On Wednesday morning, we packed and checked out of the Boulder hotel, then drove west an hour, toward Rocky Mountain National Park. I had asked Batya if she wanted to camp there, but she preferred to stay in a hotel. Therefore, I had made reservations with Murphy’s Resort in Estes Park. Check-in wasn’t until the afternoon, so we just drove through Estes Park and continued directly to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Even though it was a weekday (and after the prime tourist season, as schools were back in session), we saw signs warning us that the parking lot at Bear Lake was full. Therefore, we parked at the “Park and Ride” lot and caught the shuttle to the Bear Lake stop. By the time we reached the Bear Lake trailhead at 9475′ elevation, it was almost a quarter to noon.
11:46 a.m.: It was raining slightly as we began our hike north on the trail, and then a very light hail began. This only lasted a minute or so, though. Bear Lake is adjacent to the west end of the parking lot, so it only took us a minute to reach the lake. However, we did not linger there, as we anticipated a hike of around 8.5 miles and were off to a late start.
12:15 p.m.: For 0.6 miles the trail moved north/northeast, climbing to 9800′ elevation. Then the trail reached an intersection, and we turned west, hiking through forest. We soon began to enjoy nice views of the surrounding mountains:
12:55 p.m.: We crossed a talus slope, hiking toward mountains with snow fields.
A few residents of the talus came out to play, including an adorable pika:
. . . and a cute yellow-bellied marmot:
1:17 p.m.: We began to enjoy nice views of Notchtop Mountain, which will feature in a number of photographs in this blog entry.
At the same time we passed a small unnamed pond to the north of the trail (not shown on the map), and decided to stop for lunch.
While we were eating, I noticed birds flying in a distant tree, near the pond. I am accustomed to birds being shy and flying away from me, and first attempted to take photos of them on their distant perch in the tree. But I soon learned this was not necessary, as the birds flew closer, and closer, and closer.
They were gray jays, which have many other names and nicknames, including “camp robber.” They started out as beggars, practically salivating for a handout.
Experts ask people not to feed wild animals, because: a) human food may not be healthy for wild animals (just as chocolate is dangerous for dogs); b) a wild animal can become over-reliant on handouts and then be unable to successfully forage for food in the winter off-season when people don’t come to the park; c) if a person tries hand-feeding an animal, the animal might accidentally bite the hand holding the food; d) dangerous animals such as bears should not learn to associate humans with food, because then instead of avoiding humans they might begin to frequent places of human habitation while foraging for food. I definitely would never offer food to a bear, or hand feed a squirrel or chipmunk. As far as whether I may toss a few crumbs to a chipmunk or a bird, I have no comment.
At one point I looked left toward Batya while holding a sandwich in my right hand. I felt something brush against my right hand, and when I turned to look I saw a gray jay land a few feet away with a piece of bread in its mouth. The robber had taken a bite out of my sandwich! Batya was very amused.
1:56 p.m.: We continued on, still enjoying views of the mountains:
2:07 p.m.: Notchtop Mountain at right:
2:11 p.m.: A view of a very steep talus/scree slope:
2:12 p.m,: I pose beside the trail:
2:14 p.m.: A stitched panorama:
2:17 p.m.: And an even wider stitched panorama:
2:18 p.m.: After hiking west for around 4.0 miles, we were up to 10,600′ elevation. The trail then made a hairpin turn to the north, skirting the left side of Joe Mills Mountain. Odessa Lake came into view:
2:21 p.m.: Batya poses with Notchtop Mountain behind her:
After about 0.6 miles of traveling north, we reached the 0.1-mile long side trail that leads to Odessa Lake.
3:04 p.m.: Batya poses beside the outlet stream of Odessa Lake. (This outlet from Odessa Lake runs northeast to Fern Lake, and then the outlet from Fern Lake runs northeast to Fern Falls. The outlet from Fern Lake is called Fern Creek, and National Geographic’s map suggests that this upstream segment between Odessa Lake and Fern Lake is also called Fern Creek.):
3:13 p.m.: We reached Odessa Lake, a very pretty location:
3:36 p.m.: We would have preferred staying longer at Odessa Lake, but still had many miles of hiking left. We thus backtracked on the 0.1 mile side trail. Here I pose on a short bridge:
3:44 p.m.: Batya was having a great time with the beautiful scenery:
Returning to the main trail, we continued to the north for the next 0.9 miles, as the trail began a descent, detouring to the east and then north again to pass Fern Lake.
4:03 p.m.: Fern Lake was also very pretty, though we did not linger here:
After passing Fern Lake, the trail turned to the northeast, with a couple of switchbacks allowing for a greater drop in elevation.
4:58 p.m.: About 1.2 miles north of Fern Lake, we reached Fern Falls, a 60′ waterfall on Fern Creek, at 8800′ elevation.
5:39 p.m.: After another 0.6 miles, we reached The Pool, at 8600′ elevation:
5:54 p.m.: After another 0.6 miles, we passed through Arch Rocks, two huge boulders:
I had believed the hike was about 8.5 miles, and had told Batya that. However, on the hike I began adding up the miles shown on my National Geographic map, and it showed a total of 9.8 miles from the Bear Lake trailhead to the Fern Lake trailhead, where we planned to catch another park shuttle bus that would take us back to the “Park and Ride” lot. Batya took the news in stride.
6:33 p.m.: Almost at the Fern Lake trailhead:
We arrived at the Fern Lake trailhead, which the National Geographic map identifies as a shuttle stop. However, a sign there showed that we had to walk an additional 0.7 miles along a road to reach the shuttle stop. So now our hike was stretched once again, to 10.5 miles. Along the way, we gained 1200′ in elevation, and then descended 2400′ (since the Fern Lake trailhead area was 1200′ lower in elevation than Bear Lake). [Park Service maps do show a lower mileage that is closer to 8.5 miles, so whom should one believe, the Park Service map or National Geographic’s map?]
6:58 p.m.: We finally reached the shuttle bus stop. Before beginning the hike, we had confirmed that the shuttles ran through 7:30 p.m., so we could rely on them to get back to our rental car. While waiting for the shuttle bus, we enjoyed watching a mule deer grazing nearby:
The shuttle bus arrived and we boarded. The bus driver said that there had never been a bus stop at the Fern Lake trailhead, so it’s not that the National Geographic map was simply outdated, rather, it was incorrect.
7:04 p.m.: At one stop, the bus driver pointed out a family of elk, including papa elk . . .
. . . and mamas and baby elk:
Murphy’s Resort asked people to check in by 8:00 p.m. or let them know, so we gave them a call just in case we wouldn’t make that time. But the shuttle bus got us back to our rental car and we were able to leave the park and arrive in Estes Park at 7:50 p.m., checking into our room without delay.