Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Hike 18. RMNP, Not a bad place for my 100 Mile hike

Date: June 18th 2020
Hike Distance: 8.8 Miles
Location: Estes Park, Colorado. RMNP Loch Trail
Hike Start Time: 6:15AM
Condition: Cool, Sunny
Total Miles: 100.2 Miles!!!

I knew my 100 Miles total milestone was coming up.  I wasn't planning any certain hike, but I knew I'd want to do a couple cool ones in a row so whatever one it ended up being would be a good one.  We were able to secure a pass to Rocky Mountain National park when they opened it up.  I took the day off of work and invited the mother-in-law to join us.

Looking at the trails I knew I wanted to do something up Glacier Gorge.  I also knew that if I didn't want to use crowded shuttle buses and deal with people we needed to be there super early in the morning.  The park was only letting in half of the normal number of cars, but that still translate to a crowded trailhead and trail if you sleep in.

We picked up our special guest at 4:45 and headed up to the mountains and got to the gate at 6:01 AM.  My pass allowed entry between 6 and 8 so I couldn't have timed it any better.  We ignored the signs saying full parking lot at the trailhead and were able to secure one of about a dozen spots left.  It was cool and the sun was starting to come up.  We brought a bunch of layers and I packed up my Micro Spikes in anticipation of high altitudes.  I was kind of excited to get to use them for the first time.

My eight year old daughter was with us for the hike and I was a little worried that having her with us would cut our trip shirt.  I picked a hike that looked like it had a lot of really good checkpoints of areas, so if any of us were getting tired they could either stay there or we could turn around and not feel bad.I also was unsure about what the trail conditions would be like in terms of snow and ice so there might be a point where we just didn't feel comfortable or prepared to make it all the way.

The beginning of the trail was definitely catering towards casual tourists and was a pretty easy stroll.  The signs all directed us towards Alberta Falls and took us through a really pretty Aspen forest.  The rivers were running really high and fast from the snow melt, and even just in the short time we were there, we were able to see the sun melt a lot of the snow left around on the ground. Summer was definitely coming into the RMNP.

Alberta Falls was definitely worth the mile long hike out and if you didn't feel comfortable hiking a longer distance or were unable to due to physical condition or time, it would be a nice taste of what the Colorado Mountains have to offer, but in my opinion the trail after this point is why you come here.

The trail became less tame but still very well maintained after that falls and in my opinion it peeked at much more impressive sets of falls than the hallmark one listed on the trail guides the further in we went.  We met up with a few trail crossings for other valleys and lakes, and you can bet I'll be back to explore those ones another day.

We rose higher and higher and were soon surrounded by towering stone walls and pine trees.  The trail got steeper at sections with switchbacks and stairs and then would level out to rolling terrain so it didn't seem as strenuous as you would think.  We came across a high set of waterfalls and then climbed a little further, and we got one of the greatest payoffs for our work I've had so far hiking.

We came upon the Loch Valle.  Loch translated means Lake, a very creative name for sure.  This place was nothing short of magical.  A serene still lake flanked on all sides by granite monoliths, snow, and forest.  The trail followed around the banks of the lake and allowed us to see through the crystal clear water.  My wife regretted not bringing her fishing pole up with her, because we could see brown and Rainbow trout close enough we could've reached out and grabbed them. 

We started to see more and more snow banks and patches of ice that we would get to scramble over but none of them big enough to warrant getting the spikes on for.  There were some cool Boardwalks made from halved trees and some awesome stone bridges made to go over marshy areas or over the many little streams that came down from the snowmelt above.

We came to a turnoff marked as Andrews Creek and Andrews glacier, and one day I'll come back for that.  It seemed like a lot less traveled area.  We were about 4 miles out from the trailhead at this point and there were far fewer people than at the beginning, even given the early start time, but still we had groups coming by.  After Andrews creek the view opened to a long angled ridge that went up to a waterfall.  I assumed this to be Timberline Falls.

The snow was completely covering the trail at this point and it was getting pretty slick, so I got my Microspikes on and my Mother in Law and Wife shared a pair of Yaktraks, putting it on one foot each.  That paired with my trekking poles made the clime pretty easy, with the exception of one time my foot postholing and scraping against a tree branch.  It left a nice big bruise as a souvenir for me.

We made it all the way up to the falls.  It was a lot higher up than I anticipated, and now the decision would have to be made as to whether we climbed the waterfall or turned back.  I'd like to say that I was all for it, but after analyzing the situation, I didn't revel in the idea of having to climb back down later based on the terrain.  I also didn't bring an extra set of socks with me and the prospect of hiking 5 miles back in wet feet didn't sound like a great idea.

We made the decision that this would be our turnaround for this hike and took a minute to sit for a little bit and have a snack.  We were visited by some Marmots and a Pika that were sniffing around for crumbs and were barking at us from down the hill.  The look back across the Lack  Valley was amazing, and I'll guarantee my pictures didn't capture it adequately. 

The clouds were starting to roll in and the wind was picking up a bit, so I felt better and better about our terminus, and we started down the hill.  Sliding sometimes on the snow and my daughter sliding on her butt we made our way below the majority of the snow and went back to just our shoes.  At no time did I not feel safe or stable.

It's funny how trails look totally different just experiencing it the opposite direction.  The light changing as the sun comes up plays a large roll, but areas that you were struggling to ascend now become parts that you an enjoy on the way down.

The angles and areas that you see things from basically make it feel like a brand new trail if you pay attention.  This high mountain lake is one of my favorite places I've visited so far in my journeys.

I have to say, I was really really proud of my daughter during this hike.  She usually gets tired and starts to whine a little into hikes, even shorter one, but not one time did she lag behind or complain about what we were doing.  It makes me so happy to be able to enjoy this with her, and I hope that she'll eventually want to go with me, without me having to coerce her.

As we came back the number of people consistently increased.  The peaceful aspect of walking alone in the woods gave way to putting on masks and constantly letting people pass or stepping of the trail to maintain distance.  I tried not to let the congestion effect my enjoyment, and I know that all these people were here to experience what I just got to. 

the trip back was uneventful and we got back to the aspen grove we walked through at the beginning of the trip.  I was really disappointed to see just how many people decided that it was a good idea to carve their names or initials in the trees.  They will be there for a long time, and are not good for the health of the trees.  It was very evident that the ones that were carved up the most were the ones doing the worst.  It's a shame people can't just leave things like this alone.

The rest of the day was great as well.  We found a picnic table by a stream and had a picnic, and then  drove to the top of Trail Ridge Road to the visitor center.  We were able to see deer, Elk, a coyote, Marmots, Pika, and a bunch of other wildlife throughout the day, so definitely a worthwhile trip.

I didn't know where this blog would go when I started and I didn't know how long I'd stick with hiking, so I'm so excited to get over 100 miles total so far, and there's no way I'm stopping now.  Thank you to everyone who follows me and reads any posts.  I really appreciate it.

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