Having not been above treeline in
a few months, I decided I was overdue for a trip. I wanted to summit
a mountain that I had never tried before, and Mt. Lady Washington
seemed like a good choice to get me in gear for this Summer and
the rapidly approaching hiking season. Mt. Lady Washington is one
of the lesser mountains surrounding Longs Peak. Lady Washington
stands at 13,281 feet, but looks dwarfed in comparison to it's neighbors,
Mt. Meeker (13,911 ft.) and Longs Peak (14,255 ft.).
I began around 6:45 am at the Longs
Peak trailhead with a light snow falling. The trail was packed enough
so that snowshoes were not needed. I wound through the forest for
about an hour, passing through Goblins Forest, a well know part
of the trail, before reaching treeline. It was a relatively calm
day, with only a slight breeze coming from the South. There were
some sporadic clouds clinging to the tops of the mountains, including
Twin Sisters and Longs, which made for a wonderful morning.
Reaching treeline, I finally got
my first view of Mt. Lady Washington, peeking over the thinning
tree tops. A short distance up the trail, Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker
also came into view. I continued along this broad, tundra plain,
towards my destination. There was very little snow above treeline,
most having been blown to lower elevations, and snowshoes were still
unnecessary and strapped to my pack.
I kept going, in spite of some suspicious
looking clouds that began to thicken over Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak,
but I did pick up the pace a bit. Nearing Mt. Lady Washington, there
were sections of the trail completely free of snow and ice. The
Pika were taking advantage of the lack of snow and were already
collecting grasses for next Winter. However, they were too quick
and skittish to pose for my camera.
The clouds over Longs and Meeker
kept growing, and I continued toward the summit, taking only small
breaks to snap a few pictures. The small amount of snow on the snowy
section heading up Mt. Meeker actually helped keep my footing, for
a while anyway. There were sections of rocky surface, the preferred
surface, separated by these larger snow fields. Still, there were
only a couple of times where the snowshoes would have come in handy.
Most of the time they would have done more harm than good.
About 450 - 500 ft from the summit,
as you can see in the last picture, some thick clouds began to take
over Mt. Lady Washington. I had to decide if I should risk continuing
up, still over and hour an a half from the safety(from lightning)
of treeline, or head back. These clouds didn't look as dark as before,
and I still hadn't heard any thunder, so I continued up, but only
for about another ten yards. The snow on the second to the last
field, the one I was climbing, was only about an inch deep, covering
a layer of solid ice.
All it took was one slip, and I was
sliding down the mountain. Luckily, the last section of rocks was
only about fifteen to twenty yards below, so I didn't have too much
speed heading into them. To make a long story short, I came away
from the slide with only ripped pants, and a bloody knee. Needless
to say, my next purchase will be an ice axe and some real crampons,
along with some know-how on their correct use.
It just goes to show that conditions
can be vastly different with only a few feet of elevation change,
even on a 'non-technical' mountain, such as Lady Washington.
I figured that the slip up was a
sign not to continue up the mountain. I probably could have made
it, but decided to take the safe road, and head back up sometime
in the very near future and finish the hike.
It was still a wonderful day spent
in the high Tundra, my favorite place to hike. It was a mild day,
my gloves came off early and were never put back on, and very little
wind. Days like that a few and far between while above treeline
in the Winter or Spring. I'm looking forward to getting back up
there and trying Mt. Lady Washington again.
So, until then....