Sunday, August 20, 2006
I wasn't quite sure I punished my body enough by depriving it of oxygen and riding 35 miles in elevations topping out at nearly 12,000 feet, so Jill & I decided to head to Rocky Mountain National Park again to do some high elevation hiking. We've been all over the park and done numerous hikes, but this time we decided we would visit the West side of the park and do some hiking on the lesser traveled side.
We had originally planned to go Friday night, camp out and then get up at dawn and hit the trails. Well Friday looked rainy and cold in the mountains, so I altered our plans to Saturday morning.
At 4:30 a.m. the alarm was still 30 minutes away, but Jill & I were both up and moving for some strange reason. Our plan was to be on Trail Ridge Road (the one in Rocky, not the one we live on) for sunrise which meant we needed to leave by about 5:15. Leaving our house in the dark of night and driving towards Estes Park, I questioned my sanity a few times.
But as we neared Estes, we could see it would be a great day to be up and moving. We pulled up to the gates of Rocky Mountain, but no ranger on duty yet. You know you are early when you beat the park rangers up. We cruised along looking for the wildlife that was surely the only other moving thing at this hour in the park. As we started to crest Trail Ridge at around 12,000 feet we were treated to some incredible views as we sat just above the clouds as the sun slowly crept up in the east.
We stopped and took pics, but didn't stray too far from the car as the temperature was in the 30s, and was a quick reminder that life at elevation isn't easy. As we drove on across the park, we passed an eerily empty parking lot at the main visitor center on Trail Ridge. Normally the parking lot is jam packed with RVs, buses, and people from all over, it was interesting to see it totally void of cars.
As we descended the west side, we came upon Poudre Lake near Milner Pass where the Continental Divide passes. As we approached, we spied a group of elk grazing in the crisp morning air near Poudre Lake. We stopped the car and walked over to them, and they started to give us a show. They were just playfully fighting, but the two elk danced around and locked horns. They took note of us, but didn't seem threatened and continued on as if we weren't there, even moving closer to us as they played around.
We decided to cruise by Timber Lake campground and see if we could fall into a campsite for the night. Much to our surprise, the campsite was barely half full. We snapped up a campsite, threw up the tent and headed out for our first hike. We picked a big, strenuous hike for Day 1. Timber Lake would be a 10.5 mile hike with well over 2,000 feet of elevation gain, but as we've learned the alpine lakes are usually worth the effort.
We started down the Timber Lake trail, and immediately were pleased with our decision. The trail was a gorgeous, lush green trail the meandered through dense forest that were such a deep shade of green they didn't even look real.
Upon our first creek crossing, we spotted some more wildlife. A playful deer was out for its morning stroll and a quick drink from the creek as we passed. Again, she was obviously very used to the humans on her turf as she barely bothered to take note of us as we snapped pics and moved through.
As we walked up the trail, it seemed that every corner we came around had a gorgeous mountain stream cascading down the rocks. We must have stopped at 15 different waterfalls to take pics and/or just take in the view. The early morning light made for great slow shutter pics.
We pounded out mile after mile, with the last two being especially steep. Finally we rounded a corner and got our first glimpse of the mountain faces that sat as the backdrop for Timber Lake. After another 1/2 mile of weaving through the trees, we emerged to yet another breathtaking high elevation lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. This lake would serve as our lunchroom today, as we found a spot to sit and enjoy our sandwiches.
We sat and took in the surroundings for the next 30-45 minutes, but started noticing the skies darkening north of us. As in all high altitude situations, the storms develop quickly and move even more quickly. Before we knew it, the sounds of thunder were upon us as we packed up and started heading back down.
We managed to get about a mile from the lake before the skies finally opened up, but it was a gentle rain. We pushed onward towards the car, making great time as we dropped from over 11,000 feet back to 8,500. Once back to the car, we were quite tired and ready to have a rest after 10.5 miles and a lot of climbing. A quick rest and clothes change before heading to Grand Lake for some BBQ, then back to the camp for some sleep before Day #2 of our adventure.