Thursday, July 21, 2005

Rocky Mountain NP (cont'd)

Our last two days in Rocky Mountain NP, we went for the vertical challenge. We decided we've been here long enough, we should be acclimated to the elevation, right? So on Tuesday we were going to tackle Chapin's Pass which meant getting up at 5am to be on the trail by 7am because of limited parking spaces. But when the alarm went off we did the same thing every other red-blooded American would do...we hit the snooze. So, we didn't do Chapin's Pass. We tackled Twin Sisters Peaks instead. This trail starts at 8,880' and summits at 11,428' within 3.7 miles. It felt like it was straight up the whole time. Not a bad trail, but the rocky field above timberline was otherworldly. But the views at the top were phenomenal since the peak is a rounded hump of rocks, you can see in all directions. East views was of the flatlands. West towards the park, Longs Peak stands out prominently since it's a fourteener. To hike Long's Peak, hikers need to be on the trail by 3am. Yep, they hike up part of the trail in the dark. Here's Longs Peak in the background.

During this hike we met a local Boulderite who convinced us to do Flattop Mountain on our last day. So on Wednesday we were on the trail before 7am (finally!) and headed up to Flattop which peaks at 12,324'. The trail starts out within the forest and occassionally you'll get a nice view of the surrounding area. But once you get higher up, and the trees look more like shrubs because they are stunted from the harsh environment, the views are breathtaking. You can see almost all of the lakes in the Bear Lake region as you zig-zag back and forth up the trail. You can see so many mountain peaks and the valleys and on towards to the flatlands. We even had to cross a snowfield towards the top in order to reach the summit of Flattop. As you can guess, the top of Flattop is flat. It was a large tundra area with rocks and alpine wildflowers. We could look down the western slope and see Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake. To the south was Hallet Peak. We considered scrambling up the boulder-strewn side of Hallet for the ultimate view, which was another half-mile and 400' up. Unfortunately we didn't like the looks of these clouds that appeared to form as we watched, right over our heads. We played it safe and decided against it. Exploring Flattop was wonderful enough. We could see Tyndal Glacier and the view down the glacial-cut valley.
We also enjoyed watching the little pikas dart in and out of the rocks collecting whatever plant-life they could for their nests or stash or whatever they were collecting it for. These critters are in the rabbit-family.

For the record, it did start to rain on our way down, so we had no regrets about skipping Hallet Peak.
We had a great time here and are actually considering how we can come back in the fall to see the Aspens in yellow and maybe hear the Elk bugle. Now we're heading towards Fort Collins (no, not a long drive), then north to the Dakotas.

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