Colorado Newbie Hiking
I decided to tackle St. Mary’s Glacier on a whim on a Labor Day after sitting around most of the morning after a long night with my new co-workers. After some Googling for hikes near Denver, I hopped in the car and took off. Thankfully, I had my insulated Kleen Kanteens, the daypack from my old North Face Backtrack 70, a Marmot Minimalist jacket, and some Nike running pants. Otherwise, what seemed like a really nice day could have gotten bad.
Considering I haven’t exercised extensively since the end of May (my life has been horribly tumultuous since), the hike was just mentally daunting. Little kids were running past me on the early stretch to the St. Mary’s Lake. When I finally got up to the ice field (St. Mary’s “Glacier”), there was very few people willing to go all the up. There was a couple with a dog who I was going side by side with, but they eventually lagged behind. I had already gotten my pictures and gotten my view, but the peak above seemed like something I just had to do… for no other reason than I could.
At the top of the glacier, the wind started cutting hard and I immediately threw on my running pants. The clouds were moving fast and the sun was in and out. With the average year round temperature up there below 50 degrees, there were no trees but merely an open tundra. Not at all acclimated to the altitude, it was pretty dumb on my part to take this hike alone. It got rocky near the top with some scrambling to do. The view far above the glacier was fantastic to the northwest was James Peak and Mount Bancroft and to the south Grays Peak and Torreys Peak.
After reaching the top, I saw a small creature that looked like a beaver but had grey/white hairs in its coat. Once it saw me walking towards it, it disappeared among some boulders. Turns out, I saw my first marmot. I also didn’t know at the time, but I did the first two miles of the St. James Peak trail (http://www.protrails.com/trail/391/summit-county-eagle-county-clear-creek-county-james-peak) before turning back due to the weather.
On the way down, I slipped on the ice field a couple times due to rocking out my Saucony Ride 7’s in a completely inappropriate environment (more on that later). I caught my foot on some rocks and went spilling forward at one point but thankfully I caught myself and got my foot out before hyperextending my knee. A few bumps and bruises on my tailbone later, I was back to my car… exhausted… happy… and glad to be in Colorado.
Now two weeks later, (I went home to Louisiana last weekend) I decided on another hike. This time, I figured I should properly pack gear and be equipped if I planned on something longer than my 4 mile/3 hour jaunt with the James Peak trail.
It became time for a REI membership. While almost everyone there was spectacular, the overly aggressive sales tactics by one of the saleswomen at the Englewood store was off putting. I ended up buying most of my gear at the flagship store in Denver proper.
To go along with my Schrade Titanium multi tool, a Leatherman Skeletool, and my jacket, I figured I could use a new first aid kit (haven’t used it yet, but it was light enough and compact enough), a new compass (mine is still at home), a Black Diamond Spot headlamp, an REI Lookout 40 L daypack, a lighter than my aluminum bottles Nalgene, and a pair of Merrell Moab Waterproof hiking shoes.
After convincing my temporary roommate/law school classmate/now coworker Ben to come with, I figured I could go on something significantly longer and farther away. Of the prettiest sights that didn’t involve a hugely dramatic elevation change, I decided on the Mills Lake/Jewel Lake hike in Rocky Mountain National Forest. Because of the lack of parking, we ended up half a mile from the shuttle to the trailhead. Breaking in a park of shoes on what should have been a 6.2 mile hike was probably not the greatest of ideas, but the Merrells stood up to the task. Despite wet ground, stepping into lakes and streams, etc., my feet stayed dry but could have used a touch more cushioning.
The first stretch of the hike was mostly downhill deeper towards the lake, we felt the +938’ elevation change from the Glacier Gorge trailhead to Jewel Lake by the end. Details of the hike path (http://www.protrails.com/trail/50/rocky-mountain-national-park-mills-lake-and-jewel-lake). From our point of view, seeing Alberta Falls, the lakes, and the wide variety of people willing to make that long hike was interesting. I was also very excited that I got multiple compliments on my Chubbies ‘Mericas shorts. Hikers tend to be the patriotic sort.
Of some significance, the Mills Lake view of Longs Peak is the back of the Colorado quarter. It felt like a bucket list thing to do as new Coloradoan.
On the way to Jewel Lake, we ended up going half a mile too far and had to turn back. Then we had a bit of a mix up and bypassed the Glacier Gorge trailhead and went all the way to Bear Lake adding another mile to our journey. So what should have been a 6.2 mile day, ended up with 3 miles worth of mistakes/lack of parking.
I honestly can’t complain. I’m thrilled by my day. Ben and I had a great lunch sitting at Mills Lake. I probably shouldn’t have hammered down the beers and pizza when I got back to the apartment, but I feel like I earned it.