Yes, Wednesday was the Dreaded Forced March, led by My Lovely Bride, AKA the Drill Sergeant. Early reveille (was the sun even up?) and a big bacon and egg breakfast got us to a quick start on one of the prettiest trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, up to Cub Lake. Here are Bob and Jan, our Intrepid Hikers from Florida, with trekking poles in hand. These handy adjustable-length aluminum poles are essential for navigating steep and/or rocky trails. Bob and Jan have barely had time to catch their breaths in the thinner mountain air at our 7,500 ft elevation campground. We would be making our start from the trailhead at 8,080 feet, and climbing up to 8,620 feet at the lake’s edge.
The trail initially skirted a lush meadow formed by beavers damming up a creek, and a small herd of elk grazed peacefully in the far distance. Lodgepole pines dominate here, with a significant proportion infested by the pine beetle, an insect about the size of a grain of rice, which has killed millions of pines in the west over the past 15 years.
Those of you who know My Lovely Bride know that she prides herself on being strong. She once won a Navy base pushup contest and still lifts weights once or twice a week. Here we see her breaking rocks… one large rock, anyway… although I’m not sure the National Park Service will be very happy with her… (Full disclosure: she did not actually break this boulder… it was probably split by the force of ice over decades of melting and freezing, but I like the other story better.)
The steep trail was shared with equestrians. For the uninitiated, that means people riding horses. Here we see the only horsie group that we passed. Note the young woman on horse number 2… it appears that she is texting in the saddle. Sigh…
As you might surmise, the trip down the mountain was somewhat easier than the trip up. Nevertheless, there were moments of concentration and danger. Here we see Hiker Chick emulating Prima Ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn, delicately and adroitly making her way through the cataract. (Alas, her twin left-footed husband is no Rudolph Nureyev. Why this particular analogy? I had the good fortune to attend one of their elegant performances of Swan Lake. It was sublime.)
MLB asked that I enclose a photo of Your Faithful Correspondent to prove that I actually made this trek. Here he is, with MLB, at a rest stop. It may have been somewhat restful, but granite wasn’t particularly comfortable on my delicate derriere.
After conquering the Cub Lake trail, our tour director Suzy (AKA the Drill Sergeant) had us prepare for arctic conditions on a trek (thankfully in a motorcar) up above 12,000 feet on Trail Ridge Road, one of ten America’s Byways and a nationally designated All American Road. Here is the view from one viewpoint about 11,500 feet, just above treeline. The air is crystal clear, so much so that visitors are advised to use sunscreen because of the more intense UV radiation received there.
A little higher and we see that the snowpack was relatively deep here, and this was after much had melted. Look at the height of the roadside markers!These poles are necessary because there are almost no guardrails, and some parts of the road are very narrow, with “significant exposure”. That’s a euphemism for “if you drive off the road, it’s a thousand feet or more until you come to a very rapid stop.”
Like Glacier National Park’s Going to the Sun Road, Trail Ridge Road takes one from montane forests of aspen and pine, past glacial moraines, through subalpine forests of spruce and fir, and finally above treeline to frigid, windswept subarctic tundra. There were actually snow removal operations ongoing during our visit, and the water in the 12,476 foot high visitor center was turned off because the pipes were still frozen. The view from the top was worth the drive. Here we are looking toward the Never Summer Mountains. (Gee, I wonder why they are called that?)
But lest you think that this is a frozen wilderness road, let me show you otherwise. I was prudently dressed in blue jeans, shirt and fleece sweater. The rest of our party risked frostbite and hypothermia and opted for tropical attire… showoffs. Nevertheless, they survived the risks unscathed. Lucky for them the winds were light and the sun warm; but just wait ’til next time!