Tuesday, August 10, 2010

To the High Country!

Tuesday dawned with bright sunshine and a little kickup in the wind, but not too bad.  My little gasoline/kerosene stove made coffee for us again, thanks to Mark's coffee supply and efforts.  Apparently it burns more gas than a lantern, though.  I didn't bring extra fuel, but since the lantern wasn't ever used on this trip, I raided its tank for more.

Perfect day to hit the high country.  Mostly clear to puffy-white-cloud partly cloudy skies.  The views should be spectacular.  And that was the plan.  

After breakfast and cleanup, we stopped once again at the trash facilities and filled our hydration bladders, and piled back into the car and headed for Trail Ridge Road -- IMHO one of the Park's greatest human-enhancements to the park.  Not that the road doesn't mar the view, but the road allows so many who can't or won't climb to the heights necessary to see the part of the world I call "God's Country" -- the land above the tree line - to go there and see it anyway.

Since we'd gotten there we'd promised the kids the top of a mountain, because we knew that Sundance is a mere 1/4 mile hike from the Rock Cut parking lot on Trail Ridge.  It would be doable.  Barring that, there is a 12,005 foot unnamed peak with a similarly short (but much steeper) trail to the top right next to the Trail Ridge Road's Alpine Visitor's Center & and the Trail Ridge Road Store and Cafe.

A man told me he'd been over the road in the spring and the Alpine Visitor's Center. was completely covered in snow and that he in fact had walked on the snow over the top of it.  It's not a tiny structure, either -- One of the rangers at the store was telling a tourist that the top of the two storey window facing the valley (away from the parking lot) was visible in early June, and the whole thing wasn't clear until mid to late July.  We were there in early to mid August, and there was little snow to be seen anywhere. 

The few weeks of summer, unfortunately, is the only time they really have to work on the road, so they try to avoid it as much as possible during the peak of the season ... but the whole summer is pretty busy, and they were working on it while we were there, re-paving road surface and parking lots.  They had it down to one lane and let traffic flow each way in 15 minute shifts.  One of the parking lots they were resurfacing was the Rock Cut parking lot with the trail to the top of Sundance, so we scooted by it and went to the Alpine Visitor's Center.

When we arrived, the trail to the top of the unnamed peak was closed for maintenance.  We went in, and I bought a replacement USGS Long's Peak Marker replica pin ... I lost mine ... to pin on my hat.  Also got a nice water-proof & tear-resistant topo map of the park.  Next door at the store, I looked for some jewelry for Vicki ... ended up getting her a silver aspen leaf (she already has gold ones) with a bit of abalone??? (everyone knows mountains and abalone go together like ... ) ... well it's pretty anyway.  I also got an RMNP coffee cup for myself and an RMNP keychain bottle opener.   I think the kids enjoyed the view and the shopping.  Between the two buildings there's an overlook and we could see a small herd of elk in the distance with binoculars.  You can also see Sundance Mountain from there, and the lush green valley that Old Fall River Road comes up.

A ranger told us that there should be 4 or 5 parking spaces at Rock Cut, so on our way back we found one and swooped into it and commenced the short hike up the tundra trail to the top of Sundance Mountain.  This part of the mountain has some odd rock formations on the top of it where harder rock capped more limestoney rock and there are pillars of limestone underneath little caps of harder stone. 

Cassy found a small cave-let in one and Mark and Cassie and Q sat and ate lunch in it.  We spent a decent amount of time watching the kids climbing around and playing with the walkie-talkies, soaking in the beautiful view, blue skies, puffy white clouds, and peaks and ranges rippling over each other to the horizon in all directions.

Eventually we walked back down to the car and hopped in, timing it just perfectly to be let through by the traffic lady.  I asked what the kids wanted to do on the way down, and Cassie immediately piped up that she wanted to get completely wet in the Big Thompson River.  She'd been obsessed with this since she got to wade in it on Sunday and saw the other kids swimming in it.

Nathanial said he wanted to climb another mountain.  Since the question was "what do you want to do on the way down?" and not "when we get down" ... we stopped and climbed a ridge near where the road finally makes a dip below the trees down into Horseshoe Park.  Cassie was really in no mood for more hiking and sat down on a rock and contented herself looking at the flowers and tundra plants.  I climbed to the top of the ridge where Mark and Nathanial spotted a patch of snow.  Both kids had wanted to see snow, and Mark and Nathanial headed off toward it.

It was a lot farther than it looked, maybe almost a half mile away.  But they made it and played in it a little while.  Meanwhile 3 ladies came to the top of the ridge and were taking pictures of each other.  I offered to take one of all of them, and they happily took me up on it.  Seems they were three friends who don't see each other often, and each wanted a copy for their respective refrigerators.

After Mark & Q got back, we went back to the car and decended off the mountain, down to the parks below and back to the campsite.  There we changed quickly into swimming clothes.  I grabbed my backpacker guitar and a stool and we headed for Moraine Park and the Big Thompson.

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