Boulder-Grand Pass - The Day the Game Changed

Boulder-Grand Pass - The Day the Game Changed

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 19, 2006
Activities Activities: Hiking

The Day the Game Changed

With it being late February, confined to the cold flatlands of northeast Indiana, I once again find myself pouring over topographic maps of the Elk Range, obsessing about how I am going to spend my seven precious days later this summer in the mountains of Colorado. While I have always been a bit obsessive when it comes to planning my hiking trips, the planning has been much different for the past four years as compared to the 10 years prior. I started thinking about what changed, and then I realized I can blame it on my friend Rob and the day we hiked up to Boulder-Grand Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park. Prior to this hike in 2006 I spent my time planning trips by looking at trail maps, and saw…well I saw trails. Now I find myself looking at topo maps and all I see are opportunities.

Calypso CascadesCalypso Cascades
Ouzel FallsOuzel Falls

It was our first big day of hiking on this short four day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. The prior year on my hike in Wild Basin I took the left fork in the trail and headed out to Bluebird Lake. This year my plan was to take the right fork, and make it to Thunder Lake. The weather wasn’t particularly good this day as it was overcast and it drizzled from time to time. I remember being somewhat disappointed as I knew the views to the ridgelines would be blocked due to the low lying clouds, and 6.8 miles seemed like a long way to hike and not get rewarded with spectacular scenery. We stopped along the way for the obligatory photo ops at Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls, and then made the long haul through the woods towards Thunder Lake.

As expected, when we reached the lake, the clouds were still lying pretty low, and while the terrain still looked beautiful, it wasn’t what I had hoped for. We continued on to the far end of the lake and made it to the inlet stream, and here is where Rob changed the hiking game for me. I was ready to call it a day; head back to our campsite and enjoy a big steak and several cold beers. But Rob wanted to keep heading up above the inlet stream and do a little exploring.

Thunder LakeThunder Lake looking towards Boulder-Grand Pass

My initial reaction was panic. The trail ended here, and without a trail I would be out of my comfort zone, and I literally did panic. You see, up until this point in my life I had always been a trail hiker. All my hikes in the mountains had been confined to the well groomed trails provided by the National Park Service. Trails made me comfortable and made me feel safe. Now Rob wanted to lead me to who knows where with no preconceived plan. I had a right to be a little nervous, so I told him I wasn’t going any farther.

In reality the trail really didn’t end there. I could see a faint trail leading up a slope so I reluctantly followed Rob, but I didn’t feel all that comfortable. I didn’t know where Rob was going and in reality he didn’t either. He was just doing a little exploring. It should have been fun and no big deal. But initially it wasn’t fun. I guess it was just the fear of the unknown. Eventually I did start feeling a little more comfortable, realizing I wasn’t going to get lost, and I started looking up towards the ridgeline and an open area that looked like we might be able to get to. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was Boulder-Grand Pass. Rob and I had no specific agenda, and as we headed up the terrain we traded ideas about how far we wanted to go. The weather seemed to be breaking, my confidence was starting to rise, and we kept pushing each other farther up the mountain. After a while I started to think that getting up to that pass sure looked like a fun way to spend what was left, of what up to this point, had been a somewhat disappointing day.

The Hike to Boulder-Grand Pass

The Hike to Boulder-Grand Pass

Lake of Many WindsLake of Many Winds

The Climb to Boulder-Grand PassThe "Insane Talus Slope"

Eventually the trail did end as we approached Lake of Many Winds. And ironically this is where I started to get comfortable. We did some exploring in the area and finally I told Rob that we needed to try to get up to the pass, so we made our way around the lake and took a look at the final climb up what Rob would later refer to as the “insane talus slope”. It was several hundred feet of Class 2 scrambling on somewhat loose boulders and talus. I was all ready to give it a try but Rob looked at me like I was crazy. I headed up first and Rob now was the one reluctantly following. I found scrambling up to that pass to be quite fun and one of the highlights of the day.

I was stunned when I got to the top of Boulder-Grand Pass, which was big and wide open, with breathtaking views off to the west. A whole new world had just opened up to me as I suddenly realized that this is what you get to see when you leave the comforts of the trail! My hiking adventures would never be the same from this moment on. The game had definitely changed.

Boulder-Grand PassBoulder-Grand Pass Pano

Rob didn’t enjoy the scramble up to the pass as much as I did, but after he made it up he convinced me that we should try and climb Mount Alice, as the long tundra slog to the summit can be made from Boulder-Grand Pass. I was more than content with what we had accomplished but I agreed to give it a try (it’s amazing what a little confidence will do for you). We were probably less than a half mile up the slope when we took a good look at the weather and decided that this wasn’t a great idea. More clouds were rolling in and retreat seemed prudent so we headed back towards the comforts of Thunder Lake Trail and the long 8 mile hike back to the trailhead. It started raining shortly after we left Thunder Lake and it rained the entire way back to the car. But at this point I didn’t care after getting such a rewarding experience on Boulder-Grand Pass.

The View West from  Boulder-Grand PassThe view west from Boulder-Grand Pass

Boulder-Grand PassThe view west from Boulder-Grand Pass

Boulder-Grand PassThe view west from Boulder-Grand Pass

The View from Boulder-Grand PassThunder Lake and Lake of Many Winds from Boulder-Grand Pass

On the way back to our campsite we stopped at the Visitor’s Center and I bought the Falcon Guide to Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park which came with a Trails Illustrated Map. Over the next few days Rob and I voraciously read over the routes outlined in the book, studying them on the topo map as well. A whole new world just opened up to us, and we were excited to say the least.

The next day we headed up into Glacier Gorge and to Black Lake. With my new found confidence I was more than content following Rob on the faint trail that leads far up into Glacier Gorge, where eventually the trail ends.

Glacier Gorge

Longs Peak

With map in hand we made it all the way to Green Lake near the base of Pagoda Mountain. The jaunt over to Frozen Lake was calling, but the weather wasn’t cooperating so we made the turn for home. The highlight of the day was the excellent view of Longs Peak we enjoyed from Glacier Gorge, and the next day we would successfully summit Longs.

So I’ll still blame it on Rob. If it wasn’t for him I’d still probably be limiting myself to the comforts of the trail. As I said earlier, prior to this hike up to Boulder-Grand Pass I spent my time planning trips by looking at trail maps, and saw…well I saw trails. Now I look at topo maps and all I see are opportunities. Now if I would just get over the number 3, as in Class 3, I can only imagine what other new worlds would open up to me.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-8 of 8

silversummit - Feb 20, 2010 10:54 pm - Voted 10/10

It's the small things....

isn't it that can help us see the world differently if we allow them. I loved reading your report; it reminded me that we never stop growing and changing!

Thanks for sharing with us Mark!


MarkDidier - Feb 21, 2010 2:22 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: It's the small things....

Thanks for the added insight and the wonderful perspective you have added! Of course, more readily allowing myself to move out of my comfort zones would help - for most people as well, I imagine.

Glad you enjoyed the TR. It was a very memorable day and in hindsight obviously important.

Happy Trails,

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Feb 22, 2010 7:59 pm - Voted 10/10

My own story?

Good job relating what many of us, myself included, have gone through. I relate very well to "Prior to this hike in 2006 I spent my time planning trips by looking at trail maps, and saw…well I saw trails. Now I find myself looking at topo maps and all I see are opportunities."

That's pretty much how it went for me. The game changed in July 1999 in the Sierra Nevada. Weather had been bad during a backpacking trip, and I took advantage of a break to wander higher up in the lake basin where we camped. Then I wandered higher and higher up scree slopes to a pinnacle up there, wanting to see the other side. When I did, I was hooked. I wrote a little TR on it here: Kearsarge Pinnacles-- How an Addiction Began.

Interestingly, I, like you, hiked up to Black Lake (1998) with the intention of going to Frozen Lake but turned back when the weather went to crap. That was also the day I learned to pack for bad weather no matter what; shorts and a flannel shirt did not work so well in thunder, rain, and hail!

I enjoyed reading this and like knowing others had these "awakenings."


MarkDidier - Feb 22, 2010 9:53 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: My own story?

Thanks for the kind words. It wasn't my primary intention, but as I wrote this TR I did start to wonder if others had had similar experiences. Glad to know I'm not the only one.

I just read your TR, and I can honestly say I'm glad I hadn't read it prior to starting work on my version. If I had I doubt that I would have submitted this. I almost feel now like I'm guilty of plagarism (but I do realize I'm not)! I've read a lot of your stuff, but hadn't stumbled across that one yet.

And I do plan on getting back to towards Frozen Lake again, but will be planning a climb of Pagoda if I do.

Thanks again,


myrone - Sep 16, 2010 9:09 am - Voted 10/10

Well received TR

Your Rocky Mt Park experiences here in Colorado are exactly what many people find when they make the effort and find the fortitude to pursue such endeavors.......another great TR!


MarkDidier - Sep 18, 2010 10:29 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Well received TR

That was definitely a defining day, and my days on (and now off) the trail have never been the same since.

Thanks for kind words!


argothor - Oct 6, 2011 6:12 pm - Hasn't voted

my game changer

I'm not sure exactly when the game changed for me, but it wasn't in the mountains, it was in the Boundary Waters/Quetico area of Minnesota and Ontario. See I guided canoe trips there for 2 summers in the early '80s. I'd take crews out on 10 day wilderness canoe trips, but we'd always travel on open lakes or streams that were large enough to paddle or portgage along well defined portage trails. But I always looked at the map and saw lakes that weren't connected by a canoable waterway or portage trail and wondered what that lake was like. Where there big lake trout or walleye in them? Would that be where the moose are? But it wasn't until a few years later that I was joined by a like minded former guide that we took the plunge and brushcrashed our way into some of those lakes. Since then I've had no fear and often pursue the journey that is off the beaten path, whether it is back in the Boundary Waters or in RMNP or anywhere else.


MarkDidier - Oct 7, 2011 5:52 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: my game changer

That's a great story. Thanks for sharing...and for stoppping by.

Viewing: 1-8 of 8