Sun, Aug 28, 2022
Four of us were at Christian's and Ingrid's cabin high in the Jack Creek drainage, just outside the western boundary of the Never Summer Wilderness. The other three had already climbed a number of the peaks around the Jack Creek drainage on previous visits, so I suggested we hike along the spine of the Never Summer Mtns as a way to have all of us on new territory. The range is on the western border of Rocky Mtn National Park, and at well over 12,000ft, should provide us some amazing views. The original plan was to hike from Nimbus to Howard, the latter being the highpoint of the Never Summer Wilderness. We didn't make it that far, but we had a fine time nonetheless.
We were not up particularly early, having only 3-4mi of driving up the rough road to the Jack Creek TH near the Wilderness boundary. Those few miles would take us almost an hour however, the road being in particularly bad shape and looking to get no more maintenance than is necessary to keep it open to 4WD vehicles. We started out on the Jack Creek Trail shortly before 8a, following it east towards Baker Pass. We came across a bow hunter within the first mile, stopping to chat with him briefly. The trail is really an old road that goes to Baker Pass, up and around an intermediate bump before dropping to the pass. Baker Pass lies on the Continental Divide, and separates the South Fork Michigan River drainage to the north from Baker Gulch to the south. To the east rises the higher summits of the Never Summer Mountains.
T'was now time to leave the safety of the trail for the more adventurous cross-country portion of the outing. Most of the high peaks I've encountered in the state make for pleasant climbs with grassy slopes mixed with rock. Looking up at Nimbus from the saddle, it appears more like your typical High Sierra peak - rock, boulders, talus, scree and maybe a few sky pilots growing here and there. This would not be one of the easier Colorado ascents I'd been accustomed to. Though we had some grassy parts to start, 4/5th of the ascent was up broad slopes of broken, loose talus that would take us nearly an hour to climb. As expected, the views are quite spectacular, taking in RMNP to the east, Baker Gulch to the west, and the spine of the range looking north and south. It was just after 9:30a when I reached the highpoint, Eric and the others arriving over the next 10-15min. The register we found was less than a year old, but already filled two pages - it is understandably popular.
After a short summit visit, we turned north to make our way along the crest towards our next objective, Mt. Cumulus, a little over a mile away. The weather looked to be holding out nicely, though the first hint of clouds were already developing. I was holding out hope at this point that we'd make it to Howard. The traverse along the ridgeline is not difficult - all class 2 - but it does not lend itself to swift travel, especially if one is not used to such unstable terrain. It would take roughly an hour to travel between Nimbus and Cumulus. The latter's highpoint is further north than one would expect from the topo map which appears to incorrectly depict the highest contours. We looked for a register at several locations without success, and eventually ended up at the north end of the ridge where we were clearly lower than the highpoint we'd passed - all a bit confusing. As we were on the edge of the national park, it was not surprising to run across a number of survey markers and cairns that mark its location. Clouds were coalescing more, raising our concern level, particularly in Christian's mind. At Cumulus, he expressed the opinion to Ingrid and I that it wouldn't be prudent to continue to Howard. Ingrid sort of shrugged, while I looked around at the sky and suggested we should wait before making a definitive opinion. The next opportunity would be at the saddle to the northeast where we could choose to continue or descend off the west side. There must have been some miscommunication in that quick huddle, because Christian went back to tell Eric (who was just catching up) that it had been decided we'd head down.
Ahead of the others, I spent another 20min making my way further along the ridge towards the saddle, keeping an eye out on my left for exit routes off the steep west side. I paused at another of the large boundary cairns near the saddle for the others to catch up. Looking ahead, I didn't think the weather particularly alarming. The ridgeline, however, looked to grow more difficult, with a number of intermediate points to work over, possibly some class 3 scrambling, too. Though the distance was only about a mile, I judged it might take our party up to two hours for this next section. That would give the clouds in the sky considerably more time to make mischief and it was now possible to imagine getting found high on the ridge with the first clap of thunder. And though I hadn't yet heard what Christian had relayed to Eric, I knew he would be happy if I agreed we should head down. I decided it would be more prudent if I let my ambitions for the outing take a back seat this time.
As expected, Christian looked pleased when I told him my opinion after he'd caught up with me. The others, not far behind, looked contented that Christian and I were in agreement. Down we would go. The descent off the west side was the crux of the whole outing, a messy affair of steep, loose rock, class 2-3. While not particularly dangerous for one person to descend, the real danger was of us sending rocks down on each other. I suggested we spread out to take different routes down the broad slopes. It would take us around 45min to make the descent down the steepest portion. Christian took the leftmost position which turned out to have the most class 3 sections. I was in the rightmost position and paused about 2/3 of the way down to make sure the others got down safely. This was much more like the Sierra terrain I was well versed in, less so for the others. It was Ingrid who seemed to really take to the terrain among the others, making it down to the bottom 10-15min ahead of the rest of us. Even after we had all caught up with her, there was much morainal rock debris to negotiate down to the forest, grass and trail below. Christian made a detour to visit a small, unnamed lake to the north while the rest of us went more westerly in search of an exit from the rocky mess we were now quite tired of. Eric spotted what he thought was the trail through the moraine below us, but I poo-poohed it as his imagination run wild. I ate my words and apologized when it turned out it was the trail, our work now instantly made better. We turned left to follow the trail that would take us back to Baker Pass over the next hour. Christian found the same trail by the lake he explored and would catch up with us before the trail had exited the moraine.
As Ingrid and Christian pulled ahead of us, I suggested to Eric that now might be a good time to take a short break for extracurriculars. He smiled, we pulled over on the side of the trail where we took a few tokes before continuing on our way. Somehow the grass was greener, the sky bluer (despite the developing clouds) and the trail more interesting. It was certainly nicer once we were out of the moraine. I ended up behind everyone by the time I reached a trail junction below Baker Pass. It had occurred to me much earlier in the day that the trail probably wasn't the quickest way back to the TH. There is another pass about 3/4mi WNW of Baker Pass that would make for a more direct return to the Jack Creek drainage and trailhead. With a bit of adventure left in me for the day, I left the trail and headed cross-country due west for this alternate pass. It worked quite nicely at class 1-2, taking only about 20min to reach. From the pass, I could see the trail a short distance to the south and no sign yet of the others. Knowing the trail was a bit meandering, I continued cross-country to the west for a more direct return following the bearing I'd laid out on the GPSr. It got me back to the Jeep well ahead of the others who would show up one by one over the next 20-30min. Ingrid was the first to return and seemed a little surprised that I'd beaten her back. Christian and Eric showed less surprise, having suspected I might do exactly what I'd done. Time for beers and salty chips.
It would rain lightly a bit on the drive back and throughout the afternoon, but nothing serious. We probably could have done Howard and gotten back without getting too wet, but we'd have been far more tuckered out. In the end, I think the decision to abort when we did was for the best, leaving us more relaxed for the remainder of the day. Howard would be there for the next time (and possibly easier via the Silver Creek TH)...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Nimbus - Mt. Cumulus
This page last updated: Sat Oct 29 10:49:41 2022
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