Estes Cone (11,006′) | Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO | 05/08/21 | 6.71 miles | 2,003′ gain
In an effort to avoid a ton of fresh snow, Diana and I searched for a hike that was missed by a recent spring snowstorm. The Estes Park area seemed to be outside the storm’s reach, and recent reports on Estes Cone stated that the trail was mostly dry. Perfect! Estes Cone it is. (You can read Diana’s trip report here.)
I climbed Estes Cone in the summer of 2012, long before I started this blog. It was a fun climb and I was looking forward to climbing it again, particularly in a different season. Though there are a couple of different ways to climb Estes Cone, the easiest and most popular route starts from the Longs Peak Trailhead. This is the route I used both times.
Summers at the Longs Peak Trailhead are insanely busy with hundreds of people climbing Longs Peak every day; not to mention this trailhead is also the starting point for popular Chasm Lake, The Boulderfield, Estes Cone and Eugenia Mine, and various other peaks and trails. The parking lot is often full by 3am on summer weekends, but the off-season is generally much less busy. We were parked and on trail just before 9am, the parking lot less than half full.
Estes Cone looked pretty dry from the trailhead, but once on trail it became immediately apparent that the “mostly dry” trail reports were absolutely incorrect. The trail was snow-covered. Thankfully it was mostly compacted and supportive after a cold night.
After about 0.5 miles, we turned off the Longs Peak Trail, following signs for Estes Cone and the Eugenia Mine. It was a gradual but steady incline through the forest to the Eugenia Mine. When I think of National Parks, I think of untouched wilderness, not of mining and industry; but before Rocky Mountain became a National Park, it was used by people in many other ways. The Eugenia Mine is one a few relatively unsuccessful mines within the park.
From the Eugenia Mine, the trail descends into Moore Park, an open meadow with the hike’s first views of the surrounding mountains.
Moore Park marked the end of the easy part of the hike. From there we made a moderate ascent to Storm Pass, and then a steep ascent to the summit. Shortly after Storm Pass, our nicely packed trail abruptly ended with a handful of footprints heading in various directions. Unsure which was the correct trail, we followed a track that looked good only to find it soon ended as well. We eventually figured out we had gotten off-trail, so we hiked straight up, hoping to either meet up with the trail or reach the summit.
We soon heard some people heading down the actual trail, and we met back up with it after a few hundred vertical feet of snowy bushwhacking. Soon after that, we reached the rocky summit area. Again the footprints went in all directions, so we climbed around on some of the rocks to figure out where we needed to go.
I could see the summit from the rocks I’d climbed up, so I climbed back down and we worked our way around to the correct spot. As soon as I saw it, I recognized the ascent path from my 2012 climb. Some scrambling is required to summit Estes Cone, but it’s pretty easy and not very exposed.
After the short scramble, we picked our way across the rocky summit area to the now obvious true summit. We had the entire summit to ourselves, alone in the quiet to enjoy the incredible views.
The clouds were building, indicating a storm was coming in. We quickly followed our tracks back down to the trail, making sure we didn’t get off-route this time. The trail was more obvious on the way down, but it was steep and slippery. We each fell many times and were glad to get down off the steepest section. Soon the storm reached us and it began to snow. Views were obscured and we focused on the trail in front of us.
The lower sections of trail that had been frozen and supportive in the morning had warmed up throughout the day and were now a slushy, sloppy mess. It wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had, but the great weather and amazing views we had at the summit made up for any suffering we felt along the way there or back. At one point while in the forest, Diana shouted “Animal!” and we caught a brief glimpse of a fox chasing a snowshoe hare. They were gone in a split second so we weren’t able to get any photos, but wow! What a cool thing to see, neither of us had ever seen anything like that before. The storm was short-lived and we soon made it back to the car, dreaming of summer but reminiscing about another memorable day in the mountains.
I would like to acknowledge that Estes Cone is on the ancestral land of the Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute), Cheyenne, and Arapaho.