April 22, 2003

Mt. Lady Washington

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....

Click on the pictures!

Trail through Goblins Forest.

Early morning view of Twin Sisters Mountain.

My first view of Mt. Lady Washington.

Mt. Meeker, Longs Peak, and Mt. Lady Washington.

Longs Peak in clouds, and Mt. Lady Washington

Another of Longs and Washington.

Wispy clouds near Twin Sisters.

The Diamond (East Face) of Longs Peak being overtaken by the oncoming storm.

Mt Meeker and the Ships Prow. The widest of the gullys, just to the right of center (left of Ships prow) is the route to 'The Loft.'

MT Lady Washington, with more clouds engulfing Longs Peak to the Southwest (left).

A great view of the Diamond and the Notch.

The Ships Prow is the large pointed face in the middle of the picture.

View of the Mummy Range to the North.
Nearing the summit, the storm began to grow. This is looking up Mt. Lady Washington, only 450 feet from the top.