Traversing the Clouds in the Never Summer Mountains

      11 Comments on Traversing the Clouds in the Never Summer Mountains

Classic Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a place I like to tell myself I know a lot about, but really I probably only know a lot about very little. Other than Wild Basin, most of the Park is still uncharted territory for me. It probably always will be given the expanse. Colorado affords us so many bad @ss opportunities that I’ve found it hard to focus on one area, and in doing so, I seem to always keep the door open to all the potential that this state has to offer. However, I think I can still have a favorite or 2 or 3 or 4 and on this trip, my first trip into the Park this summer, I remembered why Rocky Mountain National Park is still tops.

Brian knows the Park better than most humans, including Rainman, and put the idea of this traverse in my head back in May on our Nokhu Hut trip. On that outing the skiers hit up Mahler and those of us who like to torture ourselves on snowshoes took on Richthofen. From the ridge on Richthofen I got my first glimpse south into all things Never Summer. From then on it was only a matter of when. The answer to that question finally came on Labor Day.

With a 1 AM departure from Denver, Brian and I arrived at the Colorado River TH a little after 3. The plan: Put on our headlamps. Hike .5 miles north to the Red Mountain Trail. Make a left and hike 3.5 miles along the largest switchback ever created to the Grand Ditch. Follow the Grand Ditch 1.7 miles north to Hitchens Gulch. Cross the Grand Ditch on a bridge (c’mon it’s a National Park) and follow the Lake of Clouds Trail to treeline. Take off the headlamps.

Welcome to the Never Summer Mountains! You’re all alone out here. For the rest read on…

Peaks: Lead Mountain (12,537′), Mount Cirrus (12,797′), Howard Mountain (12,810′), Mount Cumulus (12,725′), Mount Nimbus (12,706′)
Date: September 1, 2014
Trailhead:  Colorado River – Rocky Mountain National Park
Distance: ~ 18 miles
Elevation Gain: ~ 7,000 ft.
Participants: Brian Miller, Dillon Sarnelli
Time: 12.5 Hours

Route Overview.

Low hanging clouds to the south as we begin our ascent up the scree to the saddle between Lead and “Never Summer”.

Lead Mountain as seen from the saddle.

The ridge from the saddle to the summit of Lead is about .3 miles of solid Class 2+ and 3 scrambling. I would argue that near the summit it gets to Class 4 if you want it to. At one point I had to say “Miller, if we don’t stop talking I’m going to fall off into the abyss!”. That is my non-textbook definition of Class 4.

Brian working his way up Lead. I asked him how this compared to Kelso Ridge having never been on it myself . He laughed and said this is Kelso Ridge on roids.

This is why I live here.

Brian nearing the summit of Lead.

Mount Mahler (L) and Mount Richthofen (R) with Tepee Mountain in the foreground. Taken from the summit of Lead Mountain – September 1, 2014.

From the summit of Lead the rest is a “stroll” along the Continental Divide. The 1.1 mile traverse from Lead to Cirrus takes you over unranked “Hart Ridge”. Don’t be fooled. This is not Cirrus :). I think it’s here that we realized this wasn’t going to be a traverse in the normal sense of the word. Instead, we were legitimately climbing 5 ranked peaks. I tend to overestimate vertical gain, but if the math adds up, we averaged more than 900 ft+ between peaks.

The Lead/Cirrus traverse along “Hart Ridge” as seen from the summit of Lead Mountain. Mount Cirrus can be seen in the distance.

Brian having some fun on the ridge.

Some of the terrain along “Hart Ridge” with Mount Cirrus still pretty far out there in the distance.

Summit of Mount Cirrus – September 1, 2014. A look back at our progress: “Hart Ridge” and Lead Mountain (Front to Back). Mahler and Richtofen (L to R) in the way back.

Summit of Mount Cirrus – September 1, 2014. Taking it all in.

Howard Mountain, the second tallest mountain in the Never Summer Mountains @ 12,810′ is up next. The traverse from Cirrus to Howard is a little more than one half mile. It was a nice reprieve from what we’d had up to this point and gave us a good vantage into the remainder of the route.

Brian making his way along the grassy saddle between Cirrus and Howard. Cumulus and Nimbus can be seen in the center of the photo (L to R).

The remaining route over to Howard.

Mount Cumulus from the summit of Mount Howard. The summit of Mount Nimbus can be seen just barely above the summit of Cumulus in the distance.

The view of Longs from Snowdrift Peak is pretty spectacular. I give this vantage point from Howard a close 2nd.

Summit of Howard Mountain – September 1, 2014. NICE sweatpants Miller!

From the summit of Howard it’s a 1.5 mile Class 3 scramble to the giant scree pile that is Mount Cumulus. The rock is loose and we did our best to stay high on the ridge to avoid pummeling each other with boulders. It took some time and our legs were beginning to feel the enormity of the day. Miller fortunately had a Red Bull. I did not.

About 200 feet below the summit of Cumulus we opted to take different paths. The race to the summit was on. Brian beat me because I took this sick picture of him.

Mount Nimbus as seen from the summit of Mount Cumulus – September 1, 2014.

Summit of Mount Cumulus – September 1, 2014.

Now just one peak stood in between us and our long descent to the jeep where a few well earned Firestone Union Jacks were patiently waiting for us. Mount Nimbus, about a mile from the summit of Cumulus and 650 feet vert from the saddle was in our sights and the weather was perfect. We made quick work of it.

Looking back at Cumulus en route to Nimbus.

Summit of Mount Nimbus – September 15, 2014.

Summit number 5 felt pretty damn good. It was well earned and the weather was about as perfect as you would need it to be to accomplish a day like this in the summer. We sat there for a while and took it all in, reminiscing on a few past Park trips. In the end we once again came to the obvious conclusion that there really are no bad days in the Park!

Oh, skiers…

We rounded this lake on the way back to the Ditch. This spot reminded me a lot of the area around Lion Lakes in Wild Basin.

Back at the Ditch! This body of water I’m walking next to is known as the Grand Ditch and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Look it up if you have some spare time. It’s quite a human marvel.

Brian, as always it was quite a day we had out there and well worth the wait to finally make this one happen my friend. Thanks for an entertaining Happy Hour in the parking lot too, not to mention my new bottle of hot sauce! 🙂 And don’t worry, I’m pretty sure we’ll never run out of things to do in the Park. Keep Desolations, Keyhole Ridge, Ogi/Elk Tooth Traverse, and that ol’ Wild Basin/Grand Lake Traverse on the short list buddy!  Until next time…

Parting shot.

Hope you enjoyed the write-up. Thanks for reading!

(On a side note, if you go to “By Range”, there are now peak lists making it easier to find most of the trip reports that Explore the Rockies has to offer. )

11 thoughts on “Traversing the Clouds in the Never Summer Mountains

    1. Dillon

      Thanks Brando! If we can make this late september Gore trip happen, the next step is an RMNP trip! 🙂 Enjoy the weekend and nice work on that haircut!

  1. Floyd

    Big day and I’m very jealous. I’ve been trying to make this one happen for years. You can join me next time and do it all again since you missed Never Summer Peak, Baker, and Stratus. Excellent job you two!

    1. Dillon

      Scot – Thanks man! Count me in for sure. We actually contemplated Baker and Stratus and then hitching a ride to get back to the car, but in the end we decided to save them. They’ll make for a short day in an amazing spot sometime soon! Don’t forget Lead to Ricto too! 🙂

  2. Brian

    This is a solid recap but you forgot the shot of Ed’s Sarnelli. I can only give you 4 out of 5 stars.
    Awesome day. Park always delivers. Such a blessing to have in backyard. I look forward to the next odyssey in to its ramparts.

    1. Dillon

      MEEELLIR haha. I can live with 4 man. I didn’t forget the pic of Ed’s. I don’t have one. I actually thought about using a pic of my Ed’s burrito from another trip! 🙂 Thanks for a great trip buddy. This really was awesome. RMNP all fall! Good to see you have internet!

    1. Dillon

      haha Nate! Thanks man. It was a great day. I could see the Chief across the way and thought of you guys. I get to tell Dana in person all about our trip this weekend. 😉 Enjoy your weekend boss!

  3. DKYarian (Zambo)

    Nice buddy….sorry I am late to the party on this TR – I was out all last weekend. This is awesome guys! I took a good hard look at that traverse this summer when I drove over Trail Ridge. Those peaks are big and this looks like a huge day. Glad you guys were able to get out on it and enjoy! Oh an not to worry Dillarino, despite the size and scale of the park, I think you’ll get to a spot soon enough where you feel like you know it all.

    1. Dillon

      Zambarino! Thanks! I’m just glad you read it. I knew you’d appreciate these peaks. You nailed it – They are pretty damn big despite their actual elevation. Just a lot of vert. Also, I think Dave B said it best: they should rename them the Never Visited! The west side of the Park is straight up wilderness. We gave a big wave to ya’s over in the Gore on this day. Thanks for the comment and Happy Happy Belated Anniversary big man!

  4. Ben

    Looks like an awesome outing gentlemen! One of these days you can drag me along on one of these RMNP 12er fests. Great photos as always Dillon, I really like that one of Mahler/Richtofen from the south. Brings back some fond memories.


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