The trail is built to fly on. With very little in the way of steep sections and not much total elevation gain, the first 5-6 miles go by fairly quickly.
I was interested to see how long it would take me to hit the Stormy Peaks Trail. I'd hiked here earlier in the year via the North Boundary Trail starting at Cow Creek, and thought that could be a possibility to access the peaks above. But it took me five hours just to get to this intersection, which meant I'd be looking at a loooooong day.
Mummy Mountain, Mount Dunraven, Hagues Peak, Gibraltar Mountain.
And by the way, if you happen to be looking for a kick ass campsite in RMNP with great views, look no farther than Stormy Peaks South. Pretty awesome!
As I gained altitude on the trail, snow started to become a factor. It isn't quite snowshoe time, but it will be soon.
Up and up I went, and very soon I was standing on top of Stormy Peaks East.
Pennock Peak, Signal Mountain, and South Signal Mountain.
It was getting cold, though the wind didn't seem as high as predicted thankfully.
them all the in the same day with Dan.
As I dropped down to Stormy Peaks Pass, I spied a lone Bighorn, who was quite content to keep some distance between us. Fine by me. After not seeing any of these for years, I finally made up for that in a big way this year.
The journey up to Sugarloaf Mountain is pretty easy, covering about 1.75 miles and 400 feet of elevation gain on tundra.
Now it was all up to the legs and lungs and heart, as 500 feet or so of elevation gain would be needed to get me back up to Skull Point. I ended up doing a contouring ascent, heading west as I gained, as I did not need to go back to Sugarloaf Mountain.
After summitting Skull Point, I headed down to Icefield Pass. This was my planned descent route, though I guess I should've known better. In addition to the steep ice fields (yes, it's not just a name!), wind blown snow had created some treacherous looking conditions. The slope looked wind loaded and primed to go, and since I also didn't bring an ice axe, glissading was not an option to begin with. I decided I could either go back the way I'd come, or head around the north side of the bowl and hope the sun exposure had kept several promising looking gullies I'd already spied free of snow.
Around I went. The first one was filled with snow, as was the second. But I kept going, and in about a quarter of a mile spied something that looked promising. And then great, as I could stand at the top of it and see it was clear all the way to the bottom!
Now I faced exactly the same problem as I did above. I didn't know if the snow was solid, and movement took some time as I had to continually probe every step. It might have just been quicker to stay up above in the end!
Once I passed the talus near Lake Louise, I was back on solid ground and able to turn on the rockets and start the almost 11 mile journey back to the car. It took me about 3 hours and 40 minutes to cover this distance, roughly the same amount of time it took me to cover the 4.3 miles between Stormy Peaks East and Skull Point.
Quite a difference! I'd swam in this lake last time I was here, but that was definitely out today. Some deeper snow on the south side made travel more difficult, and I remembered the trail being not obvious to find even in summer. I couldn't find it, but crossed the outlet creek, and worked my way down until I hit the trail for the campsite and was able to get moving.
The sun set at some point, and I got my headlamp out. I am normally okay with hiking in the dark, but with a close to full moon, I kept seeing glimpses of light that had filtered through the trees and thinking they were animals or horror movie people or something.
I stopped at the North Boundary intersection for another snack, and went down for a short time before I realized the fleece I had strapped to the outside of my pack was no longer there! ARG! I really liked that thing. I was pretty sure I had it at the Stormy Peaks intersection, but by now felt I was in no condition to go back up, either physically or mentally.
Anyway, if anyone happens to find a blue Helly Hansen fleece somewhere up here, I would sure like it back! I'd be happy to reward with beer.
Finally I started seeing some structures that marked Camp Cheley. Soon enough I was grinding up the last little hill needed to reach the camp entrance before loosing that elevation to get to the parking lot. After such a long day, these 200 or so feet of up really sucked.
But there it was. The beautiful car right where I left it. I take much pride that my 2003 Ford Focus hatchback has more mud on it than most 4wds I see!
I got my things back in the car and decided to take a look and see if there was a fence or some signage indicating property ownership where I saw the Elk. It was easy to find, as a vehicle had backed into the thigh high grass there, smashing down two distinct trails that ended in a flattened area.
This was a long and lonely day. But of course it was worth it! The maximum technical difficulty is second class (maybe a some easy third if you have to come down that gully), and the length could be cut into two or more sections by camping at Stormy Peaks South, Lost Lake, or one of the many campsites along the North Fork trail. Spectacular sights, solitude, and beauty await you. The lakes around the base of Little and Middle No Name are some of the most spectacular in the park, and worth a visit. Despite the high amount of elevation gain, the length of the trail stretches it out, so things aren't ever too steep.
Stormy Peaks and the North Fork Basin (distances as part of the hike):
Stormy Peaks East, 12020 feet: 8.1 miles, 4120 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous.
Stormy Peaks West, 12148 feet: 8.5 miles, 4248 foot gain. Second class. Strenuous.
Stormy Peaks Pass, 11660 feet: 8.75 miles, 3760 foot gain. Strenuous.
Sugarloaf Mountain, 12140 feet: 10.4 miles, 4240 foot gain. Strenuous.
Ramsey Peak, 11582 feet: 11 miles, 3682 foot gain. Strenuous.
Skull Point, 12060 feet: 12.3 miles, 4160 foot gain. Strenuous.
Icefield Pass, 11840 feet: 12.5 miles, 3940 foot gain. Strenuous.
Along the way you will also pass (distances from th):
Lake Louise, 11020 feet: 10.9 miles one way, 3120 foot gain. Strenuous-.
Lake Husted, 11088 feet: 10.4 miles one way, 3188 foot gain. Strenuous-.
Lost Lake, 10714 feet: 9.7 miles one way, 2814 foot gain. Moderate+.
Lost Falls, 9840 feet: 7.5 miles one way, 1940 foot gain. Moderate+.
Kettle Tarn, 9220 feet: 5.3 miles one way, 1320 foot gain. Moderate.
As a whole, this hike covered approximately 23 miles with 6300 feet of elevation gain. Second class. Strenuous+.