Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Rocky Mountain National Park

These pictures are not the best, because they were taken with my chintzy little flip phone that was not cool even in 2009 when I got it...but it's either this or nothing, so enjoy as best as you can!

After our grueling 30+ hour drive, my brother and I unloaded the U-haul trailer the same day and then went to bed. But Monday and Tuesday, we got to go on some stimulating (and tiring) hikes at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Monday I was completely disconnected from the electronic leash, as I didn't even have my phone with me. We parked at a Park & Ride and rode a shuttle up to Bear Lake. We went to see Bear Lake, which was kind of like "ho hum, look, there's water," and we were a bit traumatized by the massive numbers of people around, so we took the first side trail that presented itself and hiked to Bierstadt Lake, which we didn't even see because we went around it the short way rather than the long way.

Coming down from Bierstadt Lake, we descended in switchbacks down a steep incline that was covered with wildflowers. We could look up and see aspen trees on the ridge above us, and we could look out and see Rocky Mountain peaks all around us. It was nice because the trail was almost all downhill, and it left us conveniently at a shuttle stop. We boarded the shuttle and got off this time at the Glacier Gorge stop, hiked up to see the lovely Alberta falls, and then took a breathtaking (literally and figuratively) loop around to see Mills Lake, Lake Haiyaha, Dream Lake, and Nymph Lake, making our day's mileage total about 11.5 miles.

At Mills Lake, we were hot and tired from hiking, so we took a little rest. James hiked around the lake to where some rock cliffs came right up to the lake's edge, and he climbed up them and jumped from about 20 feet into the water. Some guys who arrived after us saw him and went over to do the same. James jumped three times and then came back shivering. The water was quite chilly, so we sat there to warm up for a bit and then continued on our hike.

When we got around to Lake Haiyaha, it was such a jewel of blue-green nestled in the mountains that I announced I wanted to swim across it. One dip of my toes in the water, however, convinced me otherwise, as this lake was even colder than Mills Lake had been. It was the kind of cold that you could wade in ankle deep and have to steel your will to remain in the water for 30 seconds, because your feet were turning so red and freezing so intensely. I think I made it to about 12 seconds.

So James and I climbed up on this big huge boulder, and he dove in, and I really wanted to. Finally, some people who were there decided to leave, and I decided to take the plunge.

The shock of hitting the water was indescribable. It wasn't like jumping into a cold pool and feeling that tingling feeling all over and thinking, "Oooh, this is cold." It was a shock that precluded all thought, all feeling. It created an inability to contemplate or analyze the situation. All that existed was pure desperation: Get out of the water. I got out and shivered on a rock until my clothes started to dry.

While I was sitting there, a family came up and the father climbed up on the same rock we had jumped off of. He was talking about taking a little plunge, and we told him we had done it.

"Do you have your sunscreen on?" he asked.

"Well, no, actually, I don't," I said. "I forgot it this time."

He said he was the president of the Denver dermatological society and happened to have some sample tubes of sunscreen on him, which he gave to us and told us some skin cancer facts while we rubbed it on. Evidently Colorado's rate of skin cancer is three times higher than the rest of the country.

Then he dove in, and agreed that it was cold.

We struck up a conversation and he told us that one of his favorite hikes was the hike to Chasm Lake, near Long's Peak. I found it on the map, and James and I decided to go there the next day.

Tuesday morning, I was a bit sore from our hike, so we didn't get quite as early of a start, but we drove up to the Long's Peak trailhead to hike to Chasm Lake. It was going to be about 8.5 miles round trip to the lake, and I was already dragging by the time we had hiked 20 minutes. I said to James that he should go on ahead, and he said that he would get as far as he could and at 2:00 he would turn back.

I walked slowly up the hill. S.L.O.W.L.Y. The altitude and the steepness and just a general fatigue that was uncharacteristic of me made me wonder if I would get to the lake at all. Our friend the president of dermatologists had said that the first part of the hike was really boring but that you got up above the treeline very quickly, so I kept waiting to get there and wondering what "soon" meant. But I told myself that even if it took me longer, I would eventually get there. I walked, step. step. step. Maybe one step every 2 seconds. Really slow.

Finally I got up above the treeline and was graced with the following lovely views:

When I was about here, I was passed by a bunch of elderly hikers going down, followed by two rangers leading three llamas. I sat down to rest as they passed, and one of the hikers looked at my feet, clad in Chaco's sandals. "Nice shoes," he said in an ironic tone. "Oh, yeah, right," I responded in jest. They were all wearing rugged hiking boots, of course.

They passed by and I rested a little later to catch my breath and drink a sip of water. While I was sitting there, James came bounding down the path toward me. He had been to the lake and back already. Since he had the backpack, I took the opportunity to eat some lunch, and then we continued on uphill. It was like 4 miles straight uphill, and then a short downhill, and then another uphill clambering hands and knees up the rocks (not quite rock climbing, or rock climbing level negative-something).

As we were going on together, we met three people coming downhill. "Hey, I know those people," the father announced. It was the guy we had met at the lake the day before.

"Hey, fancy meeting you here," I said. "And I have my sunscreen on today."

"Good," he said.

"But--" his wife put in, in a kindly, almost hesitant tone, "those might not be the best shoes."

Oh boy, I'm probably labeling myself to everyone that passes as "Not From Around Here" by these shoes," I thought.

He pointed out "the diamond," a rock climbing face visible from where we were standing. He was a rock climber and had climbed it. He also recommended the Twin Sisters Peak hike for a future date.

"Well, have fun at the lake!" he said. "And beware of the marmots. Most aggressive marmots in Colorado."

Then we went on our way.

Little trail to the lake...getting closer!

A pool below the lake that we thought at first WAS the lake.

Chasm Lake. 

It was getting on in the afternoon by the time we got there, creating a bit of backlighting and shadows, but it would have been simply spectacular for photos at sunrise. One could camp overnight relatively nearby and make it here for the dawn sunlight that would have made these rocks look positively golden.

Looking backwards at the view. You can see a thin, light line along the hill at the left. This was the trail by which we approached. The ascent to this point was immensely satisfying, with ever-expanding views and nearby waterfalls and the fun rock climbing bit right before the lake. 

We didn't swim in this one.

And these shoes didn't give me a bit of trouble. Why don't some of these other hikers give them a try? (Although I did get quite the Z-shaped tan line on my foot)

One of the many marmots we sighted. He didn't exactly seem aggressive, but he certainly did seem completely unafraid.

There. Isn't he a cute little guy? 

On the way back down, I no longer had the problem of being winded and exhausted, so the two of us bounded and skipped all the way down the mountain like two little wild goats. It was fun. And then we went home. And then James had to sit in a plane the next day. I slept like 10 hours per night for the next couple of nights before I fully recovered. But I'd do it again!

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