Monday, November 5, 2012

A Sunday on Mt. Meeker

It's been a couple of months since the last time I got out for a really good hike on my own. Not that I haven't been out at all - I've gone on group hikes with CMC folks, either as part of the Wilderness Trekking School class I took, or as part of the prerequisite work for taking their Basic Mountaineering School next spring. But there's something very different about group hiking - it's not quite what I'm usually looking for when I venture out into the mountains. So with a break in my schedule and some inspiration gained while looking at some topo maps, I struck out yesterday on a gem of a route that doesn't get a whole lot of attention.

Mount Meeker, in the southeastern part of Rocky Mountain National Park, is one of the more prominent peaks visible from Denver. But if people know which one it is, they usually think of it as being the thing in front of Longs Peak. But it turns out that it's a great mountain in its own right that merits a closer look.

The feature on the map that captured my imagination was Meeker Ridge, which extends southeast from the summit. So that was the route I chose. Meeker also shares another approach with Longs Peak on the Loft route. But I did that one back in September, and the best parts of that climb are after the turn-off to Meeker.

View Meeker Ridge in a larger map

I drove to the end of CR 113n in Meeker Park on Sunday morning. Daylight savings time had just ended, so the sun was already up by the time I hit the trail at 7:15. The weather was pleasantly cool, and there was a fair amount of snow below tree-line. A single set of out-and-back tracks, presumably from the day before, were the only sign of other hikers I saw on this trail.

After following the trail to the saddle between Meeker and Lookout Mountain, there is an almost-clearing that marks the point where the beaten path is left behind.

A view of Lookout Mountain from the saddle

As you bushwhack up the hill, there are several outcroppings of rock which afford nice views over the treetops.

Horsetooth Peak

By the time I gained Meeker Ridge proper, the snow had cleared out, either scoured by the wind or melted by the sun, now unimpeded by the forest shade. Along the ridge there are great piles of rock which I dubbed the Ancient Ruins, owing to their similarity to many of the toppled castles in Europe.

Ancient Ruins on Meeker Ridge

The wind was a sustained 20 miles per hour, with stronger gusts regularly buffeting me as I worked my way upward. And the sun was hidden behind an overcast covering of clouds for the entire morning. I made enough headway to squeeze through the window of time I had set before turning back. Just after noon, I was approaching the fantastic knife edge that leads from the so-called ridge summit to Mt. Meeker's true summit. The wind was unnerving as I made the last very exposed moves onto that edge, but I couldn't let my efforts be foiled by a little bit of fear. Of course, it turned out to be pretty fun.

Mt. Meeker, from the beginning of the knife edge, with Longs Peak in the background.

Quite by chance I stumbled upon the summit register stuck down in a hole beneath some rocks. The paper had fallen out of its tube and was wet with snow, so my writing was blurred and clumsy.
Meeker summit register

When I stood back up, I saw the only people I would encounter all day - two guys who were approaching the summit from the Loft route. I talked to one of them for a little while as his partner worked his way up the summit boulders, but I didn't want to linger, as it felt as though daylight would fail all too soon.

As I returned to the ridge, I discovered a small Bodhisattva statue nestled in an alcove of rocks.

A Bodhisattva statue on Meeker's summit

The sun was out for much of my descent, casting a golden glow on the tundra grasses on the mountainside. The wind was still constant, but it felt a little warmer. By the time I got back to the trail head at 15:50, I was thoroughly spent. But the true aches from the day's jaunt wouldn't be felt until this morning. This is what a Monday is supposed to feel like.

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