As I begin writing this, Will is eating spaghetti with his hands.
I am in RMNP with Conor, Will, and Ryan. Ryan is new to our mountain band.
We intended to do the climb up to Sky Pond. We sought out the info at the Rangers Station when we arrived. The two Rangers on duty looked at each other to confirm the answer.
“Avalanche is possible, and the trail is nearly impossible to find”
We concluded that we would attempt a hike called Fern Lake. I did it a few years back and loved it. I am sure there was something posted at some point about it. I was excited to head back there. It would be our destination in the morning.
Before dinner, we decided to go out for an evening hike. What happened next was mostly my fault, but some of the credit goes to Conor. I directed us in what I thought was a hike near Longs Peak. I did not use maps and displayed way too much confidence in my direction giving. Soon we all discover I was wrong. Luckily, we stumbled across a recreation area. Conor found a trail on his REI trail app, and we headed out.
The area was quiet. The trees blocked the sound from the surrounding areas. Snow fell as we made our way across the trail. Only the beginning was difficult, and the rest was mostly flat. We all agreed that this trail was a pleasant surprise. It was a great moment of discovery. There was something obvious that we missed while making our way up, and we were about to be surprised on our way down the trail.
As we can around a bend, and out of the trees, we see a police car. As I go from the police car, up to the trail, I see the officer that parked it there. It was obvious that this car was here for us. The officer stopped us. It turns out we had entered the trail system through closed off government land. In our excitement to hit the trail, we neglected to read the 15 signs warning us to stay away. In our defense, some of the posters were in obscure places. The officer was cool about it. Of course, we are not the only enthusiastic group of people to pass by the signs. After confirming we were not criminals on the run, he allowed us to hike out, and move on with our evening. We laughed to ourselves each time a sign warning entry was passed on our way back, accepting being dumbasses. By the end of it all, we were quite hungry, and it was off to our favorite Italian restaurant in Estes.
The evening concluded back in our hotel, full of food, enjoying some IPAs. Conor, Will, and I told the story of our near death on Blanca to Ryan. The thing missing to bring the story together was our fourth comrade, Matthew. The story is better when all four accounts from the mountain can be brought into one.
The last day of my short trip began in the dark. I woke up first to enjoy the coffee provided by the hotel. I didn’t do very well preparing it. Will and I enjoyed the weak coffee, and the four of us gathered our belongings. Our start point was the Cub Lake trailhead. Cub Lake may be one of the more underrated hikes in RMNP. I love beginning in the vast valley, and slowly curling up into the mountains. There is view the entire way. It is typically less crowded than the shorter trails in the Bear Lake area. Lots of big boulders to nap on (when it isn’t snowing and hellish wind). We did not stop too long to enjoy the lake. The winter weather made that a bit difficult. Once you leave Cub Lake, there is a short uphill section that leads to a great view, one of my favorites in the park. Not sure what to call it, but the view is of the entire canyon that Fern Falls runs through, and beautiful mountain tops behind it. The snow cut off the mountain tops, but the immensity could still be imagined.
Going down from this was one of the steeper sections of trail. There was really no trail. Our spikes weren’t working out too well, so some of us removed them. A tinge of altitude sickness was beginning to kick in for me. It was surprising. We weren’t that high yet, and I have been much higher and been fine. It just seems to be one of those things.
This is the part of the trail that you feel like you are in Narnia. Thick, green, pines and ferns around you. All noise muffled by the snow. It is a tunnel of peace on the trail. After the quite, we continue up.
We ran into a few spots that snowshoes were probably needed. It was the annoying situation of not deep enough for a long distance on the trail to go through the work of putting them on. Also, all of our egos were remembering the statement from our gear provider that we probably won’t need them. Honestly, it was mostly that.
We finally get into a bit of a clearing. I see the familiar rangers cabin to my right and continue up. We could not have been greeted by anything more beautiful. Blistering wind and snow right to our face. Cold hands were trying to grab a photo of the landscape. I loved it. It is the test that we wanted and enjoyed. A beautiful mountain lake in the middle of winter.
If you have read this blog or listened to the podcast for a while, you know I like to relax and write at the destination of the hike. Oddly, I never really get to do that when hiking during the winter, which is my favorite time of year to get into the mountains. It suits my introverted nature the best. It might be best that wind and snow prevented me from sitting at Fern Lake that day. Now I am sitting here going back through the story and was able to stay entirely in the moment.
Before heading down, I stayed back to be there alone for a bit, looking across the frozen lake, letting the wind smack into me. My thoughts were along the lines of:
“How fucking crazy is this life.”
Nothing incredibly profound, but as I accepted that, it felt like everything else stopped. The highlight of that journey was the feeling that everything ended at Fern Lake.
We dropped off our gear, and the same person working asked why we wouldn’t wear snowshoes all the way up to Fern Lake…
BECAUSE YOU MADE US FEEL LIKE WIMPS