A friend of mine rolled into town on his way to Chicago and wanted to go for a hike on Sunday. His favorite hike is Mount Audubon in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, but we decided to give Rocky Mountain National Park a try this time around.
After a slow start and a much needed coffee at Vic’s Espresso the four of us headed towards Estes Park arriving at the trail head about 10 am. What a day for the mountains. The fall had ushered in a brilliant day with temperatures in the 90’s around Boulder. RMNP would be at least 10-15 degrees cooler and fall colors would be visible.
On the drive up the plan was to hike to Sky Pond, but we wanted to see the backside of Longs Peak at 14,255 ft. so changed our destination to Black Lake. Black Lake is just under a 10-mile round trip and the elevation gain is minimal at 1,400 ft.
The hike up to Mills and Jewel Lakes was leisurely, passing the roaring Alberta Falls about 1/2 mile from the trail head. Arriving at Mills Lake and the entrance to Glacier Gorge we were struck by the sheer beauty of the valley. Its glacier origin is unmistakable with sheer granite walls rising on both sides of the valley.
Once past Jewel Lake the next 2.2 miles is where most of the elevation is gained. The park service has done a tremendous job maintaining the trail and granite stair steps mark a large portion of the trail up to Black Lake. This provides protection against trail erosion while providing a great workout in the process.
Black Lake sits in a small cirque with Mt. McHenry rising far above to the west and Long’s Peak to the right. The keyhole of Longs and the traverse up to the summit viewed from below looks as gnarly as it does up top. We sat there lakeside for an hour soaking up the spectacular scenery and eating our trail mix and Power Bar lunch. We then proceeded to solve all of the world’s problems from the economy to energy policy. That’s what hikes do. If only for an afternoon they clear your head and provide nourishment for the soul.
The two-hour hike out was uneventful as was the drive back to Boulder. We all reflected how lucky we were to have RMNP in our backyard and began planning our next ascent up Longs Peak.
Yard work will just have to wait another week.