I really enjoy hiking, but let me just say here and now that my version of hiking isn’t the REI version: expensive gear compacted into a tiny backpack, grueling treks laid out, trails that take all day or several…no. I like to pack plenty of snacks -yes, those are healthy, so REI would be proud of me there-, comfy clothes, and my trusty Duluth Pack filled with a book or two. I bring my Nikon and I prepare to wander.
It was just me on this trip as all my housemates are out of town. The snow began in little flurries as I drove through Roosevelt National Forest. I grabbed a map from the visitors center of Rocky Mountain National Park and showed the lady at the info desk that I had sensible footwear (Sorel snow boots). She told me about a couple of trails I might try and I was off. Of course I got lost. I had a scenic drive and turned around a couple of times before I saw the signs for the trail head. I saw no elk, either, which was disappointing. Lots of people come to this park just to see the elk that roam around here!
I stopped for photos next to small creek. Since the water had a solid covering of ice I crossed it and started heading to a rocky outcropping across a big open plain. The scenery was stunning even if the weather wasn’t. The temperature was bitter and the wind was picking up, bring more snow with it. The higher peaks were completely obscured, but here and there where they did emerge they were ghostly and a little shocking. Image if you thought you were looking at plain sky…but actually there was a mountain there. Anyway, I was crossing this plain. I started noticing plenty of elk scat. PLENTY. It began to occur to me that I was not on a trail. I was where people were not meant to go. I was were elk/bear/mountain lions/goodness-knows-what-else goes. I stopped taking pictures and turned back to the trail.
Back on the actual trail I met a few hikers (they looked like the very serious REI kind) coming back. As I walked the trail hugged a hill filled with boulders and trees on one side, and the big open plain on the other. The mountains loomed all around. It was very quiet. I stopped and listened for bird song, or even the sound of other hikers. It was eerily silent. Eventually though, the birds did start up, and it was the chickadee warning cry that sounded first. I suppose they were warning each other about me, but they got over it soon enough. The trail headed into the woods and towards a slope. The snow fell heavier. I met a few hikers going each way. I wasn’t as alone as I thought. I took the opportunity to stand on a large boulder and catch snow on my tongue. There was a small brook that was flowing alongside the trail and for the lie of me I can’t even figure some of the places it must have flowed through. I mean, I looked, and there was no sign of water, but I could always hear it. Underground, perhaps? I followed the trails for a little over two hours as it started to climb. There was a lot more snow and some very fierce squirrels. In some places it was clear that the trail was normally the bed of the brook or creek in warmer months because it was pure ice now.
When I estimated I had just enough time to double back and reach the car before dark, I headed back. My legs were pretty sore and the temperature had dropped, so I kept up a pretty brisk pace on the way back. At the trail head I snapped a photo of the map of the place I had hiked. My Nikon had run out of battery by this time, so some of the photos are from my phone.
Back at the visitors center I stopped to use the restroom before making the 70 mile or so drive home. I hear this odd trumpety-squeak sound, which I initially ignored. Was it some weird bird? Something mechanical? I happened to look across the road and see a huge herd of elk. That’s where they all were! There must have been around 100! It was impressive and not a little intimidating. Check out the quick video I took Here. From what I could make out, the younger elk were making the odd sounds as the ran around the larger group. The herd was moving along right up next to some cabins. I can only hope the inhabitants were inside enjoying the view.
That was my solo hiking adventure! This was my second visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, and quite different from the first. I’m not sure what future visits will be like as winter progresses, but I promise to keep you informed.