Pinnacle Pool Hike and My "Discovery" of a Rock Glacier

Pinnacle Pool Hike and My "Discovery" of a Rock Glacier

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 40.42237°N / 105.88125°W
Additional Information GPX File: Download GPX » View Route on Map
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 14, 2016
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Summer


The 12810 ft (3904 m) high Howard Mountain sits in the Never Summer Range in the western parts of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. It is usually climbed either from the northeast or via a ridge-top hike in combination with the peaks to the north and south of it. I approached Howard Mountain from the southeast by whacking my way through a forest to reach a 11300 ft high lake known as Pinnacle Pool. Above the pool I entered a large boulder filled valley where the boulders made small ridgelines/hills at the bottom of the valley. These features led me to believe that I was walking on a rock glacier. The bushwhack and boulder hopping became very time consuming so I gave up on reaching the summit of Howard Mountain and turned back at an elevation of 11500 ft. I was unhappy that I did not make it to the top but was happy that I had “discovered” a rock glacier.

Hike Statistics

All distances are per my GPS.

Colorado River Trailhead
9050 ft
zero miles
Red Mountain Trail
9060 ft
0.50 miles
Grand Ditch Road
10240 ft
2.80 miles
Left Road
10240 ft
0.50 miles
Pinnacle Pool
11300 ft
1.35 miles
End of Hike
11500 ft
0.35 miles
Total One Way
5.50 miles

Trip Report

Left the rental condo at Ski Granby Area at 6 a.m., drove north to Rocky Mountain National Park and parked at Colorado River Trailhead. There were a number of vehicles there but I did not see any other hikers until later in the day when I was back close to the trailhead.

Started my hike at 6:45 a.m. I was at an elevation of 9050 ft at the bottom of a valley with no view of any mountains. It was around 32 degrees F and I was in the shade. Followed the trail north for half a mile, then turned west onto Red Mountain Trail. The trail crossed Colorado River, which at that point was just a creek, over a foot bridge and went into a Pine forest going up in elevation. I was on an east facing slope and was soon in the sunshine.

On Red Mountain TrailOn Red Mountain Trail

After 3.3 miles, at 8:20 a.m. and an elevation of 10240 ft, I reached a dirt road known as Grand Ditch Road. A 20 ft wide ditch between the road and the mountain diverts water to the east side of the continental divide. The road is open to the public for hiking but not driving. Red Mountain and Mt. Nimbus had come to view.

Mt. Nimbus and Red MountainRed Mountain & Mt. Nimbus from the Grand Ditch Rd.

I knew that I would soon have to leave the road and find my own way to Pinnacle Pool. I had looked at satellite photos the previous night and it had appeared that if I were to leave the road at GPS location 40:25.0914 North and 105:51.8094 West, my hike through the forest would not be very long. With GPS in hand, I began to hike north on the road. Crossing the ditch, did not seem to be exactly straight forward. The water was probably half way up to my knees and the 25 ft high dirt slope on the other side of the ditch appeared very steep. Once I reached my chosen spot, I could only see dense forest on top of the slope. I went a little further and saw nothing better so I came back to the chosen spot. Threw a few piles of rock into the ditch enabling me to cross the water without getting wet and then went the very steep dirt slope to reach a forest. Looking back at the ditch and the rocks I threw in it.

Where I crossed Grand DitchWhere I crossed Grand Ditch

I was then in a pine forest with no view of anything. Began to whack my way up the slopes.

Bushwhacking in the forestBushwhack in the forest

As I went, the forest thinned out.

Finding my way up the slopesForest thinning out

Once I reached the top of a relatively steep slope, a big boulder field appeared with an impressive horn-like peak in the background. I mistook the peak for Howard Mountain. The ironic thing was that the impressive peak turned out to not even be a peak. It was the 12253 ft end of a ridgeline but I did not know that at that point.

Point 12253 ft & Howard MountainHoward Mountain and the horn-like Point 12253 ft

I started to walk on the boulder field toward the big horn.

Mt. Nimbus from the boulder fieldMt. Nimbus

Howard Mountain, Point 12253 ft & the big boulder fieldHoward Mountain & Point 12253 ft
Mt. Cumulus from the boulder fieldMt. Cumulus

I then reached another forested area and had to start bushwhacking again.

Bushwhacking in the forest above the boulder fieldForest above boulder field

After 25 minutes or so, the forest ended and I started going up a grass and boulder covered slope. As I went higher, I could hear a stream running under the boulders. I could tell that I was getting close to Pinnacle Pool.

Out of the forest above the boulder fieldBelow Pinnacle Pool
Below Pinnacle PoolBelow Pinnacle Pool

It was 10:05 a.m. when I reached the 11300 ft high Pinnacle Pool. From that spot the big horn appeared double headed and rose directly above the pool. I looked at my map and realized that the horn was Point 12253 ft and Howard Mountain sat far up the valley to the right of the horn.

Pinnacle Pool & Point 12253 ftPinnacle Pool & Point 12253 ft
Howard Mountain from Pinnacle PoolPinnacle Pool & Howard Mountain

I sat there for 5 minutes to eat and drink. It seemed like I still had a long way to go and was starting to get concerned about my timing. To continue toward Howard Mountain, I had to go up a steep hill made of boulders several tens of feet tall. Once on top, I found a huge valley filled with boulders in front of me. The boulders made small hills at the bottom of the valley. I am not a geologist but suddenly realized that I was looking at a rock glacier and the big hill I had climbed was probably the terminal moraine of the glacier. Pinnacle Pool was probably fed by the ice under those rocks. That was just my guess anyway but I was excited about it and wanted it to be true.

Pinnacle PoolPinnacle Pool from the top of the terminal moraine
Howard Mountain & the rock glacierHoward Mountain & rock glacier

Hopping up and down the boulders on the hilly surface of the valley became extremely time consuming. After 40 minutes, I had hiked only 0.35 miles and was at only 11500 ft of elevation. Reaching Howard Mountain would have probably taken 1.5 or more hours. The day before, I had hiked 17 miles on Bowen Mountain and I was planning to hike Hiamovi Mountain the next day. I wanted to make it back to the condo by mid-afternoon so at 10:45 a.m., I gave up and sat there to have my lunch.

Rock glacierRock glacier
Point 12460 ft and the rock glacierPoint 12460 ft & rock glacier
Point 12253 ft and the rock glacierPoint 12253 ft & rock glacier
Howard Mountain and the rock glacierHoward Mountain & rock glacier

I then began to hike back. Pinnacle Pool from the top of the terminal moraine.

Pinnacle Pool from the terminal morainePinnacle pool from the top of the terminal moraine

Sat by the pool again for a short time.

Pinnacle Pool & Point 12253 ftPinnacle Pool & Point 12253 ft

Down the forest and the boulder field.

Specimen Mountain from the boulder fieldSpecimen Mountain & Boulder field
Howard Mountain, Point 12253 ft and the boulder fieldHoward Mountain and Point 12253 ft from the boulder field

My GPS guided me through the lower forest bringing me to the exact spot where I had crossed the Grand Ditch. Water did get into my boots this time while crossing the ditch.

Bushwhacking above Grand Ditch

Red Mountain and the Grand Ditch.

Grand Ditch and Grand Ditch RoadRed Mountain and the Grand Ditch

I was then on Red Mountain Trail going downhill. At times, I could see the meadows below on the banks of Colorado River and Trail Ridge Road climbing the slopes across the valley. I began running into other hikers and finally reached my car at 2:25 p.m. for a roundtrip hiking distance of exactly 11.00 miles per my GPS. The parking was pretty crowded.

On Red Mountain TrailOn Red Mountain Trail

View of Trail Ridge RoadTrail Ridge Road
Meadow by Colorado RiverMeadow by Colorado River


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-2 of 2
Snidely Whiplash

Snidely Whiplash - Sep 21, 2016 8:45 pm - Voted 10/10

I love this area

I remember walking along the Grand Ditch back in 1973 on a backpack to take us over Mummy Pass and Icefield Pass. I love this area. Nice pictures and report of an infrequently visited area. It certainly gets less attention than Bear Lake.


nader - Sep 23, 2016 7:25 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: I love this area

Thanks for voting and commenting,

Funny how I did not see anyone until I was back close to the trailhead. Did not expect that in RMNP.

Viewing: 1-2 of 2



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