In the past seven days I’ve hiked four times at altitudes above 10,000 feet. Today, my hike started at 11,500 feet and never dropped below 11,000 feet for the five or six miles that I followed the Ute Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. I am determined to enjoy the high country during its short summer before I leave Colorado on four trips I’m planning before the end of September.
The Ute Trail starts on Trail Ridge Road about five or 10 miles east of the Old Ute Trail that Mark and I hiked Saturday. The similarity of the names confused me for years.
But the trails are nevertheless quite different in one way. Practically every step of the trail that I took today was so rocky that I appreciated having my trekking poles. The trail that Mark and I took Saturday is one of the least rocky trails in the Rocky Mountains.
Nevertheless, the two similarly named trails are much alike in other ways. Each wanders through the high Alpine tundra, seemingly a million miles from civilization. In fact, while the temperature in Boulder reached the 90s each day, it was so cool above 11,000 feet that I needed to wear my jacket most of the way on Saturday and all the way today. A park ranger once told me that good rule of thumb is that for every thousand feet of elevation gain the temperature drops at least three degrees.
In the ever-windy tundra, all flowers stay low. None grow more than about a half foot above the ground. That worked for me today because I didn’t carry my tripod. For this shot of paintbrushes I set my camera and macro lens right on the ground with my body directly behind it so I could see these wildflowers in my viewfinder.
On the outgoing leg of my hike today a marmot scampered across the trail just ahead of me. But by the time I got my camera out of my slingpack, it was out of sight. So on the rest of the hike I carried my camera by its strap around my neck, and on the return leg I got my reward. These two marmots found something awfully tasty to eat just a couple of feet from the trail, and I was ready for them.
This shot alone made my day a success.