31 October 2014

RMNP - V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N!!!!!!!!

Once we decided to take our week of vacation here in Colorado it got very hectic. Since I would not be returning to TN as planned, poor Brian had to go to my house & try to assemble my backpack & hiking gear for me. Luckily I had organized most of the dehydrated food & my gear is limited to being mostly in one closet, but it was still difficult. Its very difficult to try to tell someone everything you think you may need over the phone. As well as where it may be. He did well, although it is a good thing the 'E has so much room!

Brian ended up driving the entire way in one very long day – he arrived very late (or I guess it was really early!) on Sunday. We spent the day in Fort Collins as I wanted him to acclimate a little. Plus I wanted to take him on a few brewery tours & get some good green chile stew before we left! Monday we headed out to RMNP.

We had already decided to car camp the 1st nite in Aspenglen for further acclimation, but we made the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center our first stop to check on backcountry sites. The Ranger was very helpful & asked us to come back at noon as some hikers had not yet picked up their permit for one of the best spots in the Park & they would be available to us if they didn’t show by noon. We waited & sure enough got the permits for the next 3 nites to do a loop at Andrews Creek, Sourdough & Mill Creek. Unfortunately there was a reason these permits became available, but more on that later…..

We decided to spend the rest of the day sightseeing before setting up camp & headed out Trail Ridge Road as I had been no further than Forest Canyon. And I wasn’t going to be an further. See, the beautiful weather I had been enjoying while on detail was over & a major snowstorm was predicted. Trail Ridge was closed due to ice & snow by the time we got to Rainbow Curve & we had to turn around. It was a sign of things to come!

We still got to see a few frosty views along the way:

And elk!

The next day we optimistically started out from Bear Lake by way of Glacier Gorge towards Andrews Tarn Glacier). While the weather called for snow, we were not overly worried as the worst was forecast for Thursday nite & we expected to be a the lowest elevation backcountry site by then.  

After about a mile we (as usual) began to climb. Around mile 3 we started seeing a bit of snow on the ground, but nothing too extreme. 

We came upon the Loch (or Lock Vale), which was a beautiful sub-alpine lake at a little over 10k feet in elevation. 

We continued on & then it started snowing. Not just a few fluffy flakes to catch on your tongue. Really snowing.

After another mile (plus another half mile of backtracking) we found the side trail to Andrews Creek backcountry site. This is where the snow & ice was a little treacherous as we were walking on solid rock covered with ice & snow with no microspikes. Doh!

Finally we found the snow covered Andrews Creek site. I like the way the backcountry sites in RMNP are limited by number of groups instead of number of people. Each group gets a site whether they are one person or 4. We sure had plenty of room!


Then I had to go check out the privy. The Ranger had said it had a great view. 

Not too shabby!

At this point I realized I was really cold & it was really snowing. The tent was being covered with snow & since you can’t have a fire in the backcountry here (because a few dumbasses have set the Park on fire before) I realized I was going to stay cold.

At this point Brian called it: we needed to head back down. Although we had the gear to stay out all nite, we did not have the gear to make it safely down the trail tomorrow if the snow continued. While I was disappointed I admit it was the right call. It felt like giving up but better to not take the chance.

Coming back down I was amazed at how much snow had accumulated since we had passed the Loch.

We came off the trail in the dark but found a cheap hotel room in Estes Park & watched the Weather Channel to plan our next move. Figures there was a record early snow this year!

For the remaining 2 days we decided to just car camp & day hike so we could cover more miles. Trail Ridge Road remained closed our entire vacation but we found plenty to do on teh east side of the Park. We warmed up the 1st day with a summit of Deer Mtn. A just over 10,000 feet, we again hiked into the snow! But enjoyed some great views.

We stayed our 1st nite at Longs Peak CG & it was a bit frosty, but at least we could have a campfire to stay warm! 

Love the reflection in the rear window of the 'E

Despite being the coldest & snowiest day, on Thursday we decided to use the Park shuttle system & hike the Fern Lake – Bear Lake section. As usual, we hiked up into alot of snow!

It was a bit blustery as we passed the Sourdough backcountry site, which is where our original permit had us staying this nite. I wasn't too unhappy at this point that we were car camping! 

We started descending into the Odessa Gorge, which was just amazing. The air was so crisp & clear once the snow stopped.

Eventually we arrived at Odessa Lake – another beautiful subalpine lake:

We continued down & Brian got his first view of Fern Lake:

From here it was an easy hike out – all downhill! I highly recommend the shuttle systems at RMNP as they really make it easy to cover some good trails without having to deal with the parking & traffic issues.

Our last dayhike was to take on a summit of Twin Sisters Peak. Starting out at the trailhead we immediately began to climb as it seems like every trail in the Park does. Lo of switchbacks! Luckily we had the great views of Longs Peak to distract us:

In time we hiked out of the spruce-fir forest & into the krummholz zone. “Krummholz” is a German word meaning twisted wood & is used to describe the stunted growth of trees in the transition from forest to tundra. The trees were eerily beautiful.


Once we got above treeline the views opened up & we started hearing picas calling. We could also see where we were headed:

There are two peaks (hence the name Twin Sisters) & we chose the more popular East Sister as it is the highest at 11,428. There used to be a fire tower up here but all that is left are the concrete footers. The wind was whipping up high but I just had to summit the highest point. Here is my "seated summit" as I had a little too much vertigo to stand up straight! 

It was a clear day & the views of Longs peak were great.

All in all it was a great week & I just can't wait to get back!

11 October 2014

Rocky Mountain National Park

Visiting this Park has been on my bucket list for a very long time. Not quite sure why I didn't make it here when I lived in Monte Vista, CO, but probably because I was only there a couple of years & I ended up visiting places a bit closer like Zion & Mesa Verde. I did my best to make up for it while on detail by changing my planned week long vacation to Maine to staying out here an extra week!

Since my contractor was not working weekends, I rented a car my 2nd week & drove down to RMNP to spend a couple of days sightseeing & hiking. 

WARNING: LOTS & LOTS of photos to follow!

One of the best resources I found for planning my hikes in such a limited time was this website:  www.rockymountainhikingtrails.com . The detailed trail descriptions as well as ratings by difficulty & features really helped me prioritize how to spend my limited time.

After much deliberation, I took on the Fern Lake/Cub Lake loop for my 1st hike. It was a beautiful day & the Ranger at the Visitor's Center had warned me that it would be very hard  to find parking near Fern Lake, so I was mentally prepared for a road walk if necessary. Little did I know how hard it would be to even get near Fern Lake as the elk were bugling in all the meadows around Moraine Park & I would be tied up in "elk jams" from the very start! I eventually made it within a mile of the trailhead & took the first available parking spot I could find. I was ready to hit the woods!

The first couple of miles (after the road walk) were really nice - the trail follows the Big Thompson River & was not steep at all. This is also where I saw the most people.

Once the trail turns to follow Fern Creek, it gets a lot steeper in a hurry. Luckily there was plenty of room to take a break beside the 60 ft tall Fern Falls.

After another mile or so of climbing I finally arrived at Fern Lake. It wasn't just the elevation that took my breath away!

From here I backtracked & looped around to Cub Lake. It was a bit of a let down after Fern Lake, but it was pretty in its own way. Kinda neat to see all the lily pads.

As I was hiking back towards the trailhead I suddenly heard a loud noise ahead. The elk were bugling! And they were close! I don't care how many times you hear them, it still makes the hair on my arms stand up. I got a seriously stupid grin on my face & even started to run down the trail (like I thought I would miss them or something). I turned the corner to find a huge meadow & HERDS of elk! There were a couple of young bulls posturing & antler wrestling along the edge of a pond & I stood & watched them for a while.

Then I followed the trail a little further to watch the older bull defending his harem. At this point I was getting closer to the road & other folks were venturing out to see the elk. Some were so close to the trail & so unconcerned with people being there that it really reminded me of the "wild" animals in GSMNP. But I was in awe a how truly large these animals are! 

This guy really had alot to say:

 Once back to my rental car I headed up Trail Ridge Road to Forest Canyon in hopes of making sunset. It was a little hard to drive as the views were so great that I constantly wanted to stop. Along the way I got my best first view of Longs Peak, the iconic Fourteener of the Park.

And I did make it for sunset!

The next day I got an earlier start as I had a challenge in mind. As much as I would have liked to take on Longs Peak, the fact was I was hiking solo & had not brought my micro spikes for the ice & snow that would be present on top. So I decided to go for the consolation prize of almost 13,000 ft Hallett Peak by way of Flattop Mtn.

This gorgeous hike starts at the very busy Bear Lake area. I was early enough to get a parking spot & was on the trail before 8 AM. I did stop to take a quick photo of Bear Lake with the aspens in the background:

From here is was a steady but not too steep climb up to Flattop trail. Nice views along the way as well!

Once on Flattop trail the climb really began & I was reminded that I am not completely acclimated. The views were just surreal & the camera on my phone just doesn't do them justice.

About 3 miles in I was well above treeline & really starting to feel the effort. Luckily there were plenty of cool overlooks to stop & take a break. I especially liked the one above Emerald Lake. Had to be over 1000 feet down. And a bit disconcerting to sit right on the edge.

From here to the summit of Flattop Mountain was rocky & steep tundra. The wind was very cold & I got chilled despite the climb. I definitely could tell I was above 1200 feet as I was having to stop & take more breaks just to breathe. But again, the views! Eventually I made it to the top of Flattop Mountain at elevation 12,324 feet.

At this point I was feeling rather discouraged. I was so tired & lightheaded that I couldn't imagine trying to climb another 400 feet. Especially with the way the route looked from my perspective. That's Hallett Peak behind the Tyndall glacier. If you look close you can see hikers on the ridge above the glacier:

I sat behind a rock to get out of the relentless wind & ate lunch while watching other groups head up to the peak. Eventually I sat long enough that I a)got cold & b) decided what the hell- go for it! Not like I will get a chance like this very often. So off & up I went. The trail was very vague - mostly just rock cairns marking a "path" - but the peak was pretty self evident. I trudged on with my head down & finally made the summit. And wow. Just wow.

There were enough hikers up there that I even got one to take my summit photo!

And one last view.....

Whew! Didn't realize this post was gonna take so long. Vacation pictures will have to wait for next post!