they were going to go next, but likely they went to Chasm Lake (if anywhere).
On the way down the trail, I met a woman, and we got to chatting. I told her about my RMNP WWW page, and she was eager to get all the relevant URL's (for those who don't know it, it's http://estes.on-line.com/rmnp). I told her I would have this report on there by the weekend... I wouldn't want to be a liar, now (oh, and if you read this, hi again).
It was strange, but I was stopping to chat with practically everyone I passed. Lots of late-day hikers were ascending the trail, but it was the perfect day to do so (no clouds appeared until after I was on the summit. Only a few clouds were around by mid-afternoon). Feeling good, I reached the trailhead at around 1pm (7 hour roundtrip, including spending an hour or so on the summit).
The hike is beautiful, not particularly hard (though my legs to hurt a little today), and well worth it. I had originally wanted to climb Storm Peak, but it has a lot of snow on it still (I'll probably do it next week anyways, just for kicks. I want to see if the register really does have entries in it from the mid-1980's). Until then...