If you missed the first post in this series, check it out here: Colorado Part 1
Want to Skip to Part 3? Here you go: Colorado Part 3
Hiking Day! I had been suffering from a pretty bad cold over the last few days and was glad for the opportunities to do some less physically demanding tourism, but the primary goal of this trip was, after all, to hike The Rocky Mountains. I woke up just as sick as the days before, but motivated to do what I had come here for. I packed a lunch and some dayquil and walked over to the visitor’s centre to get some tips about where to start. I hopped in the car and started driving towards the park entrance. It takes about 10 minutes to drive from downtown Estes Park to the RMNP entrance. The first time I arrived, I bought my week long park pass at the entrance booth and made my way to the Park and Ride where I caught the shuttle to the Bear Lake trailhead. The day was cool but the sun was shining so bright, any time you walked in a sunny patch you warmed up immediately. Bear lake was a great first hike to warm up the limbs and the brain. It’s such an easy hike that I shared it with new parents pushing a stroller around the loop. It took about 20 minutes to do the full loop and it was peaceful and shady with a constant uninterrupted view of the lake. Once the loop was finished, it was very easy to veer off and start the slightly more challenging hike up to Lake Haiyaha. Lake Haiyaha is a turquoise pool surrounded by giant boulders that makes visitors eating their mid-hike snack look like tiny specks on round stones. I sat and ate my sandwich there and listened to what seemed to be a couple on a first date talking about their various sexual adventures. Aaah the soothing sounds of nature. After my snack, I walked back down to where I started and after briefly contemplating returning to the car for the good of my cold, I threw caution to the wind and started a new hike up in the opposite direction and the next thing I knew I had hiked to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake as well. Day of Lakes! All in all, I hiked 11km with the highest elevation gain being 865 ft (Lake Haiyaha). Not bad for someone who had a hard time breathing through her nose! I took a bit of a rest at the lodge before making my way back to The Stanley for the ghost tour.
So, now that I know what this tour really is, I will no longer refer to it as a “tour” so much as an “attempt to summon the spirits in the company of many tourists who believe this is possible”. I love a good ghost story. I am also completely open to the possibility of ghosts being real. In this specific case, I would have preferred to explore these possibilities with friendly, like-minded people instead of the 9 member family from Alabama who refused to acknowledge the “no vaping in the hotel” rule while continuously exclaiming “The damn ghost keeps touching my hand!”. Maybe those of you out there will have better luck during your experience, but unfortunately, by the end of our walk no one had conclusively proven the existence of paranormal activity. Personally, I liked the historical tour better, but if you’re into that sort of thing, the ghost hunt was fun and I’d still recommend it. One ghost we learned about extensively was Lucky Lucy, the namesake of my favourite cocktail of all time. And once her name was spoken aloud, her spiritual hold led me directly to the Cascades bar after the “tour” was over. Spooky…
I woke up early on this day with the mindset to put on my winter gear and drive myself up to 12,183 feet to Trail Ridge Road to hike “The Timberline Trail” I had read so much about in my nerdy hiking books. The morning started out sunny but as I made my way up and up and up the windy road, I saw the clouds start to assemble. I had heard talk over the past few days about recent lightning storms in the area and knew that if there’s one place you should avoid during a lightning storm it’s an exposed area above the tree line. But the weather report hadn’t said anything concrete yet, so I kept going. I made some stops at various look-outs, in awe at how different the view gets when you’re that high up. Most signs of vegetation disappear, apart from the tiniest grey ground cover, and everything around you turns to jagged rock and dust. I stopped in at the Alpine Visitor’s centre because I hadn’t been able to locate the Timberline trailhead yet. The gentleman at the centre laughed and said The Timberline Trail was a bit of a joke in his circle because it’s been featured in many books about the area and yet, no trail is actually called “The Timberline Trail” and it causes a ton of confusion. Instead, he directed me to a trailhead literally across the road from the visitor’s centre that would put me on the path of the “Ute Trail”. He said that so far, the weather seemed like it would hold off but if I found myself out in the open seeing lightning in the distance to start heading back to the centre immediately. I layered on every piece of clothing I had and started out onto the side of the mountain. This was the most exposed, desolate, tree-less hike I had ever done (ok, apart from Iceland…but that’s Iceland). After the initial uniqueness wore off, it got a little repetitive and boring as there wasn’t much new to look at after a while (Oi with all the glorious vistas already). I had walked about an hour when I felt the first drop of rain. I had only passed one other couple on my hike so far and wondered if others were scared of the rain, the cold or just knew better than to be up here during the threat of storm. I looked around, saw nothing but mountain, sky and cloud and basically decided the value of finishing the hike was not worth the potential anxiety I would experience if I kept heading away from the only spec of civilization out here. So I started back. The rain started in earnest about 10 minutes after that. I increased my pace to a light jog and by the time I could see the visitor’s centre appear on the horizon it was hailing. Covering my eyes and face with my hands I skipped towards the parking lot. Taking one last look behind me towards the trail, I saw a single bolt of lightning crack down on the side of the mountain, a thunderous noise echoing through the range, eliciting shrieks and laughter from under the awning of the gift shop and the cafe I was heading towards. In my car, I removed my soaking wet outer layers and sat for a moment, listening to the hail pitter patter on the metal and glass. I unwrapped the sandwich I had packed for myself and ate it, watching the underdressed tourists sprint from the washrooms to their cars in distress. It was great.
The drive back down to Estes Park through the pouring rain was part stressful, part exhilarating, part freedom incarnate. Blasting Fleetwood Mac, I felt as liberated as anyone could, driving 8km an hour. Half way down, I saw a long line of cars stopped for seemingly no reason. It wasn’t until we started inching forward as a group that I saw the reason for the hold up. About 20 Elk ladies (cows) were feeding around the road ahead of us. It was absolutely breathtaking. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to so many big, wild things. I drove slowly past them, their bushy tails feet away from my car and as I got close to the front of the pack, I saw the Bull. He was gigantic, watching over his “harem”, giving the stink eye to every driver that crawled by. This day was so chalk full of experience, I couldn’t have asked for more, despite only having actually walked for about 2 hours. That night, I walked to a local Italian restaurant by the river called Mama Rosa’s, drank rosé and ate pasta while I read my book. #wild.
Want to know what happened next? Spoiler Alert: I drink more cocktails and make some new gigantic friends. Check it out in: Colorado Part 3
(If you missed the first post in this series, check it out here: Colorado Part 1