Mt Richtofen (12,940'), RMNP, Aug 28th, 2011

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Stats:
Distance: 4.2 miles RT
Gain: ~2700'
Time: 6:00am-11:55am.
Cost of a tow back to Fort Collins: $312

The Lake Agnes area, just passed Cameron Pass, is gorgeous, and is one of the few mountain regions where living in Fort Collins is an advantage. I came close to summitting Richtofen a few years ago, in the snow, and finally had a chance to re-visit it late this summer.

I picked up Ryan at 3:45am, and we drove north through Fort Collins, and up the Poudre, making great time on the empty roads. After paying the $7 parking fee, we drove up the 2.5 mile dirt road in the dimness of the early morning. I've been on this road a couple of times before, and knew it was easily maneuverable in my 2WD Golf GTI. A slight dip in the road suddenly appeared, and I slowed, but not in time to avoid a gentle scrape with the road. I thought nothing of it (having driven many rough 2WD roads over the years), and continued on to the parking lot. But just before reaching the end of the road, my oil light beeped, which has never happened in 11 years. I knew I was slightly over due for an oil change, so I didn't thinkg much of it, and parked in the empty lot.

We were on the trail by 6am, with just enough light to leave the headlamps in the car. The .8 mile hike to Lake Agnes was an easy warm-up for the rough trail that followed. We rock-hopped our way on the left (east) side of the lake, and crossed a small stream at the south end of the lake, where wildflowers welcomed us.


Richtofen is the large mountain on the left, across Lake Agnes. We stopped at some columbines for photos...


I learned that Ryan was a photo-geek like me, and didn't mind stopping for pics...


Richtofen on the left, with Mt Mahler in the center. Our path would lead us to the saddle between the two...


Flowers grew in the drainage at the south end of the lake...

We found a rough trail that led away from the lake-loop, up towards the 2400' of tallus below Richtofen. Quickly the trail disappeared, and we resorted to boulder hopping our way straight up to the saddle. This would be the theme of the day. Climbing Richtofen in the late summer is a grueling slog up boulders, tallus, and scree.


A look back across Lake Agness, and up towards the saddle (we bypassed the firm snow)...


A look back at Ryan, and Lake Agnes...

Just below the saddle, the rock turned into fine scree, making it difficult to gain against the loose surface. We reached the saddle at 7:50am.


The final push up to the saddle was a tough battle up fine loose scree...


Finally at the saddle at 7:50am...


A look across the other side of the saddle, and up the ridge towards Richtofen...

The first couple hundred feet from the saddle continued to have loose rock, but soon the ridge firmed up, and we found ourselves scrambling up solid step-like slabs on the wide ridge.


A loook at Nokhu Crags (1st pic) and Mt Mahler (2nd pic)...


Ryan on the ridge, with Lake Agnes on the far right below...

At 8:30 we reached the false summit, and could see Richtofen straight ahead.


A wide look from the false summit shows Richtofen ahead, Lake Agnes below (center), and Mt. Mahler behind Ryan...

Richtofen is know for it's class 3 gulley leading to the summit. We brought helmets, as trip reports mentioned loose rock, but we found the gulley to be very easy, with no exposure, and solid rock all the way. In fact I was thinking we might of missed it, or it was yet to come, until I found myself on the summit at 8:50am, staring across RMNP. Richtofen is on the northwest boundary of the park.


A look up the crux chute below Richtofen. Easy class 3...


1st pic: Some birds on the ridge to Tepee. 2nd & 3rd pics: Ryan climbing up the chute...


Long's Peak from Richtofen. 14er cards ($6.95) makes an appearance on Mt Richtofen, with Lake Agnes below...


A look back at our route from Lake Agnes, up to the saddle, and up the ridge to Richtofen...

We had considered traversing to Static Peak, or Tepee Peak, but the thought of a few more hours scrambling up loose rock just didn't pique our interest, and so we hung out on the summit of Richtofen for about an hour, enjoying the pleasant weather (barely a breeze), and views. We started our descent ~9:55am.


Ryan and I before we descend back down the chute...


A look back towards Richtofen, from the false summit...


Scree skiing made the descent much faster, though we still had to manage with a lot of rock hopping on the sometimes loose boulders. This time we stayed to the east on the approach down to the lake, and encountered scores of columbine and other flowers in the ravine.



Lots of columbines in the upper drainage above Lake Agnes...


The drainage is lush with vegetation. Quite a contrast with the non-stop tallus elsewhere in the basin...


A look back up and down the drainage...



By 11:30am, we had reached the far side of Lake Agnes, and checked out some fisherman, who were having an easy time catching the red cuthroat fish in the shallow clear water.


Fishing was good today at the lake...


These guys pose with a red cuthroat, with Richtofen towaring behind on the left...

Next came the surprise, and "crux" of the day:

We were carefree, and enjoying the fine day during the .8 mile descent from the lake to the parking lot, when we encountered some friendly rangers. They asked us what car we drove up today, and I had the answer they were looking for: A red VW Golf GTI. They we glad to have found us, and mentioned how they found a trail of oil on the road during their drive in, and found a couple of holes in oil pan of my car, when they were searching vehicles in the parking lot. Now my oil light from this morning made a lot of sense!

I know very little about cars, and could only follow their advice of seeking a tow, as turning on the engine with no oil would destroy it. They were surprised I made it to the trailhead having drained my oil on the way. They were prpepared with towing service phone numbers for both Walden and Fort Collins, and even had enough cell phone reception to get a choppy call out. However, the tow service in Fort Collins needed a cc number, which was in the car, so we hiked down, hoping for reception there. The rangers said they would help us out, and be down at the lot shortly.

I apologized to Ryan for the delay, as our afternoon would now be spent dealing with my car. He was happy to help out, and brainstormed options such as duct taping the hole, or finding some sheet metal to tape over the hole, and finding enough oil to last getting back to Fort Collins. I considered how I could coast down from Cameron Pass most of the way, with my engine off. But these were not really practical, which the rangers confirmed, and so we tried calling up the tow service from the parking lot, but had no cell signal. Fortunately, the ever friendly rangers drove me out and down to a nearby visitors center, where i used a land line. I asked for an estimate on the tow, saying it was ~85 miles. The answer: ~$350. About what I was guessing...

The ranger drove us back to the trailhead, where we hung out inside/outside the car for a couple hours, waiting for the tow to arrive, and making conversation with the few other hikers returning to their cars. "Oohhh, so you're the ones with the oil on the road...," they would say, sympathetically.


A view of the Lake Agnes mountains from a ranger's truck, during our return to the trailhead. Richtofen is the tallest mountain, towards the right...

I just hoped the tow truck wouldn't have problems driving the 2.5 mile dirt road, which is narrow and steep in parts. I anticipated an extra fee, for the "troublesome dirt road". But my fears quickly faded, when I heard the rumble of a large truck approaching quickly, and saw heard the smiling driver proclaiming, "Man, saw that oil on the road, you must have hit it good!" He was a "good ol' boy", straight out of Dukes of Hazzard, and took delight in a chance to drive into the mountains today.

The drive back was full of interesting conversation, and I learned about life as a tow truck driver. "They don't prepare you for what you see on this job" (in reference to some of the accidents). I also learned that my mechanic is "one of the good ones", as the driver knows all the garages in town, and who treats their customers right.


My poor little GTI gets rescued with a flatbed tow. Originally I envisioned my car being towed out this dirt road on 2 wheels, but this rig was top quality...

We were back in Fort Collins at 5pm, where he dropped my car off at the garage. It was a 77 mile tow, $312. But greatly worth it to be back in town, and without a more serious problem. I called up Wendy, who picked us up on her way back from an ultimate frisbee tournament at CSU.

So, moral of the story: take it easy on dirt roads, even if you think you're familiar with the area, and especially if you have a fun sporty car. Many thanks to all the friendly rangers I met today. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't have even known about my oil problem, and tried to drive out, likely wrecking my engine in the middle of nowhere, without cell phone reception.


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