A Truly Rocky Mountain National Park

With few plans and expectations, Greg and I got in the car way later than we expected that Saturday morning. I knew that getting an early start would be best for any hike, but also for avoiding the crowds that I was somewhat expecting at Rocky Mountain National Park.

It took about two hours from where we stayed in Arvada, CO, but I could tell it would be a wild one from the moment we arrived. People were hurrying through the VC so they could have the best chance of parking at the overflow parking lot. It was way too late for the trailhead parking lots.

We got the the overflow lot and searched for a lucky spot, along with about twenty other cars. This wasn’t going to work out. We went back out to the road and found the closest pull-off spot, about 1/4 of a mile up the road.

We had our pre-hike hike to the shuttle line, then waited in the long line to get to the trailhead. There’s something mildly uncomfortable about waiting in lines and having to listen to everyone else’s conversations.

I had decided we would do the hike to Glacier Gorge trail to Sky Pond. It’s about 8.1 miles round trip and seemed like the perfect training for our big hikes to come.

This was pretty much our first day at elevation, something we were not taking into consideration at all.

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We began our hike at a pretty constant-but-slow pace. It was midday by now and very, very hot. We kept ourselves hydrated and protected from the sun as much as we could. I even wore my NPS Volunteer brimmed hat, and I hate wearing hats.

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We hiked up the switchbacks and makeshift staircases while stopping for Clif Bar breaks.

Coming upon Loch Vale was a morale-booster, so we took in the sights for a moment. Apparently, it was long enough for Greg to recognize that two people were wearing Amherst College Crew gear. I made a scene so I could tell them that I rowed for Smith, but it was nice to make a connection so far from home.

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Pretty soon, we came upon our first snow. And then our second snow. And then our tenth. A lot of the last parts of the trail were covered in snow in the scorching-hot weather. But, everyone else was continuing on, so we did, too.

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Finally, there was something resembling a chute that we would have to make it across. This seemed like either training or an omen for Whitney, so I felt obligated to continue. This was the first time we considered turning back. The elevation was starting to get to me; I just felt uneasy.

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We made it across the snow, but then had to battle the next obstacle: climbing up a waterfall of melted snow. The views from here were already beautiful, and I was feeling unwell. I pressed on and kept going. After the rocky waterfall, we had a magnificent view of… Lake of Glass. We weren’t even there yet!

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We hung out there for a few minute, taking photos to soak in those moments. Sky Pond was still about a half mile away. We were already tired and had seen enough pretty views to be content with the hike. The sucky thing about hiking is that making it to your destination is usually only half of the hike.

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This is where we decided to turn around. 7 miles of steep incline on our first day at elevation was still pretty good training.

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We started the long trail back with a constant taste of sweetness in our mouths from the overly sugary Clif Bars. I had no interest in eating, but needed to maintain my limited energy.

During one of the return snow crossings, I broke one of Greg’s trekking poles that I borrowed. This was also their first use of the trip.

The return trip seemed endless, but we kept up morale by talking about food we wished we were eating. Red Robin was definitely on that list.

As we continued down, there were plenty of people who were probably doing an abridged version of the hike in the midday sun. I was jealous of how not exhausted they were.

Eventually, we were down at the trailhead, waiting for a shuttle bus. We were the first ones to not make it onto the first bus, so we had to wait for the second one. These buses run every 10 minutes, but we waited well over 20 for the next one. I was feeling so unwell at this point, sick from the heat, altitude, and pure exhaustion.

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We were completely faking these smiles

A full bus finally came, and we packed into the aisle, complaining with fellow tourists about the shuttle system. I was really glad we had parked within the park rather than in Estes Park so we didn’t have to wait for another, separate shuttle.

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I couldn’t even use the vault toilets at the parking area, the smell was making me queasy.

Greg got the car, and we reflected on how shitty we felt. We would have been better served on a weekday, earlier in the year, with more time at elevation. Road trips aren’t really conducive to ideal conditions.

Rocky Mountain was my 13th National Park. 

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