Posted By: Kevin Field
CMC Third Annual Wild Basin Cabin Trip
Photographs by Michael Heifets
The third annual CMC outing to the Wild Basin Cabin in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP or Park) was conducted June 12-23, 2020. Our attendance was low, likely due to the Coronavirus and the belief that RMNP was closed and the Cabin as well. However, RMNP had opened on June 1 under a timed-entry permit system. That is, one had to purchase a pass to enter the Park at certain times throughout the day. Most of the Park was open but some of the campgrounds and the visitor’s center were closed. The timed entry system resulted in the Park was operating at about 60% of its normal capacity.
Michael Heifets, Andrew Skipor, Jacek Witkos, Nicolle and Robert Reed, and James Considine attended this year’s trip; This compared to 14-17 in participating in the previous two years. We found the smaller group to be much more pleasant for enjoying the Cabin. The Cabin trip should be limited to 10-12 people at any one time. Nicole and Robert spent a couple nights in the Cabin and then moved on to a hotel. Robert Reed was still recovering from a horrendous motorcycle accident that he had suffered two years ago. He was recovering from both physical and mental injuries sustained. Robert captivated us with the background on his injuries and efforts at therapy – both physical and mental. We wish Robert well and hope to see him out climbing.
We followed some of the activities listed in Jack’s Favorite Rocky Mountain National Park Climbs, Hike and Related Tales. This book provides an excellent starting point to the history of the Jack Gorby, the Cabin, and the activities at the Park. It is a must read before heading to the Cabin. Do not plan on using this book as a guide book, rather use it to determine what you want to do before you get to the Park.
We had great weather and the one day it rained we used that day as a rest day. No afternoon thunderstorms! Snow was absent except for some patches in the alpine area and some north facing forested areas.
The first day, Jim and Michael climbed Estes Cone (11,010 feet). The Cone provides a good first day acclimatization hike and great views of surrounding area. The Cone can be climbed from the Long’s Peak or Lilly Lake Trailheads. We chose the Lilly Lake Trailhead; A longer hike and greater elevation gain, but parking was available.
Andrew arrived later in the day and the next day hiked Estes Cone and agreed on our assessment of this as a great first day hike.
On Day 2, Michael and Jim went off to Lumpy Ridge to climb Gina’s Surprise on the Pear. Lumpy Ridge is a world class climbing area that is northeast of the city of Estes Park. Michael led the climb. The guide books describe this as a 5.4 two-pitch climb with a potential for a third pitch using a tree as an anchor. However, when we got to the tree we decided to continue to the top of the Pear and made a five-pitch climb out of the endeavor. I guess the surprise is that one could get five rather than two pitches out of the climb. It is common knowledge that Lumpy Ridge is closed to climbing in the early summer for raptor nesting. However, some climbs remain open. Of consequence, we had to hike for an hour from the Lumpy Ridge parking lot to reach the Pear.
On Day 3 Andrew and Jim hiked to Chasm Lake (11,823 feet; 8.5 miles round trip; 2,500-foot elevation gain). This is a great and beautiful hike. It is the normal route to most East Face climbs, including Stettner Ledges, Kiener’s Route, and the Diamond climbs. It is also the trail to the Dream Weaver route on Mt. Meeker. Jacek arrived later in the day and climbed Lookout Mountain in the Wild Basin.
After working on the Cabin in morning of Day 4, Jacek, Michael, Andrew and Jim took off to climb Mt. Copeland (13,176 feet, 4675 feet el. gain). Of note, the Wild Basin road to the trail head was closed when we arrived. Apparently, this seemed to involve removing the privies from the designated campsites to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. The road closure meant an addition two miles with heavy backpacks. Talking to the ranger, we learned that the road was soon going to open, and we decided to wait. It was the right decision as it shortly did open, and we were able to drive to the trailhead. We made camp at the No. St Vrain backcountry site. We attempted Mt. Copeland the previous year but got slowed up by thick forest that made bushwhacking difficult, a stream crossing and an afternoon thunderstorm that forced us to turn around. So, with an early morning start we set off to tackle the mountain. With the knowledge gained from the previous year, we were faster bushwhacking through the forest and getting into the alpine. Still, even with the faster start, we had a 14-hour day reaching the summit and going all the way back to the Cabin.
A neat thing about climbing in the Wild Basin is that there are very few people in the backcountry and even fewer climbing mountains. One must bushwhack and route find as there are no trails and no rock cairns to mark the way; Map, compass and global positioning systems are useful in finding one’s way to the mountain tops. In talking to one of the Park rangers, Andrew found the ranger surprised that someone from Wisconsin was climbing Copeland. He stated that normally only locals do that mountain. He also thought that we were likely the first ones up the mountain in 2020.
As is common, we put some time into the Cabin, although not much work was needed. During the previous two summers the Cabin was rebuilt. Previously it was inhospitable and near condemnation. Our work included: cleaning the gutters, adding a rod and curtain to the shower stall, purchasing a new show bag, adding a 2nd coat of stain on the outhouse/shower, replacing the front door handle, and covering the old stove pipe hole with sheet metal.
On days 6 and 7 we decided to climb Chiefs Head Peak. Day 6 involved a late afternoon backpack to Sandbeach Lake. This is a beautiful lake and a great place to swim. It can easily be reached as a day hike. When we got there, snow was still present around the campsites.
From Sandbeach Lake there is a short bushwhack hike through the forest to the alpine. It is an easy bushwhack by following the stream that flows into the north end of the lake. Once the alpine is reached head left and one will soon see a series of rock cairns that will lead you to Mt. Orton, a smaller mountain that is passed on the way to Chief’s Head. This is very pleasant hike that brings you to the top of the third highest mountain in the park. It is highly recommended. We reached the summit by noon and were lucky to enjoy a beautiful day. We hiked down to our basecamp, packed up and reached the Cabin by 6:30 PM – another long but joyous day.
Day 8 involved rain and it seemed to be a good day for rest. We went into Estes Park to wash clothes, shower, pick up supplies from the hardware and grocery stores, and get a restaurant meal. In the times of Coronavirus, we braved an indoor meal – people were spaced out in the restaurant and we felt safe.
On Day 9 we hiked up Mt. Meeker – the second highest mountain in the Park. We decided to tackle the East Ridge route from the Long’s Peak Trailhead. We left the Cabin before daybreak but still found the Long’s Peak parking lot full by the time we got there and had to park about a mile down the road. Word of caution – always plan an early morning start from the Long’s Peak Trailhead. The start involved hiking to Chasm Lake, which is straightforward. However, after getting to Chasm Lake, one begins climbing a ramp boulder field that goes up the north side of the mountain and then makes a bend up the east ridge. One must travel several miles through a tortuous boulder field, and this made travel terribly slow; We did not reach the secondary summit until 2PM. Given the lateness in the day and our exhaustion, we decided not to push on to the actual summit. This was a good decision as we did not get back to the Cabin until 8PM. We had good weather, although it was a bit windy, and so enjoyed our day on the mountain even if the boulder field was difficult to navigate.
On Day 10 we decided to climb Hiatus on the Book (5.6) at Lumpy Ridge. Again, this climb was open even though most of Lump Ridge was closed for raptor nesting. Of note, a hawk was squawking at the two groups that climbed before us. The Park Service may have overlooked the need to close this area. Anyway, the first pitch involved a chimney that was difficult to climb. Michael led the climb and Jim followed and cleaned the anchors. Jacek came third with a pack that had our shoes and some other gear. The pack proved cumbersome due to the confinement of the chimney. At the top of the pitch we decided to bag it since we were already exhausted and feeling leery about continuing. Also, it looked like rain was on its way, although we just had a sprinkle. We repelled down, gathered our stuff, and undertook the one-hour hike to the parking lot. A short climb yes, but another wonderful day at the spectacular Lumpy Ridge. Afterwards, we decided to go to the Rock Creek Tavern and Pizzeria in Allenspark – this is a must stop for anyone visiting the Cabin. It is a nice local pizza place and they have some local brews on tap.
On Day 12, Michael and Jim drove back to Chicago and Jacek decided to hike Meeker from Meeker Park trailhead (note, there is only 5 parking spaces at this trailhead), which is 10 minutes north of the Cabin. He made it from the car to the summit and back to his car in 9 hours. Well done Jacek!
Anyway, we had a great week at the Wild Basin, and I invite all CMC members to make use of this wonderful resource that comes with our membership. Next year the objectives will include Isolation Peak and Pagoda Mountain in the Wild Basin. Pyramid Point is the 4th highest mountain in the Park and will involve some difficult bushwhacking on the way to the top. Other objectives could include the Dreamweaver route up Mt. Meeker and multi-pitch climbing on McGregor Mountain and Prospect Mountain. Hope to see you in the Wild Basin next summer.