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40 Mile Bear Lake to Grand Lake Loop (day 2), RMNP, Sept 7, 2009

November 8, 2009

Posted November 8, 2009

(Day 2)


Note – See Day 1 here.

The next morning we got up to blue sky.  According to Will, it rained hard in the early morning.  I never heard it since I was dead asleep, but it was wet outside.  We packed up and hiked down the street to the Sagebrush, stuffed ourselves on a great breakfast, and then headed back to Bear Lake.

Today we would be going up the North Inlet trail.  In the photo above, Will is waiting for me at the trailhead.

OK.  Let me zoom in a little.


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.

In addition, 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 (a low quality one, care of the great National Geographic TOPO program that one of my sons purchase for me : ) of the Bear Lake to Grand Lake trail. All links open a new browser window.

In addition to the Google map link above, below is a Microsoft Live map. The red tack shows the general location of the trail from Fort Collins, CO. You can click on the map to bring it up in a “live” mode and zoom in or out (move the map around) to get more detail.

Map image

This trail starts off following a dirt road that goes through private land.  You don’t have to worry about cars, but you do need to stay on the road.  That said, it’s still very pretty (and flat : )  Here is Will checking out some horses.  I spent a few minutes thinking about “borrowing” a couple to ride up the trail a ways.  But, they hang people for that, so it didn’t seem like a good thing to do : )



After approximately a mile, the road passes close to the North Inlet stream itself, and starts to enter an area called Summerland Park.


Summerland is an extensive series of large connected meadows that continue for another mile up the valley.  Just a touch of fall colors at this altitude.j


Shortly before you leave Summerland Park, the road ends up at a private residence and the actual trail begins.  And then you eventually start to go “uphill”.


But, the day was nice, the altitude was still low, and we were still powered up from our nice breakfast.  So, great hiking.


Zoom a little.


Three and a half miles up the trail you reach Cascade Falls.  Lots of people take this hike just for a day hike.  So, seven miles total.  This is taking a look down the falls.


Close up of some of the “bowls” that have been eroded into the rocks just up stream.


The trail goes through quite a variety of types of hiking and scenery.  I thoroughly enjoyed this section (obviously, it’s flat : )


It was difficult to keep myself going sometimes.  There was just “neat stuff” all along the trail.  Sometimes I just had to pass on by.  Other times I tried to quickly capture the scene.


This was what you see from the trail.  The reason I happened to look that way is that I thought I caught a glimmer of movement out of the corner of my vision.  More than likely, a hobbit.  They like these types of places.


And then Will spotted some deer in front of us along the trail.  He let me get in front and the deer (normal RMNP animals) were kind enough to allow me to take several photos.


They were a mom and a couple of yearlings.  The yearlings still had their spots.


They finally took off in a hurry.


But gave us one more look as they crossed the stream below us.


Passed a nice little lake along the way.


Will takes a break.




That was our last real break before we hit “switchbacks set 1”.  See, we’d been gaining altitude all this way.  But somewhere between seven and eight miles you hit a trail junction. One way (to the right) goes to Lake Nokoni.  The other way (our way : ) continues towards Bear Lake.  And, shortly after the trail junction you hit a “bunch” (as in, “lots”) of switchbacks.   One  good thing is, you do start to see some of the surrounding mountains as you quickly gain altitude.


And, the best thing is, you finally enter upper Hallett valley.  Which is just about worth the entire hike to visit.  I kid you not.  We took a long break there.


Will saying, “can we take a break?” (or, more likely, just waiting for  me : )


Will has just told me that we are NOT at Bear Lake yet.  That we have 10 more miles to go.  I’m wondering to myself “just how long would it take me to get back to Grand Lake and have Will come pick me up after he gets to the car?”


So, this is what a rather large number of switchbacks is going to take us  up and over during our next little phase of today’s, ummmm, walk.  Of course, it still keeps going “up” way past what can be seen here.  Luckily, I was not aware of that little detail at this point.


If we hadn’t been quite so tired, and attempting to conserve our energy for the switchbacks, we would have meandered over to this very nice little stream.  Great place to lie back on the rock and bask in the sun with the water rippling down for some background music.  Sigh.  Maybe next time.


I take one more look back down the trail and consider Grand Lake once more.  I mean, it’s all downhill.  Will says “no.”


So, we move on.  And really, this little valley was just amazingly pretty.


Will stopping to read the sign that says “Mountains don’t care………”  (if you die).  Or, something to that effect.  Something about being careful about storms above timberline.   Hmmmm.  But, it’s such a nice sunny day.  What storms?


Small stream that feeds that waterfall where we took our lunch break.


Little zoom on the waterfall itself.  I could have spent a lot of time here.  One small little remaining flower of summer can be seen down in the bottom left hand corner of the photo.


My dallying at the little waterfall has allowed Will to move quite a bit ahead of me as we move up the side of the valley.  Kinda a cool trail.  Just that it goes up.  A lot. And we’ve already hiked around 10 miles.  But it IS extremely pretty.  I attempted to keep my mind on that part.


Zoom in a little.  Yep.  Thar he goes : )  He actually does stop and let me catch up.


And then, the clouds came.  Just as we were getting up to treeline.  Of course.  Photo by Will.  He was doing some photo work along with the videos he was capturing.  And, uh, waiting for me to catch up : )


Zoom in a little on that.  Another photo by Will.  Cool clouds.


This is looking the other direction.  Actually, once we get “on top” (sorta), we headed that way.  The trail goes right around the head of the valley.  Another photo by Will.


Didn’t take a lot of photos for a while.  For several good reasons.  One, it was really windy so I was concerned with keeping my feet on the ground.  Two, I seemed to be getting a little slower the higher up the trail we went.  I think it may have been one of those time/space warpy thingies.  Third, it actually started spitting a little rain on us (yes, there was thunder also).  Here is what it looked like when I could get my camera out.  Will is up ahead.  Kinda distant.


Here, I’ll zoom in a mite.


So, this was rather a lengthy section.  Right around this time (as it was beginning to look like we might die : ) a couple things happened.  One was we actually had several hikers pass us.  Going “down” the trail and looking quite happy about it.  We had met one the other day when we were going down and he was going up.  Really nice guy.  Told us about the wolves he heard.  But, hey, really a nice guy (he made sure we knew about a big rock we could crawl under on top if the storm got too bad).
Of course, there was the motorcycle/hippy looking people we met on the trail also the day before.  And, they were nice people.  Just, you know, maybe not like the people you meet walking around in downtown Fort Collins.
Kinda off Topic:
Generally, almost always (fact, during all my hiking, I can’t think otherwise) the people you meet on the trail are not your, ummmm, normal type of people.  And, as time goes on, it seems that being in the back country is less and less normal.  Just a fact of society at this time .

(Way off topic – Well, ok, when I say “not normal”, no we aren’t talking about Alaska or the Canadian bush, that that’s a whole different world.  Or Universe.  Those people aren’t normal AT ALL.  And, whenever I say “not normal”,  I don’t mean that in a bad way.  Been there done that sort of stuff and people are a little different in the real bush.  But then, neither is the northern bush country your normal lower 48 hiking country.  So, you have to be a little, uh, “different” in the northern bush.  Or, you know, you wouldn’t be there.  Makes sense : )

Back to Kinda off topic – But, any ways, before you all sidetracked me, you generally always (as far as I can remember) meet pretty nice people.  There was that one guy I met with a couple of small kids up in the Zirkels that was packing a 44 magnum and, but, that’s another story……..  And, of course, you do hear about “bad things” happening back in the bush on CNN (although, not near as often as in some city).  So, sure, pays to be prepared.  But, in general, I meet really nice, and interesting, people in the bush (both tame bush country and wild bush country).
Back on Topic:
Where was I?  Oh yeah.  The second thing was, well, I was standing with Will (me gasping, he waiting) and happened to look out across the tundra to a bunch of sticks.  Only, when I looked a little closer, the sticks turned into a good sized bull elk.  Probably the highest I’ve ever seen an elk.  He was most likely just being happy at being able to look down on his little kingdom.  Probably figuring he was pretty safe up high and all.  During the summer, that location would also be pretty nice as far as having a wind to keep the flies off of him.


The trail actually ended up going around and above him.  So, after around 15-20 minutes, I was able to look down on him.


Little hard to see?  Yeah, this is one time I wished I had a longer zoom on my camera (Will had gone ahead with my other camera that had a much bigger zoom).  But, it was fun.


Will was moving fast.  Which was actually a good thing.  It kept ME moving (just not the “fast” part : ).  Which, eventually, meant that we got to our car before dark.


Zoom a little.


But, we lucked out.  The worst of the storm missed us.  It cleared up.  And we discovered that we were in an awesomely pretty area.  This is heading right past the upper lip of the valley where we had stopped for lunch.


Looking back down it.  Yeah, I should have walked out to the edge.  But, I believe my thinking was I’d lose altitude.  Bad thing.


Just great views any which way you looked.


I do mean, EVERYWHERE I looked.  I wished I could just go check it out instead of walking past.  But then, where I was walking was pretty nice : )


Zoom.  Yeah, looks good to me.  Wonder what’s over there?


Then, all of the sudden, I knew we were getting “close”.  Well, clos-er, at least.  I caught a glimpse of our buddy juusssst peeking up over the far horizon.


Yeah, not the way we were headed, but Longs Peak was over there.  Not too far away.  I reeeaaaalllllly felt like having a little stroll over that way.  It just looked very interesting.  Oh well.


Caught up to Will.  Again.


It was eerily beautiful on top.


Here is a good one by Will.


Another one by Will.


Have to say I was getting a little tired at this point.  Although it doesn’t look like it, the trail was still gaining altitude here.  Very slowly.  But, enough that I could feel it.  At just over 12,000 feet, and close to 15 miles or so, it didn’t take much effort to use up any energy I had.  But, I still enjoyed it.

The trail was in very good shape.  Except, of course, where they had tried to “fix” it.  For some reason, every so often they had pulverized rock into small pieces and then used that “gravel” to cover sections of the trail.  Unfortunately, those gravel pieces were all around the size of a tennis ball.  Sometimes a little smaller.  Sometimes a little larger.  And it “killed” our feet.  Here is one of the tools they used to do that (accidentally left behind, I think).  Had to have been carried by a pack animal (non-human) because it was around 6 feet in length and 50 lbs in weight.


Close up of the working end.


And here is an example of a section of trail that had been fixed.  Most of these sections seemed to be ignored by hikers who went to either side to keep from walking on the “gravel”.


So here is what I mean by still going uphill.  Will is up ahead.


Here.  I’ll zoom in a little.  He is still hard to see on these reduced resolution photos.  He is up at the 3rd set of cairns from where I am taking the photo.  If you aren’t familiar with this type of country, you might think that the number of those rock cairns are “overkill”.  But, if you’ve ever been on a trail like this in less than good conditions (dark, rainy, early snow has hidden the trail, whatever), then these cairns could be a life saver.


And here we are.  Very close to the top of Flattop Mtn.  Note that when I say “we”, I mean that loosely.  Will cut across the trail and shaved off half an hour or so.  There is actually a trail there to do that, but it’s old and I missed it.


So, when we got to the top, Will had me take some interesting photos.  There is actually a pretty big drop off behind him that looks down the Emerald Lake (and eventually Bear Lake) gorge.  But the cliff is really a little further away than it looks like in this photo.  But then, that’s the point : )


Here is one looking down the gorge behind Will.


Will took a photo of the old man staggering around the area : )


“Will, yell at me again.  I’m lost, dazed, and confused.  Where are you, Will?  Oh, look.  I’m on the trail.  Heh.  Nevermind.”  Another photo by Will.


Not sure what the name of that mountain is in the distance.  But it looks familiar.  Since the sun is headed down, the light is MUCH better now (just after 4pm) than yesterday when we were at this same point (at noon).


Zoom a little.


Even more.  This is actually a pretty good view of the final ascent section of Longs Peak.  I think you cross from the left flank (from that 90 degree section) and go straight up the ridge that is pointing at us in the photo.  I think.  Anyway, cool hike.  May need to do that next summer with Will.


As we started down the other side, we could see a forest fire back behind Lumpy Ridge.  They got it out pretty fast.  I think they called it the “Dunraven Fire.”  But, I could be wrong.




There is a coyote in this photo.  See if you can find him.  Not that hard.  But he/she does blend in pretty well.  Not that far off.  Just above the trail in the photo.  Obviously, you can see it a lot better on my Smugmug site.


Fall colors.


Sun’s last rays.


Heard a lot of pikas, but this is the first one I actually saw.  And it was within a foot of the trail : )  Packing away winter supplies.


It’s all downhill.  Although, after a while, that got to be pretty painful on the feet.  We need new boots.  There is a reason Will is off to the very edge of the trail.  That was where the smoothest surface was to walk on.


Emerald Lake and, in the distance below Longs, Glacier Gorge.




I didn’t take many photos after this point.  We did make one stop for a bite to eat after we got into the trees.  But otherwise we kept moving.


Will made one more video after we got back to the car.  You can see it at my Smugmug site.
All we could think about was getting our boots off and finding a place to EAT.  We did the boots immediately. But put off eating until we got back to Fort Collins.  We went to the Rio and it was very good.  We were both surprised they let us in because, as Will put it, we looked like a couple of bums. But, after all, it is Fort Collins. Will literally “breathed in” his burrito.  It was gone that fast.  Along with two bowls of chips.  And he was still hungry but too tired to really care : )

All I can say is, really truly an awesome trip.  Just about perfect in every way imaginable.  I think this photo (taken at the beginning of the trip) tells it all.


Really great hike.  Just make sure you start early (both days), and have good boots.  You don’t need to try and go fast, just a nice steady pace allowing for stops for eating, taking photos, etc.  I STRONGLY recommend that you “train” for the hike all summer.  Do at least 2-3 hikes of 10-15 miles (and lots of smaller ones).  Do one hike of at least 20 miles.  After all that, you should be good to go.

Also, you might want to try and do it early fall when the thunderstorm activity has diminished from the normal summertime routine (bugs are gone, too : ).  Otherwise, expect to get hit by a storm or two.  They could be quite, uh, exhilarating in nature above timberline.  There is always a danger of lightening strikes during the thunderstorms.  If it’s that bad, huddle under a rock or tree for a while.  At least for the first day, you can start early enough to be below timberline by the time the day’s thunderstorms usually hit.  Usually.

– Geoff Weatherford

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