Posts Tagged ‘rocky mountain national park’

Rocky Mountain National Park – 1/22/11

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
The Front Range area got pounded with a lot of snow all week, so my skier buddy and I took a trip up to RMNP to do some touring/exploring/adventuring. I’ve been up to the Bear Lake area a few times, and the paved road access cannot be beat, save for Berthoud or Loveland Passes. However, the crowds that mass at those areas are nonexistant up here in the wilderness.

We set off from Denver in the dark at 5:00, passing through Boulder and grumbling at the two dozen traffic lights on highway 36 that seem intent on screwing over the very few early risers on the road for no reason. The ground through the entire drive was dry as a bone.

Finally, we entered the Park through the north entrance station. Instantly the conditions changed from dirt brown to wonderful, fluffy white. In the early dawn light, we spotted a herd of at least 50 elk huddled together near the side of the road! We stopped and got out to have a look. The air was warm, dark, and silent. I watched as the herd moved about in the tranquil scene, going about their business as we were going about ours. We left them be and continued to the trailhead.

There was definitely over a foot of new snow at the trailhead, and the sky was very dark and overcast, with strong winds. We started off on the Dream Lake trail in a southern direction, before hitting Tyndall Creek and turning due west. On the way, we met up with a solo ice climber skinning his way towards some falls a bit south of us. We stayed with him until the fork south of Nympth Lake, where he headed towards the big cliff faces near Chaos Creek.

Tom getting stoked for some Corps of Discovery type action

It was dark and grisly, but the powder and terrain was beautiful

Although the plan was to get above Dream Lake, we were greeted with a huge blast of gale force wind at the edge of the lake. We took shelter in the trees and evaluated our plan. We decided not to go any higher and instead head north on the bench, putting us above Bear Lake.

We made our way higher and higher on the bench, and the sun finally started to make its way out between the clouds. We finally topped out at about 10,500′, amid some rocky bands and trees. From here, we had a pretty good view of the whole line down to Bear Lake, save for a few steep rollers.

Scoping out our intended line. We decided to follow the natural fall line down and to the left in this photo. (Photo by Tom Armento)
I am ready to drop in. First splitboard descent of the year for this guy! (Photo by Tom Armento)

I dropped in first. The line was a moderate one, but the two feet of powder was excellent for surfing. I got to another lower bench and called down for my partner to follow. We dropped a good 300′ of steep powder before we got benched out.

Tom blasting the pow


My turn to surf (Photo by Tom Armento)

(Photo by Tom Armento)

This is when things started going bad. The bench was too flat and my board was getting buried in the immense snow. I unstrapped and found myself up to my chest in unconsolidated snow. It was a little scary, especially when I found myself in a tree well or two. I started having flashbacks to a nightmare two years ago on Vail Pass. Eventually, I found a solid ridge that I was able to climb up on by taking off my pack and stepping down onto it to climb up. Then I reached down, pulled up my pack, and continued the process. It was exhausting, and I was in no mood for any more touring.

Luckily, we hit another steep area and I dropped down around some cliffs. My partner took a more direct line on a short headwall, setting off a small sluff slide, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

Hitting the steeps above Bear Lake



Finally we made our way out towards Bear Lake, passing a few more ice climbers getting after it. When we walked way out to the parking lot, we past a much more crowded scene than we encountered at 6:00 AM. Dozens of snowshoers and a few skiers who were just arriving to start their day, while we kicked back and reflected on ours in true alpinist fashion with some cans of Old Chub.

Map of our ascent (green) and descent (blue).
(Narrative and photos by Adam Reiner, unless otherwise specified)

Rocky Mountain National Park motorcycle tour

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

This weekend my parents came to visit from Illinois and we decided to stay up in Grand Lake for the Labor Day weekend.  I had only been there one time, over three years ago when ‘Briguy’ and I tried to drive over Trail Ridge Road in the middle of February.  We were stopped when the yellow pavement lines terminated at ten foot wall of snow at the west entrance to the National Park.  That was the farthest I’ve ever been on the west side, although I have explored most of the terrain on the east side of the National Park many times since.

To save my Dad a couple of hundred bucks on a rental car, I agreed to hand over the keys to my trusted 1997 Ford F-250 Powerstroke to him for the trip.  That truck and I have been through heaven and hell together four seasons a year, but all I could think about what gaining the freedom to ride my 1989 Kawasaki KLR-650 for 200 miles through the Rocky Mountains! (of course, the fact that I still owe said Dad a few bucks on the generous truck loan, had little to do with the decision.)

I geared up at near 4:20 in the afternoon and made a final pit stop before heading out on my own.  I topped off the KLR with 87 octane and looked around for an air compressor.  I circled the entire parking lot before finding one that said “out of order”.  Without a guage, I estimated that I had about 40 psi in the rear tire and 30 in the front.  I figured it a worthy experiment for my first mountain trip. 

84 degrees in Denver with clouds rolling in

I got out of Capitol Hill as usual without a hitch, cruising out at top speed on U.S. Route 6 towards Golden.  I decided to continue on US-6 up into the mountains because it had worked well on my last motorcycle ride and was much more relaxing than Interstate-70 would have been regardless of the situation.  My Clear Creek detour proved once again to be a good decision, and I made my first stop at the infamous “Kermitts”, a saloon with a large “Tuaca” sign and a collection of the Harley-Davidson types parked out front.  I’ve seen this bar with my own eyes over 200 times by my estimates.  I snapped a few photos anyways., but had no need or desire to go inside.  Maybe next time.  Instead I put on the rest of my makeshift ‘cold weather gear’ I had brought to experiment with on this trip.  I had a light fleece on under my textile motorcycling jacket, which gave me excellent mobility and warmth.  I also put on some ‘waterproof’ (I use that term sparingly) EMS pants over my poly hiking pants. I kept on the leather ‘MLB-branded’ batting gloves although I still had some winter touring gloves in the tailbag.  Speaking of tailbag, that is also a makeshift idea using the legendary DaKine Heli-Pro backpack.  The bomber hip belt and cargo straps on the back secured the bag to my stock rear rack of the KLR.  I had found a motorcycling use to add to the multiple uses of my favorite pack throughout the snowboarding, climbing, mountain biking, city-trekking, and hunting seasons.

My KLR parked in front of Kermitt’s

When I got going again I was forced to pick up the interstate for a few miles.  Just as I ramped on I was stopped in gridlock Labor Day vacationer traffic not unlike the hellish ‘Bormon’ through Northwest Indiana on such an important American recreational holiday.  Strangely, I wasn’t the least bit annoyed by the traffic while riding the KLR instead of driving a ‘cage’.  After about ten minutes it opened up again and I exited onto US-40 to head up Berthoud Pass. 

The temperature started to drop quickly while heading up the pass.  I pulled over and changed into a super-warm pair of Tourmaster gloves I had bought in the bargain bin at Moto-Gear Outlet.  Now my hands were nice and toasty, and I continued up the pass.  I enjoyed making the hairpin turns around each switchback, climbing higher and higher up the pass.  I had read mixed reviews about riding a carburetted motorcycle up to high altitudes, but I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.  I parked at the top of the pass and took a few photos.  Without snow everywhere, I could see where the dirt road went up to the science station at the top of the mountain.  However, the road had a gate in front of it and a sign that said “No Motor Vehicles”.  That was a bummer, for I really wanted to rally up to the top on a short detour of my trip.

Looks like a perfectly good road to me!

Self photo on Berthoud Pass

I departed down the west side of Berthoud Pass, through Winter Park and Granby.  The air started to warm up again, and with the mountain pass behind me, I settled back and enjoyed the cruise. 

“Sweet Mary Jane!”

I may have gotten a little too comfortable out on that straight stretch of highway, and caught my eyes wandering away from the road and to the beautiful mountain scenery around me.  At one time, I brought my eyes back to the road just in time to see a large white van coming right at me in my lane!  He was apparently making a pass, and at the time I made eye contact with him he was already moving back into the other lane, but it was short enough to scare the crap out of me!  For the rest of the ride I told myself “eyes on the road!”

The views from lake Granby were just amazing.  It was a little over an hour before sunset, and there were dozens of sailboats out on the calm lake.  The sun cast a warm glow over the entire scene.  I just had to pull over and take a few more photos before finally reaching my destination in Grand Lake.

Sunset on Lake Granby

On day two, we occupied ourselves by riding the mountain bikes and hanging out around town.  When I had a little free time to escape, I took the KLR out on my own to find some highly addictive dirt to play in.  By looking at my map of Rocky Mountain National Park, I identified a forest service road called “Kewanachee Road” that climbed up into the foothills on the southern end of the Never Summer Range.  When I got to the trailhead, it was packed with trailers.  A few guys were loading dirtbikes onto their trailers to ride back home in there cages.  I smiled to myself and was so glad I had a dual-sport motorcycle so I would never have to do that!

After I passed the parking lot, the road got pretty technical.  I was met with a long, steep hill immediately.  As I started up, I saw a train of “family-types” on ATVs coming directly at me!  I realized they had no concept of yielding to uphill traffic, I stopped my ascent halfway up the trail.  As soon as I did I groaned to myself about making such a bad decision.  It was going to be a pain in the ass to get started again.  When the “cotton-and-denim army” finally passed me I was all alone again and hit the gas.  I couldn’t handle the angle I was trying to get on, and the rear wheel started spinning wildly.  The next thing I know, I’m perpendicular to the road and going down!  I try to stick my left leg down but it was too steep.  I gave up my effort and the KLR slammed down on the ground.

Breathing heavily, I scrambled to pick it up before more ATV traffic came upon me and suffer any more embarrassment.  Not only is a KLR heavy to pick up on flat ground, the challenge was magnified by me being so far downhill and trying to push the bike up from below.  Grunting, I finally got it up and found that the end of the clutch lever was busted off, and the gear shifter was bent.  “Stupid!” I yelled to myself.  But instead of feeling pity for myself, I decided not to give up on the hill climb.  I got back on the bike and coasted back down to the flat area at the bottom.  This time, I aimed the tire directly up the hill and cranked on the throttle.  ATVers be damned, I wasn’t stopping!  Luckily, I made it up without incident and breathed a sigh of relief.

The remainder of the road was a lot of fun.  It wasn’t too steep, and offered plenty of winding curves as it climbed up through the desert forest.  It was a perfect evening for a ride, and I had some excellent views back to the east.  About halfway up, I stopped to look at my map and realized it had fallen out of my vest pocket.  Although I thought I could keep going, I figured the smart thing was to turn around and head back to meet up with my family.  Luckily, I found the map down on the trail on my way down.

Traveling on Kewanachee Road

Self photo from high up on the road, looking out towards the east

On day three, we loaded up the convoy (one car, one truck, and me on the motorcycle) and headed on our way through Rocky Mountain National Park.  It was a cool morning, and as I rode through the lower valley on the west side of the park, the temperature was dropping.  I changed into the warmer gloves, but as I started climbing up above the valley floor, the temps rose again.  I took in the sweeping views of the Never Summer range while winding up trail ridge road, and we all stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of the road for a short hike and some photos.

Wapiti….yum yum

Epic mountain views!

Afterwards, I mounted up again and continued over the pass.  The views from the top of Trail Ridge Road were epic!  I could see the distinctive flat-top of Long’s Peak to the southeast.  The craggy face of the continental divide dominated the view on my right side.  The upper part of the road was very crowded with tourists pulling over and getting out.  I rode very carefully and finally started to descend to the east side of the Park.  I also passed dozens of motorcyclists.  Most of them were on cruisers.  Not many people waved, but neither did I because I was focused on controlling my descent.  However as I came around a lower curve I saw a dual-sport rider coming up.  He gave me a big “thumbs up” as he passed me!

Self photo on top of Trail Ridge Road with Long’s Peak in the background

After making it through the Park we did an awesome hike up from the Glacier Gorge trailhead to “The Loch”, where I was able to show my dad one of my favorite snowboard descents, Taylor Glacier.  Then we went into Estes Park for dinner and finally got on US-36 and took that all the way back to Denver.

This was the first “long-distance” ride I’ve done on the KLR.  I learned a few things, but all in all I didn’t have any problems and had a lot of fun.  I may be in the market for a more comfortable seat, but other than that, the KLR is a great touring bike!

Dragon’s Tail Couloir

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

February 16, 2008 

Thousands of people from all over the world come to visit Rocky Mountain National Park each year. Ninety-nine percent of those people have no idea the quantity, quality, and caliber of extreme skiing & snowboarding that God has given us there. It is not just my favorite place to ski and climb, but also just to hike and enjoy the scenery. The thing that sets this backcountry destination apart from the millions of acres of national forest and wilderness areas is that every one of those visiting tourists pays a fee that goes into a system of improvements that creates some of the most easily accessible snowriding lines in the state.  Since we live 150 miles apart during the week, my girlfriend and I wanted to get away somewhere special for the weekend after Valentine’s Day. I quickly thought of the Park, since I hadn’t been there in almost a year, and I’ve never been there in mid-winter.

Excited about ripping some new terrain, I started researching some mellow lines off of Flat Top Mountain. However, past TR’s about the Dragon’s Tail Couloir caught my attention. As I did more and more research, I discovered that while the Couloir was mostly traveled in the spring snowpack, it WAS possible to ski the line in Winter, under the right conditions. A quick call to the Burly Dude confirmed my suspicions. Apprehensive about the current snowpack, my mind was made up when I was directed toward Eli Helmuth’s website,, an EXCELLENT resource for up to date information about the Park. 

Off to a late start, we arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot around 11 AM. However, the skies were clear and I knew we had a short approach, so I was not worried.  Bear Lake sits at an elevation of 9475 feet and is the final stop on the Beaar Lake Road, which makes it one of the most heavily visited areas in the Park. It was no suprise to me that we saw dozens of people of all types unloading snowshoes out of their minivans and SUVs. All eyes were on us as we pulled up in the Subaru and started unloading snowboards, ice axes, and a climbing rope. “Only in the Park”, was an expression I frequently told my partner.

Gearing up in the crowded parking lot.
From the trailhead, there is a well marked trail that heads from Bear Lake to Dream Lake, and then finally Emerald Lake. In the winter this snowshoe trail has many offshoots that people have taken to other places, but with a little navigation we were able to make it to Emerald Lake by 1:30. The view of the upper cirque from the lake was incredible. Far up the valley we could see Hallet Peak (a classic trad climbing destination) and Tydall Glacier (a classic spring ski).

Snowshoeing towards Emerald Lake. Hallet Peak rises on the left; Tyndall Glacier farther up left-center. The Dragon’s Tail is the middle of the three jagged spires in the center, with the obvious couloir up the right side.

From Emerald Lake, we branched off North of the main valley and set forth up the apron towards the Couloir. On the way, I talked to some skiers that had come down the upper gorge, and learned that the snowpack was bomber, although the ski conditions were variable. No one had ventured up the Dragon’s Tail today.
Looking at the couloir from Emerald Lake
We made it up the steep apron on snowshoes and stopped under a large boulder. I decided to rope up for a variety of reasons, and we entered the couloir at 2:00. I had mandated a 4:00 turnaround time, so ensure that we would be back to the car by sunset, and I had good plans to top out by that time.
Beginning the steep section

The Dragon’s Tail was much steeper than I had originally thought. I knew that it had been warm the day before, and wasn’t surprised to find a thin “melt-freeze” layer on top of the snow. This made for excellent climbing, but I was less enthusiastic about the snowboarding conditions. No worries, it would still be we worth the effort to ride the classic line. As my partner and I switched leads all the way up, I marveled at the majestic scenery around us. I kept my eye on the top of the couloir: the blue skies had started to haze over with clouds.

Inside the couloir, looking up at the clouds moving in.

By 4:00 we had just made it to the part of the couloir that splits into two opposing diagonal lines. We were completely exhausted (I had really underestimated this thing!) The sun was gone and it was snowing, so we made an easy decision to ride down from that point. The descent was steep and fun! While there were crusty spots, I was excited to find patches of powder dispersed throughout the couloir.

V, starting her descent

We rode down a good 1000 vertical without incident, and then made the flat trek across the frozen lake as the snow fell harder and harder. Not wanted to get lost in a whiteout, I hastened up the pace, only to slip on the ice (should have bought those Malamutes!) and land directly on my left shoulder. Crying out in surprise, I was lucky not to have broken anything, and I slowly crawled back up to the laughter of my partner.

The author

It was almost 5:00 by the time we headed out, which was good because the previously crowded snowshoe trail was now empty. Once more, a nice fresh layer of snow had fallen on it, which made it an excellent little luge ride on the snowboards and back to Bear Lake. From the car, I looked up towards the Dragon’s Tail and could barely make it out in the storm high up above tree line.

“Damn,” I said, “I sure am glad we’re not still up there!”


On Sunday, we took a much less burly hike up Flat Top Mountain Trail and rode some incredible terrain right in front of Bear Lake. The powder here was excellent, and the cliff-hucking opportunities were endless.

The “Terrain Park” in front of Bear Lake, and the Dragon’s Tail rising far out above.