Click on the pictures!

Turning Aspen along the trail.

Even the forest floor shows the signs of Fall.

More golden Aspen Leaves.

A view to the South of Mt. Copeland from Sandbeach Lake..

Mt. Meeker from Sandbeach Lake.

Pagoda Mountain from Sandbeach Lake.

Mt. Meeker from the trail above Sandbeach Lake.

A unique view of Longs Peak from the slopes leading to Mt. Orton.

The North Ridge, leading from Orton to Chiefs Head Peak.

Mt. Copeland from the summit of Orton..

The summit of Orton. Chiefs Head in in the distance on the right.

Nice Aspen Grove on the way back.

Sandbeach Lake & Mt. Orton.

September 23 , 2003

One of the greatest qualities of Fall hiking in the Rocky Mountains, is that you rarely have to worry about your typical Summer Thunderstorms that roll in every afternoon. I usually plan on hiking all day when I'm out during the Fall months. Today, I was headed for Chiefs Head Peak, 13,579 feet, by way of Sandbeach Lake and Mt. Orton, 11,724 feet.

I arrived at the Sandbeach Lake Trailhead in Wild Basin at ten minutes to seven. I had heard this trail, until you reach the lake, was boring and uneventful. I heard wrong. This is an amazing trail. I usually don't enjoy hiking through dense forest too much, there are no views. But this forest is unreal. Maybe it was just because of the Fall colors that saturated every aspect, from the trees, to the small plants covering the forest floor. Truly a beautiful trail.

About 2.5 miles into the hike, I crossed Campers Creek, another mile after that, Hunters Creek, and yet another mile brought me to the shores of Sandbeach Lake. This lake gets its name from the sandy shores which surround much of it. It is now at its natural level. The Lake was once used as a reservoir and dammed to retain water for towns at lower elevations. Once the dam was removed, the damage had been done, leaving the sandy shoreline, the natural vegetation long gone.

I noticed the wind beginning to pick up once I reached the lake. Finding shelter behind a huge boulder, I enjoyed my early morning lunch. I was graced by the company of two little gray squirrels, who eventually became angry at my reluctance to share my meal. They spent the last half of my little lunch break barking at me from a nearby tree.

Not one to wear out my welcome, I put the pack back on and started up the steep ridge toward Mt. Orton. This would lead me to North Ridge and on up to Chiefs Head, three miles distant.

The wind kept my attention by getting noticeably stronger as I approached treeline. Once above treeline, the wind was fierce. By far the most powerful wind I have ever felt. It was difficult to stay standing up straight, especially while trying to hop boulders up a steep slope.

I picked what looked like the best route toward the summit of Mt. Orton, over the large boulders. The wind, still, was a factor. I had hoped it would let up a little bit, but the higher I got, the stronger it grew. I had long since put on a winter cap (beanie, toboggan, whatever..), the baseball hat was just not staying on.

Other than the wind, the weather was still perfect. So I continued on along the North Ridge toward my distant goal. I tried to drop down to the North side of the ridge, hoping it would give me some protection against the wind. But it did nothing. The wind was still as strong as ever.

I had forced my way against the wind to the lowest point in the ridge, just before I would begin to tackle the bulk of Chiefs Head. This is where the wind became absolutely ferocious! It felt like a hand picked me up by the back pack, and tossed me aside. Maybe I was a little off balance to begin with, but it was still a strong gust.My guess would be in the 110 MPH range. It would have to be to lift a 170 lb man off of the ground! The strongest reading of the day at the Niwot Ridge Research Station, about 15 miles south of the North Ridge, at over 12,000 feet, was just over 75 MPH. So the wind was definitely roaring.

After the fall, I decided it was smart to head back. I was beat from fighting the wind for the past two miles, and a little unnerved from being knocked over by an invisible truck-like gust. On the way back toward Mt. Orton the wind kept at it. One gust actually carried away my winter cap. I thought those were supposed to stay on!

It was an uneventful hike on the way back to the trailhead. Once back in Estes, I celebrated my failed summit attempt with a sackful of McDonalds best sweet buttery goodness, and a Mr. Pibb!

Another great day in the Mountains.



Round Trip: 11 miles (Mt. Orton)
Elevation Gain: 3,412 feet


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