Ski Mountaineering

Rocky Mountain National Park

Aug 29 - Sep 1, 2008

Reiner Stenzel

This desribes a short hike in the Rocky Mountains. I was invited by my daughter Isabel for a two-day backcountry trip, a nice way to sample the beautiful scenery of the Rockies in late summer. If you have a long weekend in Colorado go for a hike in the Park!

On Fri, Aug. 29, I flew from LA to Denver where I was picked up by Isabel with a rented car. In the afternoon we drove to Estes Park and entered Rocky Mountain National Park. We got our reserved wilderness permit at the Visitors Center and toured up the Trail Ridge Road which crosses the Continental Divide. A herd of elk was grazing in the tundra at 12,000'. We hiked to a high point on the road to watch a beautiful sunset. Just after sunset remnant thunderstorm clouds lit up in bright yellow and red. A cold wind was blowing over the barren high country. We drove down and spent the night in town.

On Sat, Aug. 30, we started our hike by dropping off the car at the Cub Lake trailhead, then taking the park shuttle bus to the Bear Lake trailhead, the start of our loop tour. It was a busy place on Labor Day weekend. But the further we hiked the fewer people we encountered. We hiked 6 mi up to Lake Helena where we had a late lunch with vista on large snow fields, the steep north face of Notchtop Mountain (12,129') and the beautiful high altitude lake.

The trail then descends to Lake Odessa, a green mountain lake nestled below steep mountain walls. It's another scenic spot with great views of high peaks and green forests. A man was fly fishing, but catch and release only. We would have liked to stay at this pretty place but our permit was for the next lake, Fern Lake. There we set up camp, hiked around the lake and finally cooked dinner. This included my trophy, a big king bolete mushroom. Sauteed in butter with salt, pepper and onions it is treat which no restaurant offers. And I ate the whole thing since Isa declined, knowing too much about organ transplants.

On Sun, Aug. 31, we continued to hike along Fern Creek past Fern Falls and The Pools toward Cub Lake, our second reserved campsite. Backcountry camping is only allowed in developed sites, which have only a few sites each (2 at Cub, 4 at Fern). They are well separated, hidden in the forest, with nearby bear canisters at a pit toilet. Cub Lake is a lake turning into a swamp and meadow. Half the lake is filled with water lilies which must be a beautiful site in early summer.

In the afternoon we made a side trip to Mill Creek, a scenic valley with a stream and aspen trees on the verge of changing colors. On the way back to Cub Lake it was raining lightly. When we came back my mushroom-of-the-day near the tent was stolen by squirrels, thus it was only freeze-dried food for dinner.

On Mon, Sep. 1, we had a leisurely hike out to the Cub Lake trailhead. Fall was in the air. We decided to tour once more over the Continental Divide where we hiked a short distance along the historic Ute Trail, then dropped down to see the Colorado River which is just a small creek, quite a contrast to its size at Lake Powell or in the Grand Canyon. In the afternoon we drove back to Denver Airport to fly home. It was a fine weekend in the beautiful Rockies.

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