Ogalalla Peak is the southernmost thirteener in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and the northernmost thirteener in the Indian Peaks Wilderness (IPW). Its summit is the highest point on the Continental Divide south of Mount Alice and North of Apache Peak. Remoteness, however, rather than height, seems the salient feature of this mountain. Long approaches are required from both sides of the Divide: long enough that the summit register sees maybe twenty new entries each year. If you like long hikes, great views, and small crowds, Ogalalla Peak is for you.
The peak got named officially in 1914. Like other summits in the IPW, it bears the name of a Native American tribe. In the Lakota language "Ogalalla" means "they scatter their own." There are a few spelling variants, including Oglala and Ogallala. The boundary between RMNP and IPW ran north of Ogalalla Peak, before it was moved to coincide with the watershed between Wild Basin to the north and the Middle Saint Vrain Creek drainage to the south. Wild Basin is the drainage of the North Saint Vrain Creek.
A quick internet search yields that the rock in the Indian Peaks is mostly Precambrian biotite gneiss. I would welcome the opinions of those who know more on the subject.
There are several established routes to the summit of Ogalalla. From the west the ascent is a long walk-up. From Ouzel Peak on the Continental Divide the summit of Ogalalla is only one easy mile away. In fact, the easiest descent from Ogalalla Peak to the east is via the North Slopes of Ouzel Peak. In summer it's only Class 2, but it's very long.
The ridge that connects Elk Tooth to Ogalalla Peak provides a good scrambling route to the summit. Elk Tooth is more often reached from the south (Middle Saint Vrain drainage) than from the north. Cony Pass, on the ridge connecting Copeland Mountain to the Continental Divide, provides another scrambling access to Ogalalla Peak. According to Roach, the pass can be reached from either the south (from Cony Lake) or the north (Junco Lake). My impression from the distance is that those scree slopes will redefine the meaning of slog for those who venture on them. From the pass to the Divide is where one gets to scramble.
To round up the usual possibilities, one must mention the snow routes. From the northeast, Cony Express is actually two couloirs--one on each side of Cony Pass. On the southeast side, Ogalalla Express is a moderate snow climb which doubles as standard descent route into the Middle Saint Vrain drainage. As a descent route it remains doable even after the snow has melted, but as a dry ascent route it is very unappealing.
Ogalalla Peak can be approached from either side of the Continental Divide. From the west, two trailheads can be used: Roaring Fork and Monarch Lake. Both are near the east end of Lake Granby. From Denver, take I70 west to Exit 232 (Winter Park). Go over Berthoud Pass on US 40 and continue to Granby. Shortly after, turn right on US 34. In five miles you reach a good dirt road that goes east and leads to the two trailheads.
At the east end of Lake Granby take a left (northwest) for the Roaring Fork TH, or continue to the southeast for the Monarch Lake TH. To reach Ogalalla Peak from either trailhead, one aims for Hell Canyon. Details can be found in Gerry Roach's Colorado's Indian Peaks.
From the east of the Continental Divide there are two more trailheads that are commonly used to approach Ogalalla Peak. For the Middle Saint Vrain Trailhead, drive to Peaceful Valley along CO 72. Turn west at signs for the Peaceful Valley Campground and continue along the road to Camp Dick. The parking lot is at the west end of this second campground. High-clearance 4WD vehicles can continue for an additional four miles.
For the Wild Basin approach, go to the Wild Basin entrance to the Park, located on Colorado Highway 7, between Allenspark to the south and Meeker Park to the north. After turning west from Colorado 7, go for less than half a mile until you turn right at a sign indicating the Wild Basin entrance station. The Wild Basin Ranger Station trailhead (8480 ft) is located at the end of the dirt road that starts at the entrance station. The Finch Lake trailhead (8460 ft) is along the same dirt road, about a quarter of a mile from its end. The trailhead is on the left (south) side of the road, indicated by a sign that is well visible. If you reach the bridge on the North Saint Vrain Creek you have gone too far. The dirt road is passable by passenger cars.
Ogalalla Peak is on the boundary between Rocky Mountain National Park and Indian Peaks Wilderness. There is a fee for the west side access, which is always collected. It was $5 per vehicle when I was there last October. There is no fee to park at the Middle Saint Vrain Trailhead, while access to Rocky Mountain National Park costs $20, but the fee is not collected early in the morning.
All visitors of Rocky Mountain National Park should follow the Leave No Trace policy.
Concerning the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the rules and regulations restrict camping, use of motorized vehicles and livestock. Pets are allowed, but should be on leash.
When To Climb
Ogalalla Peak can be climbed year-round, but usually the ascent will be much easier from June to September. During the winter months the approach will take much longer and avalanche danger will have to be taken into account. During the summer be aware of thunderstorms that are common in the afternoons.
There are several camping sites within Rocky Mountain National Park and specifically in Wild Basin. It is usually easier to get permits for Wild Basin than for the rest of the park. Details on locations, facilities, reservations, and fees can be found at the camping page of RMNP. Bivy information can also be found on the park's site.
The Indian Peaks Wilderness is divided into zones. Different restrictions apply to different zones, and the rules in effect depend on the time of the year. Refer to the Indian Peaks page for camping sites, rules, and printable forms.
The Indian Peaks' contact information page and the Rocky Mountain National Park's contact information page list useful addresses and phone numbers. Two webcams, one pointed at Longs Peak and the other at a stretch of the Continental Divide, and a webcam on Niwot Ridge also allow one to get an idea of the conditions not far from Ogalalla Peak. Detailed forecasts are provided by NOAA.
Never forget that the weather may change very rapidly in the high country. The temperature may drop by 50°F or more in a couple of hours. Those who have been caught out by such sudden changes without proper equipment and preparation have not always survived.