I had planned a double activation for today. Thunder Peak or WØ/FR-15Ø was the first on the list.The weather forecast was great for the Estes Park area and a friend of mine joined me for the hike. We drove into Estes Park and were surprised to see how much snow the mountains got during the week. Dark clouds were hanging in the Mummy Range (Continental Divide). A stiff wind greeted us when we left the car at the trail-head. Light snow-flurries were present for the first part of the hike, even though we had blue skies above us.
Trailhead: 8244 ft / 2513 m
Summit: 10134 ft / 3083 m
Elev. gain: 2051 ft / 625 m
Roundtrip: 4.5 mi / 7.2 km
How to get there:
Take US34 from Loveland towards Estes Park through Big Thompson Canyon. Thunder Peak is on the south-west side of Estes Park. Stay on US34 towards Rocky Mountain NP. Go left on County Road 66 (or Tunnel Road), following the signs to the YMCA campus. Follow the road all the way to the end. There is a campground at the very end – as well as the East Portal of the Big Thompson Project Pipeline. Park your car at the loop of the road (there is room for about 10 cars on a gravel strip at the south side of the loop.
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Follow the dirt road at the end of the loop (SE) towards the reservoir and East Portal trail-head. The kiosk of the trail-head can be found when you follow the road on the right-side (north) of the reservoir.
At the East Portal of the Adams Tunnel is a small (really small) reservoir – and the surrounding area is Federal property. You are not supposed to park, fish, boat, pee etc. within 100 yards of the dam – Homeland security and such. Thunder Peak is within the RMNP, ergo it is a fee area and their rules apply (no dogs etc.) I am not sure about RMNP entry fees… since the parking lot is outside of the park, I think you are not required to have a NP pass. I have a yearly pass anyway and therefore did not look into this further.
For the first few hundred yards we followed the dirt-road on the north-side of the Reservoir to the kiosk. We continued on the dirt road along Wind River (more like a small creek) to a concrete retention pond. About 20 yards before the pond there is a faint trail to the right which continues to follow the creek. It was hard to see on our way up and we missed it. The result was some bush-whacking until we found the trail again. [UPDATE (3/13/13): There is now a new sign pointing you into the right direction. You cannot miss it.] On the opposite site of the creek are some nice rock-outcroppings. Right around the horse hitch we left the established Wind River trail and turned towards the drainage between Thunder and Lightning Peak.
First we had to cross the creek which was easy with the current water-level. We kept going along the drainage through lodge-pole pines and areas of aspen groves -always staying on the left (NE) side of the drainage where we encountered more open areas. As a result we made good progress. Interestingly, the soil in the drainage was very soft and sandy – sometimes we found big piles of sand as if a few kids had destroyed their sand-castle. You can’t get lost if you stay in the drainage and keep going all the way up to the saddle between Thunder and
Lightning. From there you can see the summit and head up there. We wanted to shave off some time and took a more direct line to the summit since we were aiming for a second activation. Every now and then I verified our position with the GPS to see whether we were still on the plotted track. Heading up the south-west side was quite a work-out… it was rather steep (around 30%) and with the soft and sandy soil it felt like climbing sand-dunes. Having enough momentum was sometimes crucial to overcome a section.
The views from the summit are spectacular. There are quite a few SOTA peaks right in front of you. To the south are Estes Cone (WØ/FR-Ø39), Longs Peak (WØ/FR-11Ø) and Mount Meeker; to the East, Lily Mountain (WØ/FR-Ø50), Twin Sister Peak East (WØ/FR-Ø37) and West. To the north we could see Emerald Mountain (WØ/FR-Ø58 ) and Eagle Cliff Mountain (WØ/FR-Ø68 ) and finally to the west, the Continental Divide and the Mummy Range with too many SOTA summits to list. The summit was very windy but the skies to the west looked a lot friendlier than earlier in the morning. Setting up the equipment was very efficient due to the fact that I had help and Phil/NS7P was my second contact after just a few CQs. His spot posted on SOTAwatch attracted the usual chasers within minutes (thanks guys).
The descent was quite fun… the soft and sandy soil allowed us to run/slide downhills towards the saddle and finally turn north into the drainage again, following our ascent route back to the trail-head an car. We only took the time to exchange our empty water bottles with full ones and off we went, heading to the second summit, a ~30 minutes drive.
Some video impressions:
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