Traversing Trail Ridge

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The view southwest along Trail Ridge Road near Iceberg Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, with more than 10+ miles lying above 11,000 feet. Contrary to popular belief, the entire road is actually always “open”. You just can’t bring your car with you from October through June. With the absence of a motorized vehicle and the addition of snowshoes, even an easy peak, one just a half mile off of the road like “Trail Ridge”, becomes quite a feat. Scot drew up the plan. It included 3 ranked peaks that would make any driveaneer drool in the summer. While Scot was certainly up to the task, I was unsure if I had it in me after sitting in a chair for 3 months, but knew I had to give it a go. Fast forward to Friday and we both found ourselves standing at the gate at Many Parks Curve ready to put in some miles.

Ranked Peaks of the Park: Tombstone Ridge (11,722′), Trail Ridge (12,355′), Sundance Mountain A (12,466′)
Date: April 18, 2014
Start/Finish: Many Parks Curve
Distance: 21.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,320 ft.
Participants: Scot Osborne, Dillon Sarnelli
Time: 13 hours

Route Overview

Sunrise over Many Parks Curve.

We set out at about 6:30 AM from Many Parks Curve. I ran around the bend just before we began hiking to snag this shot of the sun rising. Any Rocky Mountain sunrise is great, but there’s something special about a sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Soon after, we were off. Beyond the gate the road was plowed to the pavement for the first half of a mile or so, providing a very false sense of what we had actually signed up for. The snowshoes went on about a mile later. At around mile 2 we left the road and headed up a snow slope toward Tombstone Ridge and the Ute Trail about 2,000 feet above Many Parks Curve.

Scot enjoying a fun early morning scramble along Tombstone Ridge.

We continued along Tombstone Ridge, eventually hitting the Ute Trail, and then continuing on to Trail Ridge Road.

Trail Ridge Road above treeline where it intersects the Ute Trail at the Ute Crossing TH.

There were times that the road looked like this.

But most of the time it looked like this.

The Rock Cut

We took a breather at the Rock Cut. It also made a nice windbreak. From here we headed for Iceberg Pass along the road and then made a B line through the snow covered Tundra Curves. The views of the Never Summers really began to take shape.

The Never Summers. Need I say more.

The Lava Cliffs come into view.

The Trail Ridge summit sits at the high point above the Lava Cliffs and, believe it or not, is a ranked summit.  In the summer it is easily accessed from the Alpine Visitors Center.

Scot plodding along.

Nearing the Lava Cliffs.

Summit of Trail Ridge – Elevation 12,355 feet, looking west into the Never Summer Wilderness.

The Alpine Visitors Center buried in snow drifts as seen from the summit of Trail Ridge.

From here we turned around and followed our tracks back down to Iceberg Pass. We then left the road, bypassing the Rock Cut, and headed for Sundance Mountain A. It was on this portion of the trek that we both looked at each other wondering if we had it in us to push for yet another summit. As we were about to shift gears from downhill to uphill mode and gain about 1,000 feet, Scot asked what I thought. I think I smiled and mumbled something like, “Well, we’re already this far!”. He smiled and seemed to agree. 20 minutes later we found ourselves atop Sundance.

Summit of Sundance Mountain A – Elevation 12,466 ft.

No caption necessary.

We descended Sundance on it’s eastern snow slope and eventually made our way back to the road at the Ute Crossing TH. Rather than reascend Tombstone Ridge, we opted to stay the road. This added quite a few miles since we would have to round Rainbow Curve, but it guaranteed we’d avoid any additional uphill and kept the postholing to a minimum. We arrived back at the car at exactly 7:30 PM, 13 hours after we had initially begun.

Back at the point of no Gape. This very real line will gradually move closer and closer to treeline as the spring goes on. Get in there now!

Scot, it was a pleasure to get out there with you. After I had 24 hours to regain the feeling in my legs it occurred to me that I really enjoyed this! Thanks again and an additional thanks for introducing me to Wapitis in Estes. It’s a toss up with Ed’s, but I will say that my Gordon’s never tasted so good!

Until next time… Thanks for reading.

16 thoughts on “Traversing Trail Ridge

  1. Floyd

    Dillon, excellent write up for a very enjoyable day in the park. That plow line was a welcomed sight, but man that road goes forever…
    Keep me updated on your future plans and I’ll do the same. This one took some time to recover from but that double burger and Colorado nachos at Wapiti sure cured what ailed me. You don’t have to be nice to Brian and it’s okay to admit Wapiti’s is simply superior!
    Drive-aneers be damned!

    1. Dillon

      Scot! Thanks man. That was a great outing. It makes you appreciate the Park even more when you can look around and feel like that place is all yours. Enjoy your trip this upcoming weekend. I think you’re ready for it now. haha. Wapitis! Talk to you soon I hope.

  2. Brian

    This is Drive-a-neering the hard way. Ed’s will always take the nod over Wapitis but nonetheless – its good to hear they survived the floods. Quite amazing actually. Must’ve been weird not being surrounded by Gapers on that road. Weird and cool. Nice TR.

    1. Dillon

      Gaper Godfather Miller, there was but one Gaper in the Park on Friday: Gaper Godson Sarnelli was present and accounted for. Drive-a-neering the hard way, indeed. Thanks man!

  3. Jason Blyth

    Dude, how exactly did you drive to Moab after this long of a day? You’re kind of a big deal. Great TR, thanks for sharing.

  4. Alan

    Looks like you guys had a great trip out there! Superb shots of the Never Summers and the road shots give a good perspective on the awesome winter we’ve had this year.

    1. Dillon

      Alan, thanks man! Those Never Summers should really hold true to their name this year. Quite a sight as we slogged along. Lots of gaping. Much more than would be considered acceptable on the gaper scale!

  5. Pat

    Thanks Dillon I enjoy all the beautiful sites that I will never see – You are truly amazing!


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