Unexpectedly bad weather and harsh conditions back in November convinced us to take no chances on our second attempt to climb to Chasm Lake high on the flanks of the famous Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. Despite a week of mild weather, we came loaded for bear with full winter gear, snowshoes, and plenty of time. This proved to be overkill in some respects, but, as luck would have it, we didn't bring the key peice of gear which would have been nice.
We hit the trail at quarter to nine under cloudless skies and within half a mile had stripped down to our base layers. The trek through the forest was uneventful and we soon arrived at tree line where we had run into weather last time. No such bad luck today. To our surprise, there was not a breath of wind and the temperature was hovering around freezing. There was a bit of snow at first, but it was packed quite hard and we didn't need to don snowshoes. Farther up, the snow was patchy at best and we reached the trail junction at the Mills Moraine without incident.
Conciderable snow at tree line, but much less higher up.
Looking north toward the barren slopes of Battle Mountain.
Higher up, we got a stunning view of the Diamond and the Loft (the sunlit snowfield left of center high on the ridge). If you look carefully, you can see the crescent moon setting above the Loft.
Amy trudging up the final snowfield to the Mills Moraine.
Virgin territory! The trail continued across a steep slope on the south flank of Mount Lady Washington. We'd gotten a warning about a particularly dicey traverse above the Peacock Pool and that ice gear might be neccessary. In reality, we were faced with a hundred yards of 45-degree snow a couple hundred vertical feet above the frozen pond. The path was well worn by previous groups, but all of these groups had brought crampons and ice axes, gear which we had left at home.
I lead the way across the traverse kicking steps where neccessary. This was Amy's first experience on steep snow and she set about with her usual courage in the face of psychological adversity. Unbroken snow stretched hundreds of feet down to the boulders and ice below. Every kicked step sent tiny balls of snow rolling down into the abyss. After a dozen yards, it became clear that our hiking poles with wide snow baskets were more of a hindrance than not and would be largely useless if we slipped and fell. I pried the baskets off my pair and traded one for one of Amy's poles. With these psuedo-axes in our uphill hands, we had a bit more security and finished crossing the slope without incident.
Once across the traverse, we were surrounded by the huge cliffs of the Ship's Prow, the north face of Mount Meeker, and, above all, the monsterous ruddy face of the Diamond. The sun had set behind the cliffs and the temperature accordingly dropped. Almost there. Just past the small rescue cabin, we ascended a short, steep snow slope, a short rock scramble, and arrived at Chasm Lake. Everything was frozen, as expected, and we paused for a brief bite to eat to admire the view. Mission accomplished.
The fearsome snowfield traverse above Peacock Pool. The route is well-marked by kicked steps and it's much steeper than it looks. A hiker is just about to start at the near end.
Amy starting the traverse.
The Diamond above frozen Chasm Lake.
Looking northeast at the Twin Sisters from Chasm Lake.
After a quick glissade down the chute above the rescue hut, we chased the shaddow's edge back across the traverse. Out of the sun, the thin layer of soft snow hardened and the footing was generally better. We made it back to the junction and basked in the sunlight for a time. Finally, we trudged back down the sparse snow fields and boulder-strewn path to the trees and thence on hard-packed, slippery snow. We arrived sore but triumphant back at the car at 5 pm.
A wonderful, high-energy trip in flawless weather with some exciting physical challenges. I look forward to visitting Chasm Lake in the summer when it is likely an entirely different place. 8.4 miles in about 9 leisurely hours and 2400 vertical feet.
The Wilderness Journal