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!

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