Steep Mountain (9538 ft), 11/03/2002

Left the house in Longmont at about 10:30. It was an uncharacteristically foggy morning, but when we reached Highway 66 the fog gave way to blue sky and sunshine. It had snowed a little the previous night, and a lot the last 3 days before that, so the roads were wet with occassional patches of snow on US 36 as Stefan drove to Estes Park. The most snow on Hwy 36 was just before Estes Park on the descent from Hermit Park down to the town. There were also significant patches of snow on the road after we entered the park and took a left onto the road to Moraine Park and then Hollowell Park. There were no other cars at the Hollowell Park Trailhead, but thankfully it was plowed, since there were several inches of snow on the ground. Started hiking at about 11:30. Stefan soon asked me if I wanted to ski instead of hike, and I said sure, but we then we decided against it because we would have had to tie our hiking boots to our backpacks then ditch our skis when we began hiking up Steep Mountain. Because of the 4-5 inches of snow, we made our way slowly up the east side of Steep Mountain just to the right of a ravine that separates a false summit knob on the left from the main part of the mountain on the right. Just before reaching the top of the ridge, we followed elk tracks which made the going a little easier. On the ridge we stopped to look at the map to determine where the summit was. From there we were able to look down into the Mill Creek drainage. Following the ridge north, we came upon several places that looked like summits but turned out not to be. Eventually at about 13:30 we came to the actual summit, which was marked by a small rock windbreak that someone had built. We took some digicam pictures and enjoyed the great views of Stones Peak, Windy Gulch, Moraine Park, the Mummy Range, Longs Peak, Chiefs Head, Taylor Peak, Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain, and others. I dug the snow out of the rock wind break looking for a summit register but found none. It was cold, windy, and our feet were getting cold so we began heading back. We decided to return a different way heading east down the mountain along the ridge that overlooks Moraine Park. Note that descending an unfamiliar mountain by a different route than you arrived by is generally a bad idea (see "Stones Peak Mini-Epic" by Gordon S. Novak Jr, but this was a very small mountain so we decided to take a chance, with the possibility in our minds that we might have to retrace our steps to go down the way we came after all. Heading down, the descent was steep with dense young growth conifer forest. The going was slow because of the snow and steepness with Stefan going first. We did occassionally fall on our butts due to rocks hidden under the snow, with Stefan doing most of the falling since he was blazing the trail. Seeing elk tracks going in the same general direction as we were made me think that there must be a reasonable way down the mountain this way. After quite a bit of steep descent, the terrain leveled off, and soon we were on the ridge marking the southern edge of Moraine Park. Hiking east along this ridge for a ways we eventually found some nice sunny picnic rocks to sit down on and enjoy a lunch of nuts and water. After lunch, we hiked a little farther east along the ridge then dropped down to the south toward the Hollowell Park Trailhead. On the way back we passed by a fenced area of about an acre that was apparently set up to determine the impact of elk and deer grazing on vegetation. Just before making it back to the truck we walked by a large bull elk sitting alone on the ground under a tree, who we didn't see until we were a couple hundred feet from him (Stefan noticed him) due to his excellent camouflaging. We returned to the truck at about 15:40. There were still no other cars parked at the trailhead. In spite of the smallness of the mountain, and shortness of the hike, this was a nice wilderness experience because it was an off trail experience and we saw or met no one. Because of the snow this trip was a lot more exercise than it otherwise would be.