I have hiked before at Rocky Mountain National Park. While planning for this trip I chose 3 different trails. The high mountains in this area often get rain and sometimes serious storms in the afternoon up above tree line. So most of my hiking is planned to start at or before dawn in order to avoid dangerous lightning in the afternoons.
I have a picture of me and Andy taken while scurrying off the mountain top 27 years ago while being chased by a dark sky punctuated by big bolts of lightning. While thinking of that picture I came to a sudden realization that the trail I just chose for the third morning was the same one that he and I took on that day.
But now on my first morning of the current trip I headed to McDonald's for a drive through breakfast at their published opening time of 5 am, planning to eat my breakfast as I drove to the trail in the dark. It turns out they had an electrical outage and were still not open by 5:45 am so I finally whipped out my Jetboil propane cooker, set it down on the McDonald's parking lot and prepared a foil pouch of freeze dried "scrambled eggs and bacon".
GLACIER GORGE TRAILHEAD TO SKY POND
My first morning hike began at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead at 9,180 feet of elevation . Final destination was to be Sky Pond at 10,900 feet. When I started out it was well after sunrise and it actually improved the photographic lighting conditions on the trip up -- compared to starting in the dark!
On the way I went past Alberta Falls. I didn't stop since I plan to come back for serious photography on a different trip. Further up I had a passerby snap a picture of me at a smaller, maybe prettier falls. By the way, this was shot with my two week new Samsung Galaxy S6 smart phone. This is the first phone I've had where I would consider its photo output technical quality worthy of using online. This setting included their new HDR feature.
The first stop was at The Loch, a small alpine lake. I was blown away by its beauty as I walked up to the shore. I snapped quite a few shots from various perspectives.
Further up the trail I encountered snow that was not quite melted. My plan had been to make it all the way to Sky Pond which was just over the steep slope seen in the picture below. It is at the top of Timberline Falls. This falls is the outlet for Sky Pond.
Hikers just ahead of me had made it all the way and were now returning. They cautioned me against proceeding across the steepest section without crampons on my boots and with no poles. They pointed up the slope to an area where the going gets a little dangerous. I wasn't willing to risk the rest of my trip with a sprained knee or worse so I took the advice and sat down for a while watching the better equipped hikers pass me by. Next time I'll come more prepared.
The trip back down was pleasant and I took more time for photos.
UTE TRAIL FROM UPPER BEAVER MEADOW TO TRAIL RIDGE ROAD
My 3 hikes on this trip had elevation gains totalling just about 8,000 feet. The second and third hikes each had about 3,000 feet of gain. But the second hike was much more difficult since it accomplished 1,750 of its 3,000 feet over a particularly steep one mile stretch. And there were just about zero switchbacks in this steep portion.
This trail is called the "Ute Trail" named after an indian tribe that inhabited the area. Story is that this was their preferred route over the continental divide.
As I approached the top of the steepest portion, I came across a family group of hikers who were tackling the Ute Trail in the easier downhill direction. The oldest guy (much younger than I am) greeted me with surprise that I was hiking it from the bottom up. His comment was "the hiking guide book I read said to leave the uphill route to the young Ute braves.” Wanting to appear cool about the whole thing I uttered, "yup, that's me!"
At the top of this stretch the terrain leveled out and I spent a half hour or so basking in the sunlight with spectaculars views of distant peaks including Longs Peak, the highest of the several "fourteeners” that are found in Colorado. "Fourteeners” means they are 14,000 feet or more high. At this vantage point I was at about 11,500 feet.
The remaining trail distance to my awaiting car was about 2 miles. I had shuttled my bicycle up to the trail ending point and locked it to a signpost for my return trip before I started hiking up the mountain. I had no interest in taking the Ute Trail six and a half miles back down hill. It is just way too hard on my knees. Especially the steep portion mentioned earlier.
So as I got to my bike, I pulled on my bright yellow biking shirt, put my backpack on again and headed down. It was 12 miles, about 10 of which were done while coasting. I had to work the brakes to keep my descent velocity below 30 miles per hour. Only one time during the 25 minute descent did I feel I should pull over to allow cars to pass.
FLATTOP MOUNTAIN FROM BEAR LAKE TRAILHEAD
On my first day in the park I stopped at the Back Country Office to check on snow conditions up high. The word was discouraging about my plan to hike Flattop so I hiked the other two routes the first two days. But on this third morning I was willing to go up and find out for myself if I could get through the parts of the timbered areas that had trapped deep amounts of winter and spring snow. And the snow turned out to be no problem at all by now with sunny days having done their job.
On the way up I came to an overlook. Fifteen hundred feet below is Dream Lake. If that sounds familiar to you it may be due to the article I published a few years ago. It was titled "A Thousand Stars In The Sky" and can be read HERE
. I had hiked up in the pre-dawn dark to take pictures. Then I wrote a story about how the starry sky reminded me of a song title connected to a cute 8th grade girl whose name is Kathy and who has been with me since that day in spring of 1960 when I first walked her home from school.