Peak(s):  Nakai Peak - 12216
Snowdrift Peak - 12274
Date Posted:  04/24/2012
Date Climbed:   04/21/2012
Author:  Floyd
Additional Members:   Chicago Transplant
 Into the Heart of RMNP   

Who: Me, Chicago Transplant
What: Nakai Peak (ranked 1,191) and Snowdrift Peak (ranked 1,158 )
When: 4/20/12-4/22/12
Where: RMNP, Tonahutu Creek
Why: It seemed like a good idea.

Friday 4/20 Pack in: 3.25 miles, 1,100 ft
We planned to meet at 8:00 at the park entrance on Friday night (or at least I thought). I pulled into a turnout just through the entrance and waited for Mike's car right on time, excited to get underway as we had decided to hike into the Sunset campsite if it appeared as dry as we thought. Sure enough, no snow, but no Mike either. Time passed and around 9:00 my phone rang.

MIke: "How much longer you got?"
Me: "I've been here an hour, what do you mean?"
Mike: "You've been where? I've been at the Visitor Center for the last hour."
Me: "Well, $&!t."

We dropped my car off at the Timber Creek TH just in case we decided to pull off the marathon of all marathons - an up and over along the Continental Divide. - in the "off-season" no less. Being the stubborn idiots we are, we hit the trail at 10:00 pm. I was cautiously optimistic that our absurd plans may actually come to fruition since we'd knock out a piece of the approach a night early and it seemed like it was going to be as dry as we had hoped. A couple of miles in, we hit Big Meadows and we were suddenly hit with the realization that we were WAY too optimistic with our plans. One step into the snow and "Doh!" I wish I had a picture of it, because the the look on Mike's face while waist deep in snow and toting a full pack, in the middle of the night, was pretty funny. We strolled into where we thought the Sunset campsite would be based on the map and found nothing but downed timber and a small field just off the trail. Mike went up trail for a couple of minutes just to see if he could find anything and being unsuccessful, we decided to call it a night around 11:30 and figure out where we were in the morning.

Saturday 4/21 Nakai Peak: 6.0 miles, 3,300 ft. & Pack to Granite Falls Campsite: 2.0 miles, 500 ft.
We ignored our 6 am alarms and finally got up around 7:00 am. As we stepped out of our tent we found our campsite was not only right next to the trail, but also right on the shore of the creek. We packed everything up and hung it from a nearby tree and hauled our day packs up Nakai's southwest slopes, leaving our camp at 8:00 am. Basically, you leave the trail right where it takes a sharp turn to the south down to the creek and pick your line up. After crossing a large field, the slope is relatively steep but made for a nice hike.

Looking up Nakai's SW Slopes

Nakai's Summit from Treeline

We carried our snowshoes but never needed them. Once at tree line we topped out on a small rock outcropping with a great view of the remaining route to the summit.

Longs From Nakai

We had perfect weather and took our time making the summit. Moments later though, the forecasted 35 mph winds welcomed us at the summit. We sought shelter about 30 yards down the south ridge on some rocks where we could actually enjoy the clear April day.

L-R: Longs, Pagoda, Snowdrift, Alice, Taylor, Copeland, Isolation, etc...

Mike Descending from Nakai

The Never Summers

Richtofen (far right)

Zoom of Eagles Nest (photo by Mike)

Straightforward Bushwacking on the SW Slopes

The hike back was uneventful and we returned to our "campsite" at 1:30 pm.

One thing became apparent at the summit was that the upper valley was anything but dry and our intended camp at the Timberline campsite wasn't happening; which also meant that our grandiose up-and-over idea wasn't going to fly either. Since we were in no real hurry to go anywhere, we meandered up the trail trying to figure out where the highest place was to camp on a dry surface. Along the way, we found the Sunset Campsite about 1/2 mile farther up the trail than marked on the map and on the south side of the creek. There wasn't any way would we have found it the previous night and it was socked in under snow anyways. Snowshoes weren't used until a footbridge crossing a creek between the Sunrise and Lower Granite Falls campsites on the map (this is also the last place we saw any signs of human tracks for the rest of the weekend). We hit Granite Falls a little farther up the trail which were quite impressive and definitely worth a day hike in the late spring, early summer if you are so inclined.

Granite Falls (Bottom Up)

Granite Falls (Top Down)

We spent a good half hour or so at the falls and made it to the upper Granite Falls campsite around 4:30. Beyond the site was a large field blanketed in thick snow so we figured this was going to be home for the night. We debated on whether or not Sprague/Stones would be feasible and, after deciding that a try for those would put us back to the car no earlier than 9:00 pm, we focused on Snowdrift.

Sunday 4/22 Snowdrift Peak: 9.8 miles, 3,200 ft & Pack Out: 5.25 miles 500 ft.
Alarm at 5:00 am, and on the "trail" by 6:00 am. We had no idea where the trail was but a fox seemed to have the right idea so we followed his tracks up the valley. That worked out perfectly well as we saw the signs for the campsites so we were actually on trail, for the most part. Around 8:00 am we found ourselves leaving tree line and we spotted the trail zigzagging toward Sprague Pass up to our left.

Mike reaches tree line below Sprague Pass

The climbing got a little steep for snowshoes so I put on my micro-spikes and kicked up to the trail where we stashed our shoes for the remainder of the climb. From our stash we improvised a snow climb bypassing the switchbacks as I was able to kick in enough to give Mike a safe staircase since he was sans traction device.

Straight up the snow to Sprague Pass

Snowdrift is kind of a pain in the neck to get to as we were still almost 2 miles away from the summit even though we were only 700 or 800 vertical feet below it. I thought we were in for some serious wallowing looking out on the expanse of white across Bighorn Flats, but luckily the snow was only a couple of inches deep.

Snowdrift from below Sprague Pass (still a ways to go)

Snowdrift from Bighorn Flats

Mike takes a breather w/ Nakai as the backdrop

Mike still not moving (the guy is pretty lazy) w/ Nakai as the backdrop

Snowdrift from atop the first false summit

Once at the saddle, the climb up the ridge is straightforward enough. No real surprises to be had except for a cornice on the final ridge that we bypassed by swinging around to the south of the summit. Once on top, you realize that you truly are in the middle of the park. Incredible views were to be had in all directions, Longs was probably most impressive but we enjoyed playing name that peak to our south looking out towards the IPW. We sat and enjoyed the perfect morning as we barely felt a breath of wind up there.

North Inlet 12ers from Snowdrift

Longs, Pagoda, Taylor from Snowdrift

Longs (photo by Mike)

Alice, Copeland, Isolation

South towards the IPW

Mike on Snowdrift (I let him pose)

Mike's shot of me. I wasn't warned, so the exhaustion on my face is evident.

Looking South off of Snowdrift

GORES! (photo by Mike)

Mike descending from Snowdrift

Nakai from the east

The hike back to our shoes was uneventful but the mileage, hot sun, and snow travel was really starting to take their toll on my energy and legs. I was dreading the snowshoe back to camp as the sun was really softening the snow. From the stash, we dropped into the upper Tonahutu drainage and while we took a more gentle descent to the west, we picked up our trail from the approach where the terrain starts to flatten and followed it back to camp. At this point I realized that this drainage was uphill in both directions. I need to make a mental note that if you gain (or lose) less than 500 feet per mile, snowshoeing sucks (even more than usual). Luckily, the snow was so wet that it was supporting our weight nicely (for the most part).

We made it back to camp around 2:00 and were back on the trail by 2:45. The pack out really wore on me. Family commitments and my five year-old daughter's social calendar have only granted me one summit so far in 2012 so I'm not quite in my best form yet. The trail back was an irritating mix of 40 yards of 2 foot snow drifts followed by 30 yards of dry trail. So, pick your poison: snowshoe on rock or post-hole with a full pack on your back. I bypassed everything I could by dropping into the boggy meadows as the snow took every ounce of energy out of me. It wasn't ideal, but at least the ground was consistent - albeit soupy. The one very exciting part of the exit occurred about 10 minutes from the trailhead when we encountered a moose - my first in the wild.


A couple of minutes later, we saw an even rarer sight on this trip... a family hiking up the trail. After a brief interaction with the first humans we had seen for 48 hours, we were back to the car at 6:00 ending an incredible weekend of good company and enjoying experiencing an area of the park that few take the opportunity to, especially in early spring.

Unfortunately, we wouldn't have time to enjoy a sit down meal as I was in a hurry to get home for my kids' bedtime. Once in Idaho Springs, it took all the strength I could muster to not get violent in the Carl's Jr. drive thru line as it took 10 minutes to fill some guys' order in front of me - being between me and my post-climb meal is not a safe place to be. I settled for a couple 6 Dollar Burgers, large fries, and a vat of fruit punch since I am trying to lose weight. The grease bomb(s) quickly took the edge off, but I found it to be quite difficult to negotiate Floyd Hill while trying to eat a Guacamole/Bacon Burger.

Thanks for reading.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Steve Knapp
Nice choice of peaks!
04/24/2012 18:25
Wow, that is really bold to head in for an overnighter in April on the snowy west side of the Park. These are probably two of the least climbed 12ers in the Park, tough to get to and somewhat isolated. I've still got to do these, thanks for the report. One issue though, how could you possibly skip ranked Bushwhack Hill? You were right there!

Chicago Transplant
Good times indeed
04/24/2012 19:22
It was an interesting weekend in a less traveled part of the park, not quite the conditions we hoped for, but we made it work!

Steve- Bushwhack Hill should be renamed Deadfall Hill, from what we could see of it from the trail anyway, it looked like 3rd class logfall

The Feastman Cometh...
04/24/2012 20:00
We've talked about Snowdrift for years and I think it might happen sooner rather than later. Thanks for the photos and the story. I don't know how much overnight traffic the west side gets this time of year but it can't be much.

And I don't think you can see Snowdrift from any road so it definitely is a prize.

Way to dig up the feast at the end too. The feastmen always dig up a feast. They have a sixth sense...

04/24/2012 20:15
Steve - like Mike said, ”Bushwhack” is an understatement for that mess. getting up that little guy would take some patience.

Mike - looking forward to the next trip.

Pap - Snowdrift is actually very prominent from 34 as you approach the park and look across Shadow Mountain Lake. Regardless, it's back there and not easily accessed.

04/24/2012 20:25
That's a part of the park I bet doesn't see much traffic!

”some RMNP 12ers”
04/25/2012 00:48
Indeed. When I heard your plans had changed, I had no idea how cool this would turn out. Nakai Peak has a name for the Indian Peaks, but this trip looks all Rocky Mountain and absolutely worth trying myself. Thanks for sharing.

Good Trip Report
04/25/2012 01:27
Nice to see something on some lesser known peaks in RMNP. Another mixup on where to least you didn't climb the wrong mountain this time (ie West Partner)...

Thanks for the replies
04/25/2012 03:24
FM - no traffic at all beyond ~ 4 miles in before us as far as we could tell. I'm wondering how many have to consult a map to even figure out where we were.

Matt - we thougt Nakai belonged in the IPW too, but it also sounds kind of Japanese, no? let's get out soon, if not for a peak, at least for a beer. (No Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout though)

Colin - Still holding a grudge from 3 years ago? It wasn't like you were up for climbing the next day anyways.

04/25/2012 14:38
shots of Longs. Looks like an awesome area, nice work!

Into the heart...and soul
04/25/2012 14:53
One doesn't go to Nakai and Snowdrift for the glory or checkmark. This is done for the experience, the soulful satisfaction that comes from packing deep into wilderness with no one else around, and seeing places where no one has traveled for some time. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it.

I really appreciated the invite. I didn't mention it, but I would have put money down that you would see moose and no people. Of the 8 or so trips I've made into the western IPW, I've run into moose on the trail on at least half the trips.

Wilderness. Adventures like this connect with something deep inside. Thanks for sharing it.

Dry Dock
04/25/2012 20:47
Scot-the Aurora Chamber of Commerce couldn't convince me to like their city today, but I did get a couple cards good for a free pint at Dry Dock from them. It's a sign that we need to round up Helmut and get over there soon.
BTW, ”Nakai” is the Navajo word for ”Mexican,” but it does sound Japanese, too.

04/25/2012 23:06
Ben, thanks for the compliment. You ditching the planks anytime soon (or joining us in the Gores next month)?

Kimo, you always have a way with words. It would have been nice to have you along, but can we expect another TR from your trip over the weekend?

Matt, Interesting factoid and I'll definitely be in touch after I figure out my social restrictions over the next couple of weeks.

Chicago Transplant
04/26/2012 03:07
Thanks Matt!

Nakai would make a good name for a sushi roll - how about red snapper with jalapeno pepper?

04/27/2012 20:19
Nope, not on UMassHoops.

I've actually camped at Nokoni. Incredible fishing there. Wasn't into climbing peaks back then though. We actually almost went for those on this trip but I'm saving those for a family backpack someday.

Good peaks
07/29/2013 18:29
I'm quite into the RMNP peaks, so great to see a report on these!
Off the wall question, you wouldn't happen to post on too? I visit 2 sites frequently, and there's a Floyd on both of them.

Anyway, if you're into backpacks to ”some RMNP 12ers”, look into
Ptarmigan, Andrews, Ptarmigans Beak. Get to visit remote lakes with exotic names like Nokoni and Nanita.

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