Due to weather delays, I got off the plane about 3 hours later than expected. I rented a red, convertible Camaro, which I admit was super sweet. The drive from Denver International to Estes Park was starkly beautiful. The jagged peaks of the Rockies became more clear with every passing mile.
Starving, I finally located a McDonalds when I arrived in Estes Park. The scenery here was amazingly different from home. Pine and aspen trees rule the hillsides there. Rock juts precariously from every exposed surface. The landscape is a uniform brown dappled by bits of greenery. It's easy to see why this rugged place draws so many hikers. My home turf is a menagerie of green encroaching in from everywhere. The stifling humidity seems to saturate everything in a damp haze and the wind only blows as a precursor to a storm. Here, there is no humidity in this semi-arid climate. The deep rooted ponderosa and lodgepole pines creak in what seems to be a ceaseless alpine wind.
|A black bear cub obviously thinking I had|
a pretty sweet ride.
Twenty minutes later and on a main road I saw, in the fading light of day, my first elk. It was immense... and too dark to try to get a picture. I was actually pretty impressed with myself that I had even seen it. I ruefully wondered if that would be my only photo op for a bull elk. I jokingly thought to myself that if a bighorn sheep bounded across the road with a mountain lion in chase, I could leave and feel satisfied. Alas, however, no lion padded across my path that night.
Exhausted from my day, I returned to my lodge for the night. The lodge was historic, which I think is code for "we lack air conditioning". Actually, from what the front desk said, most of the residences and businesses didn't bother with a/c here as it was rarely ever hot. This week, however, seemed to be an exception. With all the windows open, I attempted to sleep. By 4 a.m. local (MDT) I finally resigned myself to being "up" as the heat was annoying and the dry climate had made every bit of me feel dried out - skin, nose, eyes, mouth... I was parched in the true sense of the word. I dressed, made coffee, and wandered out to enjoy the pre-dawn hours from the comfort of the lodge steps.
The pines creaked noisily and rabbits scurried hither and dither within feet of me. The air, constantly moving in the alpine breeze, was actually chilly outside. I was glad I brought some thermals for the night in backcountry. Even my coffee didn't retain heat for long. My shoulders, aching from carrying a 48-pound, single strap duffle containing my pack and gear, were screaming at me. The elevation here, close to 8,000 feet at the lodge, was already tangible to my body. I wondered if I would be ready to hike with any sort of load. Following on that thought, I wondered how much wildlife I was going to incur on my hike and how safe I was going to be. Thoughts flitted across my mind as I watched the sky lighten from black to deep blue. I knew the world around me would soon wake and my day would officially begin.
|Herd of elk crossing a meadow.|
|The Fearless Coyote|
At the trailhead, I sipped my coffee and casually talked to a volunteer of the park. Bolstered by talking hiking for an hour, animal sightings, and now a surplus of caffeine, I headed back to the backcountry office. I talked trail for another hour there and finally had A Plan.
|Marmot - I have a ton of these pics!|
|Bierstadt Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park|
|Otis Peak on left, Hallet Peak on right - in the|
finally-still reflection of Sprague Lake.
After Sprague Lake, I was hoping to finish my journey across Trail Ridge Road... traffic and construction permitting!
|Moose looking for shade.|
|Bull elk, living large on the tundra|
From here, and feeling quite smug, I headed to my trailhead to start the hike to my overnight spot. The trail to my site was labeled at just under 3 miles one way... but gaining 1,500 feet. And, just to pay me back for my smugness I'm sure, it started to storm not 10 minutes into my hike. I had to unload, get out the rain gear, cover the pack, don the gear, and then reload. My pack wasn't light - having the extra weight of the required bear can as well as my camera and extra lens and 6 liters of water. Before long, the elevation was wearing on me and my legs and shoulders ached. Seeming to take forever, at one point I convinced myself I had missed my break-off when I had to go through a family that had their horses completely surrounding the trail. I glanced at a map - not my awesome topo as it was stowed in my pack - and decided I had missed my turn. I trekked back down the mountain for a half a mile. At least the error had me going down hill, right? I got to where the horses had been... but to my chagrin there was no break off trail. I had just walked all this way nothing! Furious with myself, I unloaded and grabbed the topo. Sure enough, if I hadn't turned around, I was maybe a 20 minute walk from my spur trail. Talk about a 'face palm' moment. Now, instead of 20 minutes, I had a 45 minute walk back UPhill. I was so angry at myself I wouldn't even allow myself to take a break during the make-up hike, regardless of the steep incline.
|The Roaring River in the foreground with the|
elegant backdrop of Long's Peak (the sheer face
is called 'The Diamond' and is a mountaineers
playground) in the distance.
Finally, I was at camp and set up and allowed myself to soak my feet in the frigid waters of the Roaring River while I ate my dinner of trail-mix and jerky. After dinner I stowed my food in the bear can - double zipped inside and 200 yards from my camp - and reveled in the wonder of solitude. The only sounds, aside from the occasional plane, was the ceaseless chatter of squirrels and, at once point in the evening, the distant sound of a bobcat yelling (there's audio on that link - various 'sounds').
The night in the forest was cold... like REALLY cold. I had my thermals and my spring bag (i.e. a 45-degree sleeping bag) and it was no where near enough. The elevation at my campsite was around 10,500 feet and the temperature dropped between 35-40 degrees. I didn't get much sleep but when I finally woke up - at least for the final time that night - the tips of my finger's were blue and a sickly yellow. It took almost an hour of me keeping them tucked under my arms to get them nimble enough to breakdown camp. I hiked off the trail, treated myself to a breakfast and hot coffee, and then made one final attempt to find a bighorn sheep. My animal luck, it seemed, had finally worn off. Before long, with still not so much as a distant 'baa' from a sheep, it was time to head to Boulder for the Expedition Impossible finale party.
Expedition Impossible Party Quick Thoughts
The finale party was great and insane. It was SO crowded with over 500 people jammed into a place intended for maybe 400. I finally got to hang with my guys, Team No Limits: Jeff Evans, Erik Wiehenmayer, and Ike Isaacson. I also had the pleasure of meeting the Modern Gypsies - the winners of Expedition Impossible - John Post, Eric Bach, and Taylor Filasky... all super nice guys. I also got to meet Shooter - one of the assistant producers on the show - and really enjoyed talking with him on his part of the project... of everyone I met for the first time that night, he was by far my favorite. Photos of a sunburned and extremely exhausted me with the guys are below.
Finally, I turned in for some well-earned sleep only to wake at 4 a.m. and head back to Denver International Airport for the ride home...
|Me and Ike|
|Me and Erik|
|Me and Jeff|