I was lucky enough to have a conference in Denver the first week of January, so David, Matt, and I decided to make a mini trip of it and get in some winter hiking beforehand. We headed to Estes Park, which is experiencing a bit of a snow drought as of December 2017 / early January 2018. Good for hikers, bad for skiers! We started out 2018 right with a blustery but lovely New Year’s hike of Twin Sister’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Twin Sisters is an excellent winter hiking objective because:
- there is very easy road access with a parking lot on state highway 7 (the Lily Lake parking area) that only adds a few minutes of walking, and as a bonus, does not require a national park entrance fee
- the hike is ::mostly:: protected from the wind until the very end
- the moderate length (~8 miles + short road walk) makes it a reasonable objective for short winter days
January 1st was a windy day in Estes Park, and I was a bit nervous about how bad the summit would be, given the cold, blustery conditions in the parking lot. The trail quickly ascends into the trees, however, which provide some amount of protection (but not a TON of protection…).
Because the snow was not particularly deep, our hike was a straight-forward walkup with no need for snowshoes! Score! We used microspikes as traction but I would not even classify them as particularly necessary in the conditions we encountered, they just made the walking easier. In some sections of trail, the snow was so sparse or non-existent that I was grinding my microspikes against bare rock. Oops….
The majority of the trail is full of long switchbacks with a moderate incline, though the section immediately following the landslide area is a bit steeper. After walking for several miles in the protection of the trees, we began to hike out above tree line and were expecting to be blasted in the face …but it was calm! The last section of above-tree line trail before the summit is on the leeward side of the mountain, completely protected from the wind. Whoever made this trail is smart or something!
We finally popped out on the ridge, immediately next to a small stone communications building and tower. There are two summits to Twin Sisters and we somewhat randomly chose to walk to the right, past the stone building. I believe this is the west summit, which is 11,413 feet. I could feel that elevation, y’all!
A short hike to the top leads to amazing 360 degree views from the summit, which, as an added bonus, was mysteriously not super windy (what the heck, nature?). To the west, Longs Peak stood in all of its glory (hey Longs, remember when I pitifully stumbled up you?). To the northwest, we could see into Rocky Mountain National Park and lots of mountains I don’t know the name of. To the south and east we could see the flatlands covered in a thick cloud layer.
We sat on the summit taking in the views, eating some lunch, and letting my hands turn into popsicles. 1000 pictures later, we headed back down, and were back in the parking lot ~5 hours after we started.
Not a bad way to start off 2018. Until next time, y’all!