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This is a mountain that I had never been too excited to climb for some reason. This past week, it dominated my thoughts so I figured I had better give it a try. I didn't want to do the standard Loft Route, which takes you to the saddle between Meeker and Longs. I wanted something that was a little less traveled and the Iron Gates route fit the bill. Basically, this route takes you up a steep and scree filled gully through to huge "Iron Gates" that act as guards to the rugged northeast ridge, which then leads you to the summit by way of an infamous knife ridge. All in all a very exciting and rewarding route.
I carefully made my way up through the messy scree. There were a lot of loose rocks and small boulders that made this part of the hike move along slowly. I just tried to pick the best path from solid boulder to solid boulder as I made my way up toward the Iron Gates. Once higher in the gully the rock became more solid and it was very enjoyable hiking/scrambling. It is a pretty cool feeling as one nears the gates. They loom overhead like the Sphinx from Never Ending Story guarding passage to worlds unknown. But then you see that they are just rock towers .
Once past the gates there is some serious echo. Even my steps were being bounced around the rock amphitheater. I had a little fun making all kinds of strange noises and listening to them echo all over the gully walls. Soon enough I was to the crux of this gully. There are a couple of 3rd class sections that are easily negotiated in order to exit from this gully, on to the northeast ridge.
At this point, there were quite a few clouds forming overhead and it was lightly snowing. The clouds didn't look threatening and I figured it was probably too cold to worry about thunderstorms. Besides, it was only 8:00 am and that is usually way too early to worry about threatening storms. All was well as I was heading up the ridge except for the fact that it was snowing harder and harder.
There came a point when I pretty much figured that the knife ridge was out of the question because the rocks were starting to get pretty slick. Clouds were moving in a visibility was dropping rapidly. I was debating weather to turn around or to keep going and at least get a look at the knife ridge when I heard what I thought was my cell phone vibrating. I checked it out, and nope, nothing, But there was still that buzzing noise. It was my hiking poles! Needless to say, I flew off of that ridge as fast as I could. Once I dropped even ten vertical feet, the buzzing stopped, but I kept on heading down. I stopped at t he top of the Iron Gates gully to snap a few shots as I quickly repacked my pack, putting my camera and camcorder away so I could make a speedy descent down the gully.
Once into the gully, the weather cleared a bit and I felt comfortable enough to take my time getting down. There were still some darker clouds to the north and west and it was still snowing fairly hard, so I had no desire to try for the summit again. Instead, I figured I'd just head over to Chasm Lake and have a little bite to eat before heading back to the trail head.
I spent about 45 minutes at the lake with a few other climbers who had all been turned around by the same nasty weather. I wondered around the lake a little bit and when I got back a sneaky little Marmot had taken the beef jerky out of my pack! He was just pulling it out when I walked up on him so he didn't get any of the smoky goodness, but he was trying!
After a few more shots of the surrounding scenery I was off, back to the trail head. It was a pretty uneventful hike back and I got a little bored so I actually ran most of the way down. My legs are still a little sore from running with weight on my back, but it was a nice workout.
I cannot wait to try this route again. It is a very exciting route with tons of character that leads to the summit of a RMNP classic!
|until next time...|
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