I had planned to attempt nearby Medicine Bow Peak on Saturday with another person in the department who has some winter moutaineering experience (the final 6-800 feet on the normal winter route is steep enough to avalanche so I wanted to be with someone who knows what they're doing). Unfortunately, he came down with a head cold, so we're putting that climb off for a little bit. However, I still wanted to get out into the mountains for the first time since October. I was looking for something low enough with a trail so that I wouldn't need showshoes, and gentle enough not to have to worry about avalanches. Looking through Dave Muller's "Colorado Mountain Hikes For Everyone", I came across 9786-foot Lily Mountain, just south of Estes Park near the highway and just outside Rocky Mountain National Park. Not really in the backcountry per se, but, oh well. He rates it as "easy" in summer conditions, and the view of Longs Peak from the summit as "impressive". However, he also says that easy hand work is needed at the summit, and for some reason I missed this when reading it, but it ended up being no problem.
Since this is a short hike with not a lot of elevation gain, I didn't leave Laramie particularly early and arrived at the marked trailhead (by a call box 6.0 miles south of the Colorado 7/US 36 junction) around 9:15am. The weather forecast was looking OK with snow showers likely, but nothing major expected. From Loveland to partway up the Big Thompson canyon there was some low upslope crap but no precip. About halfway up the canyon the skies cleared, but snow flurries kicked in above 8500 feet near the trailhead.
The trailhead is at 8780ft and this is a maintained trail with a trailhead register. Just as I was to start up, a pretty good snow shower kicked in, but the Sun was still easily visible, and it was looking like any snow was going to be confined to the immediate mountain areas. This hike was my first test of a bunch of new stuff I mostly got at REI. This included good underwear, lightly insulated shell jacket and pants, gaiters, a non-technical ice axe, and the ubiquitous Casio altimeter watch.
I started up at 9:22am and signed the register. The last sign-in had been three days before. The first half of the ascent heads north-northwest almost parallel to highway 7, after which it abruptly turns southish; almost the entire hike is in the trees. The first half involves some up and down travel without much net gain. This part is on the protected east side of the mountain and thus parts of the trail were clear. More typically there was about 6" of soft snow with a few higher drifts, so I didn't put on my gaiters until later. The weather was consistantly inconsistent for the entire hike, with snow varying from flurries to snow that could accumulate a bit. However, I was protected from the wind (about 20 mph at treetop level), and temps were in the 30s.
The tone for the upper half of the ascent was set when I hiked past the turnoff a ways before realizing where I was suppose to be. The upper part was close to the north ridge of the mountain, with more snowcover and I lost and refound the trail numerous times. Typically I was sinking 8"-12" deep, but when I got off trail, I occasionally postholed up to my knees. However, the snow consistancy was just about perfect for hiking, and I did have the axe to probe drifts.
I eventually worked my way to just below some rocky pinnacles. There was a cairn at this point, but I didn't see anymore evidence of a trail past this, so I assumed this meant to head up the rocks. Of course, this wasn't particularly easy with all the wet snow around, but I made it up to the top of one of the pinnacles. Am I on the summit??? To the south was another pinnacle that was definitely lower. To the north, however, was one that looked higher, with a notch separating me from it. OK, so I took a picture of this peak for future reference, noted a probable ascent route that would go and headed down to the notch (class 2). I was surprised to see a fair amount of exposure here to the west. And it actually came into play a bit in getting up into a space bewteen two tall vertical slabs which seemed the logical route. Not really dangerous, but I had to pull my axe from my back to keep it from banging the rocks, and if I had dropped the axe, I probably would have lost it down the face. Getting up this required a few moves of borderline class 3 scrambling (probably just 2+), then some class 2 but the rock was exposed to the wind and pretty much dry.
I made it up this summit at around 11:05am. Unfortunately, the weather was too unsettled to see Longs about 7 miles southeast. Also, unfortunately, there was yet another peak to the north at almost exactly the same level. This traverse didn't look quite as straightforward, and at the moment the weather was worsening so I headed back down. If I didn't make the highest summit, I was at least very close. The route I took did match the difficulty given by Muller, so I may have been on top.
On top of the fact that it's always easier to hike downhill, I had my footsteps to follow so I could relax a little on the way down and enjoy the hike a little more. About 3/4 of the way down, I encounted a youngish man and women hiking up, and chatted briefly. About 15 minutes from the trailhead, I took off my pack to get a drink and realized what the faint ripping sound was that I had heard a little ways back. The left shoulder strap of my inexpensive Remington pack from K-Mart was barely hanging by a few threads. Hmmm. I did have a heavier load than I had for summer hiking (about 18 lbs), but I think what stressed it was the three plane trips that I took between November and February. Typically I was loading it with about 25+ lbs (mostly books and papers) and that was probably a bit much for that quality and size of pack. Oh well, I've been looking at the REI Tourstar daypack anyway. [I ended up getting that pack and as of summer 1999 it has accompanied me up about two dozen 14ers and some other peaks.]
If I had been farther from the finish, I would have tried to hold the strap on with the safety pins from my first aid kit, but I just carried it on one shoulder, bookbag style. I reached the car at 12:11pm, elapsed time 2:49, almost twice as long as it would have taken as a summer hike. I really enjoyed this one and it was really good to be in the mountains again.
To the chronological trip index
To the Lily Mountain page
File last modified: 20 December 2004