Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer Trip 2009 - Rocky Mountain National Park Day 1 and 2

We drove up from Colorado Springs, through Estes Park and into the main entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (aka "RMNP"" or just "Rocky"). For those that have never been to or looked into RMNP, it is located in North-Central Colorado, about 2 hours North/NorthWest of Denver.


The Continental Divide runs through the middle of the park. For those who don't know what the Continental Divide is, it is basically the dividing line for North America where water that falls on the west side of the Divide runs west to the Pacific Ocean, water that falls to the east runs south and east to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Needless to say, the mountains in RMNP are BIG. There are more than sixty (60) peaks higher than 12,000 feet, including Long's Peak at 14,259.

We reserved a campsite at Moraine Park, just outside of Estes Park, CO. Moraine Park is a campsite right inside the Park and is at 8,160 feet. There is a giant meadow near Moraine Park which stays full of wildlife including Elk, Coyote, Marmot and an occasional Black Bear. A Black Bear had just rambled through the campground 10 minutes prior to us arriving at the campground entrance, according to the Park Ranger as she was reminding us to bear-proof our campsite.

Upon arriving at campsite 237, everyone got out and stretched and we were immediately struck by the temperature... a cool 70 degrees and no humidity. As we would find out soon, every night about that time, around 5pm, a brief thunderstorm would roll in, drop some light drizzle and then depart. However, winds would stick around providing some strong wind gusts that made setting the dinner table an interesting event. For this first evening, the wind also made setting up the tents fun. Brandon and Lauren did a great job getting the tents set up. We had a tremendous view of Long's peak from the campsite. What a way to wake up every night!


While Brandon and Lauren set the tents up, Linda and I got dinner started. We made grilled chicken. After dinner, we had roasted marshmallows and s'mores. That night, the temperature dropped into the low 40's with about a 30 degree windchill. I think most all of us were plenty warm in our sleeping bags. Linda got pretty cold. We may need to look into a different bag for her for the next time we get into colder weather.

In the morning, we got up and had pancakes for breakfast. I didn't make too much of it when cooking dinner the night before, but I really noticed it when cooking breakfast, it takes a lot longer to cook at altitude. Boiling water took a loooonnnnngggg time and cooking the pancakes was a challenge. We cooked on our trusty Coleman 424 Duel-Fuel 2 Burner Stove. For car camping, it's hard to beat. Thanks to my brother-in-law for that Christmas gift! I've got friends who have had the same stove for 20+ years and their still working like a charm.

After breakfast, we set out for our first big hike. We drove up to the Bear Lake trailhead which lies at around 9400 feet. I got a bit nervous as we got a late start and most of the parking lots were full on the way up. Having never been to this trailhead, I thought we were going to be turned back. We were in luck, the Bear Lake trailhead has a huge parking lot. It still comes close to filling up, especially in peak seasons (June, July and August). There are plenty of bathrooms at the trailhead as well, so everyone can go before you head off on the trail.

Our plan was to hike up the Bear Lake trail to Nymph Lake and on to Dream Lake at 10,000 feet, then come back and see Bear Lake which is only 500 feet from the trailhead. Everyone got geared up with camelbacks. Even though the temperature was around 55-60 degrees and probably 50 degrees with the windchill, the sun was out and while hiking you will stay plenty warm, so most everyone had shorts and short sleeves on. This trail was pretty steep the whole way up, so you definitely will heat up quickly. It is also extremely crowded. Put those two things together and expect a slow trek up the trail. We probably stopped every 5-10 minutes for a break.

After .5 miles, we arrived at Nymph Lake. It's a smallish lake just off the trail. This is where we got our first glimpse of some white stuff. Could it be? Yes, it was snow... In JUNE! Here are a couple of pics from around the lake.



Continuing up the trail another .6 miles, we came to Dream Lake. Just before getting there, we came across a pretty large field of snow. We even had to cross a log bridge that was surrounded by snow.


Getting up to Dream Lake, we had our lunch. We broke out the summer sausage, cheese, crackers, trail mix, oranges and apples. Yummy. We were in a great spot with a great view of the lake. There were a lot of trout in the lake and tons of chipmunks running around looking for whatever crumbs fell out of the kids mouths. We did our best at picking up the tiny crumbs of goldfish crackers to avoid feeding the wildlife. We stayed for about 30-45 minutes. The kids had a great time having snowball fights and practicing glissading on the snow. We got everyone packed up and headed back down.


While it was great having the camelbacks for everyone to ensure they stay hydrated, there are some drawbacks to them. Because the kids are drinking off them constantly, they are having to relieve themselves of the excess fluids regularly. Trying to follow the
Leave No Trace principles, we always attempt to do this over 100 feet from trail and water, which is often difficult to do on this steep terrain and with the amount of water in the area. I feel like we did a pretty good job of it, though. It is also extremely difficult to find a good hiding place when sharing the trail with hundreds of your fellow hikers.

As on the way up, Dylan and Blake are guilty of "dawdling". Don't know if that's an official word, but it's one that we use quite frequently to describe the actions of our two youngest. It encompasses various behaviors including picking up and looking at every rock, bug, stick and leaf. Additionally, the youngest one must climb on every rock along the trail. This is generally not a problem, but this time he got a bit high up and even though I was spotting him, we both got in trouble by the Park Rangers who asked us "to keep him a bit closer to the trail, please". Since this behavior always make Linda a bit nervous, she snickered and muttered an "I told you so" under her breath.

2.5 hours after leaving the trailhead, we arrived back where we started. As planned, we made a brief stop to look at Bear Lake. By now, everyone was bushed and ready to get back to camp to kick it for a while and get ready for dinner. We made one more quick stop on the drive back to camp at Sprague Lake. If you get the chance, it's worth the stop by this small lake as there are a ton of Rainbow Trout in the stream leading to the lake. The kids really enjoy seeing the beautiful shiny fish swimming below the bridge.

Back at camp, everyone took a load off and went about playing and lying in the hammock. Even Blake enjoys the hammock as can be seen in this picture.


After the long hike, Linda and I got to wondering about where the showers were. We had been to the campground bathrooms and noticed none in there. We asked one of the campground employees and were told that there are no showers in the campground. I'm not sure if it's because there's no hot water, or if it is simply for ease of maintenance and health reasons. Whatever the case, there are NO showers in the park. The closest showers are in Estes Park in a local laundromat. More on that in the next entry.

We cooked dinner that night, a good dinner which included Ham Steak, Kielbasa, Ranch Style Beans, Corn and Mac 'n Cheese. All complimented nicely with a Jacob's Creek Shiraz. Everyone was too tired this night for s'mores or marshmallows. I think all the kids were in their bags by 9:30pm. Linda and I enjoyed a peaceful evening under the stars until the winds picked up, the temperature dropped and we were chased into the tents.

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