Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 2

At the end of Day 1 we really didn’t stay up too late. Of course there was some eagerness about really getting started the next day, but the truth is that it is a different dynamic settling into camp in the evening without a fire. Without the glow and warmth of a campfire to settle in around, staying up late and talking feels awkwardly incomplete. Even if the conditions were favorable to have a fire, Rocky Mountain National Park bans all fires except those in designated areas. Early to bed…early to rise!

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

The extra rest would pay off for me because day two would prove to be more altitude than I had expected. Each of us were ready for the five mile hike and the 1800 feet of altitude change, but another guy and I would also tackle another 2300 feet of altitude to see Lake Nokoni (11,060), but more on that in a bit.

We woke up early to a relatively cool morning with the sun still hidden behind the mountains. We had coffee and breakfast and awaited the arrival of the sun to warm us up a bit and to knock the dew off of our tents. We also went down to the stream and pumped before heading out. Keeping hydrated at higher altitudes is really important…so we made sure that each person was carrying a minimum of 64 ounces of water.

Our end-of-the-day destination was the July backcountry campsite, which requires a permit. The five miles taking us to our destination could be a little misleading in regards to elevation. I would estimate that the first four miles of Day 2 was somewhat flat with very little elevation gain. The majority of our 1800 gain would be the final mile. So leading up to lunch we followed alongside the stream weaving through some spectacular areas below the tree-line.

A little bit after noon we reached the juncture for Lake Nokoni/Lake Nanita. Three of the guys were going to have lunch and possibly get in the stream to cool off. Josh Brown and I decided to ditch our packs behind a big boulder and take the 2.5 mile hike to Lake Nokoni. Oddly enough, we didn’t take a hard look at the map to see what kind of elevation was in front of us. We just took off. If you are interested in taking this 2.5 mile hike to see the lakes… know this- every single step you take for the next 2.5 miles is up. No joke. After 2.4 miles of hiking and not knowing if we were close, we sat down to determine how far away we were. We decided that if we were not at the lake within 13 minutes (3pm)… we would turn around. We both knew that once we got back to our packs we would have another 1800 feet to climb to get to camp. Fortunately, as soon as we stood up some other hikers passed us and said we were within two minutes of reaching Nonita. At that point, if you would have asked if anything would have impressed me enough to justify that hike… I would have said NO! But, as we hiked just over the ridge to see Lake Nonita I was completely blown away. It was an absolutely magnificent lake at the top of a mountain. And that is pretty cool.

While it took us quite a while to reach Lake Nokoni… it only took us 30 minutes to get to the bottom. With storm clouds threatening overhead, we ran the trail in order to cover our bags, put our raincoats on, and then begin our ascent to July.

Truth be told it was a relatively quick hike to our campsite. The majority of the steep elevation was comprised of about eight long switchbacks and then a long stretch ending at July. We joined the other three guys who had already set up camp and then set up our own tent. It didn’t take long for a family of mule deer to welcome us to the area.

The next three days would prove to be the best hiking days of my life.  Day three will take us on North Inlet Trail along an alpine portion of the Continental Divide connecting to Tonahutu Trail.

Day 3 (Tuesday, July 24)

July Campsite (10,650 feet) to Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet)- 7.5 miles

Total Day 2- 7.5 miles

Maximum elevation gain- 1713 feet

Read about North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 3

Peace…

Brandon

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Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 1

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.

Sunday’s itinerary:

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

Read north inlet/tonahutu trail- day 2

peace…

brandon