Trip Report: RMNP Hiking

At the beginning of September, Seth and I took a quick, four-day trip down to Colorado to do some climbing and hiking. You can read about the climbing portion here.

We flew out on Sunday and headed out to Rocky Mountain National Park on Tuesday. Altitude was a concern, coming from Minneapolis, which sits at 830ft above sea level. We had a day in Boulder at just over 5,000ft, and then headed to RMNP, which sits above 9,000ft.

Our strategy to deal with the altitude change was to start drinking a LOT of water a few days before heading out, and continue that trend the whole time we were at altitude. We also avoided alcohol and meat for a few days. Overall, we both handled the altitude really well, and I have no doubt that the massive amounts of water were a key factor. We reminded each other to keep hydrating, and set little goals for ourselves: drink this liter before bed, drink this jug of water while we’re out running errands, etc. It definitely helped to have someone reminding me to hydrate!

Bear Lake/Loch Lake Loop

On Tuesday we headed into Estes Park, and up to the Bear Lake trailhead (9,475ft). It was misty and cloudy, so we pulled on our rain gear and headed out. The trail was well-groomed and well-traveled, but because it was a rainy day there weren’t a lot of people, which we definitely appreciated.

Beautiful, misty views.

We hiked past some beautiful alpine lakes: Bear Lake and Dream Lake, on our way out to the Loch Vale Trail and Loch Lake (we basically mimicked this guy’s hike, only backwards).

Our copy of the National Geographic RMNP trails map had a mileage error on it, which listed a 2.2 mile section as 0.7 miles. Luckily, that was the only error we found, and we were on well-established trails, so it wasn’t a big deal. The map served us well otherwise, and was waterproof, which proved to be very handy.

The Loch. Hidden in the clouds to the left is a glacier.

No pack cover? No problem!

The hike was beautiful. There’s something magical about hiking in mist. We reached The Loch (10,160ft), had lunch, and headed back around the other side of the mountain, making a nice loop and passing a few waterfalls and pretty views along the way.

Tuesday totals: 7 miles of easy to moderate hiking on well-established trails, with probably 1,000 ft of total elevation gain when counting the ups and downs. Three alpine lakes, two waterfalls, lots of aspen trees, and a day in the mountains. Lovely.

Tuesday night we had originally planned to camp, but decided to avoid the rain and risk losing some cred. I’ve camped in the rain plenty this year, thank you very much. We found a lovely little hotel in Estes Park and settled in for the night.

Twin Sisters Peak

Wednesday’s plan: Twin Sisters Peak. This peak sits just south of Estes Park, at 11,428ft. We thought it would be good to choose one of the smaller peaks, because we hadn’t had much time to acclimate. This peak affords beautiful views of the front range, including Longs Peak in the distance. At least, that’s what we had read.

This was our view of the mountains when we woke up on Wednesday morning:

There are mountains in those clouds

Looking at the mountains, covered in clouds, I didn’t think that our hike was going to happen, but we gathered our things and drove through the clouds to the trailhead to check things out. It wasn’t stormy, just cloudy and misty, so we decided to go ahead. We were on the trail by 7:30.

Beautiful, misty hike

The trail was beautiful. A gradual start leads to switchbacks through a dense pine forest. Once above the treeline, there is a traverse across the side of the mountain leading to another set of rocky switchbacks and up to the summit. 4 miles each way, 2,338ft elevation gain.

Rocky trail above the treeline

We had the entire mountain to ourselves. There were no great views, but the mist made everything seem really magical and beautiful in its own right.

On the summit. No views that day.

We reached the summit in a cloud. This was my first mountain summit, and although we couldn’t see anything around us (so much for the beautiful views), I could still very much feel the space around me and knew without a doubt that I was at the top of something big.

We spent a few minutes up top and headed down. The wind had started to pick up and it was beginning to rain in earnest. By the time we got below the tree line again, the trail was a running stream of water. We found a spot that was sheltered from the weather and made a quick stop for food before deciding that we just needed to keep moving. It was cold, and with the wind and rain it was quite unpleasant. Once we got down a few hundred more feet, things started warming up. Soon we were back at the trailhead.

Seth on the cloudy summit of Twin Sisters Peak

This was my first successful mountain summit (above 10,000 ft). Next time, hopefully, I’ll be able to see some views while I’m up there!

I would definitely recommend both of these hikes for anyone visiting RMNP. Even in the rain and mist, they were both beautiful hikes. They are well-traveled, but if you’re going for a quick visit, they are a great way to get a feel for the park and for the mountains.

3 thoughts on “Trip Report: RMNP Hiking

  1. The Bionic Hiker

    Next time you head back to Colorado look into hiking Grays and Torreys Peaks. Two 14ers connected by a saddle. Then you can brag about how you bagged two 14ers in a day and look like an even bigger rockstar. Loved the RMNP posts! Makes me wish I was back in CO.

    1. Elizabeth Post author

      Thanks for the tip, we’ll have to check into those next time we’re down there. RMNP was beautiful, even in the rain! I’d love to explore the park further and see some more glaciers and mountain tops. Thanks for reading!

  2. Pingback: Trip Report: Boulder Climbing | Eliz Rocks

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