This trip to Colorado has been in the works since January. I had just started dating a guy (the same one I tortured with 13.4 downhill miles) who was escaping almost every other weekend to go skiing in Colorado. I’d never been snow skiing. Never been to Colorado outside the Denver airport. Never really been to the mountains. Well he wouldn’t shut up about them. And it started our longest running dispute yet – mountains or beach? If you know me at all, you know what I’m voting for! (If you don’t know me, it’s the beach).
He convinced me to start saving for a ski trip and when I realized that a trip for a starting-from-scratch skier would be upwards of $1,000 plus hours of ski school, I thought maybe we should plan a summer escape-the-Tulsa-heat trip. So we did. And then naturally the race-planner in me thought I should see what races were going on in the area. Read more about that adventure here.
Since he’d been so many more times than me, we decided he would plan most of the trip – the travel, and the adventure days. I planned the days surrounding the run. Because of this we ended up leaving Tulsa after 10pm on Wednesday to drive through the night. When we pulled out of the driveway we had nowhere to stay Thursday or Friday night (his days, but my nights were booked).
I did the best I could to stay awake and provide entertaining company but inevitably fell asleep from about midnight until 2am. The man doesn’t function after 2 am so we looked for a place to stay in Limon, CO. Not a single vacancy in about 8 hotels. I loaded up on some coffee and nibbled on dry cereal to get us to Denver.
We cruised right past the city headed for the mountain town of Estes Park. One of his favorite places is Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) so that was our first big destination after breakfast in EP. We stepped out of the car and it was like we’d transported back in time to March in Oklahoma. Beautiful temperatures! And the views of the mountains were incredible. Estes Park is a darling little mountain town with plenty of restaurants, lodging, a lake and very close to RMNP.
We paid $20 to get into the park. You could very easily drive most of it but my tour guide had some hikes he wanted to go on and that sounded awesome to me. Was sick of the car. Our first stop was a trail called the Alluvian Fan – it was a short semi-circular hike towards a waterfall. We had to climb up a bit and this is the first place I really felt the elevation affect me. I was winded way faster than I should have been hiking to the water.
It was a lot of fun working our way up the rocky path next to the waterfall. I realized at this point that my fairly minimalist Kinvaras were not the best hiking shoe and if Colorado is to be a regular place for us, I need to invest in some. The rocks were like a giant playground for adults – I even slid down one like a slide when I couldn’t figure out how to climb back down. This part of the park had been subject to severe flooding from a dam break almost 33 years ago to the day we were there. Water flooded the area we were standing in, as well as part of Estes Park. We briefly entertained survival strategies if we heard the deafening roar of water coming down the mountain and ultimately agreed on the fact that we’d both not survive.
We returned to the car to drive higher up into the mountains – stopping on trailheads that had markings we thought indicated waterfalls. On this particular hike we chatted about traveling and where we would each like to go next. There’s a long list. I had a kiddo moment and hung upside down from a tree – or maybe it was the lack of sleep and oxygen levels…..
A few more back and forths in the car winding up the mountain and we decided it was time for a nap. We pulled over into some shade, reclined the seats and snoozed for almost an hour. I know for sure the lack of sleep was a contributing factor but I don’t know how the elevation played into it.
Tour guide had a particular trail in mind – Chapin’s peak. Once we found it, I noticed a sign that listed important items to take with you: whistle, high-energy food, sunscreen, weather-proof clothing, water and other survival essentials. We had water and food. But I’m here typing to you so everything worked out.
This particular trail took us through green pine trees, up some rocky staircases and finally to the side of the peak where some elk were grazing. This is where we decided to veer off-trail and make it to the summit. I honestly didn’t think we’d get there. It was a long way up. We’d already been hiking for probably close to an hour but I was enjoying my company and the scenery so thought we might as well give it a shot. The terrain was lumpy grass mixed with some kind of variously sized rocks. Tricky to say the least. But something clicked on for me mentally and I decided we were gonna get to the top. It was really hard to breathe and I was dizzy a few times but am so glad (like always!) that we made it to the top!
Once we made it to the top, I naturally was drawn towards the edge of the mountain. We’d been tipped off by another hiker that it was a pretty steep drop off and he wasn’t kidding! I found a safe spot to sit on the edge and we relaxed for a bit, catching our breaths and taking in the views. Across the valley we saw a thunderstorm roll in across the mountains. I watched rocks drop down below us and sat next to a big patch of snow that hadn’t yet melted. I wasn’t cold though!
On our way back down, we wanted to encounter the herd of elk we’d passed on our way up. The terrain was tricky to handle on the way down and we both stumbled. More than once. Eventually we found our old trail and the family of elk.
By this point in the hike we’re both pretty exhausted again and very hungry. We were also a little bit lost. I entertained myself by asking survival strategy questions. “What if a bear appears on the trail?” He was going to jump into the nearest gathering of evergreens while I was going to freeze and distract the bear with the beef jerky by tossing it down the valley. Pretty sure I’m the survivor in that scenario.
Once we’d found our way back to the actual trail – we stumbled across a whole bunch of the elk. I watched them for a while, pretty fascinated. They just ate and didn’t seem to mind the few pairs of tourists watching and taking pictures.
We finally made it back to the car and continued the drive up the mountain to the Alpine Lodge. Here we stopped for food – chicken soup for me and then forged on down the other side. We had to pause for another nap and apparently I stopped taking pictures. The last time he was in this part of the park he saw a moose on the side of the road so we each looked hard on our respective sides and I swear I imagined one into being. We were about to exit the mountain area and head towards the lake when we passed a group of people taking pictures on the side of the road. It was a baby moose and mama eating in the trees!
What an exciting and exhausting first day we had! We stopped for pizza in Frasier and then found a hotel for the night, crashing pretty quickly. I needed rest for our next big adventure…..white water rafting.