Last night was chilly and soggy. There was a middle-of-the-night downpour that made things kind of damp in the tent, and the temperature dipped down into the upper 40s. We were all bundled up this morning, but Armin’s terrific breakfast of omelets and potatoes warmed us up quickly.
We got the campsite tidied up and headed out for our first Rockies hike. We walked about a mile and a half to the Fern Lake trailhead and from there we hiked 2.4 miles to Fern Falls. Most of the hike was pretty easy, but there was an uphill section at the end that was a bit challenging. We’re at about 8000 feet, so the boys and I were feeling the altitude a bit. The scenery was gorgeous—some of the peaks still have traces of snow, and for most of the hike we were walking alongside the Big Thompson River. Our return trek down the trail was pretty speedy, and Armin went ahead to retrieve the car. He met us at the trailhead and we ate a quick lunch in the car on our way to Estes Park to enjoy some post-hiking ice cream. The boys logged just under 7 miles and were troopers (though footsore!).
Estes Park is a tourist mecca, chock full of quaint (as well as tacky) shops selling t-shirts, taffy, and belt buckles. We enjoyed people-watching as we strolled. Some of the folks visiting town clearly do not intend to go on any hikes or venture off paved surfaces, while others looked like they might have come straight out of the backcountry. My favorite was the late-teen hipster quartet (shaved eyebrows on one, saggy pants on another) trying very hard to look cool and disaffected while they licked their ice cream cones.
We got back to camp in the late afternoon and decanted our cooler, stove, and food out of the car. One thing about camping in bear country is that you always have to secure any food items (or anything with a scent) in the car when you’re asleep or away from camp. It makes things a little more work, but it’s preferable to having a bear snuffle around your campsite.
I did make one of the best camping meals ever: I simmered quinoa with some water and a packet of Rajma Masala (kidney beans in tomato-ey sauce) and threw in some diced sautéed tofu. The boys may have had mac & cheese, but Armin and I enjoyed our protein-packed quinoa delight. Tomorrow we’ll try the vegetarian equivalent of a weenie roast, since the park has lifted the fire ban. We just hope that the local Safeway sells veggie dogs!
Tomorrow we’ll try to get an early start and take the park shuttle to a trail near Bear Lake. We’ll hike a shorter distance, around 3 miles, and maybe head up to the higher altitude alpine tundra after lunch.
Yes, it’s time for the cycling update. Bear Lake Rd. is under construction for the first 5 miles, but I thought it would be worth exploring in the afternoon after our first hiking adventure. The National Park Service is discouraging car traffic on this 1600’ climb, so I figured that if I could get past the rugged dirt section, it would be just fine. Sure enough, it was a good move. As soon as I passed the section of construction at around 8300’, the climb got outrageously fun with hardly any traffic to contend with. There was a steady climb averaging around 5 to 6% grade with a bunch of switchbacks and terrific mountain views. The descent could have been better however—I was stuck behind a very tentative driver for most of it. Evidently I have become acclimated to the altitude now, since I didn’t feel at all stressed during this ride. I’m looking forward to more climbing in the next few days, especially Trail Ridge Rd., which will take me across the Continental Divide.