I woke up and rolled out of bed at about 5:00. After getting my stuff together and grabbing a little breakfast I was off. I pulled into the trailhead parking lot, threw on my pack and took off up the trail at about 6:40. It was about 30 degrees outside and just light enough to see without my headlamp. The first part of the hike went quickly and I let my mind wander. It took me an hour to reach the trail junction where I needed to turn off to head through Jims Grove. I stopped for a quick bite and a drink before heading on.
As I made my way through Jims Grove I remembered my last experience in the area in March when I attempted Storm Peak with Nelson and Tom. That day we were turned back by deep snow and high wind. Today however, the conditions seemed optimal. The sun was shining nicely, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the wind seemed to be quiet. As I made my way up Granite Pass I spied a pair of hikers ahead of me. They apparently took the long way via the trail junction with the trail that heads up to Chasm Lake.
I crested Granite Pass at 8:30 and quickly overtook the pair of hikers. We exchanged hellos and they said they were going for the summit of Longs Peak and I told them I was just going to tag Storm Peak and Mount Lady Washington. We wished each other luck and I plugged on ahead. It seemed to me they had gotten an awfully late start and were moving pretty slow – I doubted they would reach the summit. The last time I’d summitted Longs I was on the summit by 8:30! However, the conditions were beautiful today, so perhaps they’d make it.
I cruised on through the lower sections of the Boulder Field and made it to the base of Storm Peak’s eastern slopes by 9:00. I took the opportunity to stop and have a snack, put on my gaiters, and rest a bit. After a short break I began the ascent of Storm Peak. The eastern slopes of the mountain had about two feet of snow on them and I was post holing knee-deep when I couldn’t hop across the tops of the boulders. In order to minimize the post holing I tried to hop across the tops of boulders whenever possible. Progress was slow and I relied heavily on my trekking poles to keep my balance and to search for boulders hidden beneath the snows surface. After what seemed like a long time I reached Storm Peak’s north ridge. I was only about a hundred feet shy of the summit and I paused to enjoy the view. Looking south along the western edge of Storm Peak presented an interesting perspective for viewing Pagoda Mountain and Keyboard of the Winds. Looking across Glacier Gorge there were excellent views of Chiefs Head Peak and The Spearhead as well as McHenrys Peak and Arrowhead.
After catching my breath I pushed onward to cover the last 100 feet to the summit. I’d thought that once I’d reached the ridge that the going would be easier because the wind would have scoured all the snow off, but I was wrong. The snow was deeper on the ridge top than it had been on the eastern slopes. There was a set of tracks going up the ridge, but they were several days old. I found however, that if I dropped down a little bit onto the western side of the ridge that there was very little snow on the boulders and the going was much easier. This put me in the shade and in the breeze though, and by the time I got to the summit at 10:00 I was shivering. I found a nice place to sit in the sunshine and out of the wind and put on some warmer gloves. I sat for a few minutes eating, drinking, and admiring the view of the North Face of Longs Peak. I also spied the couple I’d passed near Granite Pass. They were just beginning to get to the steeper part of the Boulder Field as it makes its way up to The Keyhole. It seemed to me that they were moving really slowly.
As I sat atop Storm Peak I also pondered my next move. Originally I’d planned to follow Storm Peak’s south ridge to The Keyhole and then traverse across the upper reaches of the Boulder Field to the saddle between Longs and Mount Lady Washington. Now, I didn’t think that this was such a good idea, as it appeared that the ridge would be class 4 and it was covered in snow. I still believe that under summer conditions it would be fun, but probably not wise today. Instead I decided to drop straight down the east face to the Boulder Field. With the decision made I collected my gear and set off. During the ascent the snow had been my enemy, but during the descent it was my friend. I sought out large patches of snow and plunge-stepped down them. In no time I crossed the tracks of the couple on their way to the summit of Longs. The snow was pretty deep at this end of the Boulder Field. When I couldn’t hop across the boulders I was sinking knee-deep into the snow. I didn’t relish the prospect of floundering through knee-deep snow all the way up to the Mount Lady Washington-Longs Peak saddle. Instead I decided to follow the tracks back down toward Granite Pass and then ascend Mount Lady Washington via its north face. From the top of the Boulder Field it looked like there wasn’t as much snow at that end of the mountain.
I set off down the Boulder Field following the set of lone set of tracks. I post holed knee-deep often, and by the time I made it to the base of Mount Lady Washington at 11:15 I was beginning to tire. As I began the ascent I found that I had been correct about there being less snow here. The going was much easier than it had been on Storm Peak. As I ascended I saw another hiker descending farther to the east on the north ridge. I also began to hear voices coming from the summit. I soon popped out onto the saddle between the two peaks of Mount Lady Washington. Without looking at the map I wasn’t sure which was the true summit (they looked about the same height from the saddle). However, there was crowd of five or six people on the eastern summit and the western summit was quite, closer, and looked like it had a better view of The Diamond. I decided to hike up to the top of the western summit first and I arrived at noon.
The view did not disappoint and I spent a while gawking at The Diamond, Ships Prow, Chasm Lake, Mills Glacier, Lambs Slide, etc. After taking in the view and having a snack I wandered over to the eastern summit. I chatted with the folks on the summit and pondered my next move. I really wanted to go down to Chasm Lake because I’d never been there before and it seemed like it would be a very spectacular place. I could either hike down the north ridge of Mount Lady Washington and then hike counterclockwise around the east side of the mountain to Chasm Lake, or it appeared that I could descend directly down the southern slopes of Mount Lady Washington to Chasm Lake. As far as I could see the southern slopes looked like a fairly easy class-3 scramble. However, it was steep and I couldn’t see all the way down from the top. It was possible that it cliffed-out somewhere between the summit and the bottom. I was feeling pretty strong, and it was still pretty early so I decided to have a go at the direct descent. It seemed more interesting and more scenic than the tamer standard route. If in fact the route did cliff-out I figured I could traverse east to the eastern side of the mountain, which I knew was descendible. In the very worst case, I knew I could always retrace my steps up and over Mount Lady Washington and descend via the standard route.
With the decision made I began the scramble down the south side of the mountain. The first hundred feet or so was scrambling over larger boulders but then those gave way to a talus gully. The gully funneled down into a tight chute that was squeezed between two large rock towers. I decided that if I could find no evidence of this route having a name, I would call it “The Two Towers” after this cool feature. I made it through the towers to find another set just below them. This time however I could not go between because the terrain was too steep. Instead I veered a little to the east and continued heading straight down to Chasm Lake. I still could not see the entire route and I feared I was heading to the top of a cliff. In another few minutes my fears were realized. I stood at the top of the cliff and peered down. The cliff was so steep that I could not see where it ended.
Confronted with this obstacle I decided to traverse east. I could see a large talus and scree slope to the east that appeared to line up with the east edge of Chasm Lake. If I could get to that slope I would be home free. It looked like I could re-climb some of what I had just come down for an easier class-2 traverse or I could just cut straight across for a more interesting class-3 or 4 traverse. Not wanting to regain any of the elevation I’d lost I opted for the latter. This turned out to be a little more hair-raising than I had anticipated. I had to scramble around several ribs to get to where I wanted to go and each one obstructed my view of the rest of the traverse. Consequently after crossing each one I had to explore to see if there was a way down to the talus/scree slope. Scrambling over the ribs was no simple matter either as they were quite steep and slabby with few holds.
Eventually I surmounted the final rib and dropped down into a steep gully that opened up into the large talus/scree slope I’d observed from the top of the cliff. I had made it! The rest of the descent down to Chasm Lake was simple, but tough on the legs down scree and talus. I arrived at Chasm Lake at 2:00. It had taken me almost two hours to make the descent. There were perhaps 10 to 15 people milling about the lake including a screaming toddler. I found a spot where I couldn’t really hear the kid, had a snack and enjoyed my surroundings. Chasm Lake really felt like a magical place. With the quite blue waters of the lake and soaring walls of rock in all directions – it was truly inspiring. Another interesting thing was how surprisingly warm it was. There wasn’t a breathe of wind and I was comfortable hanging out in shorts and a t-shirt. The sun was blazing and it felt great to kick back and relax.
After a while I was ready to hit the trail again. I descended down from Chasm Lake to the patrol cabin. This was a bit tricky, as the snow had turned to a sheet of wet ice under the blazing sun and heavy foot traffic. I carefully negotiated the ice and then continued on. There were even more people hanging about the patrol cabin and the atmosphere was very festive. It reminded me of hanging out at the lodge at the top of a ski resort in the spring - all we needed to make the scene complete was some picnics tables and beer. I continued to climb away from Chasm Lake and met the trail junction a few minutes later. I was feeling strong and refreshed after my rest at Chasm Lake and decided to set a stiff pace back down to the car. I cruised as fast as I could, passing slower hikers right and left until I made it back down to the trailhead at 3:45. I was pretty pooped when I plopped down into the driver’s seat of the car for the drive home.