Monday, September 26, 2011

Rocky Mountain High

Originally published in My Trip Journal on June 7, 2011

When planning this trip, we deliberately placed the two weeks in Estes Park at the end of our time in Colorado. We knew it would be comfortable and familiar. We knew we'd be tired and that the primary purpose of our time here would be to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. And that is exactly what we are doing.

What we didn't anticipate was a record snowfall year that just keeps going on. Many of the trails we had planned to hike are still covered with snow amounts measuring in FEET, not inches. Winter trails carved by experienced snowshoers (that may not be a proper word!) and skiers completely deviate from the summer trails and it is very easy to become disoriented and/or lost. Although there are still many trails for us to hike, I am a bit disappointed because there are a few we missed last time because we were here too early and they were still impassable. This year, our timing should've been perfect except who could've anticipated a record-breaking snowfall year?

To make matters even more complicated, the temps began warming quickly with night temps no longer below freezing and yes, all those feet of snow have to go somewhere. The Big Thompson River which flows nine feet from the back porch of our cabin is currently flowing a little less than seven feet from the back porch. It is beautiful and the sound is mesmerizing, but the 100 sandbags our cabin owners have filled and placed at the side of the cabin are a bit daunting. They are long time residents of Estes Park, their business office is right next door and they also live close by. They deal with the spring runoff every year and assure us all is well. But the incredible amounts of water EVERYWHERE are a sight to behold. Bill spoke with our cabin owner this afternoon and was told that the haze brought on by the Arizona wildfires had actually helped the potential flooding situation because the overcast skies brought cooler temps in the high country and less melting.

We, on the other hand, were quite happy to see the clear, bright blue Colorado sky we know and love. One couldn't ask for more perfect hiking conditions than what we experienced today.

But yesterday's hike was great also. It was to Bierstadt Lake, a place we hiked to last time, but not on the same trail we followed yesterday. Our plan was to hike to the lake, then circle the lake on the lake trail, then hike back down to our car. The trail to the lake is short (1.5 miles), but very steep and as soon as we entered the lake area, we knew the snow was too deep for us to tackle the lake trail. Interesting that there was no snow at all on the trail up, but the moment we entered the sheltered aspen groves around the lake, the snow was 2-3 feet deep and the trail impossible to find. BTW, we can verify the 2-3 feet because we both managed to posthole enough times to get good and wet. So that was a bit of a disappointment, but as we stood on a point looking across the lake, we saw a large moose chomping happily not too far away from us. What a moment!! They are majestic looking creatures when seen in that setting and with us, the moose and no other humans around, it was a awesome sight. After he meandered out of sight, we did manage to find a rock on the lake where we enjoyed a snack before heading back down to our car.

The Cub Lake Loop was my favorite hike from our 2009 visit to RMNP. I am certain it's because we don't have them in the Smokies, but I am simply mesmerized by the alpine lakes. You hike at altitudes of 9000 feet and above, in and out of these jagged mountain peaks that tower above you and then all of a sudden, you walk out into a meadow with a gorgeous lake sometimes filled with lily pads, sometimes just a crystal clear color, and sometimes that azure blue that defies description. You'll find as our time here continues, that you'll see the word "lake" in just about every hike we do. Each one is different and each is beautiful. Can't really explain why Cub Lake was my favorite, but I couldn't wait to return and see if it was still just as lovely. I can tell you, without a doubt, that it was!

The hike itself is nice and includes some open meadow flat walking, some rocky hill climbs that are never really steep, some open vistas of the nearby snow covered peaks and the last mile of the loop closely follows the Big Thompson River which is much stronger there than it is as it flows by our cabin. Weather today was perfect for hiking. Clear blue skies with temps in the mid-70's and a gentle breeze blowing.

Tomorrow, we will take a day off from hiking and travel
Trail Ridge Road. Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuously paved road in the US reaching an elevation of 12,000+. It closes each year with the first snowfall usually in October and reopens in the spring when the plows can clear it, normally around Memorial Day. That didn't happen this year thanks to the record breaking snowfall amounts. In fact, Trail Ridge Road didn't open until yesterday and this is the second latest opening in history. Estes Park residents are being encouraged to drive up Trail Ridge Road soon because they will see snow in amounts one only sees once in a lifetime. Here is a picture taken two days ago. We loved Trail Ridge Road the first time we drove it - this promises to be even better.

As we were leaving the park today, we got behind a Tennessee car with Blount County plates. It is only the second Tennessee car we have seen since crossing the Missipppi River last month. The first was a car with Knox County plates that we saw in The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We didn't see anyone around the car, so we drove on. But later at one of the overlooks, two guys saw my UT Water Bottle and asked if we were driving the car from Tennessee. Turns out they are both students at ETSU and were on a "guy" road trip. They were nice kids and it was fun chatting with them. We saw a car with Virginia plates at the trailhead when we finished our hike today, but cars from the east are few and far between!!

Thanks for reading!

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