Hallet Peak - RMNP, July 18, 1997
(This is an account of our ascent of Hallet Peak on the second day of a three-day backpacking trip, base-camped at Fern Lake)
After a somewhat restless night, I awoke around 7:00 and sat up to check
the temperature, it was 61 degrees. Owen was awake and feeling better, I was glad of that.
We began the business of preparing breakfast - for me - oatmeal with dried bananas. As we were eating, I heard a thudding sound outside, I looked out the window and there was a deer bounding through the campsite. He stopped for an instant, then continued on, disappearing in seconds with a few more quick hops.
We were eating in the tent to avoid the mosquitoes. They were around the campsite and would find you when you were still. But, they either didn't bite me or had a painless, itchless bite, as I don't remember ever feeling any discomfort associated with them. So, they were a presence, but not a problem.
We left the campsite at 8:45, headed for Hallet Peak. The trail from Fern Lake up the Odessa ridge is a long, monotonous mile and a half of steady incline. This was the section that gave our knees such a pounding coming down the day before. Somewhere along the way, before we reached the top, my right knee began to bother me and I switched my brace over to it from my left knee. This was the first time I'd ever had to brace my right knee. Now I had to hope my left one didn't blow, having only one brace to go around.
Looking at the map, we had chosen a route up by Ptarmigan Peak, but after seeing the terrain in person, we decided it would be too difficult. Especially after spending the energy to get back up the ridge where we now were. After re-evaluating things, we chose a route leaving the trail by Two Rivers Lake and heading up the side of Flattop Mountain to intersect that trail on top.
This proved to be quite an arduous route in itself. The climb up the side of Flattop was long, hard and steep. Beginning with crossing a boulderfield, then rock-hopping and going through some short brush as we ascended. We tried to find the path of least resistance over grassy areas, but still it was quite rocky. As for the steepness, I measured the slope with my clinometer during a break and it showed about 33 degrees. We would switchback again and again to lessen the angle.
Another concern was that by now the afternoon storm clouds had started to form. It was still early I thought, and noticed at one time it was only 10:30. There was a rainstorm north of us and it was producing some lightning. It seemed to be moving away though, but I kept my eye on it during breaks. I think it's presence urged me along a little, reminding me we needed to beat the weather to the summit.
Finally, I looked up and saw heads bobbing along the mountainside - the trail was in sight! Boy, was I glad to see that. I had begun to wonder if we'd have the energy to make it to the top. This route gained 1700 feet of elevation in three-quarters of a mile, that's a pretty tough climb.
Upon intersecting the Flattop trail, we still had better than half a mile to go to reach the summit of Flattop and the trail that headed off to Hallett. The weather had continued to worsen so we kept on moving toward the peak. We passed the warning sign for Tyndall Glacier and I noticed that all of the orange paint had worn off the face of it. It appeared as if it had been sand-blasted. (Later, after reading in the guidebook about the wind on the tundra, I discovered this is exactly what had happened, naturally.)
We were now atop the continental divide. The trail was very rocky and you had to do more rock-hopping than actual walking. At last, we reached the base of Hallet Peak.
It is like a huge pile of boulders and you have to just pick your best route up. In places there is a trail of sorts, partially marked with cairns, but it didn't make much difference if you were on it or not. You ended up half scrambling, half hiking along. At one point during a break I told Owen, "My going-up muscles are just about spent". He commented if he could ever catch his breath, he'd be much better. I was tired, very tired, but the summit was in sight and that kept me going. I would climb just a few steps at a time, then stop to rest. I would focus on my footwork, slowly ascending boulder by boulder. I stopped to rest and looked up, there it was! I was almost there and didn't realize it. I finished the last few steps to the summit and turned to look for Owen. He was not far behind. I waited for him to look up and waved my cane in the air. He yelled "Are you there?" "I'm there" I replied. I had reached the summit at 1:09, Owen shortly after at 1:11.
This was it, what I had been waiting for, what I had tried to do two years earlier. It was as I expected, exhilarating! I liked it! I liked it alot. It made the last four and a half hours worth it. The views were very nice and we immediately began photographing and videoing. There were storms all around us but overhead it was only overcast. But, even as we were enjoying ourselves, we kept a watchful eye on their progress.
Owen had offered to let me carry his cell phone and call Suzie from the summit, and I had decided to do this. I called but she had already left for the day. Owen called his friend Alan and surprised him. Then he suggested I call Skip and leave a message on his home voicemail. I did so. I kept trying to get Suz at home but to no avail. We took some group summit shots and then decided we had tempted fate long enough with the weather. So, after about 45 minutes or so, we packed up and headed down.
We made our way down the side of Hallet, stopping to take some tundra photos along the way. We each had our picture made with the Tyndall Glacier warning sign and then decided to go on down to the glacier and look at it. From there we could see the Bear Lake parking lot. We took a few more photos and then started out. But before going, I called Suz again, this time I reached her. I said, "Hey hunny, I'm calling you from the edge of Tyndall Glacier". She said, "Well get off it". I explained we were on the safe side. (If there is a safe side.)
We stopped at our lunch site and sat down for a while. While we were there marmots would scurry about making their way over, under and around the rocks, occasionally stopping to check us out.
After a nice lunch, we started back down the trail to camp. We turned off of the trail at the same point we had come on it on the way up. Though going down was certainly easier on the breathing, we were being careful with our knees. We would sometimes make use of an animal trail, apparently made by elk, judging from the hoof prints. We adopted a relaxed pace on the trip back, not having to stay ahead of the weather, (it never even rained on us) and got back to the campsite at 7:45.
There was a ranger in the area checking permits. He came over and talked with us. He said our site looked good but we needed to bear-proof better. (We did not do a bear line on this trip.) We asked him about hiking out to the Fern Lake trailhead so we wouldn't have to climb the ridge again, and then riding the shuttle back up to Bear Lake. He said that would work but it was all downhill and pretty rough on the body. He thought it was easier going back the other way. We told him where we'd been today and he seemed impressed. We ate supper and then shut-down at 9:20. The round-trip distance for this hike was 8.3 miles.
Remembering the hike to Hallet Peak I did two years ago, where I followed the Flattop Mountain trail from the trailhead, but had to turn back due to weather, that was not nearly as hard as the way Owen and I went this time. This became as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Owen said, "I had to tap into some stubborn" to make it. I concur. I would not mind making the climb again along the trail, but do not care to do it again from Fern Lake. It would have been some easier if we had been able to camp at Odessa Lake which was our first choice, but those sites were full. At times during this hike, I would think of my planned trip to Mount Rainier for next year and wonder if it would be any harder, and if I could make it if it were.
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