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Gem Lake, Estes Park CO; a repeater & the first Girlfriend hike – 6/2/13

5 Jun
Gem Lake

Gem Lake

One of the best parts of moving to Colorado so far has been the amazing friends I have made!  These friends have been a great source of motivation, information and comfort for me.  Because of them I seen such beautiful parts of the state that I may never have adventured too if not for their advice!

Julie was patient and nice enough to take me on one of my first hikes here, one I later used to help me get in some sort of better shape to try hard harder hikes, Deer Creek Canyon ( hike details here).  When I think back to that hike with her, I grimace at what she had to put up with from me and with such good grace!  She has been so encouraging in my pursuit of hiking to healthy and everything I pursue for that matter, not to mention just a great friend to bounce hike ideas off of!

Julie

Karin knows so much about Colorado in general it is staggering, she gave me my second go to hike in the beginning of this journey at White Ranch Park( hike details here)  with the Rawhide trail.  At the time I first started doing it, I thought she considers this easy… note to self never hike with Karin!  But as I have learned to discover, people who live here a long time know what is really hard and what is easy.  She was right, it is now an easy hike for me but 53+ pounds ago, not so much.  She is also my biggest cheerleader every day as I try to live a healthier more active life, she is always bragging on my weight loss to anyone who mentions I look great while she is around.  She helps me stay on track when ever I need a little lift to keep on going.  Everyone needs a Karin in their life….but you can’t have mine!

Karin n view

On this particular hike we were missing our third partner in crime, Carrie, who will be joining us for future hikes but she has been equally important to me and our move here.  She took me out all over the place to do all sorts of different fun Colorado things, introduced me to so many wonderful people and all while laughing and having a  great time! I often remind her that she is the reason I stayed in Colorado and I am thankful every day she helped me through those hard transition times, among other things!!

They have all been extra supportive of my hiking and have actually started asking for my advice on which ones to try.  I was so excited that I begged them to come hike with me so this past Sunday I got to show them a trail they have never tried before.

I took Julie & Karin to Gem Lake (hike details here).  I love this hike because it is the perfect hike to plant the seed of “doing more hikes” with.  It isn’t too long, has amazing views, and it does have a decent climb so it is hard work but the payoff is so worth it!  The day was perfect in terms of weather, close to 70 degrees, sunny and dry which made the sky the best color blue while the clouds were the whitest white!

trail 12

The only down side to the day is that the trail was very crowded, which made pictures a little more challenging and finding a nice spot to grab a snack at the top was harder to come by.

I need to rename this hike as the persuasion hike, because I think it helps in convincing people that Colorado and hiking are awesome!   In fact during our hike on Sunday, it was easy to suggest that we try to get together and do a girl’s hike once a month!  It was a great day with wonderful Ladies!  Now once a month I will share with you our friends hike!  I hope you like the extra hikes!  Now for some favorite pictures.

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Gem Lake -Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes CO 3/6/13 ( Spring Break Hike #2)

16 Mar
Gem Lake

Gem Lake

Gem Lake Trail

Starting Elevation:  7882 Ft

Highest Elevation:  8830 Ft ( Total elevation gain 948 ft)

Trail Length:  According to the map it is 1.8 miles one way to the lake for a total of 3.6.  We did a lot of walking around taking pictures so in the end we had a little over 4 miles on my fitbit.   It took about 2 and half hours for our whole trip.

Trail uses:  Hiker only

Degree of Difficulty:  This one is hard for me to categorize, I would say overall Moderate but the elevation gain is a lot in a short distance and so some parts could be considered strenuous….

Bathrooms:  Yes, at the parking lot/trailhead and then there is a privy not too far below the lake itself.

Pets:  No dogs allowed.

Fees: None

Here we are at the parking lot ready to start the hike to Gem Lake

Here we are at the parking lot ready to start the hike to Gem Lake

When I was looking at different hikes for when Lauren and Anne were here, I wanted something with great views.  Normally I would have taken them to a hike I had done before but at this particular time of year all those great view hikes were probably under quite a bit of snow.  I liked what I read about Gem Lake for different reasons, it was not too long with spectacular views of Long’s peak, Mt. Meeker, the Twin Sisters and the whole town of Estes Park down below along with a nice elevation gain.  The other bonus was that  we had tickets for the ghost hunt tour at the Stanley Hotel later that night so it gave us lots to do in Estes Park.  I have also been wanting to do this hike for a long time but since we have been focused in getting more stamina a hike under 4 miles kept getting knocked off for longer, harder hikes.  My final reason, evil genius plan to make my nieces fall in love with Colorado….

Informational signNo

Lets talk trail, this is a short trail that climbs quickly but has some very well placed straights to catch your breath on with stunning views to admire.  From the parking lot you want to go to the vault toilet and take the path to the right of it, this is the Gem Lake trail it is very easy to follow and is straight in and straight out.   At points there were some stairs to help with the climbing but the path itself is pretty easy.  It actually runs through and along Lumpy Ridge and the rock formations were really neat.

Gem Lake trailheadTrail 1

The best part is that the trail is done in such away that you are always moving towards the next great view and the trail is so easy to follow.  We were lucky to have a pretty nice day, we started out a little chilly but quickly stripped off layers as we went up.

Trail 2A L K at view

One of the things I super love about Colorado is about how beautifully blue the skies get and the day we did this hike they were extra pretty.   After the above picture we climbed at a little steeper pace for just a little longer before it leveled out to where we started entering an aspen grove and some beautiful pine.  But before that grove we came around to the Paul Bunyans Boot, seriously check this out:

The trail as it leveled out and before the boot

The trail as it leveled out and before the boot

Paul Bunyans Boot

Paul Bunyans Boot and Lauren

After this is a great Aspen Grove that my nieces thought looked like it should be in a museum as a perfect depiction of an alpine aspen grove and I had to agree.

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From here it is not far to the lake and the last climb.  The steps could get challenging as there was some with long distances from one step to the next so I think this is where other hikers have decided to classify this as a harder hike but if you take your time getting through it is no problem.  Also there is a privy up here.  Privy’s are so interesting and I encountered one when we hiked Chasm Lake I just want to giggle every time I have to use one because there is barely enough coverage to get your business done.  At least this one was kinda down and behind a huge boulder so you could sort of get off the trail and out of view.  The last stretch of trail was a little in the shade and so snowy but not hard to get up or down at all.

Trail conditions to the lake

From here it is an easy scramble to the lake, which was frozen when we got there but still beautiful and the views around were amazing.

Gem Lake

Gem Lake

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We took a bunch of pictures, pretended to be yeti’s waiting to be spotted laughed a ridiculous amount and then headed back down.  I have to admit hiking with my nieces was so much fun, today’s hike ( post coming) was a little subdued  because we didn’t have their company!  We are already counting down the days until their next visit so we can show them more of beautiful Colorado.  After the directions on how to get to the trail I will put some of our favorite pictures.

Directions: 

This trailhead was relocated to the northwest of the old trailhead, and the parking lot expanded.  The turn-off to the new trailhead is approximately 1/4 mile west of the old Gem Lake Trailhead, on Lumpy Ridge Rd.

From Estes Park, take the US Hwy 34 bypass (the road that goes by the Stanley Hotel). Just west of the Stanley, turn right (north) onto MacGregor Avenue (CR 43). The road makes a hard right at the entrance to MacGregor Ranch, after which it is known as the Devils Gulch Rd. Veer right, and proceed about 3/4 miles to Lumpy Ridge Rd. Turn left onto Lumpy Ridge Rd. The Lumpy Ridge Trailhead and parking area at the end of the road.

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Fun with perspective and Lauren

Fun with perspective and Lauren

Lion Gulch -Homestead Meadows, Lyons, CO 2/17/13

20 Feb
best view from Meadow loop

best view from Meadow loop

Lion Gulch #949 >  Griffith Homestead #979-2> Homestead Meadow Loop #971 > forest Road 120

Lowest Elevation: 7300 Ft

Highest Elevation: 8700Ft ( according to the Nike GSP watch Aaron wears) We think we had a total gain of 2000 ft with the ups and downs.

Trail Length:  The route we took got us 10 miles give or take a little

Trail Uses:  Hiker, biker, Horses, cross country skier

Degree of difficulty:  Moderate due to length and conditions

Bathrooms:  Yes at the trailhead

Pets:  Yes on leash only, and all the dogs were actually on leash which was a first.  This leads me to believe that there is strict enforcement of the rule.

Return trips views

Return trips views

I picked today’s hike from the Falcon Guide – Best Hikes Near Denver & Boulder for the Homestead Meadows hike.   What is really interesting about this particular hike is that the Meadow Loop itself is an outdoor museum that reflects those brave people who took advantage of the homestead act in the 1860’s.  The original hike suggestion has the hiker starting from Hermit Park Open Space which is privately owned and so has a fee associated with going in that way.  It also is not that tough of an elevation gain at just +720 and we didn’t do a tough elevation gain hike last week either, so I started reading as much as I could on the area and my options.  At the end of the hike description are some options and we took one of those which had us starting at Lion Gulch, this gave us an extra 2.1 miles with elevation gain of almost 1400, not counting the numerous ups and downs so it was closer to 2000 feet in total elevation gain.  It was exactly what we needed.

Lion Gulch & Homestead Meadows Information board

Lion Gulch & Homestead Meadows Information board

Map of the Homesteads you can visit.

Map of the Homesteads you can visit.

Our first view of the hike from the parking lot

Our first view of the hike from the parking lot

What is really cool about going this way is that those original homesteaders would use this exact path to go to and from Lyons and/or Estes Park to sell their goods or work.  I know all the trails have great history, but this one really stuck with me for some reason maybe it was their sense of adventure and hope.  It climbs up and over the creek, crossing it about 10 times, maybe more and in some places there is an option between the horse path and hiker path.  I loved this climb, it was constantly changing between challenging and easy both because of the elevation we were gaining and the snow/ice on the trail.

Hiker/Horse trail indicator

Hiker/Horse trail indicator

Starting to get snowy

Starting to get snowy

mostly snow

mostly snow

As we were getting closer to the top of our major climb, we came across the trail’s ice skating rink portion.  It’s not really mentioned anywhere on any hike description and was a surprise to every hiker that had to try to pass, fortunately we had brought our crampons so getting through it wasn’t nearly as tricky for us as it was for everyone else not similarly equipped.  It was our first time using them and man did they rock, going up was easy going while down was just ok.  Fortunately there was a group of scouts who came prepared and I was able to grab their rope before I bit it.  We think it actually prevented a lot of hikers from making it to the meadows above.

Aaron on the ice skating rick

Aaron on the ice skating rink

My turn ice skating

My turn ice skating

This is also where the trail starts to leave the creek with the beautiful tree cover and opens up in the meadows of the Homestead Meadow trails.

Homestead Trails

Homestead Trails

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After walking up to the main trail break we went to our right, to go past the Griffith homestead and then onto the meadow loop.  I would like to say it was all pretty easy to follow by the trail markers alone but it wasn’t, in fact I referred to my hiking book a lot to make sure we were going the right way for the hike we wanted.   Also this loop is not popular in the winter/spring, we had to walk through a lot of snow on the path and ours were often the only and first foot prints.

Trail MarkerMeadow Loop marker

After we went past the Griffith Homestead we started hitting  that snow and then got to use our gators also for the first time too, it was pretty exciting!  It made us feel like we knew what we were doing, well really like Aaron knew what he was doing because I couldn’t get these or the crampons on without his help.   Plus we were the only ones there, we had the whole loop to ourselves and we loved it!

Stove with view

Stove with view

Griffith homestead

Gators

Gators

The loop took us past the Brown Homestead and we could have gone to see the Irvine Homestead which has the most intact buildings on it, but we decided it was getting late, we had already covered 5 miles and needed to make sure that we could handle the return trip.  It gave us a reason to come back again to check out more of the homesteads.  Getting back to Lion Gulch was easier, that trail was well marked…

Lion Gulch #949

Lion Gulch #949

While there are some beautiful views to been seen once you get to the Homestead Meadows, they aren’t totally spectacular.  Strangely though it is now one of or favorites, the whole trail is just beautiful in its composition.  The way it winds along the creek through beautiful lodge pines and Aspens while the tops of the surrounding mountains are constantly peaking through.  It was really motivating and peaceful.  Then the meadows are rich in their feeling of history and perseverance of those brave people.  I have read it is a high traffic trail in the summer and fall, but it was not that crowded this weekend which is probably not when it is at its best but I loved the solitude we got to have while explored.  It is a great trail and I hope I can take more people through there in the future.   I will put our favorite pictures after the directions to the trailhead.

Directions:

From Lyons, take 36 towards Estes Park.  The parking lot and trailhead  are 12.3 miles from where 7 & 36 split right at mile marker 8 on the left side of the road.

The end of the ice is so close....

The end of the ice is so close….

Cool looking tree

Cool looking tree

View back towards Lion Gulch after reaching the next section of trail

View back towards Lion Gulch after reaching the next section of trail

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Chasm Lake Trail, Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park 9/22/12

23 Sep

Chasm Lake ( Long’s Peak Trail > Chasm Lake Trail)

Starting Elevation:  9400 Ft

Ending Elevation:  11,800 Ft ( Total Elevation Gain 2400Ft)

Trail Length:  8.6 Officially (unfortunately we made the mistake of passing the Chasm Lake trail by almost a mile so my fitbit said 12 miles)  We spent probably 6-7 hours total actually walking.

Trail Uses:  Hiker and some horse access only

Degree of Difficulty:  Difficult to Strenuous (mostly due to elevation and the final scramble up to the lake)

Bathrooms:  At the parking lot, and at 3.8 miles at the trail junction and at the base of the scramble up to Chasm Lake although these last 2 are a little interesting.

Pets:  None Allowed

Last week when we reached the summit of Twin Sisters, one of the hikers up there mentioned that if Longs Peak wasn’t in our future we had to at least check out Chasm Lake which is just below diamond of the Peak.  The other challenge we discussed was getting to see a sunrise at one of our summits.  We only have a few more chances to get some higher altitude hikes in before the weather changes  and this sounded like the perfect one to try next.  Add to that, the parking challenge at Longs Peak it was also the right one to try to summit by sunrise.   So we set our alarm for 2AM and struggled to get any sleep like kids on Christmas Eve.

We got to the trailhead at 4:15 AM and in a pretty decent sized parking lot, there were only 5 or 6 spaces left and the cars were steadily coming in.  I had read about this parking situation everywhere, Long’s Peak is a highly desirable 14ner  to bag and at 7 miles to the peak those trying to meet the challenge get there early.  We were the only hikers who just wanted to get to Chasm Lake by sunrise so the pictures of the trails  were taken on the way down.

The Trail itself is not really too difficult, it has a nice steady grade all the way up  some rocks and steps to help with the climb.  It starts at the Ranger station where you have to register with your trip details; destination, party size and when you started and expect to be back down.  We did have to wear headlamps and it was cold, about 30 degrees so we were bundled up.  It was weird and exhilarating to start hiking this early, the stars were so bright and it seemed like they were just getting closer and closer to us as we climbed.  Since it was our first time on the trail, we didn’t know what we weren’t seeing either so it was all headlamps of other hikers and just path below our feet.  The first trial junction comes up quick, just .5 miles in go straight(left) or right, stay straight(left) to Chasm Lake:

At about 2 miles in we were getting close to the tree line and the Alpine tundra:

Past this sign there is a footbridge to cross over the falls/stream.  I am actually really proud of our progress, after just 30 minutes to acclimate to the altitude we started really moving trying to get to our summit as the sun was rising but in the end we were too slow, we reached the next trail junction in a little over 2 hours and the sun had just risen.  There is a privy here to the left and by privy, they mean a very short walled box with an outhouse vibe so you are head shoulders in view of everyone coming by ….or waiting their turn… or checking out the view.   There is then a simple paddock,signage with 2 trail options, one to the left and one to the right, GO LEFT.  We messed up here, twice!  Our maps were simple and misleading we initially started left but looked at the maps and decided it must be wrong so we turned around starting up the Longs peak trail.  About 20 minutes up that way I finally pulled my book out and read through it and saw the error  of just consulting the map.  Back down we went.

The trail goes down passing Peacock lake and Columbine falls.  The stream feeding those falls continues across our path  on a ledge, then up the side of  where we had to go to get to Chasm lake.

 

The scramble

And then we were there:

We had some lunch, well whatever meal it would be at 9 AM when we woke up at 2….  We relaxed there for an hour before we headed down taking pictures like crazy.  It was so beautiful up there and peaceful, it seemed like maybe the scramble kept many hikers at bay.  This is a busy trail especially on a beautiful day with no threat of storms, which is perfect for such a hike!  Plus with all the Aspens changing colors the golds mixed in with the green was stunning!  The only down side of the endeavor was that we have all this haze in the air from fires to the west and northwest of us so all the other ranges were obscured in the haze.  After the directions I will post some more of our pictures from the hike

Directions:

From Denver take 36 through Boulder and then on through Lyons.  In Lyons you will have highway 7 ( left lane) meet up with 36 (right lane), at the stop sign go left onto 7 and take it for 24.6 miles to the junction of Longs Peak Area and mile marker 9, turn left onto Longs Peak and drive 1.1 miles to the parking lot at the rangers station.  The trailhead is to the South of the Rangers station.

Twin Sisters Trail, Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park 9/16/12

16 Sep

Twin Sisters Trail

Starting Elevation:  9200 ish Ft

Final Elevation:  11400 ish Ft ( total gain in Elevation of 2200Ft)

Trip Length:  7.2 miles is what I found officially everywhere…My fitbit tracked just over 9 miles but we wandered a lot for pictures.

Trail Uses:  Hiker only mostly, there is limited Horse access.

Degree of DIfficulty:  Moderate to Strenuous due to elevation gain, high altitude and the steady incline for the entire way up.

Bathrooms:  None on the trail or at trailhead .  Lilly Lake has one, although we didn’t find it but due to taking the scenic route to the trail ( we got lost) we didn’t look very hard.

Pets:  None allowed

Ok we picked this one solely on the fact that Fall/winter is coming and we have a short window left to keep trying these higher altitude hikes before the weather makes them too dangerous or beyond our skill level.  I found it in this book ; A Falcons guide  Best Hikes Near Denver & Boulder.   It said the hike was a good one for amazing views and it was so right!  The views at the top were indeed amazing in all directions!  So worth doing if you can!

We started at 8:30 and it took us a solid 5 hours round trip, about 2:48 going up and 2 -ish going down.

The trail is initially marked very well, but there are no other trails that will cross your path.  That means there is then no other signage but the path is obvious.

It is a nice sized path, big enough that you could easily pass other hikers if necessary.  It is a rocky path with a steady incline almost the whole length of the trail one way to the summit(s).

We pushed ourselves a little harder at the beginning in hopes of getting to the summit faster than the past 2 weeks of high altitude hikes.  But with a gain of 2200 feet over the course of 3.5 miles, the incline kept us pretty slow going.

It is mostly shady  throughout the lower part and you get peeks of Long’s peak and its brothers and sisters all around.  At around a mile in, there is a nice clearing and you get an unobstructed view of Longs peak in all its glory:

The next mile and half is a lot of the same, lodge pole pine and peeks of the mountains…lots of heavy breathing and the body check by those hikers passing by.  For the 3rd week in a row I was chubbiest hiker on the mountain, oh well I am doing it!  As we got closer to the top, there were more and more Aspens showing up and they were in full fall beauty all golds and stunning.

From this point, the trees started to thin and we moved from Rocky Mountain National Park to Roosevelt National Forest.  There is a small break from all the switchbacks here and a little leveling off, but it doesn’t last long.  All too soon you are back to  the “twisted” part of twin sisters and switch-backing it again. When you finally break through to the last bit of climb to the saddle, it is hard to keep your footing….not because of the path, but because the views are non stop amazing.  I know I would have moved faster if I had blinders on, but really this is why I am doing the hike  in the first place.  It was simply stunning the whole way up.

When we came on the final ascent, it looked like a scramble but it wasn’t that hard really. The path is easy to follow and not very difficult, we actually just held our poles up to save time.  I proud to say my extra conditioning this week helped with the pole thing, they were not nearly as difficult to deal with this morning as they were last Saturday!   Plus you fly through the final ascent, we saw groups ahead and behind the whole way and they speed in which we met each other was surprising.  Everyone was so happy too and I get it now, it is satisfaction of making it up to the top to really see it all.

At the saddle you have a couple of choices, you can do both peaks easily if you want. The East one on your left is the higher of the 2 by just a few feet.  The west one has a very easy path up and passed the Building/solar panels on your right.  Straight head is a 3rd peak, I have read a couple of things about this peak….it is unidentified mostly but one webpage said it was the actual peak named Twin Sisters and to get to it requires serious climbing gear and skills.  The east peak has no defined path and is only a few feet higher than the west peak… but will take some solid bouldering skills so we picked the west peak.

Around the building and up is a slight scramble, so easy compared to Upper Mohawk Lake.

At the top it really astounding and I feel like I say it all the time, but this is another reason I love Colorado.  All the trails we have done are stunning, I am starting to think this is heaven on earth!  I keep waiting for a bad one, but this wasn’t it.  The weather is really tricky here, we picked a perfect day today and had great weather, but it is always windy at the top of Twin Sisters.  With all high peaks, there is a threat of a storm moving in after noon so go early.  Check the weather and be prepared!  On this particular peak if a storm moves in lightning is your greatest threat so be smart.  The mountain will always be there, turnaround if the weather changes and don’t take chances.  

It is a straight in and out trail, we turned around and went back down after lots of pictures, I will put the directions after some amazing shots!

Directions: From Denver take 36 through Boulder and then on through Lyons.  In Lyons you will have highway 7 ( left lane) meet up with 36 (right lane), stay right on 36 to Estes Park for about 21 miles.  Take Colorado Highway 7 south from Estes Park about 6 miles to Lily Lake Visitors Center, on the east side of the highway. Follow a short gravel road to the left of the visitor center 1/4 mile to the trailhead. Parking is limited, additional parking is available at the visitor center.