Monday, August 4, 2014

Rocky Mountain National Park weekend- Part 1

Subtitle: Marry me, Colorado.

Nick had a conference in Boulder a couple weeks ago, so I flew out to meet him on Thursday after his conference was over. I spent my adolescent years in New Mexico/Idaho and I miss the mountains an awful lot, so this was a nice return to some familiar territory. I had not realized how stupid tiny the "mountains" around my home in Maryland are. It's just silly. The Chesapeake Bay has a certain kind of beauty about it, and the sunsets here are to die for, but craggy mountains warm my heart in a way that beaches never will.

Our first day was exploratory and pretty short because I got in mid-afternoon and was wearing flip flops, so no big hikes were planned. We briefly went to Settlers Park and wandered along Boulder Creek. Coloradans, you know you live in a ridiculously beautiful state, right? That rocky, rushing creek beside rock walls is just amazing. We even got to eat Ethiopian food for dinner outside, along the creek. OUTSIDE. You cannot routinely eat outside in Maryland without getting attacked by bugs or sweating your ass off.

The second day was our first real excursion. We were staying in Broomfield, which was very reasonably priced and convenient to Boulder. Our hotel was also very close to supermarkets, which meant we could buy ice cream late at night and eat it in the comfort of our room. I have priorities. We left our hotel pretty early, before 8am, and had breakfast in Boulder at The Buff. I died of happiness. It was so good, we returned the next day. My friend recommended their pancakes, and while I am not normally a pancake person, I will make an exception every day of my life for theirs. They were fluffy bites of joy. From Boulder, we went north to Rocky Mountain National Park. A coworker had recommended it to me and said the $20 weeklong pass was a great deal. That was the 2nd best recommendation of the weekend (after the pancakes, of course).

After the drive to the park and getting our bearings, it was already 11am. And it was overcast/drizzling. This actually turned out to be very lucky for us, since many people were scared off by the rain. We were heading toward all the trails when everyone else was heading away! We decided to be ambitious (read: maybe a little stupid) and summit one of the more manageable mountains in the park, Flattop Mountain. It had about 2800 feet elevation gain over 4.5 miles one-way. That sounded like something we could do, but we're also from sea level, which we should have taken into account.

The hike up seemed never ending. Luckily, there was a lot of wildlife and some mind-blowing views, so at least during our frequent breaks we had something to look at.

It just went up and up... Those rocks above my head were still several hundred feet from our destination, and we'd been on our feet for a couple hours already at this point.

Adorable little pika (about the size of a small guinea pig or large hamster). They made little "meep" noises. 

A ptarmigan. He barked. 

Marmot. We saw dozens of these. They were adorable but almost too friendly. Like if you had a chip in your hand, they might come and steal it. I'll avoid rabies, and keep my distance, thanks.

We had to hike across snow. In July. Crazy times. Yes, I was a little cold.

The views from the top weren't anything special, unfortunately, because as the name states, this is a flat mountain. 

The peak to the right of me was another 500 feet or so of climbing, plus it did not have a clear trail to it, so we didn't want to venture that direction. It was also really chilly and breezy at the top of the mountain, it was getting late, and I was so, so tired. It was time to go. 

The trail back down was uneventful, but banged on our quads. It felt like we'd never reach the bottom. We planned ahead and had tons of snacks and fluids, but by the end of the day we just wanted to be done. I was never so happy to sit in a car and take off my boots as I was that day. I don't think we realized how hard hiking at elevation would be. In hindsight, duh, of course it's hard, we're lacking oxygen, but at the time we thought hey, we're in ok shape, no problem! We were both spent at the end of the day. But we still had 2 more days of hiking to go... 

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