Sunday, July 17, 2011
Mt. Dunraven and Mt. Dickinson Loop from Dunraven TH
Mt. Dunraven (12571')
Mt. Dickinson (11831')
~21M from Dunraven TH, ~1M elevation gain
7 hours RT with Nick
After a remarkable fortnight in which he placed 3rd (and remarkably high in all-time finishing times) in both Western States and the Hardrock 100, Sir Nick was back in town and looking for a decent run. I suggested a hastily-researched loop which included Mt. Dunraven and Mt. Dickinson, two less popular peaks on the border of the Comanche Wilderness and RMNP. His writeup is detailed enough for anyone else looking at this loop, so it's now the pre-eminent source of some peaks that didn't have much information about them.
The route begins with a run along the North Fork of the Big Thompson river, up to Lost Lake, which has some great recent beta from Rob. This is a popular backpacking area, on a trail which also leads towards Stormy Peaks, another great run. However, I've been drawn to the obvious rolling tundra above this trail, forming the ridges of Mt. Dunraven and Mt. Dickinson. Lisa Foster's excellent RMNP hiking book has some mention of these peaks, noting the more obvious Class 2 approach above Lost Lake. Also intriguing, however, was the Northeast Slope route to Mt. Dickinson, which would make a lollipop route possible back down to the Happily Lost campground, just over halfway up the trail. This sounded promising enough to scout out, and with a clear view from the top we had a hopeful possibility that we might be able to head due East to the North Boundary Trail. That was not to be so, and although the mention of the route description was comforting in that there were no terrain traps by dropping back down to the North Fork, the phrase "bushwhack" being used twice did end up making this section of the 'hike' a slog.
As it turned out, we had a great run up to Lost Lake in just under 1:50, and then switched into off-route mode with some snowfield and creek crossings. The creeks were still fast enough -- it's July! -- to warrant a bit of investigation, but ended up being entirely manageable. Next up was a constant march up to Dunraven, a steady grunt up talus and tundra, all the while enjoying the above-treeline views.
A summit register on top was dated from 2006, and had only 3-4 pages of signatures -- a far cry from anything on a 14er! We identified the surrounding peaks, either by map, or familiarity from previous excursions or planned future ones, before heading down along the ridge to Dickinson. This was a straightforward hike across the familiar tufted, uneven tundra that marks the Mummy Range -- easy to manage but watch your ankles. We skirted around the lesser "Dunraven Knob" before heading to the Dunraven-Dickinson saddle, and enjoyed Dickinson's more prominent peak. Again, a summit register was present, but had much fewer visits than Dunraven. One of the entries mentioned bushwhacking up from the Happily Lost campground, so we were hopeful about that possible route. Since backpackers often stay there, some summit attempts would naturally include day trips from the camgpound.
With that, it was time to scout the return trip.
Trees, trees everywhere. It didn't look that far, so down we went.
We hoped we'd find some evidence of usage, enough clearing in the trees, some game trails, or something, but instead we got more snowfields, deadfall with pointy limbs, and thicker trees. The slope was manageable, but we essentially slogged straight down the hill for an hour and a half or so. Nick remarked it would have all been worth it if we at least saw a moose or an elk, but no such luck (plenty of evidence, however).
Finally, the roar of the North Fork grew louder. Crossing there was as good (or bad) as anywhere else. And where did we hit the trail? Nearly dead-on with the Happily Lost campground! Although we didn't see any evidence of trail use, it was pretty cool that dead reckoning and lack of visual cues still worked out as planned.
Now we had 6 miles to run back, which was just an anxious cruise down the trail. For being tired and beat-up, it's still fun to watch Nick run down the trail, and at least have a hope of hanging on.
All in all, a solid day with some new peaks. Hard to call this loop a 'classic', but nice to get up there, on what was essentially 3 hours of running, 2 hours of stairmaster, and another 1.5 hours of stepping over trees. Is that good training for Barkley? (Answer: No, because that's ridiculous).