Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado – September 11, 2014

Thursday, 8:27 a.m.: Leaving our room, we discovered that Murphy’s Resort features nice scenery. This view looks toward the east, away from Rocky Mountain National Park. We had an end unit, where the rented silver Chevy Cruze is parked.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Murphy’s Resort

The day before, we drove into the park through the Beaver Meadows entrance, which requires a park entrance fee. This day, we drove into the park at the Longs Peak entrance, and I was surprised that there was no park entrance fee booth. However, this entrance road did not connect to the rest of the park’s road system, but instead only goes to the Longs Peak ranger station and trailhead. Still, the Longs Peak trail is popular, and it appears that visitors can access it without paying a fee.

10:18 a.m.: We arrived at the Longs Peak ranger station and began hiking almost immediately. I noticed that the flag was at half-mast to mark the 13th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. When I was a few minutes into the hike I realized that I should have tried to compose a photograph showing the flag over the ranger station.

Longs Peak ranger station, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Longs Peak Ranger Station

The hike began at 9400′, moving to the northwest through thick forest that was pleasant but not especially photogenic. After 0.5 miles, the trail reached a branch at 9700′, where hikers could if desired continue north on the Eugenia Mine Trail, toward a mine at 9908′. Instead, we continued on the Longs Peak trail, which turned west-southwest.

About a mile into the hike, we passed the Goblins Forest campsite, which must be a spooky place at night.

11:32 a.m.: We saw the first of several cute chipmunks.

Chipmunk, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Chipmunk

11:36 a.m.: The trail was constantly climbing, and here included a few short switchbacks.

Longs Peak trail and switchback, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Longs Peak trail and switchback

12:19 p.m.: About 2 miles into the hike, at 10,600′ in elevation (having gained 1,200′), we stopped for lunch just below the trail crossing of Alpine Creek. While no birds attacked us, a chipmunk watched us from the grass.

Chipmunk in the grass, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Chipmunk in the grass

Alpine creek:

Alpine Creek cascades through the forest, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Alpine Creek cascades through the forest

Lunch finished, we resumed our hike. Here Batya crosses Alpine Creek:

Batya crossing Alpine Creek, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Batya crossing Alpine Creek

While we would be branching off the Longs Peak Trail to go to Chasm Lake (at 11,800′), the Longs Peak Trail continues up to the top of Longs Peak, at 14,259′ the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park. Lightning is a constant hazard up there, and hikers are advised to be well off the peak before noon. Since the distance from the Ranger Station to the peak is 7.5 miles and 4,854′ in elevation, hikers heading to the peak either have to start their hike from the Ranger Station at 3:00 a.m. (and hike very quickly) or they have to hike most of the way the day before and then camp below the peak at the Boulderfield campsite. I doubt I’ll ever make that climb to the top of Longs Peak.

Lightning warning sign on Longs Peak Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Lightning warning sign on Longs Peak Trail

12:35 p.m.: Another adorable chipmunk poses for a photo:

Chipmunk, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Chipmunk

12:44 p.m.: The trail continued climbing in elevation, and the trees became shorter in stature and fewer in number, opening up beautiful mountain vistas.

Climbing above the clouds, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Climbing above the clouds

12:46 p.m.: A panorama of the Longs Peak trail, above the treeline:

Longs Peak Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Longs Peak Trail

1:01 p.m.: By now we were 2.5 miles into the hike, at around 11,000′ in elevation. We were hiking very slowly, perhaps slowed by the high elevation.

Here’s another panorama. Hopefully most of the blog’s readers will have a wide-screen monitor!

Longs Peak Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Longs Peak Trail

1:13 p.m.: Here’s yet another panorama. I was impressed with the amount of red in this photo, as I would have expected only gray and brown rocky soil.

I should mention the weather. It was cool in Estes Park in the morning, in the 40s, I believe, but by the time we reached the trailhead it had warmed up to the 50s. Hiking through the forest was pleasant enough, but above the treeline there were no trees to block the wind. The temperature also dropped and around 1:30 p.m. it began raining lightly, with hail. The day before, we had experienced a bit of hail at Bear Lake. Today, we had even more hail, and I pulled the hood of my rain jacket over my head to protect my ears from being pelted by the hailstones.

Longs Peak Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Longs Peak Trail

1:53 p.m.:  After 3.5 miles of hiking, at 11,525′ of elevation (having gained 2,125′), we reached the intersection of the Longs Peak Trail and the Chasm Lake Trail. The Longs Peak Trail would turn northwest for 1 mile toward Granite Pass, then turn southwest 1.4 mile along the Keyhole Route and then continue south the final 1.6 mile to the top of Longs Peak.

But our objective was Chasm Lake, and therefore we were only 0.7 miles from our destination, which was to the southwest. My National Geographic map cutely shows men’s and women’s restrooms at this spot, but there was only a single (unisex) privy. This had slatted walls which provided privacy, but there was no roof to the facility. There was supposed to be toilet paper, but it had apparently all been used. Luckily, I had a supply in my backpack. The toilet seat was also broken, though there was a functional cover over the toilet. A sign asked people to close the cover when they were finished, as otherwise marmots would climb into the toilet vault. Eww. I was glad there were no marmots in the vault at the time of our visit. — I would not recommend the privy to visitors: if possible, use the real restrooms at the Ranger Station, or below the tree line find a nice wooded area.

2:19 p.m.: The Chasm Lake Trail was only 0.7 miles long, with the beginning portion flat, at around 11,600′. It afforded nice views of Peacock Pool, below the trail at 11,320′.

Peacock Pool, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Peacock Pool

2:24 p.m.: This is Columbine Falls, a waterfall (fed by runoff from Chasm Lake) that feeds Peacock Pool.

Columbine Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Columbine Falls

2:30 p.m.: Speaking of “Columbine,” we happened across an example of the state’s flower, the Colorado Blue Columbine (aquilegia caerulea):

Colorado Blue Columbine (aquilegia caerulea), Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Colorado Blue Columbine (aquilegia caerulea)

2:31 p.m.: A view looking south at both Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls:

Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls

2:32 p.m.: We were too late to see the flowers, but this thistle (possibly a yellow thistle, Cirsium horridulum), was still an impressive sight.

Thistle at Peacock Pool, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Thistle at Peacock Pool

2:34 p.m.: A last view of Peacock Pool, before we continued climbing the Chasm Lake trail.

Peacock Pool, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Peacock Pool

2:38 p.m.: The Chasm Lake trail crossed the small stream flowing from Chasm Lake to Columbine Falls:

Chasm Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Chasm Lake Trail

It was an interesting sensation being above the clouds:

Chasm Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Chasm Lake Trail

We soon reached a sign below a steeper slope with a height of about 150′. While I didn’t take a photo of the sign, I think it said that only climbers should proceed past that point. That seemed odd, as a hike to Chasm Lake is included in at least one book of day hikes in the park. Batya did not want to make that climb, but said that it would be fine for me to continue on my own to reach the lake.

2:51 p.m.: It only took me a few minutes to make it up the slope, rarely having to use my hands. At the top, I took this photo looking back toward Peacock Pool. Batya appears as a tiny red dot leaning against a boulder at the center right, and one can also see a local patrol cabin and a bit of the Peacock Pool.

Chasm Lake Patrol Cabin, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Chasm Lake Patrol Cabin

However, having reached the top of the slope, I still did not see Chasm Lake, only another line of large rocks that required a scramble to pass. The slope may have required hands in a few places, but these rocks were definitely a scramble.

Whereas in the east I am accustomed to trails being marked by blazes, that was not my experience during my week in Colorado. The trails were generally very distinct, well-worn bare paths in an otherwise grassy area, with signposts at intersections. Even above the treeline, we could tell that we were on the path because it was generally more bare than surrounding areas. In a few spots on the Longs Peak Trail we saw cairns, which I believed were placed to help guide the way for hikers during months when there was snow on the ground. But here just below Chasm Lake, I did not see any cairns, and I did not know the best way to continue to see Chasm Lake.

I finally tried moving laterally left and climbing one or two rows of the large rocks, and saw a pair of climbers who were heading in my direction. I asked them and they thought that the best access to Chasm Lake would be if I had moved laterally right before climbing the rows of rocks. I backtracked, coming within sight of Batya, and waving down to her. I was moving very cautiously, as the rain had made the rocks slick. I also carefully chose my path so that if I slipped, I would not fall more than a foot or two. Finally, after being tempted to give up a couple of times, I saw my objective.

3:18 p.m.: Chasm Lake, below Mills Glacier and the east face of Longs Peak.

Chasm Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Chasm Lake

I did not linger, but only snapped a few photos and began retreating. I did not even feel like climbing the remaining rocks to get to the water’s edge. If it had been earlier in the day, and if the weather had been nicer, perhaps I would have done so.

I scrambled over the rocks again, seeing Batya again and waving at her, though I had to continue to move laterally before I reached the spot where I had ascended the 150′ slope. I quickly made it down and back to her.

The rain had become a little heavier and steadier, and it also seemed cooler. We were both dressed in several layers. I had a short-sleeved shirt, with a long-sleeved shirt over that, then my fleece jacket, and then my rain jacket. Batya had a similar number of layers. However, we did not have gloves or earmuffs.

We began our descent, knowing that we were 4.5 miles from the trailhead. When we descended below the treeline, the trees provided a break from the wind, though the temperatures were still lower and dropping. We also discovered that while on the ascent we only encountered rain above the treeline, the ground was now wet all the way back to the Ranger Station. So even though we were now descending and had gravity on our side, we hiked slowly, being careful not to slip on the wet ground.

Batya was a bit concerned about making it back to the car before it got dark (sundown was around 7:15 p.m.), but I had two or three flashlights and was not as concerned. We did in fact make it back to the car right around sundown. When we reached the car, we discovered that the air temperature had dropped to 37°F. We were glad that we had the multiple layers of clothes, and turned the car’s heat on full for the ride back to the hotel.

We agreed this was a beautiful hike of 9 miles and 2400′ of elevation gain and loss, though it would have been nicer without the rain, hail, and dropping temperatures.

Coming next: Our last day of sightseeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

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