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Finch Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park – Allenspark trailhead, Allenspark CO 8/3/13

7 Aug

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The Finch Lake trail

Starting Elevation: 8526Ft

Highest Elevation: 10,165 ( Total Elevation gain around 1900Ft)

Trail Length:  Officially 8.2 miles but we wandered around the lake a lot so we ended up with 9 miles total, it took us approx. 4 hours total

Trail Uses:  Hiker only

Degree of difficulty: Moderate

Bathrooms: None

Pets:  Not allowed, as this is all in Rocky Mountain National Park

Fees: None at this trail head location(one of the reasons I chose it)

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When I was looking for a hike to hit this weekend, I needed something with some views, around 10K at its highest point and 8-9 miles in length.  I had not yet really dug into my Lakes Hiking book from Colorado Mountain Club and this was a great opportunity to see what it had to offer.   Finch Lake did not disappoint and surprisingly, for none of the reason I initially chose it.

Allenspark Trailhead Parking lot

I was honestly surprised at how hard my hikes had been the week before, I mean I knew it always takes me a minute to re-acclimate when I travel back to sea level but I thought with all I had accomplished so far I would bounce back more quickly.  The blister situation had improved over the course of the week prior but were still a significant issue.  I was pretty depressed about the fact that we were once again starting low to work our way back up to another 14er after finally climbing our fist one just a month earlier.  I manged to get over myself pretty quickly because the fact is, these mountains will be around much longer then I will, but if I don’t take care of me now I won’t get to see as much of them as they invitingly offer up to me each week.

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I got up insanely early Saturday, 4AM, because the weather forecast said that rain chances would increase even earlier then usual, around 11AM, and I wanted to make sure we got to the lake and were well on our return before any hit.  We started hiking at 7AM and while there were a few cars already in the parking lot, we only crossed paths with a few other hikers almost the whole way to the lake.

First Trail Marker

First Trail Marker

Trail Conditions for the 1st .8 miles

Trail Conditions for the 1st .8 miles

The first mile is pretty much through dense forest, in fact maybe the most dense forest I have seen since I started hiking in Colorado.  It was like hiking through a Grimm fairytale.  We met our first trail break at a little under a mile in and stayed left, the trail is really well marked so we had no problems following it correctly to our final destination. As we climbed a little out of the heavy denseness, the views started to show themselves, it was all Mt. Meeker & Long’s Peak on our right just getting better and better as we continued on.

Next trailhead

Trail Conditions for the next mile probably the steepest part of the hike

Trail Conditions for the next mile probably the steepest part of the hike

The views are starting out awesome

The views are starting out awesome

At the next trail break, we took advantage of a little outcropping to get some good pictures of the view, we were 2.2 miles away from the lake.  While we were snapping away, another hiker moved on down the trail we had been on.  At the time we didn’t think much about it, but I have to tell you when we passed him, I got the most creeped out I have ever been on a hike.  There was not really anything outwardly odd about him but what he was putting off just wasn’t right.  I used to be a victim advocate for victims of violent crime and I always listen to my gift of fear, the next 1.5 miles were a blur for me as we huffed and puffed to get as far away from him, as quickly as we could.  At one point I was considering what my options for protection were if attacked.  What changed at mile 1.5 you may wonder….. trail maintenance, there were 3 National Park workers improving the trail.  It was an immediate relief and we never saw the hiker again.

Last Trail break before Finch lake

Last Trail break before Finch lake

Trail Conditions through the burn scar

Trail Conditions through the burn scar

Cool Water crossing before we started down to the lake

Cool Water crossing before we started down to the lake

Yay Trail Maintenance

Yay Trail Maintenance

Already fixed trail

Already fixed trail

As we got closer to the lake, we saw the option to carry on to Pear lake another 2.2 miles ahead.

At Finch Lake

Trail conditions by Finch Lake

Trail conditions by Finch Lake

Since this wasn’t an option for us today, we explored the area around the lake.  It as incredibly marshy and at first the bugs were not really aware of us but then I got one quick bite and that little monster must have rang a dinner bell because I was swarmed and attacked mercilessly. I actually squealed as I ran away from my marshy perch, barely grabbing my pack en route.

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We started seeing more people around the lake coming and going up to either the camp sites or Pear Lake but from what I have read, this is a hidden gem in RMNP and so gets much less traffic then all the other lakes in the park.  It’s true, while we did see an increase in traffic after 9AM, it was one of the lighter trafficked hikes we have done lately.  Plus the no fee entrance was a huge bonus!

We turned around and headed back the way we came.  It was like a brand new trail now that there were more people out an about and we were not trying to get away from  someone.  The surrounding mountains  looked even more beautiful ( if that is possible) on the way back and something had shifted in the atmosphere so that Long’s Peak, Mt. Meeker and their neighbors looked extra close, like we could reach out and touch them close.  I LOVE when that happens.

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We ended up taking almost as long to get back because we stopped a lot to take pictures of all we missed on our rush through mile 1.8-3.5.  We finished up the last little bit as it started to thunder, our timing was almost perfect as the rain started up on our way to Oskar Blues Grill & Brew for our little victory dance.

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This is a beautiful hike and one I know we will likely do again soon so we can see Pear lake.  I also think we are going to start dipping our toes into backpacking and this looks like a perfect trail to test our resolve on.   One of the best things was that we were in Rocky Mountain National Park the whole time without all the RMNP crowds or the fee to get to a trail head and it was breathtakingly beautiful!  As always, my favorite pictures after the directions.

Directions:  From Hwy 66 west into Lyons, At the Y intersection in Lyons, turn left on Highway 7 toward Allenspark. About 18.5 miles turn left on Business Route 7/Allenspark. (Don’t take the first Business Route 7 into Ferncliffe.) 0.1 of a mile, turn right on County Road 90 (just before the post office). Travel 1.5 miles to a fork in the road. (There are several, but stay on the main road) At 1.5 miles, take the right fork, travel 0.1 of a mile to the trailhead on your right. There is a sign that says “Allenspark Trailhead.”

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St. Vrain Mountain Trail, Allens Park CO 6/15/13 – Part 2

20 Jun
Southern view from the summit

Southern view from the summit

Check out part 1 here

When we finally got to the top of St. Vrain mountain, the views were really breath-taking and if the wind hadn’t been so bad we would have spent a lot more time up there.  We knew there was a chance of a storm rolling in so we kept a close eye on the clouds moving our way as the wind actually picked up in intensity.  At one point I seriously thought I was going to get blown over.

Just before I was almost blown over.

Just before I was almost blown over.

We took just 20 minutes of resting at the top and immediately started down.  If I was worried when I was climbing up the summit, going down I was incredibly nervous with how steep it was especially after falling the weekend before on the hike down off of Twin sisters.  Aaron told me to just take my time and follow him as much as I could.  We were also kind of following the couple who was in the wind shelter with us, they mentioned that following the border posts was supposed to be the easiest way down.  We were all of the mind that going down a slightly different way then how we went up might be a better idea and at first it was.

Me going down slowly.

Me going down slowly.

At least the views on the way down were beautiful

At least the views on the way down were beautiful

But we wanted to get around the snow field at the base of the summit climb and from up top it looked possible so we started heading right while they went left.  It took me longer to get down from the summit then it did to go up, for like the first time ever.  When we finally got to the bottom I was thrilled when we saw the trail that goes all the way past the mountain onto other trails and eventually the Continental Divide Trail, it was way south of the where we had turned up the mountain.  As we tried to get around the snow, trees and bushes we were moving downward and further down then we expected.  We weren’t getting any closer to our route down and the snow field was worse in this direction, ie the snow was deeper then we were tall.  We decided that the smart thing to was to get to a trail entrance of the snow field and try to get across it safely to get back on trail.  Neither one of us said anything to the other, but we knew that if one us went through the snow here there wasn’t much we would be able to do to get out or help the other because it was so deep at this part of the crossing.  Needless to say we didn’t take out a camera to capture it all.  We moved quickly and as lightly as we could, in short order we were back on trail.

Now things were changing very quickly, the dark clouds were rolling in fast over Long’s Peak, Mount Meeker, Lady Washington and building in over us while the sun was baking us.  Suddenly Aaron started to slow down and I couldn’t figure out why when he tested his blood, he was pretty low with insulin on board.  This was not a good time to stop and deal with it but we really had no choice, so in between he sugar feeding frenzy I got these pictures of the storm coming in.

Storm starting over Long's Peak

Storm starting over Long’s Peak

The sky closer to us still showing some sun.

The sky closer to us still showing some sun.

He was such a trooper and started moving as soon as he could so we could try to get off the pass before the storm started while I looked for places we could take shelter or at least not be the highest point on the pass.  I was pretty sure we were going to get soaked.  Surprisingly the storm completely passed us by.

We were both spent now 6.5 hours into the hike with more than halfway down still to get through.  We moved slowly but did keep moving, we passed about 6 or 7 groups of hikers just starting up and I bet they were treated to a beautiful sunset.  The snow fields we crossed earlier were melting and much harder to get through the runoff deeper.  Despite all that we were insanely proud of what we had accomplished because it proved to us both that we had come so far from last summer and told us we could do so much more!

There are those moments on the way down where you see stuff you don’t know how you could have missed on the way up, like this:

Nature's flower pot

Nature’s flower pot

And the bottom part of the trail was a bloom with these flowers:

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We were probably about half a mile from the end when came across the final group of hikers we would see.  They casually asked if we had made it to the top we were excited to say yes and then she said so how long did it take you like 2.5 hours, because I have done this before, that’s how long it took me…. I was a little crestfallen when I answered, oh um we started at 8AM ( it was 4PM ) I started making all these excuses as to why we took so long but stopped, who cares how long it took us, we finished and that is all that matters.   We walked up to the parking lot and saw our wind shelter buddies just getting into their car, it lifted our spirits because they needed 8 hours too and were like 15 years younger than us.

Things you should keep in mind when you do this trail:

1. It takes a long time to complete and if you start the same time we did you will be in the direct sun as you climb from the East to the West.  Then when you come back down from the West to the East, the sun is still beating on you be liberal with the sun block and wear a hat.  My sunburned scalp is mad at me.

2. Bring lots of water as we ran out of our 100 ounces just as we walked up to our car. We also always have a water filtration system with us just in case, this is exactly the kind of hike we carry it for.  Plus we always have more water in our car.

3. Brings lots of fuel to keep you going over the course of the whole hike,  we were moving for almost 8 hours straight that is a crazy amount of energy to expend and you need to be able to keep going.

4. know the weather and watch the sky, you do not want to be on the mountain or the pass when weather changes.

Even if the Mountain itself looks too daunting do this hike to the pass, that alone is worth it.  You don’t get the amazing 360 views you can from the top but pass views are spectacular on their own.  Here are the rest of my favorite pictures, I hope one day you find yourself able to try this hike it will be worth it.

South facing view at the summit

South facing view at the summit

Southwest view from the summit

Southwest view from the summit

West view

West view

More West view

More West view

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Northwest View from the wind shelter

Northwest View from the wind shelter

Meadow mountain and Twin Sisters from the Summit

Meadow mountain and Twin Sisters from the Summit

The view to the East

The view to the East

St. Vrain Mountain Trail, Allens Park CO 6/15/13 Part 1

19 Jun
Part of the view at the top

Part of the view at the top

Starting Elevation: 8940ft

Highest elevation: 12, 162 Ft ( With all the snow fields we ended up going for a total elevation gain of 3400Ft)

Trail Length: Officially it is 8.6 miles but going around some of the snow fields and our route up my fitbit said 13 miles. It took us 8 solid hours to complete.

Trail Uses: hikers/ joggers

Degree of Difficulty: Difficult/Strenuous.

Bathrooms: None

Pets: Dogs are allowed on leash only but note that this does cross over to Rocky Mountain National Park at some places and dogs are NOT allowed there.

View to the south at the top

View to the south at the top

We tried this hike about a month ago and the snow won out. Saturday it was much easier and while snow was still a factor, it didn’t stop us from making it to the summit of St. Vrain Mountain. I read about this hike in the Colorado mountain Club Guidebook for the Best Front Range Hikes and when it said 7 hours to do a max of 9.6 miles for both St. Vrain Mt AND Meadow Mountain I figured we should have no problem completing it in less time. Now that I have actually done it, I want to know how someone does this and Meadow mountain in just 7 hours.

It was a pretty amazing hike and I picked a crazy amount of pictures so I have decided to do this one in 2 parts, one on the way up and one for the way down as surprisingly they were 2 very different hikes.

Let’s talk the start and our way up, we got to the parking lot a little later than we planned around 7:45 and started hiking around 8AM. The road from Allens Park to the trailhead does require 4 wheel drive and while there is a parking lot, it is small no more than 8 or 10 vehicles, but you can park on the side of the road leading up to the trailhead. It was almost full when we got there and 2 cars pulled in while we got ready.

ParkinglotTrailhead

The trail itself starts off with a nice steady incline nothing too hard to warm you up. There are some rocks through out the path but initially it doesn’t start out too bad and the weather was perfect high 40’s and not a cloud in the sky. We started peeling off layers pretty quickly, I love that about Colorado 47 feels like 70 and then again so can 90.

Start of the trail

We made it to the Indian Peaks Wilderness sign in a third of the time it took us on our first attempt, which is just under a mile in to the trail.

Entering Indain wilderness

The trail started to get rockier here,while the creek started moving up along the south side of the trail. The nice thing was, no snow in sight and what we learned was that we totally went the wrong way last time. The trail stays pretty close to the creek as it starts to switchback up the mountain and the creek is RUSHING nice and loud from all the snow melt right now.

Lower part of the trail as we got closer to the stream

Outside of the actual summit climb, I would say this is the most steep section of the trail.

At about 2 miles in the views started to really open up all around and while we had some tree cover we were in the sun about half the time. It was really strong and so we slathered on the sunblock early. The snow melt was also interesting in that there were little paths of water working their ways towards the larger creek and often are part of the trail itself.

About 2 miles into the trail on a switchback as we caught a glimpse close to our goal.

About 2 miles into the trail on a switchback as we caught a glimpse close to our goal.

The view at the end of a switchback and the view southeast.

The view at the end of a switchback and the view southeast.

Trail is snowmelt runoff.

Trail is snowmelt runoff.

We did actually have to cross over the main creek but it was at a good spot and then the switchbacks got very long as we crossed over to other side of the valley here the trees started to spread out. We got to our first snow field at close to 3 miles in and it was interesting as we had to start in a runoff path and then climb up on to the field. From there we followed those who went before us to get back on the trail. It was surprisingly easy but a little nerve-racking as we knew it was deepish snow.

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We were making decent time all this way, in fact we did this in less time then it took us to go a mile the first time. The snow fields would slow us down a bit and certainly take more energy but overall they weren’t as bad as what we had been dealing with.

As we started to get closer to the tree line, there were still lots of runoff and I have learned to look behind us often because it is always so beautiful, this time was no disappointment.

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The back the way we came, East - Southeast

The back the way we came, East – Southeast

As we came up to the saddle between mountains, the most spectacular view starting coming into play

Coming to the pass

Coming to the pass

We also now figured out it was Meadow Mountain on our right. In the trail descriptions I could find it is often suggested to hit Meadow Mountain for an extra .6 miles round trip and an extra 400 foot elevation gain and then go onto to St. Vrain Mountain. I had decided that if we had time and stamina we would try this addition on the way back but our main goal was St. Vrain Mountain, mostly because I had read there is no defined path up Meadow Mountain that it would require a lot of bouldering. Somehow I missed that St. Vrain mountain was exactly the same only more than twice the height and distance to cover.

As we passed Meadow Mountain and got to the border of the Rocky Mountain National Park, it was hard not to constantly stare at the amazing beauty of the massive mountains to our right; Longs Peak, Mt. Meeker and Lady Washington as well as the beautiful flowers all along the path, small but plentiful!

Meadow Mountain Behind us.

Meadow Mountain Behind us.

Rocky Mountain National Park Border

Rocky Mountain National Park Border

Us at the border sign very excited about the hike so far.

Us at the border sign very excited about the hike so far.

View from higher up on the pass trail.

View from higher up on the pass trail.

The trail goes from Meadow Mountain over to St. Vrain and at a nice easy incline, when we got to the last the snow field before the final climb the amount of snow and water was amazing. It was not unlike a marsh, Aaron randomly put his pole in a little pool of water only to watch it go down a couple of feet. It was a bit of a shock and really struck home how much we have left to learn about hiking in Colorado.

We followed one pair of hikers through the last snowfield to the base of the summit climb. We saw one lone hiker making his own path down and a couple of snowboarders getting in a run down the large snowfield on the East face of St. Vrain Mountain, all going via different routes. As we approached the end of the snow field, no path was discernible and so Aaron kept the couple a bit head in view and tried to follow where it looked like they might have gone.

Approaching the Boulder field.  It is already pretty steep.

Approaching the Boulder field. It is already pretty steep.

Climbing over the steepest edge of the boulder field

Climbing over the steepest edge of the boulder field and false summit

THe view north as the boulder field ended and we were steps away from the summit,

The view north as the boulder field ended and we were steps away from the summit.

Wind Shelter

Wind Shelter

I can tell you I was pretty stressed the entire climb up and repeatedly thought about asking Aaron to turn around, not because the height bothered me but I was using so much strength to crawl over the boulders and for so long with it getting more steep. At some point I realized that I was trying to give up and convince myself I couldn’t do things like this because of my size, but the truth is I was doing just fine. Yes it was hard and yes I was pushing my limits but I was still ok. Interestingly Aaron was doing the same thing for different reasons but because I kept on following him without complaint he kept on going. When we reached the summit I was so crazy proud of us that I didn’t even care how windy it was getting. We shared the wind shelter at the top with another couple that was so incredibly nice. It took us 4 and half hours to get to the top and probably at least an hour of it for the summit climb alone. We ate some food, took a bunch of pictures and then headed back down. More to come on the way down, but first the directions and a few favorite pictures from the way up.

Directions:

From Boulder, take Highway 36 north until it dead ends. Turn left at the light towards Lyons and continue through the town of Lyons until you reach another dead-end. Turn left onto Highway 7 which will take you through St. Vrain Canyon from Lyons to Allenspark. Upon entering Allenspark, take County Road 107 (ski road) south for about 1.5 miles. At this point, National Forest System Road #116 heads up the hill to your right for about .5 miles to the St. Vrain Mountain Trailhead there is a sign noting the trailhead that way. Parking is limited at the trailhead.

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St. Vrain Mountain Epic Fail- Hall Ranch Park To the Rescue 5/18/13

24 May

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Last week was a perfect week here in Denver, very warm and sunny with the mountains taunting us all week with their insane beauty.  We really wanted to climb up high and see it for ourselves up close, I know it was our naiveté but we made the decision to try another high hike above 10,000 feet and one that was on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park which got twice as much snow as the Continental Divide.  I have been wanting to hike St. Vrain Mountain since last fall and by the time I had the confidence to even think about trying it, winter had settled in.   This was the hike we decided to try on Saturday.  We talked about it all week and so were extra anxious to get started but nervous we wouldn’t get very far.

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We were right to be nervous, it took us almost 2 hours to go just 1.2 miles and the last time I post-holed it was pretty bad, up to my hips and it took me like 20 minutes to get out…. What we did see was amazingly beautiful and just got us excited for when we could actually finish it.  In that 20 minutes of digging me out, we decided that the only way to salvage the day was to get down as quickly as we could and hit Hall Ranch (Hike Details here) which we had passed on the way up to this hike.

Here is the little bit we caught of what we could see of this trail:

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We rushed to the Hall Ranch trailhead deciding to just do as much of the Nighthawk trial as we could and we were kind of excited because the first time we were here it was in the middle of a snow storm so all of our promised views were obscured.

We started at noon and finished at 3:30, the trail had a surprisingly low volume of other hikers.  Which was nice in that it allowed us to cruise up the trail, I think this is the fastest we have ever hiked.  The wild flowers were amazing and the weather was perfect in that is was cool little cloudy but warm enough for us to wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts!

When we got to the top this time the views of Longs Peak, Mt. Meeker & Rocky Mountain National Park were really amazing.  Actually the views all around were amazing.  South, East and North all had different stunning views to offer more than I had hoped for to be honest.

Best view at the top

Best view at the top

Longs Peak & Meeker

Longs Peak & Meeker

In the end we made it exactly to the trail break of NightHawk ( 4.7 miles) and then turned around and headed back.   The whole day of hiking gave us a total hiking of 12 miles with 2300 total feet of elevation gain it was sadly 7 hours of hiking with a 30 minute gap to drive from one trail head to the other.  At first it was a little disappointing to have to turnaround on the first trail, but if I think about where I was 2 years ago or even last year, I never would have made it through one of these trails let alone stopping one after 3.5 hours only to do another one for 3.5 hours.  It felt pretty awesome!

Eastward view about halfway back down

Eastward view about halfway back down

We decided it was a pretty huge win and so celebrated with lunch/dinner at Oskar Blues Grill & Brew.

Here are some of our favorite pictures from the hike!

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