Two weeks before a long planned Rocky Mountain trip this last summer, a bike crash on the way to work resulted in my acquisition of a broken left elbow and wrist. Gone was my lovingly prepared itinerary for a week of scrambling with my 12 year old son Evan, longtime hiking partner Dennis and his 18 year old nephew Anthony. In truth, my original itinerary overlooked several important aspects of the trip (like the fact that our wives Deb and Mona would be accompanying us, as well as my disabled daughter Hannah). So my trip plans needed to be reset as much as my bones did. I thought it would be interesting to compare the itinerary I had first developed versus the one I re-fashioned in light of my injuries.
I had moved the focus of my more recent trips from a hiking to a scrambling orientation when I found that Evan’s interest was sustained by scrambling routes than long distance hikes. See Scrambling with an 11 Year Old and our other TRs for the evolution of our trips. So my pre-injury itinerary for our week at RMNP was made up of two lists – one of options for hard core hikes, and one of options for smaller, objectives for Hannah and my wife, who was looking for more rest after a full year being a bilingual teacher’s aide.
Hard Core Summit options list
Needles Summit (Scramble)
Horse Tooth/Lookout Mountain (Scramble at end)
Hallett or Taylor
Lead Mountain (Scramble)
Spearhead or Pagoda (Scramble)
More relaxed Hike options list for my wife and daughter
As you can see, my plans were a lot vaguer in the ‘more relaxed hike’ department. About a month ahead of the trip, I started thinking of the hard core list less and less as options and more and more as scheduled events – while Deb, Mona and Hannah were left to get on ‘on their own’ – thinking I would throw them a copy of ‘Short Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park’ each day as we left for a summit rendezvous. My original idea was to set them up with easy hiking trails nearby to our routes, but I had not spent a lot of time on that part of the planning.
My broken elbow and wrist (radial head and scapia fracture to the medically minded) did manage to knock some sense into my trip planning. Here is what we ended up doing.
Day 1 - Lookout Mountain
Squall Pass before the rain
Part of my successful family vacation strategy always includes a stiff hike at the start to burn myself out a little bit so I am less crabby the rest of the week. In retrospect I think I was trying to sneak in some scrambling to test my abilities on the summit block of Lookout Mountain – somehow hopeful Dennis, Mona, Anthony and Evan could somehow make up for me not able to put any weight on my left arm and having an immobilized hand. Maybe push me up and over anything I could not manage. Alas, clouds and rain descended on us at Squall Pass before we could put my interesting scrambling ideas to the test. Thunder and lightening followed, giving us a quick lesson in Rocky Mountain weather, hike early or hike wet.
Comment from Evan: Our heads were in the clouds.
Day 2 – Emerald Lake Trail
Hallett and Flattop from Dream Lake
Hannah Lit Up
It was time for me to think about Deb and Hannah. They had spent the previous day helping out at an animal shelter, since animals are the ruling passion of Hannah’s life. My daughter Hannah has mild cerebral palsy, which affects her left arm and leg. She walks with a limp but is a trooper. Now weather-wise, we awoke early and drove to a nearly empty Bear Lake lot. The dazzling and easy hike to Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lake on a perfect day blew everyone away and was a great introduction to the Rockies. Hannah’s face was lit up and we lingered a while at Emerald Lake, soaking in the sun and beauty – the girls staying at the lakeshore while the boys scrambled up the boulder field. I have tended to get fixated on summit attainments and forget the reasons I love the outdoors. Worse, I have tended lately toward looking down my nose at a (sniff) touristy hikes. This hike (even deluged with people as we returned later in the day) is of surpassing beauty – waterfalls, alpine vistas, striking lakes. All hikes do not have to end with a summit, and popular hikes are popular for a reason. In the end, my summit fever was broken by the perfect day with family and friends, all of which were experiencing Rocky Mountain Park for the first time. I was able to relax and accept the social and physical limitations of the trip. Trips are made for people, not people for trips.
Comment from Evan: 'I loved climbing on the boulders'.
Day 3 – Mt Chiquita and Mt. Ypsilon
Early morning Commuter
Being at peace did not mean we could not try to push ourselves and bag a peak or two. Dennis had seized on the 13er Mt Ypsilon as his main trip objective for the week. I may not be able to clamber up things with my arms but there was nothing wrong with my legs. And these two peaks seemed doable by legpower alone. While the girls did a rest and shopping day, the guys got up early for the drive up Fall River Road (an adventure in itself) to Chapin Pass. The Bighorn Sheep were also commuting that time of morning, and the day was brilliant and scenery was awesome.
Top of Chiquita
I had never seen such a stunning string of snow capped summits in one place before. Our Chicago lungs struggled early (Dennis told me he almost turned around after the first 100 yards) but caught up in time to enjoy a platoon of marmots and a superlative pair of summits.
Spectacle Lakes from Ypsilon
The Spectacle Lakes were just that when viewed from the 2000 foot cliff near Ypsilon’s top. A brief snow, and an astonishingly powerful wind capped the day.
Comment by Evan: 'Dad dragged me up the last mountain. It was worth it'.
Day 4 – Mills Lake
Mona, Hannah and Deb joined us again up to impressive Alberta Falls, then the guys took off to go farther up trail. Evan and I attempted to scramble up the eastern Glacier Knob, but the route we selected was too brushy and we bailed. We lunched and indulged in head dunking on a rock in Glacier Creek before pushing on to stunning Mills Lake. Loitering there, I could not help but look up Glacier Gorge to the dramatic Spearpoint and Pagoda Peak. These objectives, on my original list, will have to await another trip.
Evan Comment: 'Water was very cold'
Day 6 – Up Flattop, Over to Hallett and Down Andrew’s Glacier
Evan by Hallett
After a rest day of horseback rideas and a rodeo, we debated the last big hike for the guys. A circuit of Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak won out over a Mt Ida/Chenley ridge walk on the strength of a promised descent of Andrews Glacier. The clear day and early July snowpack was Rocky Mountain perfection. After summiting Hallett and enjoying its expansive views, we trekked across the tundra toward the top of Andrew’s Glacier. At this point I made a dramatic gesture with my hiking stick (with my good arm, remember) toward our objective which clobbered my son’s head and dropped him to the ground. I really think he was exaggerating the extent of his injuries.
Evan clocked by Dramatic Gesture
Across the Tundra
At the top of the glacier I learned that somehow no one had understood in my description of the day’s route that we were to descend on the Glacier, they thought we were only going to view it. So I had the joy of leading the first incredulous then ecstatic bunch down the snowy slope toward glaciers end as it submerged into Andrew’s Tarn. After going halfway down carefully, I turned them loose for boot skiing, body sledding and snowball fights. My arm kept me from participating but I could work the camera. Two absolutely lit up young men was the reward for such a big finish for our trip.
But we were not finished. Or the hike was not finished with us. First we had to negotiate the trail down past Andrews Tarn, still covered in deep snow in spots. Overconfidently we descended, and Evan fell and slid down a 20 foot snowy patch and slid up and over a bouldery ramp. In my haste to see what had happened I also slid down the snow to the boulder (the only time I fell on the whole trip). Evan had fallen onto a gravelly area unhurt but shaken, and we stopped to brush him off and reset our caution. We continued down the magnificent trail to The Loch . ‘ I feel so small’ was Anthony’s awed comment within the great spiked circle of The Gash. We all felt that way. The snow and rocks finally gave way to forest and lake. Overall, this was a hike to remember.
Evan Comment: 'I wish I'd brought skiis. Every kid should do this hike'
Hannah Comment: 'Dad could have spent more time shopping'.
I wish I would have gotten to visit the Rockies as a kid. I imagine it would have changed my outlook dramatically, because it did that when I first visited them a couple years ago. That's nice you got to take your kids out there to witness such a great part of the country.