Len's "Physical Training For Hunts" Trip To Rocky Mountain National Park

Discussion in 'Physical Training For Mountain Hunting And Backpac' started by Len Backus, Jul 1, 2015.

  1. Len Backus

    Len Backus Administrator Staff Member

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    I hope you'll enjoy this story about the wonderful trip to Rocky Mountain National Park from which I returned two days ago. My motivation for the trip was primarily to continue my physical training program for the upcoming mountain hunt season. Although -- I love RMNP so much it doesn't really require much encouragement for me to visit there.

    I got the idea to do a quick trip out to Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park while looking 500 feet down upon Lake of The Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The days were counting down on my hunt calendar and in a short time I would be back out in the mountains of western Wyoming with Robb Wiley of Non-Typical Outfitters for a couple of very physically demanding high altitude mountain hunts.

    My first hunt in early September will be my first ever archery hunt for elk and I expect it to be much tougher than a rifle hunt for elk. Then just 3 days later I'll switch over to hunting with my rifle for giant mule deer bucks. To kill just any buck will not require a huge physical effort. But Robb expects me to be prepared to "go all out" if we are lucky enough to get on to one of the giants they see each year during the late summer scouting season.

    But back to my Michigan hiking trip which was kind of spur of the moment. On Sunday afternoon 2 weeks ago Kathy and I had attended a local art fair and as usual I was drawn to the outdoor photo exhibits. One great photo was of a scene in the Porkies. Andy and Chris and our 9 month old puppy did a short overnight backpack trip there 28 years ago. So on the way home from the art fair I hatched my plan to go hiking in the Porkies the very next day. It was a 5 hour drive and I hit the trail Monday afternoon immediately upon arrival. Using Google Earth at home I had pre-selected the "Escarpment Trail” which would provide about 500 feet of steep elevation gain -- perfect for my hunt training program.
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    I had not hiked this "Escarpment Trail" high up on on the ridgeline before and immediately fell in love with the open vistas to the river and lake below. As I was completing my second pleasant hike the next morning I thought, "well this is very nice but why not head out to RMNP next week for some SERIOUS trail hiking?". And barely one week later the odometer on my 26 month old Jeep turned over 90,000 miles on the way to Estes Park, Colorado.

    I hiked three mornings on the RMNP trails. Follow along with me as maybe you'd like to visit there some day too. For me in picking trails, I wanted beautiful vistas but I also wanted a good workout with a certain amount of efficiency to the effort invested. An example was using my bike to descend after one of the trips up.

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    Upon arrival at RMNP in the afternoon I had some time to kill so I drove up Trail Ridge Road on a scouting trip. Quickly you get up above treeline and that's what I like most about RMNP. Here are a few pictures I grabbed from the road standing next to my car.

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  2. Len Backus

    Len Backus Administrator Staff Member

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    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.

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    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.

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    http://www.longrangehunting.com/articles/1000-stars-1.php
    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    Last edited: Jul 3, 2015

  3. Len Backus

    Len Backus Administrator Staff Member

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    I continued hiking higher expecting to encounter snow in the trees at the increasing elevation. I did walk through a little bit but none that was significant. Eventually I reached the area of stunted and twisted trees called krummholz, which characterizes the transition point at altitudes where trees no longer can grow.

    In this next picture, note the three hikers walking on the skyline in the snow.

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    Upon reaching the treeless top I came across a father and son who were taking a break right next to the trail marker. The father took the picture of me that is at the top of this story. His son is 17 years old and they were on a backpacking trip over the continental divide -- which runs right through where we all were now sitting.

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    I told them the story of my own father/son backpacking trip from years ago and I could see a warm reaction between the two of them at this thought. Then they headed off to create more of their own father/son memories in the spectacular high alpine zone of RMNP. I headed down the far side a ways as that had been part of my original plan. And then I came back up to the resting place for a few minutes. I lingered some more while keeping my eye on the building cloud cover in the slightly darkening sky. Then I headed down, pausing to take pictures quite often.

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  4. Len Backus

    Len Backus Administrator Staff Member

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    When I came again upon the Dream Lake overlook, two young couples were standing there. Or rather, 3 people were standing and a twenty something girl was jumping up and down with excitement. I made a comment about how much energy she still had after hiking up this far.

    "No, no," she said. "My boyfriend just asked me to marry him." And she showed me the ring on her finger. He commented that when they got to the overlook it just seemed the right moment and the right place.

    Well, then I could not resist telling them my own story of Dream Lake, of "A Thousand Stars In The Sky" and of the cute little girl from 8th grade that I still love so much.

    I took this picture of them. The newly engaged couple are in the middle.

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    And on that note I continued on down the mountain to travel home. I almost shed a private tear though, at the wonderful memories...
     
  5. scrmblr1982cj8

    scrmblr1982cj8 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for sharing. As I often tell my son (who is too impatient to hunt) that pulling the trigger is not the highlight of the hunt. The highlight are seeing a thousand stars in the night sky, seeing steam rise from the meadows as the Sun comes up, listening to the birds chirp as they wake in the morning, and so on and so on.

    I think many people would be happy to experience the sights and sounds of what you've done so far. I know I would. I live in SC, and I'm about 75 miles from the ocean. We don't have hills here. Everything is relatively flat, and there are trees everywhere. We can't see for miles like you can out west.

    Enjoy your trip. I look forward to reading more about your adventures.
     
  6. old243

    old243 Member

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    Len , Thanks for the story of your trip to Colorado. We are from Ontario. In year 2000, we toured the western states. Spent a night in the campground at Estes park, in the morning we went over the pass , at the summit there were a herd of elk cows with their newborn calves. Such a change the elevation can make in the trees , plants . At the top the plants and flowers were tiny, with a lot of mosses. We continued over the divide and followed the Colorado river as far south as the arches park in Utah. The days were very hot so we headed north . Intending to visit the place where my wife's grandfather had homesteaded as a young man. Continued on into Washington state, went to the summit of Mt St Helens, an real adventure for flatlanders from Ontario. Continued on into British Columbia, went north the full length of the province , mountains the whole way. Connected to the Alaska highway and went west though the Yukon and into Alaska. Spent 8 weeks camping , did some fishing, caught Artic grayling, chinook salmon and halibut. Great trip , probably won't go again but have lots of memorys. Old243
     
  7. Rick Richard

    Rick Richard Well-Known Member

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    Hey Len,

    Like you, I am hard on the 'training trail' since the hunting season is right around the corner.

    Also, I have been to both places mentioned over that past years and both are equally beautiful in their own right.

    I will be headed back to the Thoroughfare region of Wyoming this September for an archery hunt for elk and then off to New Mexico for a rifle hunt for elk. New Mexico will be a new adventure since I have never been there.


    Thanks again for the wonderful stories and photos.

    Rick Richard
     
  8. Len Backus

    Len Backus Administrator Staff Member

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    Guys, thanks a lot for the encouragement.

    I feel blessed with the opportunities out there.
     
  9. Timber338

    Timber338 Well-Known Member

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    Len, thanks for the great write up and pictures. it is refreshing to see that your training revolves around getting outside to enjoy the mountains and nature rather than some regimented fitness program. There's a time and place for the disciplined training but I think we can all lose sight of what's really important and why we all really stay in shape.
     
  10. Southwind

    Southwind Well-Known Member

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    Len, were the big horn off trail ridge road or on one of the trails you hiked? I'll be up there in a couple weeks and might have to check some of these out.
     
  11. Len Backus

    Len Backus Administrator Staff Member

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    Trail Ridge Road just before the visitor center.