Stones Peak via Hidden River (12,922 ft, 3,939 meters), 09/01/2003
WARNING: Do NOT try to do this hike. The terrain was extremely rough. There is lots of loose rock on the upper slopes of Stones Peak, with the potential for rockslides that can squash you like a bug. On the return, coming off the mountain, there are numerous unexpected dropoffs or cliffs, particularly tricky to identify on the descent through the forested slopes. We started this hike well before dawn, and ended it at about sunset.
Started hiking from the Fern Lake Trailhead at 5:56. It was still mostly dark, but the sky had just enough light to let us see the trail without a flashlight. The inability to see very far made us aware that a crazy blackbear had been killed by a ranger on this trail earlier this summer. We made it to the Fern Lake/Spruce Lake Trail junction at 7:17, and headed up the Spruce Lake trail. We reached Spruce Lake at 7:38, then followed a faint trail to the northwest side of the lake, finally leaving the trail, heading to the right up the slope toward the ridge above. We reached the Castle Rock ridge at 7:52. Descending down the other side of the ridge toward Spruce Creek, we went more or less directly down to the creek, traversing an open treeless area first, then entering forest to the right as the roughness of the terrain dictated, before reaching the flat area near the creek. Paralleling the creek, we began hiking upstream, looking for a place to cross over the creek without getting our feet wet. At about 8:25, we crossed over Spruce Creek on a log conveniently fallen over to form a bridge, then continued paralleling the creek for a while on the other side until we met the confluence of Hidden River with Spruce Creek. This confluence is actually not very distinct, there being a number of small streams flowing into Spruce Creek. We ascended to the left of Hidden River, first through dense trees, then through a narrow swath of steep meadow. Eventually the meadow narrowed to a narrow rock passage where a small stream flowed, making the rocks slippery. At that point, we traversed to the right, trying to find a better way up. We soon found ourselves below a rock wall that kept getting bigger as we continued to the right. This wall persisted until we reached Hidden River, where we were able to ascend once again. We continued up, with the creek to our right, through rocky forested terrain. We eventually topped out on a knob near treeline, where we were able to get a good look up toward the direction we needed to go. There was no obviously nice route visible, but two routes that looked possible. One was to clamber up on the loose rock, following Hidden River. The other was to stay to the left, just below the wall of Stones Peak, and hope that a reasonable way up could be found. We decided to go left, since the loose rock along Hidden River did not appeal to us. We went up this way for quite a while, sometimes having to carefully traverse boulder fields along the side of Stones Peak, but we finally reached a point where we decided that things weren't looking good, and we elected to head down to Hidden River, and follow that drainage up. At the Hidden River drainage, we stayed to the right side of it below a rock wall, trying to avoid the loose rock. It was slow going because of the loose rock, but we finally reached the saddle point between Stones Peak and a knob northeast of it. Turning left, we passed along the bottom edge of Stones Peak Glacier, and then made a beeline for the summit. We reached Stones Peak summit at 12:21. Not surprisingly, there was no one at the top. From the summit, we could see Sprague Mtn, Mt Julian, Longs Peak, Sprague Glacier, and Rainbow Lake. Trail Ridge Road looked deceivingly near to us, in spite of the fact that the Big Thompson Canyon makes the thought of getting there from Stones Peak, ridiculous. We could see the Stones Peak Glacier, and the saddle that we had come up on. We found a summit register tube, but inside were only a bunch of loose pages from a notepad, that were chronologically disordered. After taking pictures, having some food, and putting an entry on one of the summit register pages, we began our return the way we had come at about 13:10. We started our descent by going the same way we had come up, keeping the Hidden River drainage to our right. At about treeline, we crossed Hidden River, then made our way through a little krummholz before entering a sparse forest. As we descended through the forest, we tended to go in a direction toward our right, away from Hidden River, thinking that we would eventually find the meadow that provided a nice way up. But we reached a point where there was a steep dropoff. Thus we turned toward Hidden River again, paralleling the dropoff, hoping that eventually we would find a route of descent. We returned almost the entire way back to Hidden River before Stefan found a route down. This was tricky terrain, because the light forest obscured the dangerous dropoffs. We slowly descended as the forest began to get more dense. We finally reached Spruce Creek at 16:28, then we pretty much retraced our steps back to the top of Castle Rock ridge. On the way up, Stefan stepped on the opening of a beehive. I was right behind him, and noticed a number of agitated bees coming out of a hole in the ground. We quickly made tracks before they could get us. We reached the top of Castle Rock ridge at 16:52, then by 17:04 we were down at the shore of Spruce Lake. We returned to the truck at 18:56, for a total round trip time of 13 hours.