Scuddy clouds raked the mountains around Moraine park, including Longs Peak in the distance. If there was any doubt that Tuesday was the right day to make the summit attempt, this morning cinched it. There was snow above 12,000 feet. Not a lot, but the snowline was quite visible. I found out later that at least for the morning the Keyhole route had therefore been "upgraded" to "technical". No way I would have climbed today. The rain had moved in Thursday and I would've been hiking down in the rain if I were lucky enough to make it to the top before it started. And Wednesday had some early clouds and storms rake across the peak. I was glad I did it when I did it.
The last full day in the park is always a bit sad, but a bit exciting. You really want to make the most of it. But we had a problem today. We had to move our tent to 156 by noon. And we had no control over when 156 would be vacated.
Another family was in the same boat and they had to move, too. We took a "tourist moment" picture for them as well as they carried their tent, assembled, from site to site. We didn't have that luxury since we weren't sure when 156 would be breaking down and leaving.
There was a couple from Lathrop, MO where Mark & Cami bought some land about a year or so ago, staying in 157 by the road where we parked. We'd wanted to talk to them more. They seemed like really nice folks and besides they were likely going to be Mark & Cami's neighbors in a few years. We shot the breeze with them and around 9:00am, the people in 156 started breaking down their camp. They were out by 10:30, and we moved ours. At one point my flask dropped out of what I was carrying near the campsite and I made a mental note to go back and retrieve it when I put my load down. We finished moving and talked to the Lathrops for a short bit longer, and headed out to check out of 158 and into 156 and go see what we could see in the afternoon. I was afraid it would cloud up and our shortened day would be a bust.
We told the very nice ranger lady in the camground booth that it was our last day and we wanted a relatively short hike on improved trail (for my knee) and to maybe catch a water fall or a lake or two. She made a note that I had done Longs and said "well people who do Longs generally like to stay away from crowds. Why don't you try Bierdstat Lake?"
So off we headed toward the Bear Lake area. The trailhead would be on the way.
But due to our late start, the parking lots were all full. There were signs to that effect. We'd have to take the Park & Ride shuttle, which I'd never taken before. We parked in the ample parking lot, gathered our stuff, got on a bus and were off in no time to the Bierdstat Lake trailhead.
The trail goes up about 650 vertical feet up the Bierdstat Moraine in just a little over a mile. My knee pretended it was going to bother me, but stopped completely before we were halfway up.
Looking at the trail it looked like it was going to be a woodsy climb with limited, if any, views. But when we broke above the pines into the aspens where there were clearings, the switchbacks offered ample views of the valley where Glacier Creek, Boulder Brook, and Wind River flow. The higher up we got, the better the veiws into Glacier Gorge, of Longs, Chief's Head, Hallett's, Mount Craig, and others.
The top of the moraine put us back into pine forest, and led down to a "trail around the lake". But no lake was visible. We continued to walk around it, occasionally getting out the topo map and matching it up with the GPS to decide where we should cut in to see the lake. We sat on a log while we looked over the map, and had some water. A little way down the trail we came upon a little ... side trail, or water channel? heading off to the right. We didn't know but either way it should should lead us to the lake. It did.
We broke out of the trees in a shady grove near a grassy end of the lake. A gnarled rootwad stood out in the sun -- in bold contrast to the lush green grass around it. A couple of birds started pestering us, and we took some pictures. The lake was pretty, but there wasn't a view beyond the trees rimming the lake.
I couldn't find my GPS. I hoped I hadn't dropped it, but it wasn't anywhere in my pack or on me. It was way too expensive to just give up on, so I backtracked up the trail scouring the ground for signs of it. I got to the main trail around the lake and went back to the last spot I remember using it. I didn't see it. But on my way back I noticed it face down on a log... the one we had sat on while we tried to figure out how best to get from here to the lake. I was just in the beginning mental stages of giving up the search and trying to convince myself not to let it spoil my day. It is grey, and the log was about the same shade. It's a wonder I saw it. Kudos to St. Anthony! (note... this actually happened after the next episode)
Back at the lake, grassy, reedy area extended about 20 or so feet out into the water, and at one point what we imagined a kind of large, serpentine movement moving generally toward us through the grass in the water startled us. Mark beat his hiking pole on the ground, and it moved away, only to start toward us again within about 30 seconds.
Having convinced ourselves somehow that it was a large snake (even though I've never seen a snake above 8,000 feet... not saying there aren't any... but...) I caught a bit of what looked like brown scales. If this were a snake it was a good 2.5" around. It must be big. I was backing up a bit and geting ready to take a picture of this large serpent as it emerged at the water's edge when it suddenly became quite apparent that we were dealing with a zealously friendly duck.
I think people feed the ducks up here. And come to think of it, those other birds were probably used to scavenging from sloppy, or generous, tourists as well.
We had a good laugh at ourselves. Took a few "tourist moment" shots. Ate lunch. And moved on to find the trail. We'd seen people at the other end of the lake and figured that would be nearer where the main trail dumped us to begin with.
We hadn't gone 100 yards before we realized we'd been resting and eating at the wrong end of the lake!
The high peaks to the south and west stood up above the trees when we looked back offering breathaking views against the mostly clear blue sky.
Thankfully, last night's cold front was followed by a stablizing northwesterly flow and high pressure, leaving us with a picture-perfect afternoon for our last day.
Well Mr. Shutterbug here went nuts, trying to figure out the right exposure and the trick to using my graduated neutral density filter to try to get a good exposure of the landscape without washing out the sky and especially the detail in the clouds. I got mixed results. I need to consult with my friend Megan.
But we did need to head back, and so after a few more tourist moment shots (some with cheesy but fun poses), we hiked out. On the way we found where we should've turned off the main loop trail -- there was a large hitching rail that said "no horses beyond this point".
Of course, the hike down offered spectacular views from the opposite direction as the hike up. That's a cool thing about hiking up here (or anywhere for that matter). You think the hike back is going to look the same as the hike in, but that's not true. They look different. You are seeing different stuff behind the same stuff, and that same stuff is being looked at from a 180 degree angle from the direction you saw it before.
So here's a bit of Phil's Hiking Wisdom:
The hike up is not the same as the hike down.
Simple as that.
My knee was doing fine. We had a nice chat with the bus driver on the way back to Park & Ride. I was a bit leery of Park and Ride... but no more. It's a great way to go... especially if you'd like to start at one trailhead in this valley and hike to another. They don't care where they drop you off or pick you up, just so long as you're at a bus stop.
So next time you see the parking lots full, don't fret. Do Park and Ride. Just make sure you have all your stuff before you get on the bus.