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Beyond Bridal Veil Falls, RMNP, Sept 26, 2009

January 2, 2011

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Last year (yes, 2009) on September 26, I headed up into the mountains for a hike that would, hopefully, include some nice Fall colors.  A week or so earlier, Will and I had done the famous (or, infamous) 40 mile Bear Lake to Grand Lake and back again loop.  So, I wasn’t looking for anything extreme.  Done that.

Now Bridal Veil Falls is a very close to Fort Collins hike.  Which was a good thing.  And it’s quite pretty with a fair number of aspens.  But, for me, it was almost too short.  Except for one little option that I’d never done before.  Gone “beyond” the falls.  See, the trail is to the falls.  And, a fair number of hikers scramble up to the top of the falls for the view, etc.  I always do that also.  But one time I took a little walk up the stream above the falls and determined that it appeared there was an old “unused” trail that continued up Cow Creek.  The key word here is “unused”.  Which is like putting a big blazing sign up that is invisible to everyone but me that says “Geoff, go this way.”  Ok.  Time to go see where that would lead me.

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 (and there are more of them). 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. You will need to 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. (If you want to see all my trips, 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 (care of the great National Geographic TOPO program(http://www.natgeomaps.com/software.html ) that one of my sons purchased for me : ) of the Bridal Veil Falls trail. Please note that all links open a new browser window.

The day turned out to be quite nice and, from the look of the time on the photo, I must have gotten up to the trailhead around 9am or so.  Those buildings in the distance are located at the trailhead.

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In addition to the Google map link above, please see a Microsoft Live map below. 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 (and move the map around) to get more detail.  Just make sure you don’t close the Microsoft “My Places” editor that pops up with map.  If you close the editor (it is small and you can use/scroll/zoom the map without the editor getting too much in the way) without first saving the new location, the location button will disappear.   If that happens, just close the map and click on it again on my web page.

Map picture

I was early enough to find some parking which is always in short supply.  The problem is they have blocked off the side of the road so if you want to find a free slot in the small section of road that is still allowed to park on the side, you have to get there early.   There is no ordinary parking lot.  It’s all find a spot by the side of the road.

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What you see here is pretty much the “parking space” for the trailhead.

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You cross Cow Creek right before getting to the trailhead (and all the old ranger buildings which look like they are still used for something).   The area downstream is private property. I think.

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Trailhead sign.

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Looking back up the road between some of the buildings.  Really pretty spot.

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Starting up the “trail” which is an old road at first.

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Some color.  Not quite the same as red Vermont colors, but quite nice.

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The road turns into a trail after a while.  There are some sprinkling of aspens up on the mountainside.

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Zoom in on some orangey looking stuff against that rock in the background : )

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More trailside aspens.

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After a couple of miles, you reach the second split in the trail (the first trail intersection was where you could head to the left and go up to Gem Lake).  The trail to the right is the one that goes to Bridal Veil Falls and is the continuation of Cow Creek.  The split to the left goes up to a low pass and drops into Black Canyon Creek.  After intersecting with the Black Canyon Creek trail, you can continue on up the trail to Lawn Lake, or go down the trail to the Lumpy Ridge climbing area and on to the Gem Lake trail head.  Great loop there, but today’s hike was to the right.

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This section of the trail, up to the falls, is a nice hike through a small valley.  Lots of aspen and you get to cross the stream several times.

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Near the “end” of the trail, right before you get to the falls, you gain a quick bit of altitude………

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And then reach the falls.  Today there were a number of other hikers at the falls, so I took a quick photo after climbing above the falls and continued on my way.

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The first part of the trail is easily seen and just continues along the creek.  The stream is quite nice here and the trail looks like a small number of hikers take a few minutes to come view the stream just above the falls.

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But, quite quickly, the trail gets smaller and less used.

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And now, it’s time to discuss the topic of “following less used trails.”  These are not situations where you are going “cross country” (meaning, there is normally “no” trail to follow).  No, this is when you are following a trail that may only get used once a year.  If that.  What that means is the trail begins to get “faint” and “grown over”.  When that happens, and others continue to try and follow it, the original trail begins to turn into a set of parallel trails all heading in the same direction.  This is because the original trail gets hard to see so that others may be off to one side or another and create a new trail.  In general, the many “threads” of the trail come together when the route goes through a section that makes it wise to be funneled through the same place.  Like, if there is a steep section on one side, and a stream on the other side, everyone will go through the one “easy” section of trail that goes right along the stream.  Or, going over a pass, everyone heads towards the lowest point.  When that happens, the trail becomes easier to see since everyone still uses it at that particular point.

So, while such a “primitive” trail can be difficult to follow, in this particular situation the goal of the hike made following the trail less difficult.  That is, I knew that all I wanted to do was follow the stream up to where it ended at a high ridge (I had a topo map of the area).  So, I knew that the trail(s) would all be found somewhere along the stream.  That said, the trails do normally follow the easiest route, so it’s always nice to find the trail.  And, it did get a bit tricky occasionally.  As an example, while going up the trail, I crossed the stream twice since it seemed to me (at that time) that the main trail did so.  However, on the way back down, I found that the main trail actually did not cross the stream, but was in fact about 30 yards up the slope from the stream.  Anyway, it was kinda fun doing “path finding”.  Such skills come in handy when you are trying to follow old trails that are not following an easy landmark such as a stream.

Occasionally, on this particular trail, you find that some people have set up small cairns.  Such as here.

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Zoom.

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At other times, the trail was easy to see.

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Remains of a snow storm from a few days prior.

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As I got higher, the area started to open up and views of aspen could be seen.

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Lunch break.

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Really small, but pretty, meadow.  Probably a beaver pond many years ago.

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Eventually I gained enough altitude, and the trees opened up, that I could see both behind me……

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And in front of me.

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This was nice.  I knew that I was getting much closer to my goal of gaining the ridge at the head of Cow Creek.  That said, the trail began to get even trickier to find.  This made the rock cairns especially nice to see.

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The trail is exactly in front of me in this photo.

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Eventually, I lost the “trail” at this upper meadow.  From this point on I just headed up the valley towards what appeared to be the easiest route that led to the lowest point above me.  The trick is to not only look down at the ground in the immediate vicinity, but also ahead of you at whatever can be seen in the direction you are traveling.  That combination gets you the best route to the goal.

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Again, it wasn’t too difficult.  I had one very high ridge on one side of me and another lower one to the other.  This gave me a “low point” to shoot towards.

Old ones guarding the path.

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The ridge to the “north” of me.

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And then, finally, what appeared to be my destination.

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As I got a little closer, yes, this was going to be “the ridge”.

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The view was incredible from the ridge.  And, although invisible to the camera, it was EXTREMELY windy on the ridge.

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Even some of the immediate surroundings were neat.  I climbed up on the rock in this photo to get some of the other photos below.  Did I mention it was windy?  Had to really brace myself to keep from being blown off the rock.

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This location gave me an overload of data on just how big RMNP is.  This view to the south…

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Zoom to seen Trail Ridge road vanishing over the very distant ridge.  There is a large chunk, more than 50%, of RMNP south of that road.  Almost 25% of the park still stretched north of me (behind me, so to speak).

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Closer in I had a hard time figuring out what was the country just below and in front of me.  It wasn’t until I got back home and looked at the topo map that I figured out what I was looking at here.  Just below me was the Black Canyon.  It has the trail that goes over the tree covered ridge (so, NOT the snowy ridge in the far distance) and then intersects with the main Lawn Lake trail that comes up from Fall River road.

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So, if I zoom in at that tree covered ridge, I can just barely make out the upper valley just above Lawn Lake.  A little more altitude would let me actually see the lake.

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Zoom a little more.  The lake is just out of sight and below that far tree covered ridge on the right hand part of this photo.  The trail to Crystal Lake winds up the bare slope and then behind that large jutting ridge.  Note that the topo map I point to above is older and does not show Lawn Lake.

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Of course, there was that strange mountain in the distance that seems to dominate the park.

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Zoom.  This would be a fairly spectacular scene earlier in the morning with the rising sun’s rays hitting the peak.  Or, early evening as the setting sun’s rays hit the peak.  Either would require a lot of hiking in the dark.  There are some filters I could buy for the camera that would make this a lot clearer.  It was very clear to my eyes, but the camera is having a difficult time dealing with the distance and current lighting.

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But, it was time to head back to the car.

Okay then.  Time to start back.  Hmmm.  Shadows getting longer and a long trail back.  This situation seems familiar.

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Zoom in a little.  Yes, little bit of a hike back to the car.  Best get started.

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After I retrieved my hat (I set it down beside me when I stuck my head over a ridge of rock to take a photo of Longs and when I looked back, the hat was gone : ) I left the ridge (nice to get out of the wind) and headed back down the trail.  For a while I had the setting sun to brighten my way, but in the woods it was already starting to get a bit dark.

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In a few areas the sun hit the golden trees.

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But otherwise, I followed a dim trail down the valley.

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Even in the low light there were pleasant things to see.

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Bridal Veil falls were somewhat muted in the late afternoon…….

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But the view down the valley was a stark contrast in light…….

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Zoom

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By the time I got down to lower Cow Creek, the sun was only hitting the higher ridges.

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Still, this is a great time of day to be out hiking.  Lots of things look different at this time of the day.

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And the animals like to be moving around at this time.  For some reason or another, I saw no other humans on the trail.  Strange.

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But by the time I got to the car, the only light was from the moon.

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What can I say?  I like hiking in the dark : )
Anyway, great hike to a very less traveled part of the park.  There are even lesser traveled places in the park that I want to visit.  But, that will have to wait until next summer.

– Geoff Weatherford

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2011 2:34 pm

    Thanks for another set of beautiful scenes, can’t wait to get there. We already looked the flight situation to Denver – but it’s hard to decide the the roundtrip route (or what to skip for now). Three weeks and 3100 miles feels a bit ambitious but can’t see CO, SF, Vegas & Grand Canyon in much shorter drive… Ó_o

    I heard that Grand Canyon West wouldn’t be recommended place to visit, but rather north or south sides. Do you have any experience and/or comments on that?

    Also all ideas to our route plan are welcome! 🙂

    (Don’t remember if I also advertise my other photo site besides Flickr, nowadays my daily photos come here: http://www.blipfoto.com/timook )

    • January 17, 2011 7:55 pm

      Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. Barely recovered from the holidays : )

      Yeah, that’s a lot to do in 3 weeks. However, it should be fun and you’ll definitely see some nice areas.

      Grand Canyon – Have to recommend going down to the bottom from up on the ridge. I did that hike one early spring and it was snowing on the rim (south rim), and tshirt and shorts weather (dry) in the bottom of the canyon. That said, it will take 2 days of your trip at least, if not 3-4 once you count driving to it and back (it’s a big chunk of country). I’d recommend the south rim because the drive is a lot shorter. If you can manage to get down into the bottom of the Grand Canyon, do so. Otherwise, the views are just spectacular. Got to see it to believe it. Ummmm, it can be a bit warm in the summer. Consider driving through Monument Valley on the way there (or on the way back). Lots of nice John Wayne vistas. But, not much else to see/do unless you have more time than it sounds as if will be available. Going through Moab, UT is a little shorter and you can check out Arches Nat Park (just outside of Moab). Awesome place. Again, can be hot in the summer (but, it is high altitude (relatively speaking), so not too bad). Yeah, hit SF. Pick out some places ahead of time (the wharf, chinatown, etc.) so you don’t waste any time. Hit Yosemite (yeah, lots of people, but really neat place) if you have time. That should easily fill up your time. Have fun.

      Geoff Weatherford

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