When I reached the top of the world this morning, I could see only a bit of the road ahead of me and a lot of fog or clouds. I was too early.
I was looking for first light on the trail and instead I found last dark. I didn’t even see the Ute Crossing Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park, where I decided last night to hike today.
I did eventually see the Alpine Visitor Center several more miles up Trail Ridge Road. I got there at 5:15 a.m. and stopped. Normally, I avoid the Alpine Visitor Center because of the hordes of people there. But now, so early in the morning and so late in the season (i.e., after Labor Day), I was alone.
Since I was at the Alpine Visitor Center anyway, I decided to watch the sunrise from the short trail up the top of a peak at 12,005 feet. Fortunately, I was dressed pretty warmly with my heaviest shirt, down jacket and hood, and gloves. But I sure could have used my long underwear, goggles, nose mask.
As soon as I could see a little light in the sky I started the short hike. Even then I was too early. I took my first photograph at 6:32 a.m. and saw the sun at 6:51 a.m.
This morning I had intended to get up at 4 a.m., but when I woke up a little before 3 a.m., I decided to get going. This was the second time that I was overanxious to get back to the tundra. The day the park opened Trail Ridge Road this year, May 23, I drove up in rain, then hail, and then blowing snow.
Today was better, but not by much. I checked the weather report last night, as I always do before a hike. But the actual temperature this morning was lower than the low of 33 degrees that the Weather Bureau predicted.
This evening the Park Service told me that light snow fell last night at the Alpine Visitor Center. The ranger said that when I was hiking above it this morning, the temperature there was in mid-20s, and that the wind chill factor brought it down to the mid-teens.
I saw the snow and carefully skirted the ice on the trail. But I couldn’t avoid the cold. I don’t remember ever feeling so cold. When I thankfully returned to Suzy, I couldn’t even feel my keys in my hand, and it took at least half an hour with the heat turned up high for them to stop hurting.
I hiked the easy part of it, 2 miles out and back. At the 2-mile point the trail dropped down too steeply for my taste. By the time I got going on the trail the temperature was bearable and the wind had tampered off. Of course, I encountered on one on this trail either.
Any wildlife with long legs had already retreated to lower elevations. I saw only their abundant scat, the ubiquitous chipmunks, and one late season butterfly on a late season flower. While I now have three field guides to butterflies, I haven’t yet identified this one:
At noon I returned to Suzy. Never before have I had such a long hike totally in the tundra.
The glorious Colorado summer is gone. But I will long remember it and this hike in particular.