Sunday - February 18th, 2007, getting a little restless in the middle of a long Colorado winter, I got up at 2am and headed up to the Longs Peak Ranger Station Trailhead, just south of Estes Park, for some hiking, snowshoeing, and - depending on the snow conditions - a summit attempt on Mount Lady Washington. Compared to the rugged features of neighboring Mt Meeker and Longs Peak, Mt Lady Washington is not much more than a high altitude hill, although it is a popular spring snow ascent and glissade. I had no doubts though, over the quality of the summit view, and that's what I was after.
I was on the trail at 4am, and made it up to the Chasm Lake & Longs Peak trail junction by 6:45am. The weather looked great, and the wind conditions were fairly mild. With the early morning light casting a reddish tint on the diamond of Longs, I took the following shot.
Most of the snow above treeline had been blown away, so with no avalanche danger to worry about, I started up Mount Lady Washington's east approach. Unfortunately though, what little snow remained on the mountain was mostly powder, and without knowing what lay underneath, there was a good chance of twisting an ankle at some point. While I was able to avoid most of the snow patches, that kind of boulder hopping above 12,000 feet is strenuous.
About half-way up, I noticed the wind increasing. Blowing from the west-northwest though, it was tolerable on the east side until I got to within a couple hundred vertical feet of the summit; at which point, the full force was becoming a real problem. Stopping to re-evaluate the conditions, and my desire to summit, I took a moment to get this shot looking northeast at Estes Cone and the beautiful snow-covered peaks beyond.
I was warm enough in my boots, snowpants, and fleece jacket under a windproof shell, but the wind was horribly strong and in my better judgement, it would have been wise to turn back. But I was so close! Dumping my pack, I made a mad dash, relative to my depleting energy reserves, up to tag the summit. I hesitate to say anything that could be considered exaggerated, but my best guess is that the winds were 70+ MPH on the summit, with gusts levels I had not experienced before. Photography was almost impossible; I had to sit pressed up against a boulder just to steady myself and the camera enough for a single shot of the summit block (right) and Diamond. Immediately after getting the shot, I turned to make my escape and was nearly thrown down the slope - so much for enjoying that quality summit view. It really irritated me knowing that there wouldn't be a clue in the photo that this had been anything other than a calm beautiful winter day.
Back down to the lower half of the mountain again, and mostly out of the wind, I took this picture of the north side of Mount Meeker - the only shot I got all day with any hint of high wind conditions: the light mist of snow blowing across.
Once I got back down to the trail junction, I took my last shot of the day, of Mount Lady Washington with Longs Peak, now in the shade. While the wind down off the mountain was much better, it was still picking up, and the hike back down to treeline was rough.
While I thought that the struggle would end back below treeline, out of the wind, with a leasurely uneventful hike back down to the trailhead - thanks to a stupid decision, that wasn't the case.
As I made the transition through treeline, the snow was getting deeper, but the trees were still thin and the wind still blowing hard. The trail was wind-swept in spots and getting hard to follow. I eventually missed a turn, and soon found myself sinking into the snow past my knees. Tired, and not feeling like humping it back uphill to relocate the trail, I put my snowshoes on and angled down in an assumed direction to intersect the trail below the next switchback. It took two hours of bushwhacking through deep unpacked snow, but I eventually found the trail again, about fifty yards short of the trailhead. It doesn't matter though; as rough as the day was, I had a good time.
National Park Service - Climbing and Mountaineering in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park: The High Peaks
U.S. National Parks Net - Rocky Mountain National Park Hiking Guide