| Part 1: RMNP Loop with Keplinger's Couloir
Rocky Mountain National Park Loop
This trip was picked from Backpacker.com and slightly changed. Our trip will take the North Inlet trail rather than the Tonahutu trail as described on Backpacker.com. Here is a link for similar beta and mileage: http://bp2.trimbleoutdoors.com/ViewTrip.aspx?tripId=399192
8 days of hiking and 7 nights in the park.
Last year Brice and I went to Teton National Park in August for our first backpacking trip. We both became mountain addicts at this point. September came around and I decided to start planning another trip that would take roughly a week. I searched several websites looking for what appeared to be the best week long trip. There were several in California and Arizona with great climbs, some in Montana and Idaho with great fishing, and a plethora of trips in Colorado. Backpacker.com separates trips by mileage and that is when I found the Grand Loop.
Brice and I both live in Longmont, CO which is named after Longs Peak. We both have awesome views of Longs and Mount Meeker from our homes and places of business. How great of a feeling would it be to look toward Rocky Mountain National Park and say " Yes, I've been to the top of that". It was official... we were climbing Longs Peak after 6 days of moderate to difficult hiking.
I called RMNP ranger station on March 2, 2012 to acquire our permits. To my amazement most of the spots for this trip were already taken. I guess we were not the only ones who wanted to try this large loop. After trying to be convinced not to do the trip for 45 minutes on the phone by the park ranger, he finally helped pick new sites that were available.
My hiking partners, Brice and Kory, agreed to begin our physical training to prepare for this trip and our climb up Keplinger's Couloir (class 3). None of us had ever climbed a fourteener or done any class 3. We climbed several fourteeners and did 400+ miles of hiking between March and July. We felt ready to tackle what Backpacker.com wrote as a 8/10 for difficulty. Here is the start of our story. Warning to the reader! This is not a short trip report.
Day 1: July 22nd
We drove from Longmont to RMNP to pick up our backcountry permits. We were in the backcountry office for around and hour while other people came in and out very quickly. Just like on the phone in March they spent plenty of time trying to convince us to do an easier route. We refused and ther printed the permit. The bottom of the permit read as follows, "distance, difficulty, skills discussed!! Discouraged! Cautioned! Bear canister required, NO FIRES, Leave no trace, no cutting". Welcome to a national park, right?
Our trip began from Bear Lake trailhead where we were lucky enough to still get one of the last parking spots of the day. Bear lake sits at 9475 ft. We would climb the well maintained Flattop Mountain trail to the summit of Flattop (elev. 12,324) and on to the North inlet trail that leads to Grand Lake. This trip really starts out with a climb. Even though it was an easy trail it climbs over 2,800 feet. Welcome to day 1 my friends, who seemed less than amused at this point. We spent 20 minutes on the summit and began our down climb to camp site 1: The July Site. During our descent we encountered a 10 minute hail storm that pounded our heads. Ouch! We were treated with a view of several bull elk which made the walk through the hail worth it. Our dinner on day 1 was the best. I brought a 1 1/2 pound can of pasta sauce which we mixed with noodles and canned chicken. A few vodka and crystal light drinks and it was out cold for the night. This was the first time I had ever seen vodka in a platypus plastic container (thanks Kory!)
Longs Peak Panorama
Emerald Lake Overlook
We got hail 1 hour after this sign
Hallet Peak and Tyndall Glacier
Flattop MTN with view of Grand Lake
Hail Storm Passes
Majestic Standing Elk
Elk close up
Day 2: July 23rd
Our next day was a rest and relaxation day. I think this is what normal people do with their vacation days. Our trek to out campsite was less than 3 miles away from the July site, including our side trip to the North Inlet falls. Kory and myself enjoyed a swim in the creek while Brice caught a delicious fish meal that we mixed with dehydrated mashed potatoes. I felt like I was having a vacation now... R and R with delicious food. This made me wonder why the park ranger was so worried. We all would soon find out a few days out.
North Inlet Falls
Day 3: July 24th
Seeing the Elk two days before was great but 1 mile into our hike on day 3 we were rewarded (probably not the right word with our lack of sustained work so far) with several moose, bull, cow, and calf. The North Inlet Trail takes you right into downtown Grand Lake where I think we forgot that we had to hike back in to the park on the same day. Here's why... what happens when you mix beer, margaritas, and local folk that like to have fun? Answer: a drunk walk back to our site up the East Inlet Trail. From what I remember, we arrived in Grand Lake at 2pm and left around 8pm. Mark, one of our many new friends gave us a ride from the Lariat Saloon (highly recommended) to the East Inlet Trail head. Thanks buddy. At this point it is getting dark and pouring down rain. I decided not to include photos of us falling over and Kory's attempt to get rain pants on. We camped on the east meadows dispersed camping zone. To set up camp we had to move several down branches and put the tent poles in after having half the rain fly connected to keep the interior of the tent dry. I don't think my savvy idea helped at all. Everything was still soaked the next morning.
Moose and Calf
Refreshing looking pool
HOW FAR WAS IT?
This is where the party is at
Grand Lake Panorama
The hiking crew Brice, Justin, Kory
The Locals Kristy, Sarah, Zach
Saved us 30 minutes to the trailhead
Day 4: July 25th
Our view in the morning was interesting to say the least. How we found the only spot in the area to pitch a tent in this area of downed timber was beyond me. If you ever camp on the East Inlet Trail pick a maintained site, especially if you are drinking beer in Grand Lake. While hanging our gear to somewhat dry a cow moose and her calf came right through the site. She did not show any signs of aggression to us. The day before a cow was grunting at us while her precious calf stood behind her, so this was a relief because she was much closer than the other. Our day would take us from the bottom of the East Inlet Trail to the Solitaire Camp Site just above Lone Pine Lake. During our walk we encountered numerous waterfalls. They all looked very refreshing with a pounding hangover and a uphill climb to our site. Just after arriving to the Solitaire campsite (about six miles up trail) it started raining. The tent was already set up. It was time for an afternoon nap while the rain pounded the tent fly. I woke an hour before my hiking partners and made some hot tea. While boiling water a fox walked into the site with a chipmunk (I think it was a chipmunk) and dropped it to the side. This was a peculiar move by the fox. What was it going to do next? It started walking right up to me, within a few feet and then darted toward out cappuccino mix and took off with it. Are you serious?
I don't think this was the fox's first rodeo. We got a good laugh at it though. What are we going to do about it. The whole trip we are worried about bears getting into out food and here is a ten pound fox using his cute appeal to sneak right past me.
Later that evening after dinner we went over to a look out over Lone Pine Lake to shoot some sunset pictures. Brice stood up as we were getting ready to leave this point and all we heared was thunk, thunk, thunk. He dropped his camera right off the edge of a 100 ft. drop off. He attempted to find it in the dwindling sunlight under his headlamp light. No luck. We headed back to camp to crash. Our next day entailed a cross country climb over Boulder- Grand Pass so we wanted to be well rested. Not to say we didn't have another vodka, crystal light nightcap. : )
How did we get the tent in here last night?
Morning fog from rain last night
Side walk to view sweet waterfall
Lone Pine Lake
Bridges up to Solitaire campsite
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):