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Long Meadows, RMNP, September 9, 2008

October 1, 2008

Posted September 30, 2008

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Conor and I took two hikes together during his visit to Fort Collins this summer. Both were in RMNP (Rocky Mountain National Park), Colorado. The first hike, that we took with Will, was to Lake Halyaha above Bear Lake. The second hike was just Conor and myself (Will was working) to Long Meadow on the west side of RMNP. The one to Long Meadow is described now and I’ll post the one to Lake Halyaha next.

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in the gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative.
I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A Google Earth map can be found here. Use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom in or out to help locate the area based on where you live. (This link
will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips.)
In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view a topo map of the Long Meadows trail.
All links open a new browser window.

Here is a Microsoft Virtual Earth map of the general route to the trail.

Map image

Conor and I took off Tuesday morning from Fort Collins and stopped in Estes Park to get a bite to eat (late breakfast). By the time we crossed Trailridge Road (Hwy 34) over the continental divide to the Long Meadow trailhead (officially known as the Onahu Creek trailhead) and actually got on the trail, it was between 10:30 and 11 am. So, not a real early start, but good enough.

The trail starts off fairly level (sorry, no trailhead or parking lot photos : ) and winds through some open forest.

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After about 1/4 of a mile, it starts to head uphill. This uphill section was approximately 1 mile long and, while utilizing some switchbacks, was not too steep. You do get to pass by and cross several small stream crossings.

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Here’s Conor waiting for me to catch up. As can be seen here, even on this “uphill” section, there were parts of the trail that had only a gentile uphill slope.

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The day started off cloudy with a hint of rain. But, it never did develop into anything serious and just kept it cool for the hike.

Here is a view of lower Onahu Creek.

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The trail eventually gets into a section of the Onahu valley that is relatively flat.

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You spend a large part of this section hiking alongside a meadow, but staying in the trees. Here you can see the meadow (which has Onahu Creek running through it) off through the trees. We passed a couple of signs indicating that there were some backpacker (or, horse/llama packer) campgrounds (stoves only) back off the trail.

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Conor and I both agreed that this section of the trail was quite pleasant to hike. Somewhere along here is where we saw/met the only two people we saw during the hike. So, definitely not too crowded today.

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I did take a few minutes to investigate one of the “stoves only” campgrounds. Not too shabby.

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Here is a view from the campground looking down the meadow. Yah, I think I could camp here with no regrets. May be a little mosquito’ee during the summer, but the nights would be getting pretty cool this time of year. So, the mosquitoes would probably not be too disruptive. I did not notice any mosquitoes during the hike, but Conor stated he was attacked a couple of times : )

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Eventually you get to a large bridge (with a couple of campgrounds located not too far away). This is looking back down at the bridge after crossing Onahu Creek.

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If you turn around in the trail to look the other way, you can see a couple of signs next to a split in the trail.

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The bottom sign indicates that the main trail (to the right) continues on to the Tonahutu Trail. You can actually go that way and loop all the way back to the parking lot where we left the car. Pretty nice hike.

But today I was interested in only one place; Long Meadow(s). I had tried years before (again with Conor when he was much younger) to get to Long Meadows, but we had trouble finding the trail and ran out of time (we were doing the long loop). I was sure that we could be more successful this time. I was almost mistaken.

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We took off up the trail to Long Meadow and immediately noticed two things. One, a sign telling us that this was not a normal RMNP trail

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Two, the trail immediately became, ummmm, less maintained : )

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Well, no problem. I mean, it was still pretty visible.

I soon discovered that, yes, there was a problem. The problem was making sure that you stayed on the “correct” trail. Because, this part of the park appears to have (over the course of many years) developed lots of trails going through this area. Now some of these trails were “marked” for hikers. Conor is standing in a section where someone has helpfully placed some small trees to make sure everyone knows which trail to stay on.

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However, you could not depend on the trail being marked like that very often. So, much of the time you would be hiking through something like this.

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Now, the only true way to make sure that you were on the correct “trail” were from old cuttings along the trail. If you could keep seeing such cuttings (many were not as evident as this), then you were pretty safe.

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At one point we crossed the stream following what I thought was the trail, then gave up and crossed back over the stream to continue along another “trail”. Well, after a 1/4 mile or so, that “trail” pretty much disappeared. So, we headed back to the last point where I thought I could see the true trail. I figured I just needed to look a little harder to discover where it went.

Here is where the trail seems to cross the creek. Pretty evident.

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So, we crossed the stream (again, for the second time). I then followed what looked more like a grassy game trail than any thing else. I had seen it earlier, but decided it was not anything we wanted to follow. Well, I would try and go a little further this time and see if I could “cut” (discover) the “true” trail.

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After a 100 yards or so, I did in fact come across signs that this direction was indeed the real trail. This is looking back down it (on the way back). You can see that grassy section off in the distance.

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So, Conor took the lead going up the mountain. In general, the trail at this point heads up (using a LOT of switchbacks) the side of a mountain. The good thing is, it only takes 30 minutes or so to get up this steep section. Possibly longer depending on how difficult a time you have picking out the trail through the blow downs, etc. More photos of those later on the way back. Also, you do cross some nice little streams and wet spots; so, interesting hiking.

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Once we “topped out”, the first thing we came across was a small pond.

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You then hike for 1/4 of a mile or so along a stream (which starts out quite a bit lower than your elevation and then slowly rises to match your elevation). It’s all flat hiking though, and you can eventually see the meadows in the distance. Here is Conor getting to a point of being able to get a full view of the meadows.

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About time : )

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Here is what we could see from that vantage point. Nice.

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Zoomed.

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Conor found us a nice place for lunch and started chowing down while I explored a little bit. Note the “stick” next to my pack? I picked it up at the beginning of the hike (found it next to the trail). Have to admit, it definitely helped keep my balance and keep my legs/knees from working as hard going up hill. I’ll probably purchase a hiking stick.

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While Conor enjoyed the view with his lunch, I hiked a short distance to one side to get a photo of the meadow(s) below us.

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Trying for an artistic shot.

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Focus on the “red thingie”.

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The summer time flora is soon passing.

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My last photo of a flower this year?

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Conor and myself playing with the camera : )

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Yes, amazingly enough, the sun came out for a few minutes. View from our patio.

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Portrait mode.

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Once done with lunch, Conor and I took a short hike around the bottom of the meadow (I’ll hike up to the other end some other time). Saw a good campsite and got some different angles for the pictures.

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Portrait and zoom.

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Distant mountains.

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Zoom.

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So, as I stated earlier, here are a few photos that show what the “trail” was like coming up/going down the mountain.

Conor asking me if I’m ready for this : )

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Picking the way carefully.

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Wet spots.

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There is a trail in there somewhere.

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I think.

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Anyway, the hike back out was uneventful, but very pleasant. As we approached the end of the trail, the elk started really bugle’ing. Eventually, we had a rather nice sized bull elk bugle right next to us in the trees. It came slowly toward us and we got some great moments alone with an elk as he tried to find some cows to, uh, talk to. Unfortunately, my camera was not quite up to the standards of really capturing the moment. But here are a few attempts.

Elk in the trees.

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If you were there, you would know how to pick out the antlers from the branches as he faces us.

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The elk finally decided to leave our vicinity (although we could still hear him bugle in the distance).

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Anyway, we got back to the car around 7 pm. Was a great hike.

However, the drive back over Trailridge Road to Estes Park was NOT great. Windy, rainy, and slow going (I was a scare-dy cat : ) There were some great opportunities for getting photos of a stark and gloomy mountainous region, but I was too tired and my camera is not built for rain.

Conor and I got back to Fort Collins around 10 pm, picked up Will, and finished up the day eating pizza and drinking beer at Coopersmith. Awesome : )

– Geoff Weatherford

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