RT Length: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 2950’
I thought I was done with summits for 2018. I’ll be gone next week on a road trip visiting my family in Mississippi for Christmas, and along the way picking up my son from his base in Texas to join us (I’m so glad he got leave for the holidays before transferring to Alaska!!!). I’d just been hiking yesterday, but today I noticed the weather for tomorrow was perfect for hiking as well. I did some mental calculations, and then had this conversation with my youngest (a sophomore in High School).
Me: What are your plans for tomorrow?
Her: I was planning on sleeping in and then studying for finals. And I’d like to get in some rink time if possible.
Me: Do you want any help studying? I did graduate with my undergrad 2nd in my class. And I have an MBA. I’m pretty good at the whole ‘studying’ thing.
Her (with a terrified look on her face): No mom. Just… no. I get straight A’s and have my academic letter to prove it. I’ve got this.
Me: I was thinking of hiking tomorrow, but I’d also like to spend time with you. What do you think?
Her: You should go hiking. That way I can sleep and study. I’ll probably still be sleeping when you get back anyway.
Me: How much studying do you need to do? Is studying more important than sleeping?
Her: Mom, I’m a teenager. Teenagers gotta sleep. At this point I need more sleep than study time.
Me: OK, but that still leaves rink time. How about we go to the rink tonight from 7-9pm, tomorrow I’ll hike, you’ll sleep, I’ll wake you up to study, and we’ll have dinner together.
Woot! It looked like I was going to get one more hike in this year after all! The weather looked great, and my schedule for the morning was cleared. Because of rink time I didn’t make it to bed until 10pm, which meant I only got 4 hours of sleep, but that seems to be the norm for me these days. I’ve discovered the hike is always worth the lack of sleep.
Once again, I woke up at 2am and drove to the trailhead. I encountered a herd of about 40 elk at the same place I had on Friday, and this time I was prepared when I saw them in the center of the road. I slowed down and waited for them to budge, but they didn’t seem concerned with doing so. They were quite happy to stand in the middle of the road and just watch me wait. It seemed I was in more of a hurry than they were. Luckily there were no other vehicles on this road. After two minutes I did something I knew would make them move: I took out my camera. Sure enough, before I got the chance to take picture they’d scattered to the sides of the road. I was on my way!
I haven’t been to the Kite Lake Trailhead for what seemed like ages. The last time I was here was back in June of 2017. The 2WD dirt road was icy but clear and plowed up to the gate closure, about a mile from Kite Lake.
This was also a pleasant surprise: I’d expected to park about 3 miles from the trailhead, and here I was, just 1 mile away. This day just kept getting better and better!
There was room for about 5 cars at the gate, if everyone cooperated and parked nicely.
I was the first vehicle there, so I tried to pull up and leave as much room as possible for others. Also, about 40 feet before the gate the road isn’t plowed, and a few vehicles tried to drive past a snow drift and obviously had to turn back. My advice: Don’t even attempt to drive past where it’s plowed. Your vehicle might make it, but there’s no parking in front of the gate so you’ll need to turn around and park lower anyway.
I gathered my gear and began hiking towards Kite Lake at 4:45am. Just after the gate I had to stop and put on my snowshoes. I left them on for the entire hike.
The hike up to Kite Lake was simple: I just followed the road.
The sky was clear with no moon, and when I looked up I often saw leftover shooting stars from Friday’s Geminid Meteor Shower. The only downside was the wind! Wow! It sure wasn’t the forecasted 8mph, and it wasn’t letting up. It was like I was walking headfirst into a wind tunnel: the wind was funneling down the mountains and straight towards me as I trudged towards the lake. I remembered last time I was here the wind was intense as well, and hoped it died down at some point.
OK, I made it to Kite Lake.
My directions said to look for the trail to Lake Emma, which was supposed to be highly visible behind the bathrooms to the left. Hmmm. No trail was visible, just a lot of snow.
I hiked around for a bit, looking for an obvious trail sign, tracks, path indentations in the snow, etc, and when I didn’t find any I just headed southeast.
Before long I was in a basin, and thankfully here the wind stopped. Even though it was dark I could tell I was in a basin because the ground was relatively flat, and there were outlines of the mountains surrounding me. I’d been told there were willows here, but they must have been buried under all the snow.
I crossed the basin to the south, squinting in the dark, trying to see Mt Buckskin before me. From the basin I’d wanted to get a good look at Mt Buckskin so I could pick a safe line to climb, but in the dark all I could see was there were a lot of snow covered slopes surrounding me. I couldn’t be sure in the dark how stable/deep/etc. those snow covered slopes were. In fact, I couldn’t see much but lots of white surrounding a few areas of black shapes. I was pretty sure the dark areas were cliffs, and not climbable. Imagine seeing this (which is actually more than I was actually able to see at the time), and trying to decide which path was safest to take.
I kept slowing my pace, hoping the sun would rise and I’d be able to see what I was up against conditions wise. Why wasn’t it getting light out? This would be a whole lot easier if it were light out.
After checking my watch and realizing it wouldn’t be light out for quite some time I decided to aim left, where it looked like there was tundra near the snow. I looked at my topo map and it seemed to have the least drastic slope angle. I figured if I stuck to that path I’d have firm ground to hike up if the snow wasn’t stable. This ended up being an excellent idea. The terrain was quite steep but not as steep as in other areas, and no cliffs. Here’s the route I took. In the daylight I realized I’d made the correct choice.
About halfway up the hill I could see power lines in front of me, and decided this would be an excellent point of reference. I aimed for the power line with 3 poles (and discovered later all the others only had 2).
This was a very steep section. Here’s the look back down (from later in the day)
When I made it to the power line I set my next goal of making it to the top of the summit ridge. While the sun hadn’t risen yet, the sky was beginning to get light and I could see better than when I was down in the basin.
Here the snow was firm and I wanted to keep my snowshoes on so I looked for a continuous line of snow to the ridge. Here’s the path I took
Once again, pictures don’t do the steepness here justice.
The snow at this point was consolidated and I was glad my snowshoes had crampons: microspikes wouldn’t have been sufficient. I was also glad I had my ice axe.
After what seemed like forever I gained the ridge just as the sky began to turn pink.
I stopped for a minute to admire the view, and then realized if I hurried I’d be able to make it to the summit to watch the sunrise. I quickly sauntered in my snowshoes the last hundred yards or so towards the summit.
I summited at 7am
And yes, I was able to watch the sunrise (it rose directly from behind Pikes Peak, which was cool but not something I was able to capture with my camera)
I also wanted to summit Loveland Mountain today, so I turned and walked back the way I’d come. The trail over to Loveland Mountain looked very straightforward. I could see the path outlined in snow
I made my way to the Buckskin/Loveland saddle, careful not to trip in my snowshoes.
From here there was a rocky section to navigate
And then I had the choice to summit via the trail to the right or the hard packed snow to the left.
I had on my snowshoes, so I decided to take the snow route, which has more snow than it looks like from a distance
I gained Loveland’s ridge and walked to the cairn on the relatively flat summit
I summited Loveland Mountain at 7:50am
Now that the sun had fully risen it was time to apply my sunscreen. This has been problematic in the past because a tube of sunscreen freezes in the winter above treeline. Using an aerosol spray isn’t practical for obvious reasons (wind) and the sunscreen that comes in a deodorant-like stick doesn’t apply evenly. Yesterday I’d visited my new esthetician and we’d had the usual sunscreen talk. I’d told her I usually just keep my face completely covered when above treeline, since I’m unable to apply sunscreen when it freezes. She told me about something she’d recently heard of, and I decided to give it a try. I went to the dollar store and bought a compact, took out the powder, cleaned the compact out, and filled it with my favorite sunscreen. Then I placed a new compact sponge over it (30 for $1 at the dollar store as well) and let the sponge absorb the sunscreen.
I had the compact in my pocket as I was hiking this morning (inside of a plastic ziplock as well) and now was the time to take it out and see if the sponge had kept the sunscreen from freezing. I sat on the summit cairn, took out the sunscreen filled compact and applied the sunscreen to my face using just the sponge. I was amazed at how well this worked! The sunscreen hadn’t frozen! Using the sponge it was easy to apply the sunscreen to my face, and my fingers didn’t get cold because they weren’t in direct contact with the sunscreen. I hadn’t expected this to work so well. This is life changing. I took a picture to prove to her I’d tried out her idea.
OK, that had been fun, but now it was time to head back down. Here’s a look at the ridge back to Mt Buckskin
Yes, I had to regain some elevation, but at this point I was feeling great so it was no big deal. When I reached the top of the Mt Buckskin ridge I noticed a few cool looking cornices forming (these were small, only a few feet wide)
Here’s a look at the view from the Mt Buckskin Ridge
On my way back down I once again aimed for the power lines, which were much easier to see in the light of day.
Here’s looking back up the slope to Buckskin
From the power lines I headed back into the basin.
And from the basin a look back up at the route I’d taken
Wow, what a basin! In the light of day I could full appreciate how vast it was. I stopped to take some pictures and admire the view
I realized I’d made the right choice in choosing the line I had to ascend Buckskin’s slope, and now aimed for Kite Lake
Once at Kite Lake, and while hiking the road back to the gate, I got a really good view of Mt Buckskin and the path I’d taken to the top. I had the realization this hike would have been much more straightforward in the dark if I’d just followed the power lines up the ridge.
The power lines start on the road and lead up the mountain, avoiding the basin altogether. I’m not sure if they cross private land (etc.) but this seems a much easier option that would have made the hike quicker as well.
In any event, the weather had been perfect today once the wind had stopped. Not a cloud in the sky, and as I was walking from Kite Lake back to my truck it got really warm out and I was able to take off my hat and balaclava.
I made it back to my truck at 10:30am, making this a 7 mile hike with 2950’ in elevation gain in 5 hours, 45 minutes. This gave me plenty of time to drive home, get the truck washed and gassed up for the road trip, and to wake my still sleeping daughter up to start studying. All in all, an absolutely perfect day!
And just because it’s fun, here’s my Relive video: https://www.relive.cc/view/2020503730