Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rocky Mountain National Park / Estes Park / Golden Colorado Trip - Summer 2014

I didn't feel like writing five separate posts for one trip, so here is everything outdoorsy I got up to in Colorado after spending a couple days in Denver.  Click any photo to view them larger and as a slideshow.

Trail around Estes Park Lake

As a light warm-up to help us acclimate for Longs Peak, we walked the paved trail around Lake Estes.  This trail is mostly flat and about 3.5 miles long depending on which route you take.  There are a couple water fountains and bathrooms along the route and you are fairly likely to see ducks or elk along the way.  There are several places to park around the lake and most are free.

View Lake Estes Loop in a larger map

Emerald Lake Hike from Bear Lake Trailhead

For our next tuneup we took the shuttle to the Bear Lake Trailhead and hiked to Emerald Lake which sits at an elevation of 10,090'. We considered visiting more lakes (Haiyaha and Mills) and doing a loop hike, but decided against that due to weather concerns.  On our hike we visited Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake.  The lakes are spaced roughly half a mile apart and each has a unique character.  Nymph Lake is small and shallow and had lily pads growing in it.  Dream Lake was long and wooded with scenic mountains in the background.  Emerald Lake was the highest, deepest, and probably coldest of the three and it was our favorite.  Though it was cool, cloudy, and windy for most of our stay, we all managed to get in and swim for more than a few seconds in this lake that is frozen much of the year and was actively receiving fresh snow melt.  
Dream Lake

Emerald Lake

View Emerald Lake Hike in a larger map

Alpine Hike

This short 500-yard trail heads uphill from the Alpine Visitor Center in the western part of the national park.  It gives visitors a chance to experience the tundra at 11,800' elevation, see incredible wildflowers, and maybe catch a glimpse of a marmot or pika. 

View Alpine Visitor Center Walk in a larger map

Longs Peak

Marmota Monax Monax
Marmot, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
After attempting to dayhike Longs Peak, here is a summary of my findings followed by a longer description, map, and photos:

1.  Start early.  While incredibly fit people can summit Long's Peak and race back down to the trailhead in a few hours, the trek takes most people 12-15 hours and it is a good idea to be back down to the treeline by 1 or 2 in the afternoon to avoid summer storms.  For reference, we got hailed on at 1:30 and rained on much of the way down.  Starting early has the added benefit of letting you take in some amazing views of sunrise if you manage to get at least a few miles up the trail.

Duct Tape Saves the Day Again
2.  Go in the summer unless you like super technical climbing.  Ice and snow remain on sections of route well into July most years.

3.  Make sure you are acclimated. Take a few days to acclimatize to high elevations before attempting to summit the peak.  As you may have ascertained from reading the rest of this post, we spent a couple days in Denver (5,280'), then did a short easy walk in Estes Park (7,522'), followed by a hike to Emerald Lake in the national park (10,090') and a short walk at the Alpine Visitors Center (11,800') while camping at the Longs Peak Campground (~9,000').  You may want to look into taking Ibuprofen, Naproxen, or Acetazolamide to help with altitude sickness.

Small Mammal Colorado
Pika, Rocky Mountain National Park
4.  The scenery and wildlife viewing are fantastic.  Even if you don't make it to the peak, the hike is
well worth it.  We saw marmots, pikas, elk, and ptarmigans up close. Bighorn sheep and other wildlife are also often seen along this route.  In the summer, tiny, delicate, incredible wildflowers are blooming all over.  If at all possible, make it to the keyhole to take in the fantastic view on the other side.

5.  Take plenty of water, food, and clothing.  We each drank at least 2 quarts of water/energy/electrolyte beverages.  3-4 quarts is recommended.  Weather ranged from warm and sunny to cold, windy, hail and rain.

6.  Take a first aid kit and duct tape.  Lots can go wrong on this hike/climb and timely help isn't guaranteed.  We came across a hiker with a boot blowout and aided his hike down by providing him with some duct tape.  You can sometimes find duct tape in tiny rolls or roll your own by wrapping it around a toothpick or something small so it takes up less space.  As mentioned earlier, Ibruprofen or Naproxen can help alleviate some common symptoms of altitude sickness.

Our trip

Hiking at 3:30 AM with a Headlamp
We camped at the Longs Peak Campground for two nights.  The campground borders a private summer camp which can cause noise and traffic issues if you have bad timing like we did.  We set our alarms for 3:00 AM and were hiking towards the trailhead at around 3:30.  Lots of people were up and making noise at the campground at 2:00 which may be a smarter time to get up for multiple reasons.

Hiking at dark with a headlamp was a new experience for me and it was fun, though at times I felt like I was walking in a trance.  There was fairly full moon and some hikers didn't bother with lights.

The route to the summit is 7.5 miles long and includes roughly 5,000 ft. of elevation gain.  The last 1.7 miles of the route is not a trail and is more of a scramble/climb over boulders, past sheer cliffs, and up steep rock faces which is why averaging just over one mile an hour (there and back) is pretty normal.

Sunrise began around 5:15 or 5:30 and we got an amazing show having reached a location somewhat near the treeline.  There are two toilets along the route which is nice since privacy is limited above the trees.  We saw lots of wildlife on our hike including numerous elk, pikas, and marmots at close range. Along the way I heard two of my favorite wildlife noises: elk bugling and hermit thrush songs.

Sunrise from the Longs Peak Trail
The Keyhole. Longs Peak
We made it through the Boulder Field and up to the Keyhole by around 11:15 (which is probably too late).  The view from the Keyhole was awesome, but the route beyond it was a little too much for me and many people I talked to.  The rest of our party continued on, only to turn around on the Trough due to time and weather concerns.

These concerns were validated by the fact that there was a thunderstorm with lightning and hail at 1:30.  The storm caught many people out in the open, while I managed to shelter under a large rock downhill from Chasm Lake but not quite below the treeline.

We got rained on for much of our remaining hike back to the trailhead but were able to dry off quickly when the sun returned.

Fork to Chasm Lake

Elk Herd Near the Boulder Field

Boulder Field Campsite - Exposed and Windy

View from the far side of the Keyhole

The Ledges

Colorado Small Mammal Pika
Pika, Rocky Mountain National Park

View Longs Peak in a larger map 

Golden Trail and Whitewater Park

Golden, Colorado is a cool little college town with tons of outdoor recreational opportunities.  It is nearly surrounded by parks in the foothills with hiking trails and to top things off, Clear Creek runs right through the heart of the city offering fun for tubers, kayakers, and reckless swimmers.  The Clear Creek Trail runs along both sides of the creek, which enabled us to rent tubes, put in upstream, float about half a mile down and walk back up to do it all again.  The creek has a whitewater park with some man-made rapids which are pretty exciting to go over.
The Trail Was Flooded, but that Just Means More Floating

Photo By Lindsay Smith

Photo By Lindsay Smith

Red Rocks

Though it actually came first chronologically, I didn't do much of the trail, so I just wanted to note here that Red Rocks has a few trails.  If you go there for a show, get there a couple hours early and take in the natural beauty of the place.

Trading Post Trail at Red Rocks

More photos and information on hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park can be found in my previous post at:

Or on the NPS website:

No comments:

Post a Comment