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Rutting and A Bad Sleep; Lama Glama? Long’s Peak; A Harem in the Woods; Stopped by Ice; A Throne with a View; Chasm Lake

The initial post title, “Rutting”, does not refer directly to Your Faithful Correspondent. (No wise cracks here, please.) In fact, it refers to the mating practices of the male elk (Cervus alaphus) that were hanging out near my campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park. However, I was impacted indirectly by the elks’ rutting due to the loud bugling that kept me awake in my tent for much of Tuesday night. It is a sound I had not heard close-up before, and one I shall never forget. It was sort of like being in a cheap motel with the neighbors on each side having orgies… Here is a sample, and a full explanation of their mating habits for those with prurient interest: Elk bugling  For those without enquiring minds, just be aware that bull elks may have harems of 5-30 cows. It makes for a busy late summer and fall for the bulls…

After that restless night, my second day in Rocky Mountain National Park started with a modest breakfast of granola and hot chocolate in a beautiful setting in Moraine Park. I had misplaced my preferred meal, freeze-dried eggs and bacon skillet, with a lot more calories and fat. I would pay for this error in a few hours, but for the moment, I was content to eat my cereal and sip my Swiss Miss while watching elk grazing in the meadow in the background.

I thought about taking a quick shower, but facilities were rather limited. This was the only shower facility available. For those uninitiated in “solar showers”, one hangs a small black plastic bag in the sun until the water reaches 110F or so. A small sprinkler head allows you to wash off trail dust and sweat, and then you can rejoin the human family for meals and social interaction. Alas, here you have to provide your own bag of hot water, and even if (a) I had brought one along, which I had not, then (b) due to the overnight 29F temperatures, it would have been a block of ice until noon or so. Therefore I simply brushed my teeth and went for another hike.

I drove to the Long’s Peak Trailhead, where I found my ride up the mountain on this handsome beast. Just kidding…these two llama (scientific name, Lama glama – you just can’t make this stuff up) are leased by the Park Service for hauling gear in and out of the back country. The rangers stated that they were less ornery than horses, had much less environmental impact, carried heavier loads, and were generally better company on the trail. (We’re not goin’ there…)

This was the average incline of the Chasm Lake trail, up and up and up. The trail started off in the woods, with mixed pine, fir and aspen.

As I made a turn in the trail, I sensed movement, turned and saw this bull and five or six smiling cow elk. (Okay, I promise, that’s the last comment on elk mating habits.)

The trail climbed quickly, and soon I was out of breath. I took a few moments to contemplate this sign as I recovered – the high Rockies have extensive sub-arctic tundra, with stunted trees (3-4 feet high) transitioning to shrubs and grasses, due to the relatively infertile soil and extreme cold for months on end. (Sort of like the climate in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.) The exhortation to stay on the trail refers to some hikers’ “shortcutting” switchbacks across the tundra, causing excessive erosion and killing delicate plants.

This scene is typical of the vegetation right at treeline, at approximately 10,600 feet.

A sombre warning appeared later on the trail, this one concerning personal safety. Two people were killed by lightning in separate incidents in the mountains a week after we left Estes Park in June. This warning is especially meaningful to our family, having lost our daughter Susan to lightning eight years ago in North Carolina. And of course Wolf Pasakarnis was also lost to lightning in Plymouth, Mass, five years ago.

As I reached the next trail junction, I met these two young guys from Boulder who had attempted to summit Long’s Peak (14,259 ft.), in the background of the photo. Long’s is the tallest mountain in the area and the only 14’er in Rocky Mountain National Park. They were stopped by slabs of ice blocking their route, with a 1,000 ft. drop if they lost their footing. The technical term for this is “excessive exposure”, and they wisely turned back just a few hundred feet from the summit. 85 people have lost their lives attempting to climb Long’s Peak, an average of 2 per year. On the positive side, the oldest climber to summit, Col. Billy Butler, scaled the peak on his 85th birthday in 1926!

The next scenic spot I reached was this privy, set on a mountainside between Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls at 11,000 feet. The air is definitely thinner here, and climbing more difficult, but it’s worth the effort for the view from this unique throne. Here you are looking up to Long’s Peak, with its trademark diamond just above the ventilator pipe.

Here we see Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls, which is not running very high since it’s late summer and most of the snow that feeds it has already melted.

My destination is just above and behind that 200 foot high wall of talus (broken rocks and rock debris), and there is no trail up; you have to scramble up the boulders to get to the lake. I met a couple who had just descended, and they related that it was their hardest climb to date. I said to myself, “Okay, sailor, up and at ’em!” It wasn’t really that bad, and the worst exposure was only about 30 feet, but the 45 degree slope made for a few “Isn’t that interesting” moments.

And here is Chasm Lake, 11,803 feet. That’s my green backpack (only 20 lbs or so that day) and 2,500 feet of Long’s Peak rising above the lake. I met a 32 year old trail runner lakeside who was using this as a “recovery run”; he had run the 105 mile Steamboat Springs trail run the previous weekend, and completed the event in under 25 hours. That’s 24+ hours of non-stop running with about 80,000 feet of elevation gain… lots of ups and downs, as they say.

On the way down, I took this photo of two folks climbing up that talus slope to the lake. This should give you a sense of scale as to the climb up. It truly was a lot of fun, and one of the more challenging hikes/climbs I’ve done in years.

But just as I was feeling pretty self-satisfied, I met Bob Pohl, from Breckinridge, Colorado, who had just summited Long’s. There are 54 14ers in Colorado, and Bob has climbed 52. He hopes to knock off the other two soon. Bob is 60 years old, and obviously in pretty decent shape. For an old guy.

After my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, I returned to Fort Collins for dinner with My Lovely Bride, Elizabeth Magee from The Villages, and Charles and Elaine Cunis. Charles is the retired Army Colonel who insists on losing bets on the Army-Navy game to MLB. I didn’t get any sympathy from him when I mentioned that after my hikes, I felt like a private in the 10th Mountain Division. I think he said something like “Suck it up, sonny”, or words to that effect…

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