I live at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains below the Twin Sisters. As the crow flies the long ridges of the two peaks are about 5 miles from my house. The Twin Sisters are the dominant view in the valley surrounding Howard, Colorado. I see the summits daily but have yet to climb them. The winter access to the summits is not the best and spring snow made access more challenging.
|The Twin Sisters and surrounding peaks|
taken earlier in spring
|Closeup of Twin Sisters from|
earlier in spring
I haven't been above treeline since the middle of May. The late season snow followed by rapid warming has made alpine hiking messy and snow conditions unstable. However, I could see the snow starting to melt quickly the past week and wanted to scout the local alpine area to see how the conditions have been progressing.
Last week, I hiked the Stout Lakes Trail, the trail that leads to the basin between the Twin Sisters. I had no intention of climbing the summits. I was mostly checking the snow conditions in the area while getting some exercise and enjoynig some time outside in nature.
I encountered patchy snow below treeline, but was able to follow the trail to treeline. The biggest problems was runoff turning the trail into a stream in some areas.
|Stout Creek gushing from runoff and recent heavy rains|
|Water flowing down the trail was common|
|Nice section of trail|
|Twin Sister North's ridge from below|
|Closeup of the ridge|
The trail was completely lost at treeline due to deep snow. Above the basin the snow was patchy. While looking uphill contemplating my next step, I spotted some bighorn sheep a couple hundred feet above me. I could see at least one of the herd was a ram with really nice horns. I tried to get a photo but they were too far away for a decent shot. The group of three quickly climbed out of sight, sending rocks down the steep slope as they disappeared.
|The trail ends with heavy snow in the Stout Lakes basin|
|The view above from treeline|
|Looking at the terrain where I spotted the sheep|
Despite seeing many bighorn sheep since moving to Colorado, I haven't seen too many rams, let alone with such a nice set of horns. I decided to climb towards them and try to get a better look at the group. A short scramble up a sketchy cliff band led me to more open terrain. Once in the open, I saw the herd again and a total of four sheep. They watched me before climbing higher. The terrain was a mix of loose talus, scree, and boulders. They moved gracefully over the jumble of rocks while I struggled with the rough footing. I did get close enough a few times to get some more photos however. Eventually the herd ran off and over a ridge before disappearing out of sight. As they got further away, the herd grew as they picked up more sheep. Before they disappeared I counted ten sheep. It was amazing watching them glide over the nasty terrain in minutes while I struggled to find reasonable footing. I could hear rocks tumbling as the herd moved away.
|One of the first shots I got of the sheep|
|Sheep deciding if I'm a threat|
|Not looking too concerned|
|Checking me out as I got closer|
|As they got further away, they|
seemed less concerned with me again
|Apparently they were relaxed enough to eat|
even though I was fairly close
|This was my favorite shot of the sheep. The|
ram in the front is almost posing for me.
Since I gained a fair amount of elevation following the sheep, I decided to climb the rest of the slope to the ridge above me. This was the ridge of Twin Sister North. I reached the ridge and followed it to dominant point that is visible from the valley below. There was a brief section of tundra but generally the climb continued over rough rock. This ridge had a fair amount of snow on it still. The temperature was fairly warm but I was able to bareboot with minimal postholing.
|Looking toward Twin Sister South's ridge|
|Plenty of scree and talus|
|Looking toward the Cottonwood group|
|Heading toward the false summit of Twin Sister North|
|Looking down the ridge toward Howard and Coaldale area.|
There was still some distance to the actual summit. There wasn't much elevation gain along the ridge but the ridgeline traverse still had a fair amount of snow and was quite rocky. I had some some obligations later in the day so I turned around at the false summit. I figured it would have been an extra hour or more to reach to summit and I was already running short on time after watching and following the sheep.
|The ridge to Twin Sister North's summit|
|Closeup of the Cottonwood group with the rest of the|
Sangre de Cristos beyond.
|Looking over Twin Sister South with Bushnell Peak behind it.|
|Looking north over Red Mountain. Hunts Peak is the pointy|
peak behind it and the Sawatch Range in the distance.
|The Sawatch Range in the distance|
With the excellent sheep sighting I got much more out of the hike than I had hoped. I did get to enjoy some time above treeline for the first time in nearly a month as well. I'm hoping to return soon to climb Bushnell Peak and both Twin Sisters when the snow has melted a little more.
|The nasty descent back into the basin|
After the hike however, I had a mishap. When I reached my car, I took off my pack. My camera, which I keep on my hipbelt, fell to the ground in the process. I didn't realize I dropped my camera and started driving. After a mile or so I realized I was missing my camera. I returned to the trailhead and saw my camera on the ground. Unfortunately, as I backed up to leave, I ran over my camera. The screen was cracked enough that most of the screen was blank. Surprisingly it still takes pictures, I just can't see the screen to know what is in view. Luckily, I was still able to get the photos from it that are in this post.
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