Twin Sisters Peaks
Via Twin Sisters TH
Friday June 2, 2011
Months had past since my last pursuit of an alpine summit and I knew the high country was heavy with late/recent snows so I figured perhaps a peak(s) with less elevation would be the ticket. Having Fridays off and the weather in a most favorable status I arose at 5:00AM, readied my day pack and was out and on the road by 5:55AM. I drove out of Louisville on 95th street through Longmont to route 66 turned left and on out through Lyons to route 36 turned right and on out to Estes Park where I turned left on route 72 and after a short drive to the trailhead directly across from Lily Lake. I was the only one there and parked on the dirt road just a few yards from the start of the trail and was on my way right at 7:30.
The trail starts out pretty much as a dirt road then bears left and into a heavily forested area with primarily lodge pole pines. The trail is very well defined/traveled; even I couldn’t stray on such a trail and starting up in the shadows prior to the sun reaching this side of the mountain was keeping things rather cool. Downed timbers abounded and the Forest Service has obviously spent time maintaining, cutting wood and carving this trail through some rugged terrain. After a few switchbacks, up a short stone “staircase” aside a sheer rock ledge I came to an opening featuring a glorious vista of Longs Peak, Mt Meeker bathed in bright sunshine with Wild Basin and the entire Tahosa valley down below; absolutely beautiful!
Mt Meeker & Longs Peak
Pausing for a brief rest and taking in some water as things were starting to get warmer as the weather couldn’t have been better with calm breezes, sparse clouds and brilliant sunshine. Hiking along a long traverse up the mountain side and then to some more switchbacks and gaining elevation gradually as I came upon an area where all the rocks had heavy green lichen and the trail seemed to somehow sport an emerald “glow” of sorts. A few marmots, squirrels and chipmunks also showed themselves at these higher digs.
Gaining more elevation brought more snow on the trail and initially skirting-around it wasn’t much of a problem. However, I soon had to walk directly over it and although it was still hard from the overnight cold it was quickly softening and I soon came to where others had “post-holed” through from the day before. Before long the entire trail was snow and following the beaten path was the only way to distinguish where the trail was, I also noticed that it seemed to have far less footprints telling me that lots of people turned around and went back down when reaching the heavier snows.
I was glad to be wearing waterproof boots as things were getting quite wet and a bit slick as I made my way often stepping in previous footprints posted by a similar size boot from someone heading down a day earlier. Up and around a couple more short switchbacks and then abruptly out of the snows and trees and onto a very sunny, rocky approach with the first view of Twin Sisters directly above with a radio antenna standing tall seemingly between the two peaks.
I hiked on up the trail where I was just now above tree line and after a brief while resisted the urge to simply scramble up the rocks and to the saddle above deciding to be a good boy and remain on the trail as instructed at the TH signs. Avoiding the snowy/icy spots, a few more switchbacks and up to the saddle where things level-off between two rocky peaks that appear to be identical in elevation with a little stone building and the antenna.
Solar powered radio antenna
I could now see the other true twin peak off about a ¼ mile away and not knowing which of the two rocky points here was the actual North Twin; I scrambled up the one to the right behind the antenna and reached the top at 9:22. A small biplane came out of nowhere and buzzed by at a good clip at an altitude lower than where I stood; it just zoomed on by. So as not to show any irreverence; I descended this point and then scramble up the other where I found a telltale, brass geological seal. The true North Sister at 9:41.
Views were stunning and the overall 360 degree panoramas showed everything from some of the highest/snowiest peaks west to the broad endless stretches of the high plains east with many recognizable landmarks. I took in some food & drink and a few photos
Summit Shot with Longs Peak in background
South Sister Peak
and took a good rest as I knew I had some more work to do and pondered my approach to South Sister with the true saddle between the two heavily treed with large patches of snow quite visible. A cool breeze from the west prevailed and I didn’t spend much more time before starting down the way I had come up as I’d made up my mind to go past the right side of North Sister and down to the connecting saddle.
Scrambling back down and right of North Twin was going OK and although there was no defined trail my direct, descending approach seemed to be working and before long I was back into the pines, downed timber and snow. My trailblazing/bushwhacking skills aren’t always the best and sometimes just staying on an established trail somehow evades me; today was no exception as I now found heavy downed timbers with deeper snows and the fact that I couldn’t always see just where I was going through the heavy trees. I was also a bit discouraged to know that I was still going down and soon post-holing through even deeper snows which was taking its toll and punching through the trees was the only advance. A few more yards and I was starting to head uphill through the trees and then again abruptly out and onto solid rock with South Sister standing tall directly ahead. I’d gone a bit too far right but soon was scrambling straight up good rock and to the right of a large rock rib, over a short false summit and then arriving at a crevasse of sorts which I leaped across and up one last short section and the empty summit with its own geological seal right at 10:22. I’d made it!
It was now getting quite warm and the breeze had tapered-off considerably as I took in some more food & drink and was going to stay a little bit this time and take-in the sights and have a good rest. I tried my best to capture the surrounding beauty with my camera and posed for some self-portraits as well
Summit Shot with Longs Peak in background
North Sister Peak with Rocky Mt Nat Park in background
and soon removed my leggings, got into short sleeves and applied a heavy layer of sun lotion. I sat and thoroughly enjoyed this fine high perch complete with a small stone bunker persons had built for wind protection which wouldn’t be needed on this perfect day. Looking over to North Sister I could now see three people sitting on it’s summit as I sat and then laid down on my pack for a while soaking in the sun; way nice!! I found that it was so quiet up here that I could here the people conversing on the other peak, with a couple of crows making their presence felt and a barking dog somewhere way down below in the valley.
I now rose from my lazy daze and looked back toward North Sister to see if I could find a better passage before heading back across. There appeared to be far less trees and snow to the right side and I’d be coming up on North Sister from the opposite side I had chosen prior. I pulled myself together, took two aspirin and started back over at 10:47 with a renewed vigor as I made quick work of the scrambling descent back down to the saddle where the advance went well as zig-zagging through the trees went much better this time with less snow and downed timbers to contend with. I then climbed good solid rock back up to the North Sister summit where I was surprised to startle a girl sitting there by herself. Her name was Emma and we spoke briefly as she was then heading over to South Sister and I started back down reaching the level spot near the antenna at 11:30.
Twin Sisters Peaks
Met a few more people coming up as I was going down and the snows were downright slushy at this point creating a slip-sliding ride in a few sections and a couple of post-holes to boot. Other than some snow in my boots things were going really well and finding some shade in the forest relived the fact that the back of my neck was getting a bit too much sun. I then met a middle-aged, long-haired guy dressed only in short-shorts and I did a double take to make sure he was even wearing shoes; he was. I asked if he had enough water as he only carried a hand-held pint bottle, he said he was fine and we parted ways; a bit peculiar but to each their own. I stopped and took a photo for a young group of three with Longs and Mt Meeker as the backdrop and enjoyed a pleasant, uneventful trek back down the forest switchbacks to my truck right at 1:00PM sharp.
Don’t know why I’d waited so long to do this hike but I’m glad I finally did as this was a great way to spend an off-day not far from home on a beautiful 11er mountain with perfect weather …………Sweet!
I was just wondering what the conditions were like on Twin Sisters yesterday! A heavy snow year for sure, for comparison I was able to climb Mummy Mountain (13425) on June 6th last year without much snow to slow me down. Glad there is a packed trail to the summit, I wasn't expecting to be able to climb this peak for another couple of weeks.