Mt Meeker “East”, Colorado
Via Iron Gate from Longs Peak TH
Sunday Sept 09, 2012
Months had past since my last venture into the Colorado high country and with the summer quickly dwindling I contacted my friend Bob and we decided on an ascent of Mt Meeker. Weather couldn’t have been better as I awoke at 3:05am to crystal skies and limitless stars as I grabbed the morning paper, a cup of black coffee, a liter of chilled Gatorade and prepared some steel cut oatmeal for breakfast. I’d readied my pack the night before and Bob arrived right on time at 3:55 and we made the hour plus drive to Longs Peak TH uneventfully to find a full parking lot and more coming. We unloaded our packs which I guarded while Bob parked where he could about 10 mins walking from the Ranger Station/Trailhead.
Donning headlamps we started up the trail and soon signed-in at the trail registry right at 5:45am with a few people ahead of us and others behind as this has to be one of the busiest trailheads on the planet especially on such a fine weekend. There was a chill in the air but all was calm with the skies to the east sporting a heavenly pinkish/gold as we ascended up into the darkness through the heavy forest on this very heavily traveled trail.
This being the approach to several separate routes to follow for both Longs Peak, Mt Meeker as well as Chasm Lake, Mt Lady Washington and much more all within the confines of Rocky Mt Nat. Park……..Quite cool.
The approach went well and the countless “stair steps” had us up and out of tree line right about as we came to the fork in the trail where the “keyhole” people turn right on their way to Longs Peak as we went left and paused for a break at the Chasm Lake trail “pit stop” complete with solar privy. Sunny/blue skies welcomed us as we spoke with three people and relayed pleasantries then spoke to one guy heading the way we were and followed behind him towards Chasm Lake with the sheer faces of both Longs Peak and Mt Meeker high and above before us. Both appeared rather daunting with the “ships prow” somewhat separating the two majestic peaks……Truly awesome.
The trail traverses well right of Peacock Pool below with Columbine Falls threading down from the yet unseen Chasm Lake above as the trail dips here and then rises again to a very green passage with a small/clear stream cutting a bit of a soggy trail along a welcomed flat section. I found myself gazing all-around at the many sites in view and got my boots a little moist while heading up the next of many steep/rocky portions we’d see this day. We continued to follow the one guy as he was going up the “Loft” route while we then paused to make a definite decision as to which way we’d go as we now noticed two other guys heading up the “Iron Gate” cut to the left ridge well above.
The Loft route appeared to be rather “mountainous” directly ahead with very steep cuts and ledges while the Iron Gate offered another steep/cobbled/talus ascent. We paused briefly then made the decision to go for the Iron Gate and thus began a traverse well left as we’d gone a bit too far up the Loft approach. This was now our next challenge as the traverse was across a bouldery/talus complete with tippity/teetering stones of all sizes with no defined route other than the ones we each chose to find. These two guys we saw above were the only reference except for the unmistakable cut to the ridgeline high above with it’s gendarmes both left and right leading to a tiny passage.
Bob and I stayed somewhat clear of each other as tumbling a loose stone here would be nothing but trouble; we sort of took turns leading and following up through this unforgiving section where 10 steps brought a 20 second breather as we climbed together with hand and foot holds as we went. A fall here or even a miss-step would have been a real problem resulting in serious injury or worse as we took our time and plodded our way up and then through the cut and out to the easterly side of the Mt Meeker.
We here found the two guys taking a good breather and we joined them as we both needed to stop and gawk at the mile less expanse before us. Although a bit hazy the view was at least 70 miles and the otherwise clear day showed a high plains patched with towns, country and farms with lines of roads and an occasional pond/lake or fields in between. Across and below was Twin Sisters Peaks and Wild Basin with its own beauties almost as though you could reach out and touch them. Back/behind was Longs Peak and countless peaks beyond with Chasm Lake now showing itself below peeking out from behind the Ships Prow. To myself I thanked my lucky stars and the Good Lord above for allowing me the privilege of living here in Colorado; to be blessed with such natural rewards and the abilities to put forth the efforts of finding it……I felt special.
We conversed a bit with the two much younger guys as we took in some water and a good long rest as the remainder of the route seemed very much unclear. The two guys had no more knowledge of the route than we did and after a short while the two guys proceeded ahead as we continued our good rest. I’d read other reports and felt as though I’d done my homework and staying along or just left of the ridgeline was the way to go as anything right was certain death from a sheer drop. Bob and I waited a few minutes and then tried to retrace the path of the guys ahead; this was impossible as finding your own way along this cobbly/talused traverse less any cairns or visible reference was a personal endeavor.
A rather large rib section ahead was the best possible reference and the guys ahead appeared to be slowing some as we caught up with them just left of the dark rib. The day remained very bright with the sun high above making things plenty warm on this fine day and taking in more water to stay hydrated was most important. Here was paused a bit and the one guy dropped his pack and proceeded on as the other stayed having decided that he’d reached his limit. Bob and I then rounded the rib and here we could see what we thought to be the summit a bit farther ahead.
Ahead/above the one guy made quick work of the ridge and crossed a lighter section of rock before leaving our view.
Advancing across this arduous traverse/climb finding the talus to be a bit more “teettery” than expected; large rocks often moving under foot as we progressed slowly. Bob paused to take in some food and drink where I stayed the course over this unforgiving final section crossing the whiter rocks before clambering up higher to where the one guy was now back in my view coming back towards me. We again conversed and he told me I was near the first of actually two separate summits. The going remained difficult but with the goal ahead I pressed-on and finally reached the first summit at 10:47am. Across the way about a ¼ mile was the higher true Mt Meeker summit with 3 people visible and farther beyond was the Longs Peak summit with a few more people in view.
I was soon pondering my next move; should I go forward across the connecting ridge or wait for Bob to arrive and decide together. I knew I was pretty tired and “knife-edged” ridges are not Bob’s thing so I waited about 10 minutes for Bob to arrive and I’d already decided that the to-and-from from peak-to-peak would most likely take me a good 1 ½ hrs. to accomplish. Thus, I’d made up my mind before Bob ever arrived and knew I was too spent to take that much more time on this beautiful September morning. Resolute to knowing I had reached my pinnacle was a blessing as I now relaxed knowing that the cliché holds true; you don’t have to get up but you must get down. Here we christened to be “Meeker East” and let the story be told that this was today our finest hour.
Bob and I now took in more food and drink while enjoying the sunny yet somewhat hazy day from distant fires from the west coast; you couldn’t smell the smoke but the haze was present for many days. We took photos all-around of the awesome views
Mt Meeker true summit & Longs Peak
and soon another young fellow arrived having taken the Wild Basin approach and he took our summit shot
Bob an I on Meeker East summit
as we exchanged pleasantries before we all decided that we still had some work to do and went our separate ways back from whence we came. I peeled-down into shorter clothes, applied a thick layer of sun screen and took a Celebrex for my descent as I knew the trek back down would be tough on my knees and thighs as we each filled a pocket with Skittles for a welcomed sugar charge when needed and they simply taste good. We exited stage left right at 11:17 leaving this lofty high point and knowing that the descent would be a challenge both mentally and physically.
We took our time and although the route finding was a personal preference sort of thing as we kept our distance and we really didn’t stop again until we reached a point right on the ridgeline to where we could see below where we needed to be to exit back through the “Iron Gate”.
Iron Gate cut
Progress was quite good and although the going was anything but easy we both plodded towards the high notch where we found the cut left for our descent through the “Iron Gate”. Here we didn’t waste any time and were soon scrambling back through the shadows for a welcomed respite from the blazing sun high above. Again the advance was slow yet steady as we found separate paths to contend with the steep/rocky/stumbly descent.
The view down showed the “Ships Prow” directly ahead/below and Chasm Lake
Ships Prow & Chasm Lake
just right as we made good progress back through this rough section before finally finding the true trail back down to the Long Peak trail junction.
Here we converged on many more people as a Sunday afternoon on Longs Peak trail is a happening place. We paused only briefly and wasted no time now grinding back down the long approach that is the Long Peak trail.
Twin Sisters Peaks
We both welcomed the trees as our sun exposure was more than adequate and pounding back to the trail registry brought much relief. Signing-out at 3:12pm with lots of people coming and going at the Ranger Station as we reached the parking lot and then the short hike back to Bob’s truck parked on the road a bit below.
The drive back to Louisville went smoothly and we parted ways knowing that we’d achieved as best we could with no regrets about not reaching the true summit. At our ages we also knew that another future attempt would be doubtful. This peak has been on my list for some time as I see it nearly every day; another centennial 13’er on this fine day in the Colorado high country……..Sweet!