And sometimes the mountains kick your ass.
Like last weekend. After being chained to my computer working on The Tainted City for months, I was dying to get out into the "real" mountains (as opposed to the Flatirons beside Boulder). I lined up a hiking partner and settled on a destination: Thatchtop Mountain (12,668 ft), in Rocky Mountain National Park. Not a hard peak, just a nice little class 2 off-trail ascent, reached by taking the heavily traveled Black Lake trail up Glacier Gorge past Mills and Jewel Lakes, then ducking off into the forest and scrambling up off-trail past a few lakes to the broad summit. You can even turn it into a loop hike by crossing over Thatchtop's broad summit and then descending an S-gully to meet the Loch Vale trail.
It never even occurred to me to check the trail conditions. Yeah, it was early season - so we brought ice axes and warm clothes and microspikes, figuring we'd have to ascend/descend snowfields once we got off-trail. But the trail up Glacier Gorge is one of the most well-trodden in RMNP; heck, I've seen grandmothers and five year olds waltzing along that sucker. And no wonder, since the views are so lovely:
|Glacier Gorge (Longs Peak and the Keyboard of the Winds visible on the far ridgeline)
Yeah, well. It turns out last November there was a windstorm in RMNP that resulted in a "microburst" wind event in Glacier Gorge. Hurricane-force winds knocked down nearly the entire pine forest within the gorge's upper reaches. Our first warning of this was upon passing Mills Lake, when we started seeing unusual numbers of downed trees. But someone had been through with a chainsaw; we laughed over how in a National Park, the trails are always in such good shape.
Then we passed the turn-off to a backcountry campground midway up the gorge, and found the entire forest knocked over and no more helpfully chainsawed path through the trees.
|The "trail" at the start of the blowdown
|Trail? What trail?
I've gotta say, that's the first time I've ever had my ass kicked by nothing more than downed trees. But that's part of the fun of the mountains: they can always surprise you. Given how popular Glacier Gorge is as a snowshoe/winter camping destination, I keep wondering if anyone might've been in the canyon when the windstorm happened. Because...whoa. That must've been one hell of a night, with the entire forest crashing down around you. Maybe I'll have to work that into a story sometime.
Even though we didn't make Thatchtop, it still felt awesome to get a day in the mountains again. Hopefully only the first of many this summer!
|Me beside Mills Lake, after escaping the blowdown