Peak(s):  Taylor Peak B  -  13,153 feet
Date Posted:  02/06/2019
Modified:  02/09/2019
Date Climbed:   07/15/2000
Author:  flyingmagpie
 Climbing Taylor Peak   

Though I had done my second RMNP 13er climb, Mummy Mountain, in November, 1999, Rocky Mountain National Park accumulated sufficient snowpack over the winter that I didn’t climb high again until July the following summer. That’s not unusual. I kept myself in shape through the winter by taking walks in my neighborhood with my two dogs on leashes, morning and evening. Then, in addition to that, when lower elevation trails began to melt out first, I started doing weekend hikes. The McGraw Ranch trails, and the trails on the south side of Lumpy Ridge were my haunts. But there were other good hikes as well.

After winter (which always seems too long to me) had ended, in July, after I thought trails and summits in Rocky would be free of snow, I decided Taylor Peak would be my next 13er to climb. In 2000, the best place to park a vehicle to climb Taylor was the Glacier Gorge Parking Lot. Still is, but that lot was not the much bigger new one. It was a tiny one located at the very tip of the “v” of a tight switchback near the end of the Bear Lake Road. The advantage of the new Glacier Gorge Parking Lot is that it is bigger and contains many more parking spaces. The disadvantage is that it is further from the old trailhead, and you now have to hike a little spur trail first just to get back to what used to be then and is still the main trailhead, just below that tight switchback.

In the old lot, not many parking spaces could fit within that tight “v”, maybe only a little over a dozen or fifteen or so, and if you didn’t get there at first light, all of those spaces were taken, and you had to park in a bigger lot at Bear Lake, and hike down a short horse trail to the old Glacier Gorge trailhead below. Now, with Park visitation breaking records every year, you even have to get to the Bear Lake parking area early, or you’ll find it full. The new Glacier Gorge Parking lot fills up even earlier. Why? Because as Gerry Roach writes so eloquently, trails from this parking lot lead to both the Loch Vale and Glacier Gorge cirques, and “These valleys are not just in the heart of the park, they are in the hearts of all who visit them. The scenery here is magnificent.”

The wide, well maintained trail from the trailhead first passes one of the most beautiful and easily accessible waterfalls in Rocky, Alberta Falls, named after the wife of Abner Sprague, a colorful character among the earliest settlers in the area. Sprague Lake is named after him.

The scenery, just as Roach says, is so beautiful that I can’t include more than a few of the photographs I would have liked to include in this trip report. There would just be too many, and I want to focus here on my climb of Taylor Peak itself. So, though I do toss in a few photographs of the beginning of the hike, I won’t begin my real narrative until the Loch is left behind. I don’t think I need to. The trails that lead from the Glacier Gorge Parking Lot to Loch Vale are well-signed, and even tourists from out-of-state without maps or backcountry experience can find their way to the Loch just fine. I think you can too. The area is a photographer’s paradise. These trails are among the most heavily visited in Rocky now, and except for first light, it is difficult to take a scenic photograph here without people in it.

The shortest approach to both Taylor and Powell Peaks is from the Glacier Gorge trailhead to the Loch. Past the Loch, there is an important turnoff to the right up the Andrews Glacier Trail. Andrews Pass is the shortest good route to both peaks.

To climb to Andrews Pass and reach the Continental Divide beyond, which will then lead you south over tundra slopes to the two peaks, Andrews Glacier must be climbed. In a year with a normal snowfall, Andrews is probably the easiest glacier in Rocky to climb. In the right snow conditions, some people do this in just good boots with deeply treaded soles. I never felt comfortable with that. Many times, I encountered icy patches on the glacier, and I felt more safe wearing Yaktrax or micro-spikes. In really bad icy conditions, maybe even crampons would be a help. It just depends on snow conditions, and your own level of comfort on snow. I never carried an ice axe or wore a helmet for Andrews. I did not even own either of these yet. I usually carried just a trekking pole. By this time, I had learned how helpful one can be for all of my hikes and climbs.

Once, for instance, when a cow elk felt I might pose a danger to her newly born calf in a meadow just below Black Lake, she charged me, and probably would have knocked me down and then injured me badly if I hadn’t kept swinging my trekking pole in big arcs between us as I backed away, and she broke off that charge.

Trekking poles can be handy also on glaciers that are not too steep, just to help you keep your balance and to provide another anchor point.

I succeeded in climbing Taylor my first try, in July. For some reason I climbed it again in August. I don’t remember why, but I must have had a good reason. For this first climb, I got to the Glacier Gorge Parking Lot at first light, and had no trouble finding an open parking spot. At it’s beginning, the trail is like many others in the park, passing near Glacier Creek in places, mostly through hills and heavy timber. Then you come to Alberta Falls, and your view of that can’t help but stop you for a while. I have taken many photographs here. I learned something about photography here.

When I climbed, I carried only a small, lightweight pocket 35mm camera with a zoom lens. Most of the photos in these trip reports were taken with such cameras. But I also had bought at some point a really good, bigger SLR 35mm camera capable of taking professional-quality photos, and I was trying to learn how to use it. I had bought a number of different lenses for it, different ranges of zooms. Despite many attempts to photograph the falls, I had always been dissatisfied with my resultant photos, and I couldn’t understand why. Then came a special day when I was carrying the SLR camera on just a photography day-hike. The sky was overcast on that early fall morning, and I hiked through a kind of a misty fog. Everything was covered with tiny needle points of frost. The aspen leaves were falling. It was so cold that no one was on the trail but me.

I took a picture Alberta Falls in these special conditions, and, when it was developed, understood why I had been so dissatisfied with all my other photos of the falls. That day, the sunlight was passing through foggy mist, and the resulting diffusion of the light eliminated all the shadows that are always present in direct sunlight. The falls and its surroundings stood out without shadow, vaguely bright themselves as if lit dimly by some sacred internal luminosity of their own. Leaves on the rocks. Frost on the trees. Alberta Falls plunging down cliffs. Rushing current below. I believed this photo was finally a truly good one out of the many I had already taken.

Alberta Falls in Frost and Mist

My photo was good not by my skill, but just by pure luck. I hadn’t really known what I was doing. But I tried to learn from what I had done. Serendipity.

Skeletal Pine in the Glacial Knobs Area on the Trail to Andrews Glacier, Hallett Buttresses Behind

"This we know:
the earth does not belong to man,
man belongs to the earth.
All things are connected
like the blood that unites one family.
Man did not weave the web of life;
he is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web,
he does to himself.

--Chief Seatte, 1852

I don’t know who named Loch Vale, or why. A book I used to own titled “Larimer County Place Names,” might tell me, but I no longer own the book. A quick web search at least reveals its etymology. Both words are Middle English. “Loch” is derived from the Scottish word for “lake.” Vale is derived from “vale,” a French word for valley, in case you wondered about either, as I did. Valley with a lake. And it certainly is that.

The outlet to the Loch plunges down an unexpectedly steep, lush, and narrow rift near the trail. The Loch itself seems big when you stand beside it, close there, but from a summit above, or the Continental Divide, like all the lakes down below, it seems tiny and distant. You get the feeling of your own relative insignificance in time and space, viewing these scenes.

Outlet to the Loch

The Loch from the East. That Great Vertical Cliff Top Center is "Cathedral Wall." Taylor Glacier is at the Left.

Taken on Another Hike, in the Fall. This View is Just Left of the Photo Above. Cathedral Wall is on the Right. Taylor Peak is Hidden, to the Right.
Taylor Glacier is at Center. Powell Peak is the Next Big Bump on the Ridge Line, Left of the Glacier.

The Loch from the West.

The valley with a lake branches into two cirques. The entrance to the northern branch is guarded by an incredibly vertical and thin blade of rock carved by glaciers, Sharkstooth. The branch passes past Sharkstooth and eventually reaches the Continental Divide, where it is capped by Andrews Tarn and Andrews Glacier. So, at the trail branch, you want to turn right.

Sharkstooth. The Deep Ravine in Front is "The Gash."

Telephoto of Sharkstooth

If you hadn't turned right and confronted Sharkstooth, and had instead continued straight ahead up the southern branch, you would have eventually reached two lakes which couldn’t be more beautiful than they are. They are both poetically named, Lake of Glass and Sky Pond. This branch is capped by Taylor Glacier, then the Continental Divide. Two great Peaks overlook this cirque, high above, Taylor and Powell Peaks, respectfully. These are your destinations. This is what you would see if you headed up the southern branch.

Taylor Peak as Seen From Below Over Sky Pond, Again on a Different Day Than I Climbed Taylor

After you pass the great blade of Sharkstooth, and keep ascending the cirque ahead, you will eventually arrive at Andrews Tarn and Andrews Glacier. It is a compelling view.

Andrews Glacier Rising Up from Andrews Tarn to the Continental Divide, Looking West.
To Give You a Sense of Scale, Two Climbers Are Low on the Glacier, Starting Up.

I would have liked to have climbed both 13ers, Taylor and Powell together with one climb, but I wasn’t able to do so either in July or August. Maybe that’s why I climbed Taylor again, for a second time, a month after my first ascent. I was trying to climb both peaks with one climb the second time. My mistake was I tried too early in the climbing season. I hadn’t yet built up sufficient endurance. My second climb, I should have gone for just Powell instead, and got it done. The long, steep final slope up Taylor kicked my ass both climbs, leaving me with barely enough energy to make it back down to the distant trailhead. I had no energy left to tackle that second peak. Too bad, because a couple of years later when I finally attempted to climb Powell itself, the winter before had been terribly dry, and Andrews had melted badly that following summer. The glacier was split open by several deep crevasses. It had become a technical climb, not a simple glacier stroll. Ropes were required. More on that in a later trip report.

On this first climb, my passage over Andrews was uneventful, and relatively easy. Though I had never climbed a glacier before, I had gained some experience on snow, and this was simply steeper snow, and I had a greater distance to travel. I think I did this in Yaktrax, and hadn’t yet purchased micro-spikes because these were considerably more expensive. I did encounter icy patches, but they could be easily avoided, as they felt very slippery under the Yaktrax. I climbed up the left side of the glacier, close to where it turned to rock. The rock had warmed the snow, and the coils of the Yaktrax could grip it better. The snow hadn’t warmed so much that I post-holed. By traveling near the rock, I felt that if I did slip, I could try to direct my path of fall into that rock, and thus come to a stop. That was my theory, anyway, and I didn’t have to test it, because I didn’t slip. I made it to the top of the glacier OK.

Low on the Glacier. Another Climber is Below me, Climbing in Shorts! Like Me, He Is Staying Close to the Rocks.

Higher on the Glacier, After Rounding a Bend. Still Close to Rocks.

Even Higher, Near the Top. The Loch Has Appeared Beyond the Tarn. Quite a View to the Southeast!

At the Top

After reaching the top, I took off my Yaktrax and put them back in my pack. I didn’t want to ruin them by walking over tundra and rock, and I was going to need them again for my descent.

From the top of Andrews pass, the summit of Taylor Peak was very close. In fact, the whole slope of the final climb was right there in front of me. It looked a lot more intimidating than it appears in my photo. I thought it would be a good thing to eat an energy bar, then drink some electrolyte fluid, followed by a big gulp of water, before I started up. So, I did that. I replenished sunscreen on my hands, face and neck.

Let me explain why the Taylor climb looks so easy in the photos, but proved to be so difficult in real life. Photographs of peaks are sometimes optical illusions. When you snap a photo of a peak from directly below it, the photo shortens the apparent distance, and makes a steep climb appear to be a shallow one. With your naked eye, and with your actual strength and endurance, the seemingly easy summit proves to be much harder, the distance and steepness both greater.

Taylor Peak, Taken From A Short Distance From Andrews Pass

After pausing a moment to study what was above, I started up. It was a long, tiring haul, and I found myself periodically stopping to rest, and catch my breath. It took longer than I had thought it would. After I did make it, I understood Powell was out of the question that day.

Summit Cairn, Taylor. Peaks to the Right are Longs and Pagoda, Closer, Powell

Self-Portrait, Camera on Auto-Timer. I Look Duly Frazzled. Chief's Head Peak Over Patches of Snow to the Right.

I enjoyed the summit for a while, snapping some photos in all directions, and, more importantly, recovering from my effort a bit. I don’t think I found a summit register.

Another Shot of Longs From Taylor

Sky Pond, Lake of Glass, From Taylor. The Loch in the Trees Far Below.

The Crack. The Elevator Down!

There is a peculiar crack at the top of Taylor, a deep split in the rock, that goes down for a long way, in fact, I think out of sight. I had never seen such a thing on a summit before. The second time I summited, a month later, I found another climber on top, older than my 50 years. He had enough energy left that he was joking with me a bit. We were both marveling at the crack. “That’s the quick way down,” he told me. “That’s the elevator.”

“You go ahead and take it down,” I joked back, “I’ll wait here, push the button, and take the next ride down!”

We both laughed. He was still on the summit when I left. It was going to be a long hike back to the trailhead, and I had a glacial descent to accomplish safely first before I started that long trek out. On this first climb, at least I hoped I could do it safely, having never descended a glacier before.

I probably ate another energy bar, and drank some more fluid before I re-shouldered my pack, and headed down.

Back to the Bottom of Taylor's Long Slope. Summit on the Left is Hallett. Hallett's Pinnacles are not Hallett's Summit. Summit on the Right is Otis.

Both climbs, before I descended Andrews, I hiked the short distance past the pass over to Otis and tagged it. It wasn’t hard. Otis is a modest summit, much lower than Taylor. I did find a summit register tube there, signed the register inside, and put it back into the tube. Then I set my camera to auto-timer, set it on a rock and took a photo of myself. I put the register tube back among sheltering rocks where I had found it.

On the Modest Summit of Otis

Then I re-shouldered my pack for what felt like the umpteenth time on that long day, and turned back toward Andrews Pass and my descent. Thankfully, everything went routinely. I was very tired when I made it out to the trailhead, but I had climbed a glacier, and attained two summits (but not Powell), and learned a little bit about me, the two summits, and the world itself in the process.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Comments or Questions

   Not registered?

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

Please respect private property: supports the rights of private landowners to determine how and by whom their land will be used. In Colorado, it is your responsibility to determine if land is private and to obtain the appropriate permission before entering the property.

© 2022®, 14ers Inc.