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A hike in the Rockies – Day 1

July 9, 2016

Fifteen years ago, I went on a solo hike across Rocky Mountain National Park. I started at the Bear Lake trailhead, summited Flattop Mountain (only 12,000-some-odd feet altitude), and through the park on the other side. The original plan was to make a full loop to the west side, then go back along a more northerly trail, and back out Bear Lake. As it turned out, I did the trip one way. (My pack was too heavy, my boots hurt, my tent was flimsy, and I got creeped out by the end of the westward trail.)

I recently got excited about repeating this performance, and my 11 year old son Eric got into the idea, too. So we walked and trained and got gear, and last week we went.

Here are notes and pictures and stuff from day 1.

7-3-2016: Rocky Mountain National Park. Spent two nights in Glacier Basin [a front country camp, to acclimatize to the altitude. We just camped in the back of the minivan…why bother setting up the tent?]  Set off from Bear Lake trailhead at 7:45am.

We had gorgeous weather and a reasonable time to start.

I should note that a couple days before we started out, we assigned roles. I was Hydration Officer, and Eric was Safety Patrol. We each did our jobs admirably. We both stayed hydrated, and Eric was super conscientious about pointing out poison ivy/oak, giving advice on tall steps, and keeping us on the uphill side of the path (away from dropoffs). He probably saved me from a buttfull of poison oak, as he’d mentioned it so much I was on the lookout.

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Start: Bear Lake Trailhead

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My view, for most of the trip: Eric’s pack.

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There were some other views, too.

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NICE views.

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Really, REALLY nice views.

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The summit of Flattop Mountain.


Arrive Flattop Mountain peak at 12:45pm.

Hey, we’re slow hikers. The whole hike up was great.

Am writing this at the peak. Eric has been amazing, and several things have contributed to our success. Planning, water, acclimatization, [trekking] poles, teamwork,and WILLPOWER [as Eric has been emphasizing]. Ahhhh…sitting down!  Now; time to go. 12:52pm.

Trekking poles, as it turns out, are worth their weight in gold. Seriously, get thee some trekking poles on Amazon!

Right as we were packing up to leave the peak, an older lady – maybe 60-65? – arrived, and exchanged notes with us, and hikers do. I noted on my last Rocky Mountain trip that hikers are friendly people, and though then it was a safety thing. Not so: hikers are friendly, because they’re happy. They’re out doing exactly what they want to do, in a beautiful place, with few worries, if any. So it was with she, and – goal met – she turned and started down the way she’d come.

Okay, on to the west side of the mountain…


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We’re actually up in an alpine area. It’s July, so EVERYTHING is in bloom.

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Selfie, proving I exist too.

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So gorgeous.

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Took pictures of a lot of plants, to identify later. Now I don’t care; they’re just pretty.

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It rained. It rains about every afternoon in the Rockies.

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You can’t see it, but it also snowed a bit.

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Not shown: a snowfield we ended up working our way around, stepping from rock to rock, to avoid broken ankles.

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All of these flowers were turned toward the sun. Looked like a Minecraft scene.

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Starting down toward the valley.

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Spotted some elk. Elk are dangerous especially during calving season (now) and rutting season (fall). We avoided.

More notes:

We had some setbacks: snowfield, rain, crossing a river, another snowfield, a cantankerous elk, a very steep and scary snowfield. It was this last, after 12 hours of hiking, that stopped us.

The snowfield – situated in a ravine, and above what looked like a serious drop – scared us. I won’t hit the details here, but the solution lay in roping up together, carefully kicking out steps, using our poles as anchors, and taking just the light pack across on the first go. There was also a too-close-for-comfort encounter with an elk, which scared the hell out of me. But we got across safely, and found that the drop wasn’t necessarily deadly – as it looked from above – but actually just limb-threatening. Still: glad we didn’t fall.

Camp was nothing much to tell, so I’ll write an account of Day 2 (and likely beyond) tomorrow. Ish.

Lessons learned on or before day 1:

  • Assigning roles for specific, important things is good. Safety Patrol is really Eric’s bag.
  • Warm sleeping bag = good!
  • Our little stove was perfect for the two of us, and our “just heat up some water” style of cooking. Strictly freeze dried foods, cocoa, tea, oatmeal.
  • We just bought 4 stainless steel bowls at a kitchen supply store; again, perfect. Lightweight, cheap, solid.
  • The freeze dried Mountain House mac & cheese was meh. Couldn’t get it cooked beyond “mildly crunchy”. Their lasagna was great, though.
  • Eucerin lotion is great – basically nonscented, and good for hands and lips.
  • Trekking poles are worth every penny…especially if you pay $30 instead of $125 for them. We had one each, which was fine.
  • The Sawyer Mini water filter was wonderful. No problems at all, very simple to use and maintain.
  • It was great for Eric to have a Lifestraw and a Personal Locator Beacon. Planning for the worst.
  • We loved our packs and tent…ask if you want to know which ones. My pack is an Osprey, and it was wonderful.
  • Hot cocoa and marshmallows are also worth their weight in gold.


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