Great day in the mountains! Did not achieve epic proportions…but threatened to, at times. (The fact that it’s two-way drive over Trail Ridge adds to the long day.)
On trail at 7:30 and finished up about 13 miles, 3,000’ elevation, and 11 hours later.
The crux was the half mile below the Red Mt./Stratus saddle. For about half of that steep climb, the footing was reasonably good; above that, everything on the slope, including the outcrops, I found out the hard way, was ready to go bounding downhill at a touch. It was slow, nerve-wracking, and precarious. When we reached the saddle we had both decided, independently, that we were not going down that way.
But, many wonders came up in the course of the day. The Red Mt. Tr. is in good shape and has a number of perched wetlands, as well as two crossings of Opposition Cr., which was well supplied with water even at this dry time of year and even though it flows from where the Grand Ditch ought to be intercepting all its H2O. “Some old-timers think that the 1961 map misplaced this creek. They claim that Opposition Creek runs in what is called Red Gulch on the 1961 map. Others say the map correctly placed it in Hell’s Hip Pocket, and the reason the Grand Ditch ended here for so many years is that an especially obdurate boulder opposed its strength to that of the ditchdiggers, stopping the ditch and naming the creek.” High Country Names, Epps and Kingery, 1966
The Grand Ditch itself is a wonder, with its accompanying gravel highway. We traveled it for about a mile S or upstream to our third encounter with Oppo Cr., where we crossed the GD on a bridge. From there we sniffed out traces of a use trail that followed the creek up to a spectacular meadow where the various upper tributaries of Oppo came together. According to High Country Names, this drainage is known as Hell's Hip Pocket. It may have been hell for some ditch workers, but up here it looked like heaven to this tramper stumbling out of the woods.
From the meadow we looked straight across to a ramp leading up to the talus /scree slope we knew we had to climb to gain the ridge by which we would make the final ascent of Red Mt. From the meadow, up the ramp, through some trees, and, as noted above, even halfway up the talus, it was just joyous alpine hiking: steep, sweaty, requiring many momentary rests, but in a setting that truly fit the oft-misused adjective, awesome.
But, we did eventually gain the top of that slope, and spent a few moments with hands on knees, gasping, no doubt formulating our respective resolves to find a better way to descend this hill. From there it was a slow, and grateful, hop, skip, and jump to the summit, where various cairns and shelters were spread about, built from the plentiful supply of angular rocky rubble that covers the top.
we could plainly see the gash up north where Hwy 14 cuts across the hillside above the Poudre, and closer to us, to the NW some large mts. that we argued about, trying to identify, and which turned out to be Specimen Mt. and its parts. It looked much different from this vantage point. The Divide stretched S. to Longs, which from this angle is a very prominent, almost square knob on the horizon. Beyond RMNP southward Shadow Mt. Res. and L. Granby were in sight. The westward prospect was entirely taken up with the higher Never Summer summits, from Green Knoll to Mt. Cirrus. We could see our idyllic meadow below to the north, and above there on Oppo Cr. a deep-looking gorge that looked worthy of exploration.
We aired our feet out, had some food, admired and discussed the view and the IDs of what we were looking at, took a photo, signed a makeshift register that was stuck in a crack of the very smallest cairn, and then it was time to leave. We contemplated an attempt on the E face as a descent route, but we could not get a decent look at it without actually starting out, so that was too big an unknown, and we opted to descend the S side of the ridge we had ascended from the N. It sported a pretty good growth of trees, and was not composed 100% of slidy loose rock.
This route turned out to be quite good; it did get quite steep, but offered almost exclusively good footing, and when it leveled out did so in another beautiful meadow. We were able to follow the water down through open woods, the occasional wide open meadow, and finally on one side or another of the creek in a narrowing gorge above the ditch. The bridge and campsite that we expected to find at the point where the Red Gulch creek hit the ditch did not appear. Bill went in search of a bridge, while I waded across right at the creek.
Since I had my shoes off and flip flops on, I took the opportunity, while waiting for my errant companion, to remove my trousers for a therapeutic sit-down in the icy ditch water. Of course, he appeared soon after, but was very patient in waiting for me to do the soak and then get packed up again. This icing effect of the water, and on the road walk after that, t