Final Days in Colorado
June 26. This morning I hiked by the reservoir and up to Junco Lake Trailhead, returning to the CDT there.
A volunteer trail crew was gathered in the Junco Lake parking area, prepping for a week of trail maintenance. In the miles ahead I noticed many sawn logs. Great amounts of time and effort had gone into clearing the path, especially being that some areas were part of wilderness, prohibiting the use of power tools there. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would have been to climb through here before it had been cleared. As always, the work that had been done to clear the path was much appreciated.
My friend from the visitor center had been right- the CDT was forested and lower altitude hiking over the next few days. That morning, I hiked through forest, down to Monarch Lake. It was festive to see many out on paddle boards and swimming, shouting with laughter out on the water. There was a pretty background of snowy peaks behind the lake.
Next I hiked by Lake Granby, followed by Shadow Mountain Lake. I had imagined easy lakeside hiking in this section, but the trail wound up and down desert hills along Granby. The hills were pretty with wildflowers but the hiking was hot, due to the lower elevations (9000 feet being “low” compared to 12000!) and crossing through some burned areas that lacked shade.
Thunderstorm clouds thickened, then rain fell, as I was walking up on the ridgeline above the lake. I hiked for roughly 8 miles by Lake Granby (the lake is roughly 11 square miles). Though it is man-made, created by the erection of Granby Dm, it was amazing to walk by one lake for miles. The scale of landscape out here is difficult to fathom sometimes. I imagined the lake stretching over the distance between two villages (Quarryville and Strasburg) in my home county, a comparable distance, and it was extraordinary.
June 27. Today I hiked through Rocky Mountain National Park. It was beautiful in the park.
The trail led up to Flattop Mountain, on a more gradually graded path than I’d experienced in a long time. The trail followed Hallett Creek up a valley, often offering views of bright green meadows.
A male moose with heavy antlers stood chewing in one of those meadows. It stood with head up, watching me hike by. I watched for a few minutes, surprised by how muscular a moose appears, shoulders muscles rippling. Not a creature you’d want charging you.
I read my favorite sign of the entire trip, “MOUNTAINS DON’T CARE” on my way up the mountain. A sign urging caution. I would have appreciated seeing that sign posted at most trailheads in Colorado.
I skirted a few snow patches on the way up to Flattop Mountain. The summit offered a pretty, flat tableland, and of course great views of the mountains and valleys surrounding. It was absolutely wonderful how bright and windless it was up there. I was amazed by the stillness, up at that height.
Later in the day, I walked by two moose standing a good distance away, chewing contentedly. I walked by without incident. A hiker 15 minutes behind me was not so fortunate. He caught up to me and told me the moose had seen him, then charged. He slipped behind a tree trunk as they neared. By the tree, they slowed, then stopped and stood, then seemingly lost interest. A few minutes later they walked away.
I was glad they hadn’t charged me! A good story to keep in mind, and one I hope I never have to draw on.
June 29. The best part of this day was hiking up Parkview mountain. Though this mountain was high and exposed, “the final 12000 footer in Colorado!”, I loved the day.
I caught up to a few other hikers in the morning, on the way up the mountain. As we ascended Parkview, there were a few dark clouds nearby, but nothing too threatening.
The trail wound over green open mountainside, then climbed up talus, then straddled the saddle between mountains for the final mile or so. Though the trail was extremely exposed on that final stretch, the saddle was wide enough that I never felt uncomfortably close to the edge. It reminded me of Franconia Ridge on the Appalachian Trail, crossing small bumps on the way up to the summit. Great views on both sides, of mountains, valleys, peaks.
At the summit stood a small lookout building, an old fire observatory. When I peeked in the door, a marmot looked back at me from inside.
After taking in the views from the summit of Parkview, I started the climb down to greener mountains below. I was struck by how much greener and livelier these mountains appeared, finally brightening by late June. I spent a lot of time looking at the large variety of wildflowers covering the slopes. The mountainsides north of Parkview were covered with: gold dandelions, brilliant deep blue alpine forget me nots, purple sky pilots, yellow cinquefoil, purple and white striped springbank clover, sulfur buckwheat, and the wild looking silky phacelia. All these flowers grow in the alpine zone, able to flower and grow within a 6 week season! I was glad to be passing through within that short time frame.
Within a few days I would hike into Wyoming, passing the Colorado-Wyoming border. I was glad to be leaving Colorado on a high note, with the memory of the climb up Parkview and the flowers on the slopes below.
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