You may reach a point where the trail just ends. Cross the small creek on your left and it will resume on that side. There are alot of splits and little offshoots. I would say just take what seems to be going in the general direction that you want to go. As I reached treeline, the trail hit rock and became indistinct, but by then I could see exactly where I was going.
In the end it may have been better to do so, as I found steep snow fields blocking the way up the described route. Some improvising was in order to avoid the snow. Here I got my first real taste of the unstable and loose nature of the rock in the area. I found myself on what amounted to a slope of pea gravel, where ever step forward ended up with sliding about half a step back. I reached some more solid rock, only to kick pieces off as I moved up. I learned early to really test any hand or footholds I was using. This scramble was third class and loose.
It was in one of those small gullies that I put my right foot on a torso sized piece of rock on the other side only to have to move and tumble down. It surely would have seriously injured anyone below.
I am not going to go into the route I took back down to Grand Ditch. I think it was too steep and loose to be a safe choice. I would suggest just heading east- if you look at my photo above, you will see an area where it looks like an avalanche took out alot of the trees. Finding this and staying in it would probably be the best option to avoid bushwhacking down this hill.
I made it back to the Red Mountain trail just as the sunlight was fading. The headlamp came back out, as did the haunting and nebulous calls of Elk bugling in the night. Of course it was around this time that I started thinking about horror movies...
I was excited to finally be close to the car. I stopped a few times and turned my headlamp off to gaze at the night sky. Right around the time the trail rejoined the La Poudre Pass trail, I heard a bugle very close to me. I looked to my left and saw several pairs of eyes glowing in the night.
It was 847pm. This gave me an almost 15.5 hour day, a personal best (or worst) in longevity. And there was the almost two hour drive back home. Fortunately, I did not encounter much traffic, and found myself in bed right around midnight.
On paper, the numbers don't look too crazy- 17ish miles and 6000 or so feet of elevation gain. It is the terrain that makes movement so difficult here. Everything is loose, and when down or upclimbing, you have to test every single hand and foot hold before you commit your weight to them. This of course, takes some time. But better to be safe than sorry!
Ni-chebe-chii Part 1 (distances as part of the hike):
Lake of the Clouds, 11430 feet: 6.6 miles one way, 2390 foot gain. Strenuous-.
Mount Cirrus, 12797 feet: 7.4 miles one way, 3757 foot gain. Up to third class. Strenuous.
Howard Mountain, 12810 feet: 8.1 miles one way, 3770 foot gain. Strenuous.
Mount Cumulus, 12725 feet: 9.3 miles one way, 3685 foot gain. Strenuous.
Mount Nimbus, 12706 feet: 10.3 miles one way, 3666 foot gain. Strenuous.
Red Mountain, 11605 feet: 11.7 miles one way, 2565 foot gain. Strenuous.
As a whole, this hike covers 17 miles and a bit over 6000 feet of gain with up to third class movement. Strenuous+.