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I don't think another trip report for Mount Alice is actually necessary -- except for the fact that none of the existing ones appear to have a .gpx file one can download. Having realized this omission, I feel compelled -- nay, forced! -- to write a report of my own!
So there goes. Mount Alice's Hourglass ridge had long been on my list of routes I wanted to do. At the same time, I was a bit intimidated by its length of more than 17 miles -- and so I never brought it up to my friends when we talked about where to go for the next trip. It just sat there on my to-do list, until a friend with whom I had recently done Pagoda Peak in the National Park offered it as one option for a mid-week trip on a day we could both take some time off on. I'm not sure how serious he was, because when I picked it from among the options he certainly sounded like he was a bit unsure about his suggestion, and decided to go do Mummy Mountain (also a very long route) to convince himself that he could do the distance. In any case, we decided to go for it. We drove up on Monday night, intending to check out the parking lot of the church close to where the road to the Wild Basin trailhead turns off the highway as a possible place to park for a few hours and sleep. But in the end, it turns out that there's a small spur road right after you leave the highway to the right (north) that angles back to the highway but is blocked off after a couple hundred yards -- nice and secluded, completely flat, no traffic since it's a dead-end, and so that's where we stayed for six hours until it was time to get up at 3am and head down the dirt road into the Park and to the trailhead.
The morning started awkward with the realization that between the two of us, we had only one headlamp. Knowing that this late in the year the sun doesn't rise early, that meant some three hours of walking in the dark (from 3:35 to around 6am) with not enough light. But it turns out that if one person follows the other (carrying the headlamp) closely enough, this actually works reasonably well. It helps that the trails in Wild Basin are excellent, and not particularly steep. So we made good time and when the sun finally started to give us enough light, we were already at Lion Lake #1, having taken only one small detour when we missed the Lion Lakes turn-off and walked towards Ouzel Falls for a few hundred yards before realizing the mistake. (I've edited the detour out of the gpx file attached here.)
The views at Lion Lake #1 are for sure great if you happen to get there just around sunrise:
That's also where one leaves the trail and heads west-north-west towards the ridge that gets you to the saddle between Mount Alice on one side, and the mountains on the south end of Glacier Gorge on the other side (that is, Chiefs Head and McHenrys Peak). The beginning of this stretch parallels the stream that comes down from Lion Lake #2 via Trio Falls -- lovely big rocks and pretty, but probably nicer with more water in the spring.
The rest of the ridge to the saddle is pretty straightforward, a mostly grassy and occasionally rocky ridge with a gentle incline. It was a pleasant and relatively wind free day with blue skies, what's not to like about a stroll on that ridge.
At the top of the ridge, one ends up at a saddle with excellent views all around. To the right are Chiefs Head and McHenrys Peak, separated by Stoneman Pass: an aptly named pass with the prominent stone man clearly visible from far away. On the left, one gets a great view of the Hourglass Ridge.
The fun starts here. The views from the saddle seem to suggest that things are going to get quite steep now, but I've learned that things are always less steep when you're right there than they look from further away. So after a short break we set off on the short downclimb to the narrowest part of the Hourglass, and then up the ridge. In reality, nothing on that ridge is ever steep enough to make you think twice: You can of course trip or slip, but you're never going to fall down anything of consequence. It's really just a lovely and fairly straightforward scramble all the way to the top. There is some easier terrain further to the left; I enjoy the occasional exposure and so stayed mostly along the right edge of the slope, getting great views of Mount Alice's sheer drops towards the west.
Overall, I thought that that ridge was just really enjoyable, keeping all of the promise I had attached to it and that had made me want to do it. I thought it was pretty easy, say class 2+, but then I've learned that over the past few years of hiking in the mountains I've gotten pretty decent at this stuff and that what people call class 3 has become purely enjoyable but no longer something that concerns me. Others feel differently about these matters, and it might very well fit into the class 3 category.
Eventually one makes it to a little saddle, high up, with a rocky outcrop on the left (east) and a bigger one on the right (west). It isn't entirely obvious when you stand there which one is higher. I knew it is the western summit, but because I was a bit ahead of my partner, I made the detour to the eastern one before moseying over to the real summit where we took a well deserved break, had our summit snacks (a sandwich for him, my customary Snickers for me), and pondered the fact that we were nearly nine miles into the day and had the same distance to go again. It was also a nice moment to reminisce about our recent trip up Pagoda Peak, to think about all of the peaks around that I have already done (Longs several times, and one of my favorites: Meeker), and of those I still want to do in coming years (a second try at Chiefs Head from Sandbeach Lake being high on my list -- on a first try, we were thwarted by incredible amounts of loose and deep snow right after the lake, leading to an hour in which we only made 1/4 mile of progress, eventually running out of time).
Eventually, every break must come to an end; we decided that it was time to keep going. The south side of Mount Alice is a rocky slope that eventually gives way to a gentle grassy slope leading over to Boulder Grand Pass. The way isn't hard to find, one just shouldn't go too far but we all carry some form or other of map-showing device these days, and besides there's a faint path going along the Pass and it isn't too hard to find the right place to turn left.
It does, however, turn out that once at the pass itself, some thought is required. There is a rocky rib, and it appears that the trail most people take is to the left (north) where there is also an enormous cairn pointing the way. That way also looks steep and loose, and not at all enjoyable.
My partner went down that left way and, predictably, did not enjoy it. I decided that I'm willing to take a slightly steeper route, but mostly on rock, hugging the right side of the rock rib. Partway down, the rock rib runs out, and I crossed over to the left side on the last few solid rocks, finding some moderately stable, but still not too enjoyable material below that took me all the way down to Lake of Many Winds. I do think that the right side (looking down) of the rock rib was the better way. Here's a view from the bottom that shows the two options:
Once at the lake, I thought we're essentially done. It's still quite a long way from there, some seven miles. I thought that the worst was behind us after that steep slope, but it turns out that that isn't actually true. My mind had switched to just walking back to the car, but the next mile from Lake of Many Winds to Thunder Lake is surprisingly steep and it took what felt like forever. Below is a view from partway down -- the lake looks close, but it isn't both in distance and vertical: From the Pass to the first lake it's about 400' of elevation loss; from the first to the second lake, it's about 1000', and it just wears you out given that it's already a long day. I didn't enjoy that part.
On the positive side, once you're at Thunder Lake, the mental and physical difficulties really are over: Yes, it's still six miles to go, but on an excellent and not overly steep trail. It's still more than two hours to walk, but it's relatively straightforward and doesn't cost too much energy. It's the kind of path that most of us will probably feel we can do forever without growing too physically tired; all it takes is time and eventually you get back to the parking lot. And so a most lovely day out in the Park comes to an end: Yes, quite a long distance, but also a really nice hike and climb that I thought was far less taxing than I had expected, mostly because the miles to get to Lion Lake #1 and back from Thunder Lake are just that -- miles, but not much effort -- leaving enough time and energy for the interesting parts of the route!
Start time: 3:35am
Finish time: 2:55pm
Round-trip time: 11 hours 20 minutes
Distance: 17.62 miles including our little detour, about 17.5 miles without
Elevation gain: 5,020 ft (according to my Garmin Fenix)
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Nice photos and narrative. I did that same route back in what
passed as my hiking heyday about 8 years ago and I think your
route description is spot on. One minor difference in my opinion
is that I kind of enjoyed the stretch between Lake of Many Winds
and Thunder. I mean at least it was downhill, and I thought it was
a pretty area. What I found really
annoying was he fact that the initial part of the trail from Thunder
back to Wild Basin was uphill (OK not steep uphill but as you
indicate you've put in a lot of miles at that point). Anyway I enjoyed
the read and thank you for posting.
Ha, yes, the uphill! It is a repressed memory apparently because you're right, that part wasn't so much fun. I do remember a muffled WTF to my partner when we encountered it. Fortunately, the stretch was short! :-)
As for the downhill part from Lake of Many Winds to Thunder Lake: My athletic origins are in cycling, often quite long distances, and that continues to be my #1 sport. It turns out that going uphill means pushing your legs down, something my body knows how to do. As a consequence, I can walk uphill all day long if necessary. The downhills are what really gets me, and this unexpectedly steep stretch really bothered me!
User Sunny1 and I did this same route October 2021 right after a snow which made the hourglass a bit more work than I would have liked. I was pretty tired after that hike (understatement) but then I've got a few years on you. That's my excuse and I'm stickin' to it! And like Math Guy, I rather enjoyed the trek from LoMW to Thunder. After the descent from Boulder-Grand I think anything would have been enjoyable...
Thanks for putting this up and bring back a lot of memories.
I managed to do the same route on September 18. Windy day but otherwise a great experience. I found the ”crux” to be the downclimb of the ridge near that notch that can be seen in your Photo #7. I stayed to the right on the ascent and tagged the summit on a beautiful sunny day. On the way down, I noticed several gullys that looked like they could be descended but they were not the correct Boulder Grand Pass gully. I noticed there is a faded sign for Boulder Grand Pass when you get to the proper descent gully. I stayed to the (skiiers) left on the descent, was able to hold on to some rock along the way. It was loose, but not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I did see a guy ascending Boulder Grand Pass right before I descended. I actually enjoyed the descent to Thunder Lake, but definitely longer than one might have thought. And the uphill right after Thunder Lake, ugh! https://www.instagram.com/p/Ciq0ltVoR4a/
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