Niwot Mountain, 11,471 ft.
Class 1-2, with snow
Distance (Round-trip): Abt. 5 miles
Elevation Gain: Abt. 1,600 feet
Snow drifts on the north slopes
Spring is here! Unfortunately, avalanche danger and weather conditions are still limiting the number of mountains I can comfortably climb right now, especially solo. Niwot Mountain, a small bump on the continuing Niwot Ridge in Indian Peaks Wilderness, fit the bill for an avalanche-free, short and simple climb, easily escapable in bad weather. I slept in again, but the weather looked all right. So, I headed north to tackle this 11,000 foot hill.
I had plenty of company at the winter road closure before Brainard Lake. However, none of the people there seemed to be going the same direction I was. I would have plenty of solitude as soon as I left the trailhead.
It was 10:30 by the time I started walking up toward Lefthand Reservoir. In the summer, this is a road. Right now, it is a ski and snowshoe trail, hard-packed snow several feet deep, with larger drifts in places. It made for a nice easy walk all the way to Lefthand Reservoir.
It was here I got the first views of Niwot Mountain, as well as the surrounding peaks. I could already see that my visibility would be limited, as Mount Audubon and the other high peaks were obstructed by falling snow. Low clouds would stick around throughout the day, with heavy snow falling to the west and rain falling to my east. Surprisingly, all I had to deal with were some flurries. It was very disappointing to have such a limited view, as I was hoping to get some good pictures of the rugged mountains in the area.
Though it appeared not much snow had fallen recently, there was plenty of old snow to contend with on my climb through the trees. It had more of a spring consistency, wet and somewhat solidified, but soft at places. At the reservoir, huge drifts were windblown and packed into the surrounding trees. I easily walked on top of the snow until I got to the thicker trees on the steeper slopes. Here, post-holing became a nightmare.
I never did find a trail. Instead, I just continued straight up the mountain as much as I could. Numerous places, I sunk into the snow up to my waist or deeper. I had purposely not brought my snowshoes along so that I could get more of a workout, and I certainly was not disappointed! Over and over again, I had to kick my way out of a self-dug grave, then “climb the ladder” of snow, relying on my trekking poles and knees to continue upward. Needless to say, this got tiring quickly. I took my time and took several breaks through this part of the climb. An unexpected annoyance was the trees. A couple places the branches were intertwined and so thick that I had no choice but to cover my face and plow through the jagged twigs.
The snow became so tiresome that I soon found myself angling left (east). The terrain was less steep this direction, and the ridiculously high snow drifts began to relent. As I got closer to timberline, I began to find a series of ledges that were almost completely snow-free. The blowing snow had been caught in the trees and left these ledges with shallower drifts. I gradually made my way up these breaks until I could see dry ground above me.
Once I reached the true timberline, I had no more snow to worry about. I was now on the east plateau before the final rise to Niwot Mountain’s summit. Glad to be free of the snow, I furthered my workout by doing short sprints on my way up the dry slopes. This tired my legs and lungs out quickly, but it made an otherwise uneventful ascent more worthwhile. At one point I tripped and almost ate some dirt. By the time I reached the summit, I was done with my running for the day.
The wind hit me as soon as I reached the summit cairn. I understood then why the area was mostly void of snow. I had reached the summit in two hours. It would take another two hours to get back to my jeep, but I would take a longer route down.
Mount Albion and Kiowa Peak
I had planned to do some exploring on Niwot Ridge, the long ridge that extends from Niwot Mountain all the way to the rugged Navajo Peak. However, the view was still very limited because of the weather, and the wind was harsher. Kiowa Peak was impressive whenever I was allowed glimpses of it, as was Mount Audubon and even Longs Peak and Mount Meeker. I did hike over to Point 11,557 before beginning my descent. I contoured one of the ribs next to Point 11,557, then dropped down to timberline and back into the snow.
While the snow had been a pain for my ascent, going downhill was a cinch. I made good time and ended up coming out of the trees at the west end of Lefthand Reservoir. It was a long reservoir, and it seemed like it took me a long time to get back to the eastern side of it. From there it was smooth sailing the rest of the way out to my jeep.
I was less than excited about this hike, but it was a nice day out in the mountains, and in the end I did get a decent workout. I will chalk this up as another training climb, but the feel of spring is making my mouth water for the tougher climbs to come...