If I had been better prepared, I might not have attempted as challenging a hike as I made yesterday. Currently, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are my favorite hiking days. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I generally have a resistance training class. And trail traffic is higher on weekends.
I was expecting a long-delayed visit from my friend Parkie Parker of Santa Barbara on Friday. But he called from western Colorado just before I went to bed the night before to tell me that he was running late. He now expects to be here tomorrow.
In minimal trail planning, quickly scanning my favorite trail guide, my eyes fell on the description of the Arapaho Glacier Trail in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It has “abundant wildflowers, alpine lakes, and spectacular views.” That was all I needed to get ready.
What I didn’t realize was the length and elevation gain of this trail. But I did make sure to get on the road before 5 and at the Rainbow Lakes Trailhead, elevation, about 9,950, by 6. I did think that it might be a long day, and it was.
The weather prediction for the mountains was clear skies all day. None of the usual afternoon thunderstorms, something that I particularly want to avoid when I am above treeline.
Yesterday was a great day to be in the mountains and away from Boulder. The temperature hit 98 degrees here. For every thousand feet of elevation gain we can generally count on a 3 degree drop in temperature.
In the event, I needed to wear gloves for the first couple of miles on the trail, which winds through the forest. When I passed through the krummholz zone into the open tundra, the weather warmed up nicely. The next couple of miles was steep climbing with those spectacular views that my guidebook raved about:
Then, nicely, as I could use a respite, the grade of the trail mellowed for the last two miles. At the six-mile point I reached my destination, Arapaho Glacier. Never before have I seen a glacier up close, and this one means a lot to me. It is the ultimate source of Boulder’s main water supply. The city of Boulder owns it, and I think that it’s the only city to own a glacier.
With the glacier straight ahead, stunning South Arapaho Peak on my left and North Arapaho Peak on my right, I found a wonderful rock complete with a backrest. I ate lunch (two cans of Portuguese sardines, a handful of macadamia nuts, and water), photographed, looked, and sat. Then, I read a bit and also changed my camera’s memory chip and battery. After an hour’s rest, I reluctantly returned the same way I had hiked up.
This trip had everything I wanted — expansive wilderness views, wildflowers, insects, birds, and animals (to say nothing of the great weather). I photographed them all. Here are (1) flowers, (2) bugs, (3) a bird, and (4) an animal.
I read about this next flower in my guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers recently and have been wanting to see and photograph it ever since. I don’t think that I ever saw it before, but I saw many of these beautiful plants above 12,000 feet yesterday. While their name includes “spring,” they only flower in July and August:
I am finding that the closer I get to bugs the more I like them. Here are some of our more distant relatives:
Birds were all over the place. But mostly not the place where I was. Then I found a group of chicks and started to photograph them. And then the mama bird drew my attention to her.
Aside from picas, which I saw but are hard to photograph, the predominant animal of the high country is the marmot:
Generally, I even had solitude (except for birds and wildlife). All day I met up with only two people, each a woman with her dog.
The trail is too difficult for most people. My guidebook calls it strenuous and my map labels it as difficult. I agree. But my guidebook also calls it “backcountry hiking at its finest,” and I also agree with that assessment. Once I got up and out of the forest the views in all points of the compass were breathtaking.
I was feeling a bit tired as I neared the end of the return journey. When I reached the krummholz zone, my feet were hurting, especially my toes (hiking downhill for hours will do that). So I stopped to apply hand cream to my feet and change my socks. At the same time I realized that it had finally got warm enough for me to remove my undershirt and that the sun was low enough on the horizon (and muted in the forest) so that I could take off my hat and stuff it into my pack.
The round-trip is rated as 12 miles, including eight miles in the tundra. But with all my off-trail photograph, I could have made it 13. Even at 12 miles this is my longest hike in Colorado.
It’s also the highest I have ever hiked. The saddle overlooking the glacier where I turned around is 12,700 feet.
The elevation gain from the Rainbow Lakes Trailhead is more than 2,700 feet, also a personal best.
Finally at about 6:30 I returned to Suzy, which took me back home at 7:30 for a late dinner. It was too late to prepare this message last night, and besides I still had work to do. My “Diabetes Update” newsletter, which I send out at the first of every month to about 15,000 people, still needed to get sent.
Since I knew I had no rush to write this message last night, it had an unintended benefit. I had been driving far too fast on my trips back from the mountains. I know it and it scares me the chances that I was taking. Two people even cautioned me about it. I knew that I needed to slow down, and on the way back from the mountains last night I did. It was much more relaxing and comfortable for me too.
It also better balanced with my slow speed on the trail. It took me 12 and 1/2 hours to hike about that many miles. Each of the women I met on the trail proceeded at a much more rapid clip. Going downhill, I can keep up with anyone. But my lungs just aren’t strong enough even yet for extended uphill effort. Maybe it is the asthma I had as a child, the smoking I did as a young man, or the pot I used when I was middle-aged. Or maybe I just am not yet in good enough shape. I will continue to push myself.