The East Inlet trail starts at Grand Lake, and heads up to 5 separate alpine lakes all connected by the east inlet stream. With a starting elevation of around 8500 feet and our camp site having an elevation over 9600 feet, it was clear this would not only be a physical test but that we would also need to be prepared for the rapidly changing conditions in the high country. Our plan would be to hike into our camp Friday night, then day hike to Fifth Lake, an alpine lake nestled against the Continental Divide at nearly 11,000 feet elevation. The following day, we'd pack up and head back down to our car.
Our plans got changed suddenly when we arrived at the backcountry ranger's office. Both our 1st and 2nd choices for camp sites had been taken since Thursday afternoon, leaving us with our 3rd option, Gray Jay. While neither of us were happy with this turn of events, it would turn out to be a huge blessing in disguise.
After driving across Trail Ridge Road to the west side, we hit the trail head around 3pm which left us about 4.5 hours of daylight. Bags packed and car locked, we took our last view at civilization for a couple of days and headed up the trail. The first section took us by Adams Falls, which by our jaded standards wasn't overly impressive. We took a couple quick pictures and then starting up the trail again.
The first section was typical of most RMNP hikes, crushed gravel and nicely maintained trails with gentle elevation gains. After passing through an open meadow with a snaking stream running through it, things started to change quickly. The nice, crushed gravel boardwalks disappeared and in their place where large jagged rocks littered across step sections of trail. The hiking was tough, and the gentle elevation gains were long forgotten as things had gotten steep in a hurry.
Views are OK, if you are into that whole alpine beauty thing
Jill pushes up a steep, rocky section
The rough, technical trail took its toll on us, and the frequent up and down nature was taking its toll on us with our heavy packs. After a couple of well timed rest stops, we pressed on passing several other backcountry sites as we made our way to Gray Jay. Jill was having a tough time dealing with the altitude and heavy pack, but soldiered on.
We were both grateful to finally arrive at our destination, Gray Jay Group site with about an hour of daylight left. We threw up the tent, which we are getting very proficient at doing, and then turned our attention to dinner. We cooked up Beef Stew for our appetizer and then had Chicken & Rice for our main meal. With high temps in Grand Lake in the high 60s, it would be a chilly night and a good meal would help us get some good rest with our big day hike coming up.
My backpack showing its medals of honor
Some random pics from around the campsite, then off to sleep at a very early hour so we would be rested and ready for our first "unimproved trail" adventure the next day.