Rocky Mountain National Park!!! After a year of not hiking in national parks it felt amazing to be back here again. And there are even stories to tell, already, on day 2! Going back to the beginning though, we woke up in Sterling, CO and the girls and I grabbed some breakfast at the hotel. Gold star to Best Western for having a breakfast that was pretty darn good. Molly and I took one shift each and we pulled into RMNP around 10:30 this morning.
We thought we’d learned from experience that the multiple signs flashing “Bear Lake Lot Full” were a ruse designed to deter the less informed hikers. It turned out this was the trip on which the signs told the truth, so we wasted about half an hour driving up to, and then back down from Bear Lake. As we pulled into the the park and ride lot for the shuttle we were again shocked to see that the shuttle lines were insanely long. Our plan had been to do a hike similar to what we had in the past to visit the string of alpine lakes between Bear Lake and Alberta Falls. We quickly decided that we were too eager to hike to wait in the shuttle line and amended our plan to be a hike from the shuttle lot to Bear Lake via Lake Bierstadt.
This turned out to be the first major misstep of the trip. The trail began by climbing about 200 feet within the first half mile, more than anyone, especially Molly, had been prepared for. I’m not going to go into detail, but the first hour or two of hiking didn’t go super smoothly. Fortunately, the girls were in stellar moods and once we reached the cool shore of Lake Bierstadt, cracked open the trail mix, and snapped our first selfies everyone was again in pretty good spirits.
The real adventures came in the second part of the hike from Lake Bierstadt to Bear Lake. We later learned from a ranger that this stretch of trail is considered “unmaintainted”. We thought we’d be avoiding the worst of the snow, but the trail alternated between perfectly clear and well marked, snow drift, and waterfall. Somehow in a stretch that I’m going to assume was one of the latter two we lost our way. Although this really freaks the girls out it really isn’t that big a deal. We carry lots of maps: paper copies, GPS, and two different apps on our phones. As I’ve told Ellie many times: “We’re not lost, I know exactly where WE are, the issue is that we don’t know where the trail is. Today finding the trail meant a few tenths of a mile of cross-country travel up, and then down, the slopes of not-quite-a-mountain.
Eventually we did find the trail and decided that it was probably time to stop for lunch. I unclipped my pack, dropped it on the ground, and immediately felt my mouth and nose burning. I’m not sure how I was coherent enough to understand what had happened, but I instantly knew that somehow the bear spray had sprayed. I simultaneously grabbed it and threw the can a few yards away, yelled for the girls and Molly to get away, and began moving away myself. We later realized why what had happened, did so. At some point during the hike the safety came off the can and when I dropped my pack the trigger hit the ground. Fortunately it only sprayed for a fraction of a second. Also fortunate was that only Molly and I were affected by it. I’m sure Mol will have a dramatic sorry to tell about how I nearly killed her, but I’m just going to leave it at saying that I wouldn’t want to be a bear on the wrong end of a full can.
We eventually made it the rest of the way down to Bear Lake and even ventured a little further back up to Nymph Lake where we decided to call it a day. Our hesitance to ride the shuttle was validated, we ended up making a lengthy wait to get back to Fred. We were all relieved when we walked into the nicest hotel we’ve stayed at yet in Estes Park, the Ponderosa Lodge. We took an hour to relax on the porch overlooking a mountain stream and began working on blogging, then headed off to downtown Estes Park
One of the goals for the trip was to see Cowboy Brad perform and he exceeded all our expectations. I would have been satisfied to hear him play only Rocky Mountain High, but he put on a show that had us singing and dancing along for the entire hour. Ellie and I even won a cowboybrad.com chocolate bar for being the only people in the audience willing to dance along to one of the songs. Sitting there with the closest thing the world has to a living John Denver, with the mountains as a background, is without question my church.
We capped off the night with our traditional stop at the Wheel Bar for cold Coors Lite and gyros carried out from the Chicago style place down the street. The very last bit of excitement came just a few minutes ago as we pulled into the hotel’s parking lot and saw a mamma bear and two cubs scurrying into the woods to get away from us. What an awesome Day 2.