Mt. Richthofen: 12,940'

      by Gordon S. Novak Jr.       June 26, 2001

Mt. Richthofen is the highest peak in the Never Summer Range in Rocky Mountain National Park. It provides great views of the mountains in this range.

Mt. Richthofen can be approached either from Trail Ridge Road or from the Lake Agnes trailhead, which is off Colorado Hwy. 14 a few miles west of Cameron Pass near the NW corner of the Park. The Lake Agnes route is shorter and starts higher, but it is a very long drive (3.5 hours one way from Estes Park, 2.5 hours from Fort Collins). The trailhead is in a State Park area that requires leaving a $4 fee in an envelope.

Although I got up at 6:00, I don't leave the Lake Agnes trailhead until 11:00 due to the long drive. Lake Agnes is a bit less than a mile up the trail. The lake has a rock island in the middle. The left side of the lake is a landslide of loose rock falling down from the Nokhu Crags; different color bands of falling rock make for an interesting appearance. Mt. Richthofen and the route up are easily visible from the lake.

I start around the right side of the lake to avoid the rockslide area on the left. There is a trail around the lake for the most part, but for about 30 yards, below some cliffs at the edge of the lake, the trail vanishes below the water. I consider wading (but the rocks look too sharp for bare feet and I don't want wet boots this early in the hike), carrying rocks to extend the path, or climbing above the cliffs. I choose the latter, which turns out to be some of the steepest and most exposed climbing of the trip.

Once around the cliffs at 12:30, I head up rather loose medium-sized talus (1-2 feet) and then moderate snow, using crampons, to a saddle between Mt. Richthofen and an unnamed peak. The snow is easier climbing than the talus; I reach the saddle at 13:20. From here the way is clear: up scree to a shoulder, traverse the shoulder, then up a final couloir to the summit. The scree is terrible. Although the rock is hard, it is highly fractured into small pieces, and everything on this slope seems loose. Even large rocks are liable to slide down onto you if you disturb their tenuous supports. Sometimes a step up causes so much downslide that you lose altitude.

After reaching the shoulder, the slope is more moderate, and the route goes along a ridge line a couple of feet wide. The ridge is not really exposed, although both sides are steep slopes covered with loose rock. Finally there is a more peaked summit area.

The summit climb is up a steep couloir at about 45 degrees. The couloir has good hand and foot holds, although it does contain some loose rock. I reach the summit at 16:50. The summit is rather small, with a semi-circular windbreak containing the summit register, and not room for much else. I see that the climbing register was placed by Greg Martin, with whom I hiked a few years ago. There is a clear view down to Lake Agnes and interesting views of surrounding peaks in the Never Summer Range.
I had planned to climb Static Peak too, but it is getting late, I am tired, weather threatens, and I have no desire to be strung out on an exposed ridge toward something called Static Peak in a lightning storm. Time to go home; I leave at 17:10. It isn't immediately obvious how to get down from this narrow perch; luckily I remember an unusual layered rock from the ascent, and that guides me back into the couloir. I descend over the ridge of the shoulder and start back down the scree. Many steps cause a slip; I fall a few times and cut my hands on the sharp rocks, though not badly. Occasionally a rock goes flying and makes a sound exactly like a dinner plate dropped on a hard floor. I get back to the saddle at 18:15. From there, I try to stay on snow as much as possible, having had enough of loose rock. I get back to the lake at 19:15. This time, I take my socks off, put the boots back on, and wade back through the lake below the cliffs. I get back to the trailhead at 20:17 for a long drive back home: 8 hours total driving today in addition to the hike.

Mt. Richthofen is an interesting and exciting hike; although it is just under 13,000 feet, it truly feels like a big mountain.

Rocky Mountain National Park: The High Peaks