Monday, July 9, 2018

Hunter's Creek Traverse

Crescent Ridge caught my eye a few years ago while browsing Mountain Project for moderate routes in Rocky Mountain National Park. One catch is that it ascends Pagoda Mountain, which by any route is rather complicated and technical. The other catch is that as a very exposed 5.6 climb that is miles away from any help, one needs to be confidently up to the task. The last catch is that it is 7.5 miles and 3,500ft of gain (with half being off trail)  just to get to the base, so bringing a rope and rack would be a soul crushing haul. All of this culminated in sculpting a route where Crescent Ridge would be the focus, but I could take advantage of gear carried and nearby routes in the area. I loaded a pack with rock shoes, chalk and the usual necessary provisions and gear for a day up high in the mountains.

Starting from the Wild Basin Entrance Station, it is 4.3 miles and 2,000ft of gain to Sandbeach Lake. Most of the trail is runnable, but I never hesitate to hike if I feel like it when starting a big day -- no need to tire myself out in the first hour! I didn’t realize that Sandbeach Lake is, in fact, a lake where there is a beach composed of sand. It’s actually quite incredible. A father and his son are putzing around the shore, presumably having just risen from their nearby campsite. I find a vaguely cairned use trail around the north side of the lake and begin ascending Mt Orton.

Adding in the otherwise worthless Orton makes sense as it puts you just above treeline to avoid what would surely be an arduous bushwhack up Hunters Creek proper. From here, the majority of today's objectives are laid out: Pagoda, Longs, the Beaver, Meeker and Lookout. Mt Orton is actually just the broad tail-end of Chiefshead’s Southern slope, so after a bit of cross country I need to cross the drainage towards Pagoda's Crescent Ridge. Too excited to navigate properly, I cross too low and end up swimming through some willows before I’m on my way.

A beach in the Rockies!
Crescent Ridge with Longs, The Beaver and Meeker looming. I crossed the stream at bottom-middle of this picture, I'd actually recommend going around the barely visible lake higher up.
Crescent Ridge abruptly soars out of the center of the basin, beckoning you closer; still though, it’s a steep few pitches right out of the gate and it’s intimidating to look at. At the obvious base of the technical climbing I switch into my climbing shoes. The climbing isn’t so hard yet, but I’m nonetheless satisfied to have the added security of my rock slippers. I find generally obvious lines alternating between some cracks on the left and featured face climbing on the right. Eventually, I reach the 5.6 crux, the leftmost of three crack systems. I take my time and move upwards on secure holds and eventually stem out further left (massively exposed) to finish the sequence.

The initial buttress

The start of the technical climbing goes up this flared crack
Above the technical section lies about 1,000ft of 4th class slab with odd 5th class moves here or there, so I transition back to running shoes. On the march up I find some leftover hail from the night before and top off one my bottles that is running low. The summit of Pagoda is small, pointed and it offers some of the best views possible of both Wild Basin and Glacier Gorge. I eye my next objective just beyond the Keyboard of the Winds, the Southwest ridge of Longs Peak, which ascends to the summit directly from the junction of the Trough and Narrows.

Looking back at the meandering

En route to Longs, I decided to spice things up by trending generally towards the ridge proper rather than the normal gully which deposits you far further up the Narrows. I only have to back track a bit before I find terrain which aligns with the guidebook description. The start was a bit awkward as I was foot-jamming with a Boa lacing system, but it works out fine enough. I cruise upwards until I hit the crux which prompts me to back-off and re-evaluate. I could downclimb all the way back to the Narrows from here if I had too, but I figure it’s worth at least changing into climbing shoes to see how that feels. Sure enough, with stickier rubber and a jam-able peg of a foot it goes no problem! I find another granite handcrack to parade along before mantling up onto the massive plateau that composes the Longs summit -- it was a long walk over to the high-point boulder!

Looking down the Southwest ridge to the Keyboard of the Winds' towers and the relatively dwarfed (but still proud) Spearhead.

The finale of the ridge was this sunny and cruiser handcrack at 14,000ft!

Next, I had planned on downclimbing the Stepladder and ascending the Beaver via Gorrell’s Traverse. I hadn’t been on the Stepladder in about 3 years, so I dropped down the east face too early and had to climb back up before finding what I was sure was the right line. Thankfully, I found the sneaky ledge through the Notch without issue. Last time I had done Gorrell’s it was a complete disaster and I wasted almost an hour trying to onsight downclimb during an attempt at the Wild Basin Traverse. From an ascending perspective, it is much easier to identify: begin up a nasty looking gully, traverse on great ledges to the right and then ascend the cleaner and easier crack system.

Looking back at the true summit of Longs from the Beaver. The stepladder downclimb is -- I think -- out of sight in this mass of rock and Gorrell's travers is 200 sheer feet directly below where this photo was taken.

Moments later I’m on top of the Beaver trying to forecast the darkening clouds. I’ve got plenty of time, but none to waste. I dance off towards Meeker and feel surprisingly well ascending the gravel use trail, considering the energy expended to get there. Motivated by the incoming clouds, I scamper across the Meeker ridge. If only this ridge was a bit longer, the position and movement is amazing.

Mt Meeker residing just beyond the expanse of talus composing the Loft

Now, staring down 6,000ft to Wild Basin, I have a long tedious boulder hopping descent down Mt Meeker’s south ridge ahead of me followed by a requisite tag of the mushroom-cap summit of Lookout Mountain before finding my way back to the trail and finally the car. The boulder hopping feels eternal, I’m hungry, thirsty and getting a bit hangry. I find a well cairned path through the brush and up to Lookout’s summit. It’s a quaint little summit with a surprise 5th class finish. Last, is to bomb through the trees until I finally bump back into the Sandbeach Lake trail where I can trot the well maintained path back to the car.

A very long ridge.

Lookout Mountain's mushroom cap summit

Taking a breather atop of Lookout Mountain

I’ve never finished a day in Wild Basin that wasn’t fairly large. Everything worth doing involves a significant approach which despite being downhill, seems even harder on the way back. The expansiveness is intimidating but it keeps gems like today lurking in the shadows -- untouched, unpopular and pristine. I saw almost zero people the entire day, aside from the father and son at Sandbeach Lake, looking down on some hiker’s in the Trough (I had the Longs summit all to myself, actually for the 2nd time this week) and the first couple miles of the Sandbeach Lake trail. If this link was 6 miles and 3,000ft closer to a trailhead it would be as popular as the Petit Grepon, but the surrounding effort required for this adventure makes it all the more sweet to finish.


Since this traverse, I learned of a missing hiker in the area who was reported the night before. This explains the SAR helicopter I saw buzzing around me all day. Unfortunately, I saw no sign of Brian or any abandoned gear throughout my loop.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Cordis,

    We are currently still looking for Brian on the Mt Meeker, South Long's basins. Do you have any other info, or leads that may help in us locating him?