Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- Long’s Peak Trail- Day 5

We woke up early on Thursday to make our way to the parking lot and trailhead (TH) for Long’s Peak Trail. The day before we had just finished the 25-mile North Inlet/Tonahutu Loop trail which was simply spectacular, but summiting Long’s Peak, towering over the park at 14,258 feet was going to be an adventure. The first leg of our journey would take us to the Boulderfield which would involve nearly a six-mile hike and a climb near 3400 feet in elevation.

Day 5 (Thursday, July 26)

Longs Peak Trailhead (9400 feet) to Boulderfield Campground (12,750 feet)- 5.9

Total Day 4- 5.9

Elevation- 3370 feet

The journey to Long’s Peak (via the Keyhole Route) is quite an endeavor. Before I discuss the details of this hike I would like to share a few thoughts. This is not an easy or casual hike. It is tough terrain that involves a lot of physical exertion for many miles. Additionally, people have died trying to summit Long’s when proper precaution has not been exercised. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to dissuade anyone from hiking this trail. I am simply saying that, while this is a very popular peak to summit, do not just show up and start hiking. Do your homework and be prepared.

Here are a few important factors to take into account when preparing:

– Wear (and potentially pack) appropriate gear. The temperature swing from the TH to the summit may surprise you. Be prepared with sleeves and long pants.

– I would HIGHLY recommend sturdy hiking boots. Leading up to the Boulderfield and beyond you will thank me for this advice. It is very rough terrain. Headgear and sunglasses are also recommended.

– Take plenty of water. This is a long hike with a significant altitude difference. Dehydration is a serious concern at higher elevations. If you have a pump, the Boulderfield has accessible water to pump.

– Make preparations to summit and be below the tree-line before early afternoon, as afternoon showers typically roll in with lightning.

– If it has been raining or is continuing to rain, I would not pass the Keyhole or continue to the summit. Many people have fallen off of the shear cliffs to their death because of wet and slippery conditions. The same can be said for wind. If it is a really windy day, take precaution. It is not worth risking injury or death to reach the top.

– Follow the designated route to the summit. There are bulls-eyes marking the best and recommended route while scrambling over the rocks. Always know where your next bulls-eye is located and go straight towards it. Not following the suggested route can, once again, put you in a very precarious situation leading to injury and potentially death.

– Before beginning your hike, talk to the ranger at the trailhead to get up to date information about the trail and conditions.

 

Despite the significant elevation gain from the TH to the Boulderfield, it is made easier in that it is a gradual incline over six miles rather than a steeply graded incline. That definitely makes this trail more enjoyable to hike. Be prepared for a lot more people-traffic going up and down Long’s. The alpine hike continues for over a couple of miles before it breaks out around 10,500 feet into Mills Moraine and then onto Granite Pass. You will know why the Rockies are called the Rockies when you get to this area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we approached the Boulderfield in the early afternoon, I had a lot of different feelings. I was relieved to be at our end destination so that we could set up camp and get ready for our summit attempt the next morning. I was overwhelmed by the Boulderfield and how surreal it was to be hiking in a place I had studied about for so long. And then, I was confused and a bit frustrated as we approached the reserved camping spots and noticed that many people had already pitched their tents. What made this frustrating is that none of the spots were marked in any way and it was hard to determine who was supposed to camp where. Ultimately, after much investigated and talking, we decided to simply take two open spots. We had our reservations and the appropriate paperwork, so we wouldn’t have any problems anyway.

We decided to stay overnight in the Boulderfield for several reasons, but the main reason being that it is just a REALLY COOL place to camp. In my next post I will write about the Boulderfield specifically.

peace…

Brandon

 

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Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 4

After going to bed at 7pm because of the pouring rain on Day 3, we awoke the next morning with clear skies overhead.  In terms of elevation, the last leg of the North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail was almost entirely downhill.  In fact, this final 9.2 miles would take us down 3000 feet through Big Meadow and back to the North Inlet/Tonahutu TH.

Day 4 (Wednesday, July 25)

Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet) to Tonahutu/North Inlet TH via Big Meadows (8540 feet)- 9.2 miles

Elevation- downhill

 

This was one of the toughest mornings.  Of course it was really wet when we got out of our tents, but then packing up our wet stuff is another thing.  The sun would not be offering any help because it was still hiding behind the mountainside.  This is more of a reality for this area than what we experienced throughout the entire trip.  We were really fortunate that we did not get rained on more.  I would advise anyone backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park to always have a raincoat accessible at the top of your pack.

 

The coolest thing about the North Inlet/Tonahutu Loop Trail is that you get a ton of variation and diversity in terrain.  While my favorite portion was the alpine hike through the cairns along the Continental Divide on Day 3, there is no question that there was something refreshing and reinvigorating about falling below the tree-line and then walking out into a vast green meadow.  Big Meadow makes you take off your pack and stand still… so the calming breeze can envelop you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The homestretch of our nine-mile trek took us back through the pines.  There were not many exciting moments on this day, it was just a peaceful hike back to the TH.  As we approached the parking lot to wrap up North Inlet/Tonahutu Loop Trail, our minds were already thinking about the next day when we would be tackling Long’s Peak, the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park at 14,258 feet.  Day five would have us hiking over 3300 for five miles to camp at the Boulderfield, which will be by far the coolest camping spot to which I have ever been.

 Day 5 (Thursday, July 26)

Longs Peak Trailhead (9400 feet) to Boulderfield Campground (12,750 feet)

Total Mileage Day 5- 5.0

Elevation- 3370 feet

peace…

brandon

Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park- North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 3

We left July backcountry campsite, where we stayed at the end of Day 2, early on Tuesday morning.  We would be ascending over 1700 feet as we continued on North Inlet Trail to reach our connection to the Tonahutu Trail, which travels along a portion of the Continental Divide.  We would then drop 1800 feet altitude to finish up our 7.5 mile hike at the Renegade backcountry campsite.

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

As we started out the morning… the name of the game was elevation.  We were climbing by switchbacks along the mountainside which overlooked an absolutely brilliant valley.  In every way this spacious vastness just screamed life…and we took it in with every breath.  Forget about the heavy packs and trudging upward fighting gravity…this was heaven on earth man.  It was just good.  But it didn’t take long before we were left standing still in our own tracks.  As we looked 25-feet uphill… a 6×6, 600-pound bull elk was hovering over us chewing on this green breakfast.  He thought we were interesting, but his breakfast was more interesting.  He was close enough that we did not want to move for fear that he might get defensive, so we stayed put.  Eventually he began to move away but only to move ONTO OUR TRAIL AT THE SWITCHBACK.  He never snorted.  He never stomped his hooves.  He was definitely cool.  But we didn’t have the courage to move forward.  So we retreated back by 30-feet and had to climb straight up the mountain to connect to our trail.    Some fellow hikers, without our knowledge, was below us on the mountain and snapped a couple of pictures for us.

Photo by Melanie Glissman

photo by Melanie Glissman

Once we made it above the tree-line into the alpine region… my heart began to skip from the striking beauty.  These are the places you see in magazines and say, “I wish I could be there.”  And here we were.  It was so surreal.  Forget my words… just look at the pictures.

The beauty speaks for itself.  You find out very quickly how the area got it’s name because it is definitely rocky.  Some of the boulders and boulder configurations baffle the mind.  The temperature on this July day was in the mid-60’s at this elevation (over 12,000 feet).  We needed light shirt with sleeves… but it was the ultra-violet radiation which was the concern.  We wore our UV sunglasses and put on sunscreen for our exposed skin areas.

We could see the valley opening up with a mix of wildflowers and pine.  The final leg of our hike along the Tonahutu Trail would take us to Renegade.  This final section, in my opinion, was rough hiking.  The rocks were many times the size of baseballs and softballs, which made our steps rough.  We also began to see a ton of marmots running out from the rocks across the trail and into other rocks.  Pretty amazing stuff.

We set up quickly at Renegade and went down to the creek to cool off and wash up.  We ate supper early and sat back to relax when the storm clouds rolled in.  It started to rain at 7pm and we hopped into our tents.  We ended up falling asleep as it rained all night long.

This was one of my favorite days on the hike.  Day 4 will take us through the Big Meadow and back to the TH.

Day 4 (Wednesday, July 25)

Renegade Campsite (10,500 feet) to Tonahutu/North Inlet TH via Big Meadows (8540 feet)- 9.2 miles

Elevation- downhill

Read North Inlet/Tonahutu Trail- Day 4

Peace…

Brandon

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