In my previous post I discussed some of the preparations we made leading up to our five-day-long backcountry hiking trip in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado. A significant part of our planning and consideration was altitude. Coming from Columbus, Indiana, where the elevation is around 650 feet above sea level, transplanting ourselves in an environment two to three miles above sea-level and doing significantly rigorous hiking involved careful attention.
As I also wrote before, I began taking an altitude medication, Diamox, in addition to Aleve and Aspirin a couple of days before reaching elevation and then as I hiked throughout the week. Being that the effects of altitude are somewhat out of my control, I wanted to take as many preventive measures as I could to have a successful hike.
Additionally, we decided to arrive in Denver (approximately 5200 feet) on Saturday and then travel to North Inlet/Tonahutu trailhead (8540 feet) in Rocky Mountain National Park to begin our hike on Sunday afternoon. Our hiking plan had us only traveling 3.4 miles with 300 feet elevation gain on that Sunday to our first day’s destination near Cascade Falls. This first day plan was encouraged by the Rangers at the Backcountry Office in RMNP in order to give us essentially one more day of acclimation before hitting significant mileage and elevation. This wisdom and precaution, I believe, set us up for a very successful week.
Day 1 (Sunday, July 22)
Tonahutu/North Inlet TH (8540 feet) to Cascade Falls Campsite (8840 feet)- 3.4 miles
Total Day- 3.4 miles
Maximum elevation change- 300 feet
The North Inlet/Tonahutu TH parking lot is located near Grand Lake, which is in the southwest portion of RMNP. There are plenty of spots to park at TH parking lot and both the North Inlet and Tonahutu trails are connected to it, which makes entering and exiting very easy. We parked, geared up, had some fellow hikers snap a couple of pics of us, and headed out on North Inlet trail, which we would traverse until Tuesday when we would connect to Tonahutu. The entirety of the loop trail from North Inlet to Tonahutu and then through Big Meadow would take us just over 25 miles with an elevation gain over 3500 feet.
The first 3.4 miles of the North Inlet trail start off in a welcoming and un-intimidating manner leading hikers among pines and open meadows. If you are not overtaken by how surreal it is to be hiking in such a beautiful place, take just a second to close your eyes and breathe deep- the fresh and crisp wind blowing through the pine makes you forget everything you are walking away from in the parking lot. Prepare to leave everything behind and be completely enveloped.
Camping at our first backcountry area near Cascade Falls requires a permit. This camping area is dispersed, which means that you may camp anywhere within the designated zone. However, it is important to keep in mind that backcountry camping encourages setting up tents 70 adult steps away from creeks/rivers and dead trees. I have to admit that it was somewhat challenging finding a clear area meeting those requirements, but we eventually found a nice spot upon a large rocky area about a hundred feet above the creek that runs parallel to this portion of North Inlet. It had an outstanding view above the creek and was still close enough access for pumping water.
Our itinerary for the next day:
Day 2 (Monday, July 23)
Cascade Falls Campsite (8840 feet) to July Campsite (10,650 feet)- 5.1 miles
Total Day 1- 5.1 miles
Maximum elevation change- 1810 feet