Sunday, September 9, 2012

Desolation Peaks RMNP

From 2012-August Desolation Peaks Loop

Marmot Pt. (11,909')
West Desolation (12,918')
East Desolation (12,949')

Nick and I decided to check out a peak-bagging loop focused on the Desolation Peaks in RMNP. He has a more detailed writeup, but essentially we started at the Alpine Visitor's Center, shamelessly grabbed Marmot Point (a high 11er) before skirting along the Mummy Range to hit the Desolation Peaks.

The Desolation Peaks are lesser-visited high 12ers, shyly hiding behind the Mummy's, but more jagged and pointy than the rounder neighbours. The 2 peaks are connected by a jagged, talus ridge, with the East peak being slightly higher. Fun, exposed views await those who venture here.

Unfortunately, with the exposure and significant time above treeline, weather can often be a factor. We had a decently typical forecast, and even with developing clouds, we thought the broken, blue skies in the distance would be sufficient to give us time, after a 10AM summit of East Desolation.

Soon enough, Nick felt his hair sticking up -- so that's what the shaggy ultra-mane is all about, it's a lightning detector! -- and as we descended, within seconds we heard a giant crack (more like an explosion) directly above us.

On the face of it, being on a ridge wouldn't be ideal, but it turns out the ridge has a depth of features not found on the rest of the route. Along a vertical granite wall on East Desolation, we scrambled underneath talus, which formed a rather protective and comfortable cave. We waited for 45 minutes and were relatively sheltered from rain and graupel. The close lightning seemed to be an outlier, as most other thunder rumbles were more distant, with no imminent cloud-ground flashes seen.

We killed time by making a video:

Desolation Peaks - Cave during Storm from mike hinterberg on Vimeo.

Other reports talked about exposed, loose talus on the ridge -- we were not looking forward to this, with the newly added factors of nearby storms added to wet rock (with some accumulated graupel). But being scarcely 10 minutes away, and comfortable with "Desolation Cave" as a retreat point, we emerged from the cave to examine the ridge.

Even while wet, the ridge was far more stable and enjoyable than I had read. I found the large talus forming East Desolation to be generally trustworthy and solid, both climbing and downclimbing, with great exposed views. I was motivated to move quickly because of weather, trying to get into a zone of steady climbing, and found that cracks on the climber's right of the peak provided reliable passage.

East Desolation Peak climb from mike hinterberg on Vimeo.

We retreated safely to East Desolation, with rain threatening but no further evidence of storms. Still, we played it safe by descending off of East Desolation towards the Poudre River, into the forest. Now we were relatively sheltered from weather, but spent the next hour in a longer-than-expected bushwhack.

We (meaning Nick) had initial plans of climbing a lame, forested hump of a hill that had sufficient statistics to be a ranked Larimer Peak. My interest piqued a bit when learning that it had a nickname of "Nutcracker Peak," which somehow made it more interesting than "Pt. 10855" -- but with another forested bushwhack ahead of us, we called it a day. Mercifully, the return to Trail Ridge was uneventful in terms of weather, and was more lightly-forested.

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