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Deer Mountain, RMNP Estes Park CO, Hiked 7/19/14

21 Nov

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Starting Elevation:  8930 Ft

Highest Elevation:  10,013 Ft ( A total Elevation gain of almost 1100 Ft)

Trail Length: 6 miles – it took us 3ish hours but we did spend a lot of time on the summit.

Trail Uses:  Hiker & Horses ( but no horses allowed on the Summit spur)

Degree of Difficulty:  Moderate

Bathrooms:  There are bathrooms at the visitors centers there was nothing near the trail head

Pets:  No this is Rocky Mountain National Park and no Dogs allowed

Deer Mountain trail sign

I am so sorry at how long I have been away.  I will have to catch you all up soon, I can tell you that I have had just a few breaks in hiking but have been mostly hiking every weekend.  I want to get out those new trials I did while away and then one big summary of some amazing days out on the trails between then and now.  First Deer Mountain!

Wow it has been a long time since I hiked this one, I almost forgot what it was like!  I did it the weekend after I had company in town so I wanted something that challenged me but was not too much, because when my company was here we had done 3 tough hikes in just 5 days.  I was wiped when we hit this trail.

This hike was exactly what I needed as it has great views all the way up of the mountains that make up Rocky Mountain National Park. But there was this weird haze in the air we hoped would burn off but only ended up getting worse.  We speculated that it was from that horrible fire in California this summer.

The trail head is right off Trail Ridge Road and there is literally a little bit of a wide shoulder for maybe 6 cars to park.  You can park along the road in some places near here, but get there early if you want a parking spot at any of them.  There are also shuttle parking lots at the various gates and you can take a shuttle to so many places in the park so you don’t have to worry about finding parking.

We got there around 7:30 and just barley nabbed a spot.

We got there around 7:30 and just barely nabbed a spot.

The trail starts out super wide and very well maintained, the whole trial was very well maintained and we even talked to a couple of Park rangers we passed while hiking.

Start of the trail

Start of the trail

First trail marker

After a decent climb, while the stellar views just started opening up all around us we got the Switchback part.  Sadly the haze in the air made it hard to get any really great pictures.  I actually gave up taking them because there was no depth but we stopped a lot just to ohhhhh and ahhhh.  It doesn’t take too long to start the switchbacks up the to flat before the summit.

The views were everywhere

The views were everywhere

Starting up the switchbacks

Starting up the switchbacks

Then towards the end of the switch backs

Then towards the end of the switch backs

There were a lot of switch backs on this one and it was a strange struggle that day.  I am not sure if it was the altitude or exhaustion from the few days before with my guests in town, but it took me time to get up this part.  I would not say it is particularly hard but that day for me it was.

Once we turned the corner of the last switchbacks we reached a nice flat that felt like it went on forever but was probably more like a quarter of mile maybe half a mile before the final summit climb.  The summit climb sign made us want to come back and do the rest of the trail back to Estes just to see what is was like.

The summit climb Summit climb conditions

It was just a short steep climb to the summit, and then WOW!  Such an amazing payoff so quickly!

The Summit

The Summit

I will tell you we hung up there as long as we could before more people started showing up.  I think we got a solid 25 minutes up there just to take it all in.  It was lovely.  The hike back down was crowded…. and it was just around 10AM.  I cannot imagine what kind of traffic this trail gets throughout every summer day, but I can tell you I was glad we got there early and had it mostly to ourselves.

If you ever find yourself in Rocky Mountain National Park and you want a great view payout without a ton of effort this is the hike for you.  Of course there are so many great trails in the park but I really liked how this one was both a nice work out with great payout.  There were views in every direction and of the almost the whole park. After the directions will the be the few goodish pictures I took while at the top.

Directions:    The Deer Ridge Junction Trailhead is located 3.05 miles west of the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station along Trail Ridge Road (Highway 36). The trailhead is located on the north side of the road at the Trail Ridge Road – Highway 34 split. There is no designated lot, but roadside parking is permitted. Parking is limited.

View of Estes Park from the Summit.

View of Estes Park from the Summit.

View looking south towards Long's Peak

View looking south towards Long’s Peak

The view West-ish

The view West-ish

Looking North was a little obstructed

Looking North was a little obstructed

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TrailRidge Road Hike/Snowshoe RMNP, Estes Park CO hiked 4/5/14

12 Apr

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There is a Facebook Page called Enjoy Estes Park and every Thursday they run a contest for an all expenses paid trip to Estes Park, free lodging, free meals, Free beer and wine, free snacks throughout the day, free rental of sporting goods and they even gave us money to spend in some of the stores in town.  They started doing it in October and it runs for 36 weekends through May.  They start every Thursday then pick someone by Saturday night for 2 weekends ahead.  2 weeks ago I won!  So this past weekend we had a fun weekend in Estes.  I wasn’t sure with all we had to do for free that we would get in time for hike or snowshoe but we did.

Saturday was crazy beautiful when we woke up at 6AM…. I was determined to get in a hike or snowshoe!  What was not so great… the headache and disconnected head I woke up with.  I will admit I still thought this was my crown work at this point since it had been hanging around all week at weird times.   I am not one to give into things like this when I have so much planned and like so many before me, I just pushed through…..

Driving into RMNP

Driving into RMNP

As we drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park ( after our free breakfast) I saw views I had never seen before, as I have reflected on this shock of awe it occurred to me that every time I have actually entered the park it has been cloudy, snowy or stormy.   I think if had seen the views I saw last Saturday I would have been in RMNP more frequently before now.  I have to be honest here, I didn’t want to leave….like EVER.

It took us almost an hour to get to the Trail Ridge Road parking lot and trail( Snowshoe details here) because we kept stopping to take pictures. I figured that we could hit this trail again and see what it looks like outside of a snow storm, assuming there were views.

When we pulled up to the parking area, I was still not feeling so hot and I seriously chalked it up to poor sleep and the crown.  So we climbed up on one side of the parking area to get this shot, I figured it was just exhaustion.

parking lot

We scouted out the trail and saw it was all straight ice and decided that we didn’t need to bring our snowshoes, but if I was honest with myself I knew I couldn’t carry the snowshoes  anyway.  We started hiking up the road and the views were amazing!

rounding the first corner up the road

rounding the first corner up the road

how the Road/trail looked

how the Road/trail looked

Views before the Snow

Views before the Snow

It was pretty much after this turn that I checked out….. that disconnected head thing that happens when you have a head cold, well I was there. The views were crazy amazing and I was loving them but I was also out of touch….

view

Hidden Valley

Hidden Valley

same view 2 weeks earlier

same view 2 weeks earlier

Looking forward

Looking forward

We walked for about a mile and then all the sudden the snow was deep, and us with no snowshoes… the good or bad of it was, I was completely oblivious and just kept following Aaron.  He was following other footprints so I didn’t care much about our direction and then the other foot prints were  gone … I still didn’t care much I just had my head down thinking-> put one foot in front of the other.

hmmmmmm snow

hmmmmmm snow

As we moved forward, I was fighting with myself the whole way thinking WTF this is cake why am I struggling> get over the stupid tooth thing already ….. while Aaron was moving forward on 2-5 feet of snow with no input from me.  He did awesome, as he always does, but about a quarter to half mile into the snow the tracks we and been following turned around while we kept going.

Looking Back

Looking Back

It was both cool and foggy as we went forward, I completely figured out the snowshoe trail I could not see the last time.  The hard route from Hidden Valley to Trail Ridge Road > Can you see it?

Hidden Valley to trail ridge road

Hidden Valley to trail ridge road

As we were moving through this last little bit I realized I was totally sick…. its not the tooth.

just us

At one point Aaron turned around and said what do you think, I just stared at him and said whatever…. he knew >I had the sick face…. so he said check the time we still have a lot of awards to get.  Sure enough it was 11 and we needed to turn around.  It was then that I realized I was totally sick. For the record it only took me 20 minutes more to voice it….

The drive out was both beautiful and painful….. I never wanted to leave, I was so excited about our prizes AND completely sick…..  We stopped at every awe point and took pictures, we went into town and celebrated our wins, we left early the next morning and I spent the next 36 hours in bed.

I had a crazy good time in Estes Park despite my illness, I loved seeing Trail Ridge Road without a storm, I loved driving through RMNP with moody weather and skies.   I loved going through town and gathering our prizes…. What I didn’t love  was, was being sick the whole time.  Either way we got some good pictures…..

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still pretending on the drive out with crazy beautiful views

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Great view…. pretending to not be sick

 

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park( RMNP)- Estes Park CO- Snowshoed 3/22/14

28 Mar

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Starting Elevation:  somewhere in the mid 9000’s

Highest Elevation: A little over 10,000 Ft- our watch that gives us the elevation is no longer working so this is a guestimate.

Trail Uses: Snowshoeing and Cross Country Skiing Winter only trail as it is an actual road in summer.

Trail Length:  5.5 miles Round trip but this can grow and shrink based on conditions. We did a little over 6 miles, it took 3.5 hours.

Degree of Difficulty:  Easy to Moderate

Bathrooms: None at the road closure so hit one of the visitor centers just outside the park.

Pets: No pets allowed in RMNP

Fee:  Yes $20 per car a day OR $40 for annual pass with unlimited RMNP access – we have the pass

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I have been trying to figure out the balance when it comes to snowshoeing, is more mileage better or steeper trails?  Since last week we did a steeper trail with low mileage that felt good and maybe a little too easy.  I decided this week would be better to up the mileage and keep the incline low, I was also secretly hoping we might get some magic timing again like last week and catch  the amazing views that Trail Ridge Road is supposed to have.   Once again the weather forecast was snowy…snowy the day before, through the night and all day Saturday and it truly was.

We were just outside of the Park when we came across 2 large groups of Elk.

elk Lots of elk

The roads were not great and the snow was pretty thick at times, so it was no surprise that when we pulled into the area cleared for parking at the road closure we were the only ones there.

Parking lot Start

Trail Ridge road is open through the summer and is closed in the winter months until the snow is no longer an obstacle.  It goes over the Continental Divide in RMNP and in the winter is used as a great way to snowshoe or cross-country ski with amazing views, wicked wind and a certain level of security in that it is impossible to get lost.   Since it was pretty obvious the snow had no intention of stopping, we were confident that there would be no views.  We just got our snowshoes on and started moving and at first it was decidedly….hard.  Not just because we were the first people out there in a while, but likely the altitude played a factor too.  Oh and maybe the fact I overdressed.

looking back after the first quarter mile

looking back after the first quarter-mile

I am always amazed when I do a trail for function then get transfixed by the unexpected beauty.  The snow made any views of the surrounding mountains impossible, occasionally we would catch hints of them but the snowy landscape itself was just lovely.  The bonus of this particular snow storm was that the wind wasn’t all that bad so no wicked wind to make us miserable.

It wasn’t too long before we got to the overlook near Hidden Valley which used to be a ski resort, in fact  my sister learned to ski there, but now it is all closed down and its own snowshoe/winter fun route.  You can make a difficult adventure loop by starting at either Trail Ridge Road OR Hidden valley then climb/descend to the other location.   I have to be honest, staring over the edge at Hidden Valley I have no idea how you do the loop.  Perhaps taking the road all the way around to that main run?  I didn’t get a good shot of it to even let you all hypothesize with me.

Enjoying a brief views of Hidden Valley

Enjoying a brief views of Hidden Valley

At this point on the road the snow was not very deep and we actually almost took off our snowshoes for fear of ruining the metal spikes on them.  When we turned the corner up ahead it was crazy deep again, so deep we could no longer go side by side.  We took turns breaking trail to help us keep some strength in reserve just in case we went further than we originally planned.

Looking up ahead to where the snow gets deep.

Looking up ahead to where the snow gets deep.

We went along the road for about 3 miles and had it all to ourselves the whole way.  We decided to turn around when we got to this sign, for the record the snow wasn’t this bad the whole way it was a just well-timed gust of wind.

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Looking at our single track

Looking  back at our single track

Breaking trail

Breaking trail

All together we got a little over 6 miles from the snowshoe and maybe 600 feet of elevation gain.  Breaking trail was great exercise, after just 3 miles my legs were solidly tired, it was nice to turnaround and head back to the car.  We saw some people on the way back, I think we passed maybe  6 or 7 total the whole snowshoe, all of them taking advantage of the trail we broke.

I have to be honest, I cannot wait to get back to this trail and try it again with a clear sky, the few hints of mountains we saw through out our snowshoe looked amazing!  I would also like to go further than we made it last week.  We didn’t get a ton of pictures because the snow was so heavy I was worried about hurting my new Nikon.  After the directions will be a very few of our favorite pictures.

Directions: Taking 36/66 through Ester Park, at the 3rd light along main street there will be signs for the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and RMNP, turn left.  Once you cross into the park, stay straight then take this road for about 8 miles to the road closure sign.   You will pass the Hidden Valley snow park on your right before the road gets curvy( hairpin turns) and then you will be at the road closure.

being artsy

being artsy

Cool Tree

Cool Tree

Best View

Best View with a little moisture on the lens

Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes – RMNP – Estes CO, Snowshoed 3/15/14

21 Mar
Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake

Nymph Lake > Dream Lake > Emerald Lake

Starting Elevation: 9400 ft

Highest Elevation: 10,100 ft

Trail Uses: hiking, snowshoe, cross-country skiing, hike in ski out…. anything with skis….

Trail Length: Officially 3.8 miles, we walked around Emerald and Nymph lakes a lot so we got around 4.5 miles for the day… it took us 3 hours although we did spend 30 minutes at Emerald lake in awe.

Degree of Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Bathrooms: Yes in the parking lot

Pets: No- No pets allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park

Fees – Yes $20 per car a day OR $40 for annual pass with unlimited RMNP access – we have the pass

Looking back at Emerald Lake

Looking back at Emerald Lake

I have to tell you that I have been getting humbled by our snowshoes and how these shorter distances kinda kick my butt.  With that said I picked this easier snowshoe in Rocky Mountain National Park ( RMNP) in hopes that if I try something a little easier I won’t feel so defeated at the end.  It is short and the elevation gain is minimal.

As we were driving into the park, we were lucky enough to catch these Elk battling it out.

elk

We pulled into a huge parking lot that was quickly filling up at Bear Lake.  If this lot is full, they suggest parking at the Glacier Gorge parking lot and walk up from there.  I was impressed with how many people were out there given it was St. Paddy’s day weekend and the weather forecast was questionable.  The weather was supposed to be exactly like our first snowshoe at Mills Lake via Glacier Gorge, snowy with a lot of wind.  I had already made peace with the fact that I would not get any views just some experience and work on my leg strength with those snowshoes on. Getting out the car I was not surprised by our view.

parking lot view

Parking lot view

There are 2 options at this parking lot… well a lot more than 2 but for snowshoeing you had Bear lake, which is a 1 mile loop around Bear lake Or the 3 lakes we were going to that day; Nymph, Dream & Emerald. We took the path kinda up the middle and to the left of Bear Lake.  It is not far to Nymph lake, in fact maybe a half a mile and the path was hard packed we didn’t have our snowshoes on but carried them instead.  It was not super steep but we did climb up to the lake.  It was snowing even harder upon our arrival then when we started.

trail break 1 emerald lake sugn trail break 2

Trail Conditions to Nymph

Trail Conditions to Nymph

 

When we got there I realized I had left my directions in the car and so we started going the wrong way. I should have just looked for the hard packed trail but there was a large guided group there as well and it threw me off.  We went right and the snow felt lass hard here so I put my snowshoes on.  That’s when we saw everyone going left along the lake so we turned around and followed them up.  For the record I didn’t need my snowshoes for this portion either and really I could have gone without them until Emerald lake where I was actually out on the lake adventuring around.   It was kind of steep going up this section, I would say the most steep of the whole snowshoe and it was busy!

Nymph Lake

Nymph Lake

Views on the way to Dream Lake

Views on the way to Dream Lake

When we got to Dream Lake, I was once again confused by where to go.  There is a clear path off to the left but it must go up to other options, we decided to stay straight and cross over dream lake hoping to get to Emerald lake.  I was so consumed to see where everyone else was going that I failed to notice it was starting to clear up.  We thankfully crossed the path of another snowshoer who said we were on the right track for Emerald Lake and so we continued on.

Dream Lake Looking towards Emerald Lake

Dream Lake Looking towards Emerald Lake

Me on Dream Lake

Me on Dream Lake

It was not far to this last lake with some more climbing, a little over half a mile.  As we got a little higher, the sky lit up in the best blue while clouds moved around the peaks surrounding the lake.  It was amazing!  When we got to Emerald Lake Aaron put on his snowshoes while I ran out on to the lake to try to capture the views as best I could before we lost them again.  Honestly I could have stayed there longer it was so beautiful. The best part is we had it mostly to ourselves.

Trail Conditions going towards Emerald Lake

Trail Conditions going towards Emerald Lake

Skies opening up

Skies opening up

Almost to Emerald Lake

Almost to Emerald Lake

We spent about 30 minutes ohhhing and ahhing before heading back.   It was a slow start back because I kept turning around to enjoy the views before they were gone.  By the time we got back to Dream lake the clouds had moved back in, while the crowds were on the move to Emerald lake.  We passed so many people on the way down.

On Emerald Lake

On Emerald Lake

Overall it was a great snowshoe!  I would love to take visitors here so they could see the amazing beauty for themselves.  I  know I will be back in the summer, there is another lake to check out and so much to see, all off this parking lot.  I couldn’t believe how lucky we were in terms of our timing, it made me want to get back there as soon as I could!

Since the snowshoe was on the easier side, we got out on Sunday and did 7 miles at Deer Creek Canyon which is a muddy, snowy, icy mess right now.  It was a good workout.   After the directions will be some of my favorite pictures from the day.

However your week is going, find some time and get out there and hike!

Directions:  From Estes Park stay on 66/36 through town, at the 3rd light in town, turn left and follow the signs to the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station entrance into the park. There is a fee to enter the park through this entrance.
Shortly after passing through the Beaver Meadows fee station, turn left onto Bear Lake Road. Take Bear Lake Road until it dead-ends into the Bear Lake Trailhead area. If parking is unavailable at Bear Lake, it is possible to park at the Glacier Basin area and take a shuttle to Bear Lake.

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One side of the lke Ice falls views on the way  down Beautiful

We caught this one on the drive out of the park

We caught this one on the drive out of the park

Mills Lake via Galcier Gorge RMNP Snowshoed 2/8/14

12 Feb
Mills Lake is just over there... trust me

Mills Lake is just over there… trust me

I know I usually start with all the details of a new hike but this snowshoe was not what I expected, instead it was everything I could have hoped for and more.  Because of that I have no hard facts and no path to tell you to follow but I can tell you I am totally in love with snow shoeing and even purchased some snowshoes this week….just waiting for them to arrive.

these signs are usually about chest high in the summer. We are almost walking on it

these signs are usually about chest high in the summer. We are almost walking on it

On the way up we were hardly on a path… we broke our own trail and eventually made our way up to Mills Lake in Glacier Gorge.  The weather was terrible, heavy snow and the wind just got worse the higher up we climbed but I still had an amazing time! The best part about the snowshoe was the guides and their comfort with the area, with that knowledge they said we could pretty much explore where ever we wanted and let me tell you it got pretty creative.  If I was honest with myself,  I was ok with this approach  because the weather was so bad that there were no views to see anyway, but on a nice day this might have been a little bit of a bummer as I have read that this trail has amazing views!

The view as we went off the winter trail

The view as we went off the winter trail

I think originally the plan had been to sort of follow the summer trail to Mills Lake, we wove in and out of huge drifts of snow and along a creek bed until we eventually came to the Alberta Falls, which were of course covered in lots of snow.

looking back

Once we got past the falls we crossed over the creek a few times until one of our group broke through the ice and soaked her foot.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal except she had on gym shoes…. yep she wore gym shoes to snowshoe in even after the email and phone call the day before said how important waterproof boots were.   To make it worse, for whatever reason she insisted on breaking trail… in gym shoes and the guides were not going to fight with her so they gave general directions and told her to just have fun with it.   Needless to say after they got her out of the creek, into dry socks and caught back up with the rest of us, we had gone pretty far afield of the summer route.

Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls Somewhere over there

Again not a problem, as they just took the lead and got us back on track, we did everything you could hope to do in snowshoes during this correction path and it was so fun.  We climbed up steep inclines, through thick trees and around massive boulders, I fell a lot but it wasn’t a big deal because it was in like 6 feet of snow so no injuries!

Leaving Tracks

Leaving Tracks

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As we got closer to the lake, the wind and snow really picked up intensity it was pretty much like walking in a blizzard.  One of the guides knew of a great spot for the fondue across the lake… like walking across it…. so we snowshoed across Mills lake and had a lovely fondue out of the wind while watching it whip around the lake with a crazy amount of snow.  Did I mention it wasn’t supposed to really snow at all on Saturday, maybe an inch at most?  On Monday I read the park itself got around 35 inches of snow, most of that was on Saturday.

These guides were quick in getting the fondue together, it was simple but delicious and ready in like 5 minutes.  We had been snowshoeing for 4 hours before the fondue and everyone was spent but exhilarated.   When we had all had our fill, they asked us if we wanted to go straight down or take the longer way down.  If it had been different weather I know I would have gone longer but it was wicked windy and the snow was very heavy at this point, as a group we agreed fastest way down was best.  We took the winter route back down which gave me great comfort in terms of our first solo snowshoes that we certainly have in our future. How awesome is it that the guides were completely ready to take us out for as long as we wanted? An hour later we were back at our cars and heading home.

On the way back

On the way back

on the way back view 4

I will tell you the weather could have made this a miserable experience but the guides were so great, laid back and engaging, it kept everyone’s attitude happy and fun.

Here are the details behind the trip,  this was a groupon that I got for a day long guided snowshoe with fondue and cider lunch.  It included the snowshoes and poles all for $98, the additional cost was  tipping the guides and the $20 fee daily car fee to get into Rocky Mountain National Park (OR you can pay $40 for annual pass to the park,  I bought the pass,) I can see us spending a lot of time in Rocky Mountain National Park this year so it was a good investment!  Normally the Day long guided snowshoe with fondue and cider is $399 per person.

It was run through Apex Ex , they do all sorts of Mountain activities and adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I was very leery of how it may turn out as I always am a little fearful of groupons, but I cannot convey strongly enough how truly awesome our guides were.  I don’t know how many of you have a chance to take advantage of something like this but if you are here in Colorado and want to do it , request Tyler and Mike they made it a perfect trip.

I cannot wait until our next snowshoe adventure, I wish those snowshoes would show up quick!

Cow Creek Trails Via Gem Lake, Estes Park CO Hiked 11/16/13

28 Nov

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Gem Lake Trail> Cow Creek TrailHead

Starting Elevation:  7882 Ft

Highest elevation: 8830 Ft

Trail Length:  Officially we did 9.2 miles around trip, my Fitbit said we did close to 11 miles ( it took us approximately 5.5 hours)

Trail Uses:  Hiker only

Degree of difficulty:  I consider Gem Lake Moderate, after the floods I think there are many more strenuous parts. If you are going to Cow Creek I think difficult would make sense with all the ups and downs and distance.

Bathrooms: Yes at the trailhead parking lot

Pets: No Dogs allowed as this is all Rocky Mountain National Park

VIews on the way to Cow Creek

VIews on the way to Cow Creek

It had been just over 2 months since those devastating floods hit so much of our front range and no where was harder hit then Lyons as well as the most of the ways in to Estes Park.   I have been reading about the recovery and the how desperate things are in those hard hit communities for small businesses.  The amazing part is how quickly CDOT has managed to repair so many major arteries helping to get tourism back as quickly as possible, but for some businesses it is already too late.  That is why on this particular weekend I searched long and hard for a hike near both Estes Park and Lyons so that we could spend some money in each town trying to help out where we could.  What I didn’t expect was how hard it would be to find a trail we could get too that hadn’t been obliterated in parts or in total. Finally at 10:30 the Friday night before I saw that the Gem Lake/Lumpy Ridge Trail system was intact and not just the trail but the roads to get there was all open too.

Map of trail system

Map of trail system

I had wanted the trail to be more challenging but I also knew that I had a girls hike on Sunday so it was worth it just to get up there and spend some money in those towns.

The weather forecast wasn’t that great either, we had a small window before a nice snow storm hit Estes Park and a huge wind warning went into effect.  We maybe had until 2 when we left our house.  When we got to the trailhead it was already snowing and the wind was whipping up pretty good at 8AM.  But it was also so beautiful being both sunny and snowing with almost no cars in the parking lot – we took off.

Wind and storm coming in early

Wind and storm coming in early

The trail has taken quite a bit of damage from the floods but was still hike-able, although RMNP had put up “hike at your own risk” signs at the beginning.  We flew up the Gem Lake trail, when we got to the lake itself the wind was so hard it pulling off drops of water off the lake, turning it to ice which was pelting us as we walked by.  It was so fun to watch, not so great to walk through.  We went right past the lake to the next section of trail starting our long journey down to Cow Creek , what we didn’t expect was how flipping cold that wind would make everything.  I had a first on this hike…. I actually took off my pants on the hike to put on long underwear, thank goodness we didn’t see any traffic ….because that would have been quite a show.  It was crazy insane cold  taking off my pants but I can tell you it saved me for the rest of the hike.

Trail signage just past Gem Lake

Trail signage just past Gem Lake

One more trail break before Cow Creek

One more trail break before Cow Creek

After putting on those extra layers on, we started moving at a good pace but steadily down with a few small ups.  Having never done this part of the trail before, I can’t say for sure but it seemed like there was some damage from the floods it was still easily hike-able with little worry about a lot of risk. We did 2.8 miles out to the Cow Creek trailhead and then headed back.  I imagine the views on the way to Cow Creek are usually pretty astounding, but they were mostly obscured by the storm moving towards us.   Even so it was amazing to behold.

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Climbing back up to Gem Lake was beautiful and getting back to the lake was interesting in that the wind was twice as bad as it was a few hours before.  Once we pushed back through the wind, we hung out in the shelter of trees and rocks for a few minutes just to marvel at ferocity if the wind.

Snow blowing at Gem Lake

Snow blowing at Gem Lake

On the way down from Gem Lake we saw a lot more traffic but nothing like there is on a good day.  Upon finishing the hike, we quickly drove over to Estes Park and hit a few stores to spend as much as we could afford.  Those owners were crazy appreciative.

Driving back, I was able to be the passenger and take in the damage from the floods.  It was heartbreaking, I don ‘t know how all those people are coping and moving forward.  There were pieces of route 36 on the other side of the St.Vrain Creek, so much debris or trees with guard rails wrapped around them….. it was weird and sad and hopeful.

I don’t know if you ever find yourself close to these communities, but if you do please spend some money and help out these small businesses.  They are hanging on by threads and struggling to make it through this mess.  I caught a few pictures of the damage and a few favorites…….

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Me at Gem Lake on the way back… Man those winds are cold!

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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.

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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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Twin Sisters Trail, Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park *Repeater* 6/8/13

11 Jun

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Last week when I was hiking with my girlfriends, we were admiring Twin Sisters (Hike details here) at all of our different amazing view spots.  I think it took me 3 looks to realize that there was not all that much snow showing at the summit and by the end of that hike I knew this was where we were going to hike next.  It was a good elevation gain, has amazing views and got us above 11,000 feet.

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When we arrived at the trail head at 7:30 AM, other hikers were pulling up at a steady pace and we could tell it was going to be a crowded day on the hike.  The summit isn’t all that huge either on the West sister and the East sister we never even attempted it last time, so we had no idea what that might look like.  We decided to go with a slow and steady pace on the way up mostly to adjust to altitude.

The weather was perfect, it was sunny but with clouds constantly moving across the sky making each glimpse of Longs peak different and more magnificent.  As we got closer to the tree line the wind started to really pick up, this is one of those peaks that is always windy and some of the hikers we passed as they were descending said it was hit or miss at the top on if the wind would be bad or not.  Most of the snow was gone but we hit a few patches mostly above the tree line.

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As we got to the saddle between the 2 sisters, the wind really picked up…like A LOT.  Last time we came here we didn’t even try the East sister, which is the true summit, this time Aaron really wanted to try it and so we went towards it.  Our timing was almost perfect as 6 people were coming down while we started going up this meant that we had it all to ourselves.  This East Summit requires some bouldering and the use of your hands as you find the best path up for you.  There is no defined path but most people end up going the same way up just by finding the easiest rocks to crawl over.

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When we got to the top of the East Sister, the wind was really pushing us around strong and Aaron is uncomfortable with heights when there is no wind.  So while I could have walked around up there, I didn’t because I knew he would probably have a heart attack.  I took a couple of pictures and then followed him down, as we were climbing the clouds started to come around the mountainside and we were literally in the clouds.

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The view of the West Summit from the East Summit.

The view of the West Sister from the East Sister.

The view east from the summit of the East Sister

The view east from the summit of the East Sister

View of Longs Peak from the East Summit

View of Longs Peak from the East Sister

Aaron climbing down the East Summit.

Aaron climbing down the East Sister.

We got down from the East sister and almost ran over to the West Sister so that we could catch the clouds coming in from the East and around the mountain, it was so cool looking.

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The Summit was CROWDED and more people were coming up all the time.  Fortunately the wind was also driving a lot of people right back down, we got some great pictures as the clouds were zooming across the sky and mountains.

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We made great time down the mountain and just as we were about a mile from being done, I fell….hard.  I squeaked and got all twisted in my poles trying to protect my head, I even managed to break one of my trekking poles.  It turned out not to be a big deal since I couldn’t close my left hand around it anyway and I could only use one pole the rest of the way regardless.

I was doing an assessment of my injuries and figured the hand was the worst one, as soon as we got to the car I grabbed an ice pack and started icing it took some Advil and figured we could still do a second hike on Sunday.  The one I had picked was easy so why not…..turns out my hand wasn’t the problem but my whole right side of my body( on which I landed) ignited with pain at about 2AM.  Not one for suffering in silence, I woke up Aaron to tell him the hike was off, I am such a good wife…..

Sunday all I did was lay around feeling sorry for myself as the weather was perfect so views of our second hike would have been spectacular.  Outside of a few bruises ( including my pride),  I am feeling pretty good today but Sunday and Monday were good days of healing.  I should be back to hiking this weekend and we are planning on trying 2 hikes again.