Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lookout Mountain Trudge

Lookout Mountain from the ranger station. Photo: Pete Stevenson

From the top. Peak porn. Photo: Pete Stevenson

I had my suspicions that we'd be dealing with some snow on Lookout (10,626') today, but was hoping the mild weather through the week might have taken care of the big snow dump from the other week. I was wrong. Lookout Mountain is heavily forested and lightly traveled, and because we were coming up the north side, the snow was consistently significant above 9,000 feet and we were cutting tracks, which made for a very tough workout.

Lookout Mountain can be accessed from the south from the Dunraven trailhead (off the Drake - Glen Haven - Estes road) or from the north via the ranger station on the Buckhorn Canyon Road (44H), which is off Stove Prairie, and if followed long enough will take you all the way to Pingree Park.

I tried last winter to come in from Buckhorn, but couldn't find the trailhead, which considering today's conditions was probably a blessing in disguise. There are a ton of great running opportunities from the Buckhorn ranger station, with West and East White Pine Mountains on the north side of the road and the Donner Pass trailhead from the ranger station, which will take you all the way over to Signal Mountain. If you want it and have the legs, it will also take you into Rocky Mountain National Park or over to Dunraven. Pete and I were locked on Lookout for today, but likely would have had a much better time of it on the south-facing slopes of West and East White Pine. Next time.

The route up to Lookout is fairly straightforward, although there are multiple opportunities to take wrong turns if you're not paying attention. The mountain is riddled with forest and mining roads, in addition to jeep and ATV tracks. The mountain is apparently a favorite among motorized trail enthusiasts. We had it to ourselves today, and it didn't take long to find out why.

Not a whole lotta fun! Photo: Pete Stevenson

While the low trails from the 8,300' trailhead were essentially clear, as soon as we started climbing, the snow accumulation got heavier and heavier with some very brief interludes of dirt where the sun had managed to carve out some spots. The early going up to and through a beautiful stand of Aspen wasn't too bad, and we were able to maintain a run, but cutting trail through the snow drains you pretty quick. As soon as we were dealing with consistently calf-deep snow, running became too much of a chore and it was trudge time for the final three or four miles.

Dismantled mine about halfway up
Pete working the final push.
Seconds before, Pete was submerged to his waist in a sinkhole.

While the trip up is only 6 miles and 2,500' of climbing, on this particular run it was brutal. In the summer it would be great to take a go at getting up in under an hour, today we were well over two. Getting back to the car, Pete and I agreed that although we'd only run 12 miles it felt like 25.

So much easier running downhill in the snow. Video: Pete Stevenson

As with most lower-elevation Front Range peaks in and around Fort Collins, the views of Rocky Mountain National Park were outstanding and worth the trip. Originally, we had planned a loop to take in Crystal Mountain for 18 miles and 5,000' climbing, but neither off us wanted to break trail any further, so we followed our tracks back home, getting down in under an hour.

Always worth the effort. The view to the south is better from Signal, but pretty sweet from Lookout. Twin Sisters, Meeker and Longs.

Photo: Pete Stevenson
We had planned on a big loop with a bag of Crystal Mtn. (2nd peak) on the way, but opted to head straight back down.

Signal Mtn in the foreground (just peaking up above timberline), Mummies behind. Photo: Pete Stevenson

Looking southeast to backside of Horsetooth.

While it's never too much fun running in this kind of stuff, I am a firm believer that pushing through and getting it done is worth at least five in the bush come spring. Next time I'll take on the more friendly West White Pine and hopefully explore a few of the other lower-elevation peaks in the area.

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