Road Trip to the Rockies: Winter Park

Road trip with Friends to Winter Park

My friends, Brian and Erin, kindly shared their condo in Winter Park with me this weekend.  I felt so fortunate to be able to head to the mountains Friday afternoon and miss the Saturday morning ski traffic.  What a luxury they afforded me!  On top of including me in their weekly winter trek to the mountains, as I don’t ski, they graciously joined me in snow shoeing on one of the biggest powder days of the lackluster snow season.

Saturday morning we geared up, stepped out of the condo, and wondered what in the heck we were doing.  Wind whipped tiny flecks of snow into our faces as we shoved our packs and shoes into the trunk of their convertible Audi complete with snow tires!  Brian drove us 45 minutes to the outskirts of Rocky Mountain National Park where we found the trailhead to Shadow Mountain Shore.

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Roadtrip to the Rockies: Deer Mountain Trail

Trail(s): Deer Mountain Trail
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park
Fees: Review website as they are in flux
Website: National Park Service – RMNP
Distance: 6 miles

It was a cold New Year’s day, but I really wanted to start the new year by getting outside.  I checked the forecast all week, and even on New Year’s Day, it was expected to be warmer in Estes Park than in Denver.  This is unusual, but was also encouraging as I loaded up my car with my backpack, micro-spikes, and multiple layers of clothing!

The drive to Rocky Mountain National Park was a bit slow with construction and a long line at the entrance as only one ranger was working the gate and the automated park pass lane closed.  Thankfully, he moved cars along rather quickly.  Soon I reached the trailhead located on the Northeast side of park to which I don’t visit often.

The intermittent snow-packed and dirt path climbs for the first two miles, so despite the windy conditions which didn’t make it into the forecast, I only donned five layers…short sleeves, long sleeves, ski sweater, fleece vest, and windbreaker.  I left my puffy jacket in my pack.

As I climbed the trail, I turned to the west to enjoy magnificent views of the surrounding granite peaks and mountain valleys.  It didn’t take long to make another stop to shed two outer layers of clothing and strap on my micro-spikes as the path turned mostly snowy.

Soon, I was following switchbacks through the spruce and fir forests as the trail steepened.  After about two and a quarter miles, the trail levels off in the shadow of the trees.  It was time to add on the two layers I shed plus my puffy!  This portion of the hike was very quiet and peaceful.

Finally, I reached a trail junction which indicated I had 0.2 miles to reach the summit.  I was rewarded with lovely views of the valleys below and surrounding mountains.  Strong winds encouraged me to head back down the mountain as I cooled off quickly.

Generally, I hike in the morning, but today I waited until the afternoon, and I found the landscape under the falling light to be beautiful.  As I drove out of the park, I was blessed to see the setting sun and a large herd of elk.  As it turned dark, the full moon rose from the horizon through the clouds.  I can’t even describe how spectacular the giant, light orange ball looked over the farmland.  Truly amazing!

This trail is perfect for a winter hike, and I’m glad I was able ring in 2018 out on a trail.  ETB


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Road Trip to the Rockies: Windy Yet Wonderful Hike to Mills Lake

November 18, 2017

Mills Lake
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park
Fees: $20 day pass as of post
Elevation: 9,240-9,955 feet
Distance: 5.3 miles

Another Saturday, another missed forecast…these weathermen!  We planned a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park to Mills Lake.  While we expected cold weather (27-35 degrees) and blue skies, 40 mph sustainable winds were not in the forecast.  The wind was supposed to be over on Friday!

As we drove into the park, we hit a few icy patches on the road as loose snow swirled across the pavement.  We joked, maybe we should just go on a scenic drive, as the wind seemed menacing!  Upon arriving the parking lot, the wind howled.  If we weren’t careful, I think a door could have blown off the car.  The intensity increased and sometimes we felt 60 mph gusts.

photo credit: Danelle

We all layered on our clothes.  I wore short sleeves, long sleeves, a ski sweater, a vest, and a puffy jacket with a hat, buff, mittens, and hand and feet warmers.  We were holding out hope that the trees would protect us from the wind as they had the last few hikes.  Fortunately, this was partly true.  As we began, the wind wasn’t too bad and as we gained elevation, we quickly heated up…enough for some people to shed a layer.

Being cold-natured, I wasn’t part of that group.  I was warm and gave thought to it briefly, but stopping to snap a few photos or removing my hat and gloves for a few minutes was enough to cool me off.

The previous evening, a snow storm swept through the Rockies.  Some areas got a foot of snow.  In Rocky Mountain National Park, at 9,240, the elevation at the trailhead, there was just a dusting, though as we continued to climb, we hiked through about three inches of new snow.

The fresh snow wasn’t too slick or deep, so we didn’t need any help from traction devices.  We just squished squished along the trail.  Fortunately, others started out earlier than us, so we didn’t have to break trail, though at times, the wind was so strong, that it blew loose snow over previous tracks to make the trail barely decipherable.

The scenery was spectacular.  Snow dusted, dark grey, granite cliffs towered around us as snow swirled across the surfaces.  The evergreen forest was blanketed in snow.  Icicles hung from rocks.  The creeks were frozen enough for just a little running water to pass through. And after we entered a wind tunnel where I briefly considered turning around as we did have to turn our backs to the stinging snow, we hiked another mile to see an amazing frozen lake.

The view was just breathtaking.  I’m not sure either my description or my photos can do the scene justice.  At times, surprisingly, the wind died down and the feeling was simply serene.  At other times, the wind gusted viciously and snow whirled across the lake creating an almost eerie sight.  It was really awesome!  We stayed at the lake much longer than I expected, as certain sun drenched places which were protected from the wind were rather pleasant.

25 second Video Courtesy of Danelle.  Worth watching!

Soon, however, we turned around and headed back to the trailhead.  I think the total distance was only 5.3 miles, but the hike sure felt like a workout.  It’s just that much harder to hike on snow which requires engaging some balancing muscles.  Not to mention, keeping warm burns more calories.  I loved this hike, and I think I may return in the summer to hike past Mills Lake and on to Ribbon Falls and Black Lake.  I’m really glad my friends were “gung ho” and willing to brave the wind for a wonderful experience.  ETB


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A Perfect Birthday!

April 14, 2016

I had the greatest birthday! I started the day with a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Tanya and Diana met me at my house, and we carpooled to Lumpy Ridge Trailhead where we arrived to the parking area around 10am. While I think all of us have a park pass, this area isn’t near the main entrance of the park doesn’t actually require one. Since it was April and Thursday, the trail wasn’t too busy either. Another added bonus, a week after a massive snow storm the south facing slope was snow free, so we actually got to hike rather than snowshoe.

We started gaining a decent amount of elevation as we climbed a stairstep trail surrounded by large granite boulders and unique rock formations. Being the beginning of the hiking season, we took a few opportunities to catch our breath while enjoying the view. We worked up a sweat quickly and shed layers down to short sleeves in the sunny fifty degree weather before we even reached Gem Lake, located 1.8 miles into our 7.8 mile roundtrip.

After admiring the lake tucked beneath the cliffs, we carried on to the trail junction where we turned left. The trail leveled off as we crossed over the ridge and walked through some open space before entering the forest. The trail narrowed as we descended through the pines. Occasionally, we had to walk carefully through some snowy areas or take short detour, but for the most part we stayed on the undulating path.

Eventually we reached another ridge and expected to see “Balanced Rock” at the top which we didn’t immediately spot. We descended again, and there it was on the right side of the trail. It was a lovely spot for lunch slightly out of the wind. As we snacked on fruit, nuts, sandwiches and some birthday bundt cake, the clouds hid the sun and we were soon in our puffy jackets that once again we stripped off as we climbed back up the ridge!

It was nice to see a few wildflowers and just listen to the chirps of chipmunks and birds with spring on its way. We even spotted a bunny at the very end! We finished up our 7.8 miles around 2pm, and I got home just a few hours before our family went for dinner. We tried Bones, an asian fusion restaurant, that was very nice. David spoiled me with a chocolate cake and wonderful gifts before we headed out to meet friends for drinks.

Charlie Brown’s knows how the treat people right on their birthday…$30 of drinks on the house! Chris, Ashley, Kelly, Vela, and Bridget all joined us, and we ended the night singing along with the piano player! FUN DAY…ETB

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The Rockies: A Visit to Rocky Mountain National Park

July 9, 2014

My friend Tanya and her son August plan on a backpacking trip along the Colorado Trail later this summer. As such, she they have been planning some long hikes. Fortunately, my friend Diana and I got to tag along and go to Rocky Mountain National Park for a ten mile hike to Finch Lake.

Finch Lake is located in a less populated area of the park. The location coupled with the fact we went on weekday made it a perfect day for trail to ourselves most the way. The trail, supported by a rock wall, immediately ascended along the side of the mountain as it wended past lichen covered boulders situated beneath the cover of evergreens.

As we continued, we broke into more open spaces blanketed in wildflowers with views of Long’s Peak, one Colorado’s many 14ers. We walked at quick clip while stepping over countless rocks like we were climbing up a dry waterfall, we crossed the creek, and soon arrived at Finch Lake a few hours after our 10 am start.

The forecast called for afternoon storms which wasn’t a surprise since I think it has rained every afternoon all summer! Clouds accumulated as we snacked on lunch while sitting lakeside with a view of snow-capped mountains. Soon we heard claps of thunder in the distance. It was time to descend, even faster than we ascended, with the exception of stopping to dip our heads in the creek and watch the bunnies hop away.

We timed our descent perfectly, just as we left the tree cover, sprinkles of rain fell upon us. Amazingly, the storm must have circled around us as we had listened to the thunder and seen flashes of lightning toward the end of our descent, and the streets outside the park, just a few miles away, were lined in hail! What a lucky, nice day of hiking we had!! ETB

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The Rockies: Romping Around Rocky Mountain National Park

April 4, 2014

Yesterday, it snowed six inches in Denver, and today was forecasted to be sunny in the high 50’s. “A perfect day to snowshoe”, I thought.

I have been longing to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter time, so off I went. Going to the park is an all day event. Due to the floods last fall, certain roads are still under construction. Once I arrived in Lyon, I was greeted with a detour sign as the main road was closed.

The Highway 7 detour, however, was gorgeous. It took me through St. Vrain Canyon where rocky hills towered over the babbling brook which just six months ago was a raging river out of its banks. The recent snow lightly blanketed the landscape of evergreens, a pleasant view as I wound through the S turns on my way to the park entrance.

IMG_3917 st vrain

The $20 entry fee for four hours in the park was a bit steep, but worth it nonetheless because I wanted to go! It would have been nice to share the expense with fellow hikers, but I don’t know too many people with Friday off, so I ventured out on my own.

My visit brought back memories of my three days at the park during my trip around the USA…great hikes, awesome campground, amazing elk, and a tense drive across Trail Ridge Road! Today, I wanted to hike in a different part of the park as three days wasn’t nearly enough time to cover all the terrain, so instead of visiting the popular Bear Lake area, I took the advice of the RMNP paper and hiked a featured trail called Cub Lake.

I wanted to hike six miles and this trail was 4.6 miles roundtrip. By looking at the map, I could connect to Fern Lake Trail to add some distance. So, just after the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station, I turned left and then took the first right toward the Moraine Campground. I found the Cub Lake Trailhead shortly after turning onto a dirt road.

The trail began in a valley, crossed a creek immediately and gradually increased in elevation. While the trail through the meadow was snow-free, I strapped my snowshoes and micro-spikes to my pack just in case. After all, we had a decent snowfall yesterday. For the first mile or so, I stepped around mud puddles, ice patches and around a few rocks as I listened to the robins chip, watched the geese peck for food, and admired a mallard and it’s mate sunning on a rock near a marshy area.

Eventually I reach tree cover where the snow was protected from the sun and it was time to fish out my micro-spikes. I strapped them on and made new tracks in the pristine snow on the sometimes indiscernible trail. I was thankful to find a track (usually a post hole) from a traveler on a previous day as it helped me find my way. I “post-holed” a few times myself, once conveniently when I had removed my glove to snap a photo and after losing my balance my hand ended up icy-cold.

As I picked my way through the fresh snow, I came upon an aspen grove part of which was previously burned. As I understand it, an aspen grove is one tree as the roots are all connected. It was interesting to see one Aspen burned and another unaffected right next to each other. It also appeared like the elk liked to rub there antlers against the burned trees as the burnt bark was rubbed off in many places bearing a light inner skin.

It took me 1.5 hours to get the lake. I don’t know what was taking me so long as it didn’t seem terribly steep with only 540 of elevation gain. Perhaps it was due to breaking the trail or perhaps it was due to enjoying the beauty around me…though I just felt slightly sluggish. The lake was snow covered and it was difficult to differentiate between land and water. Being by myself, I decided to stop for lunch at the lake versus blazing more of the trail and mistakenly falling in! Just when I was finishing my peanut butter sandwich a family of three showed a bit winded as well. They thanked me for hiking first as my tracks kept them from getting lost!

IMG_3876 cub lake

The wind picked up and I started getting chilled, so I said my farewells and headed back down toward my car. I came across a few more hikers along the way, not too many and as one moved over to the side, he “post-holed”. With a smile he remarked, “Just cooling my feet.” I’ll have to remember that!

While I didn’t spot anymore wildlife on the trail, I spotted a herd of at least 30 elk in the meadow between the campground and the trailhead. What a treat! Most of them were resting, but one was grazing and a few jumped to their feet as cars stopped along the road. I love seeing animals in the wild. On my drive back, I saw three more small herds. I suppose they waited for temperature to warm up before they came out to play!

While I would have liked to stick around the park longer, it was time for me to head back to Denver for the first Friday Art Walk in RiNo. My new favorite place is the Chocolate Crisis Center…WOW, was their chocolate good! And the whole concept was great with the chocolate packaged in a first aid kit along with a “prescription”! Another great day in the Rockies. ETB

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Day 201 – Rocky Mountain Ramble – Part 2

Day 201 – Rocky Mountain Ramble, July 1, 2011

Elk, elk, and more elk…that is the best way to describe my
day!  They were everywhere, though the
first elk I spotted this morning couldn’t have posed any better for the
camera.  I stayed on the east side of the
park last night, and took Trail Ridge Road 45 miles to Grand Lake.  We passed through meadows, began climbing,
and sputtered by a sign marking two miles above sea level.  Soon thereafter, we flanked the mountain side
as water from melting snow streamed off the slope between the ground and the
snowpack.  The road finally reached
Forest Canyon Overlook, where stunted pines are contorted into odd shapes from
relentless winds.  Many of the trees
limbs only grow on the leeward side of the tree trunks.

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A red road sign with white block letters cautioned that
driving conditions could change quickly just before we ascended above the
timberline into an immense expanse of tundra; grasses and wildflowers only a
few inches high.  I considered taking a
walk along the tundra nature trail, but the wind was something fierce, and I
wasn’t dressed appropriately.  The beauty
was so amazing just sitting in VANilla, that I didn’t really feel the need to
wander along the trail in hopes to spot a marmot given I had already gotten a
close up view of one in Telluride a few weeks ago, and shortly after my
decision to stay warm one scampered across the road.

As I came up on the ridge an elk of substantial size stood
stately in front of the towering peaks as clouds sifted across the deep blue sky.  I stopped behind four other passenger cars
that were admiring the view in the middle of the roadway.  Just as I began to press on, another elk
arose atop the ridge.  The two briefly
stared at one another and returned to grazing.
Just up the way, a parking lot on the left-hand side of the road catered
to tourists.  I stopped to find a small herd
of elk on the horizon…more pictures.  We
carried on around the bend and were greeted with hundreds of them spread across
the tundra.

We continued on to Lava Cliffs, but seemed to stop every few
hundred yards to capture views of the cloud covered peaks and barren slopes
swathed in snow and to admire both the eeriness and splendor
simultaneously.  Thankfully the biting
summer wind was much slower and warmer than the winter wind that tops 200 miles
per hour and brings temperatures down to sixty degrees below zero.  My next opportunity for a view was blocked
by low clouds, and I found myself thankful that I could skip one pull out and
not feel like I was missing a good photo!

The lava in Lava Cliffs is volcanic ash deposited 26 million
years ago and compacted into the rock called tuff.  Glaciers stripped away the overlying material
exposing the volcanic past.  One mile
after reaching the Lava Cliffs, the road crested to its highest point at 12,183
feet.  More white-patched peaks, also
known as the Never Summer Mountains, stood to the west.

As we began our descent, we stopped at the Alpine Visitor
Center, whose latticework logs keep the roof in place during hurricane-force
winter storms.  Perhaps Florida should
adopt this architectural feature!  Further
along the way we crossed the Continental Divide at Milner Pass.  Poudre Lake drains into the Mississippi River
ultimately reaching the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.  On the opposite side of the divide, Beaver
Creek drains into the Colorado River which flows through the Grand Canyon
National Park and into the Gulf of California, part of the Pacific Ocean.

The next 16 miles of relatively straight road descended
through pine forests, past campgrounds, and through beaver dammed meadows.  This area was supposedly good for spotting
moose.  I tried in vain.  I actually drove down the road, turned around
and drove up it, and then drove down it again.
I was bound and determined to spot one.
Each time another car was pulled off the side, I slowed as quickly as
possible, causing Petey to hang on for his life!  No luck…but I found more elk.

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Eventually I reached Grand Lake and found some remote
camping where ATVing seemed to be the attraction.  We hadn’t taken a walk all day as we had
spent the morning at overlooks, so we walked from the meadow, our makeshift
campground, up the dirt road and into the national forest where we found an ATV
trail to follow.  The trail ran through
the pines, mostly dead from the Rocky Mountain Pine Beetle, so I focused my
attention toward the myriad of wildflowers…wild rose, blue columbine, wild
geraniums and more.

We crossed a small creek where I followed a woodpecker to
the top of the ridge.  He continuously
tried to allude my camera.  Standing as
still as possible, I’d adjust the camera to full zoom, slowly raise the
viewfinder to my eye and focus when it would flit to the next dead tree.  After about six times of repeating these
motions, I finally snapped a decent photo.
Birds hear everything…I need a bigger zoom!

Finally we returned to our campground where we enjoyed a
lovely sunset as the snow-capped mountains took on a pink hue and turned in for
the evening.  ETB,