Today I returned to Chapin Pass. But instead of climbing Mount Chapin as I did a week ago, I took the other trail and hiked down to Chapin Creek.
It made all the difference.
Today I found solitude for the first time on a long hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. I encountered no one in six hours on the trail — and beyond the end of the trail.
The Chapin Creek Trail quickly drops down from 11,300 feet at Chapin Pass to 10,700 where the woods stop and the meadow starts and the trail ends. I thought that at that point the trail was “not maintained,” not that it wasn’t a trail. But at the end of the trail is a sign saying “Cross Country Travel Beyond This Point,” and they were serious.
I have never hiked slower. I had to make every step carefully, because I could rarely see the ground under the foliage. I certainly didn’t want to twist an ankle alone in the wilderness. Some of the time I even walked in the creek so that I could see where I was going.
Fortunately I was wearing my waterproof boots and the gaiters that I got for snowshoeing. I needed them. Instead of a trail, water was everywhere. A heavy snowstorm came through on Friday and Saturday, and it has all melted.
The flowers loved it. This miles-long meadow was paradise for a flower lover like me too.
Even the weather cooperated. The skies turned sunny and warm and stayed essentially windless all day, something essential for capturing flower photographs.
I have always loved the freedom of hiking cross country. But today was special because I didn’t have the option of taking a trail and because the flowers were so beautiful. I imagined how one of my heros, John Muir, hiked where no one had ever been before. At least, I am sure that I saw millions of beautiful flowers that no one else has ever seen.
The road to Chapin Pass is the little traveled Old Fall River Road. I drove up this road very early in the morning when the Bighorn Sheep were out and about.
The Chapin Pass area of Rocky Mountain National Park is also special to me because it takes its name from Frederick Chapin. After climbing Mount Chapin a week ago, I ordered a copy of his 1889 book, Mountaineering in Colorado: The Peaks about Estes Park. It came in yesterday’s mail.
From the forward I learned the name of his parents. Then in just 15 minutes on the great Mormon genealogy site, FamilySearch.org, I determined that Frederick and I are sixth cousins.
As far as I know, Robert Frost isn’t one of my cousins — except in spirit. His poem, “The Road Not Taken,” is the theme of this message. The poem ends:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Taking the path less traveled is my life’s story.