Mt National Park, Colorado
January 16, 2010
Christine and I arrived at the Lily Lake Visitor Center around 8:50 under a disappointingly gray sky. The forecast called for clear sky by 11, so we had some chance of a nice, warm hike down. But we both agreed that the clouds seemed socked in pretty thick, and chances for clearing seemed low. The gate on the road towards the trailhead was closed, so we parked in the empty parking lot right off Hwy 7 and got our gear sorted out. After last week’s hike up Flattop Mt where my hands were perpetually cold, I brought along two pair of handwarmers and we broke those out right away. The temperature at go-time was around 25 degrees, but the complete lack of wind made the temperature feel much warmer.
We strapped our snowshoes to our packs and hit the road around 9:00, walking up the firmly-packed snow in the center of the road. Stray but a little off that packed strip and you’d be up to your knee in powder, but the going was swift on that packed snow. The wooden trailhead kiosk soon appeared around a corner and we picked up the trail at that point. The road continues on beyond that to private property. The next several miles were rather tedious, actually, and if not for the pleasant company, could’ve been rather boring. The trail sweeps back and forth along the northwest flank of Twin Sisters Mt through thick lodgepole pine, with very few glimpses of the surrounding terrain. There is one very nice, unobstructed view of Longs Peak about halfway to treeline, but otherwise, you’re walking in a tunnel of pine and Douglas fir for most of the hike. In summer this doesn’t pose a problem, since there are plenty of wildflowers adapted to the lodgepole understory and the contrast of shadow and sunlight on the trail is a pleasant companion by itself, but on a cloudy winter day, there is only the monotony of white snow, a white sky, dark brown tree trunks, and yellowed pine boughs. The color palette shrinks to just these few shades, and it leaves the mind numb in short order.
The snow was thin all through the forest, and hard-packed on the trail such that we never pulled on our snowshoes but instead just gave them a free ride to the summit and back. A few spots of the trail were icy, and some sort of ice cleat would’ve been practical, but we managed without by way of spiked walking sticks. We encountered one guy hiking on the trail, and he breezed past us with a purpose. Otherwise, it was very quiet in the woods. No wind, no birds, no people, nothing but the occasional skitter of an Albert’s squirrel scampering up the rough bark of a lodgepole pine.
We reached treeline and the wind picked up. I put on my sweatshirt and hat, and we followed the trail through an increasingly snow-free landscape of bare rock and gnarled pines. The final pitch of the trail headed through a boulderfield on the north face and took us right up to the saddle between the two shallow summits of the Twin Sisters Peak, which we reached at around 11:45. Though the label on the map hovers only over this area of Twin Sisters Mt, I’m not sure if these two summits are the Twin Sisters, as they are not really independent by any definition (having a vertical drop between them of less than 100ft) or if they comprise one Twin Sister with the second Sister being the independent peak to the south at 11,976 ft. We considered continuing on to this southern neighbor, but obligations at home required that we not take the time to do so.
Instead, we contented ourselves with visits to both of the summits on the north peak, and spent some time eating lunch on the lee side of the east summit, examining the cities of Ft Collins, Loveland and Longmont from our lofty perch. To the west Longs Peak dominated the view, and I could pick out just where the trail to Goblins Forest and Chasm Lake marched up the flank of the mountain. The sky remained cloudy over the east and over us, though blue peeked out to the west and parts of the Mummy Range glinted in sunlight as we began to head down.
We encountered several groups of hikers on their way up. The temperature increased, and when we dropped back into the trees, we were soon peeling off layers of clothing in the warm air, which reached 45 degrees by the time we returned to the car. The zipper on my fleece sweatshirt jammed while I was removing it, and I have yet to fix it. Seems like zippers are the Achille’s heel of sweatshirts, as every one I’ve ever had succumbed to that problem.
By 2:45 we were back at the car, and orange sunlight was hitting Lily Mt just to the west. It didn’t last long before the clouds closed in again, and the rest of the afternoon was cloudy. We stopped in Estes Park for a quick coffee, and then cruised on down the canyon towards Loveland.
Snow on the rocks down low on the trail