Another fabulous hiking day–with our longest hike yet (yes, we’re pretty wimpy). We got up early and were out of the hotel before 8. For our last hiking adventure (our last full day in Estes) we decided to take Highway 7 out of town, basically the road south along the Eastern border of Rocky Mountain National Park. We had spotted a trail on national forest land that went about 2 miles up to a smaller peak called Lily Mountain (9700 feet). We hoped that we’d have a good view from the top, and we were not disappointed! It was a longish way up (1500 feet–Mark’s GPS told us all those sorts of things) and we have to admit to some huffing and puffing, but we really loved the climb at the end, over big boulders, to the two rocky tops within our reach. The view all around, of the entire Estes Park valley and of the mountain range to the west of us was just awesome. We even took a photo of the two of us, with the help of a hiker from St. Louis, who was at least 20 years older than we are!
The descent was uneventful and of course a bit faster, but we got pretty short on water and were very glad that our lunch cooler had some bubbly water and some orange juice for backup! We had an early lunch (the hike took us probably about 3 hours round-trip) at the banks of Lake Lily, only a few hundred feet further along the road than our trailhead. Then we moved on to the Longs Peak trailhead, where we knew there was a water refill station. We refilled our bottles and took a look at the many photos and the 3-d map of the Longs Peak / Meeker area, and of course the climb looked awesome and adventurous–but also well out of our reach and rather scary. Even though people climb up without equipment, the 7 miles include 2 trailless miles at the end, which is all climbing, and of course the hike there and back takes all day. I was intrigued to learn that Longs Peak is the northernmost of the 14,000ers and that the NP service has no way of keeping track of how many people go up every year, unlike at the sites where the ascent is restricted.
We left the Longs Trail Head pretty much right after that, and went on to Wild Basin Trail Head, the last entrance into the National Park. They warned us that the parking lot would be full, but we did manage to find a legit parking spot only a couple 100 feet away and went for a little mini hike (really all we were still capable of), about 0.3 miles up to a water fall area called Copeland Falls. As with the other waterfalls yesterday and the day before, we were fascinated by the masses of water and its power–I am very glad the mountains here have rivers; it sort of substitutes for the ocean for me! This time, the new aspect was that we watched a pair of birds who were building or fixing a nest right under the rocks nearest to the waterfall, and who kept flying up the waterfall just over the spray, wings flapping like crazy.
Our last stop for the day was, once more, the Alluvial Fan from the 1982 dam failure that washed out all over again last fall. We’d already been there and we were really just going to take another look, but ended up climbing around quite a long time, trying to get a good view of the fall and the new course of the river from higher up. We maneuvered a rather tricky spot near the water, but on the way back actually had to have some help getting back up on a rather tall and steep rock. It was fun, but after this last climb/hike, our legs were truly tired! It had also gotten ominously dark (we had already dodged a couple of rains earlier in the day) and started raining as we got into the car. We actually stayed in the parking lot for bit while it was hailing, and then drove back to Estes in pouring rain that probably lasted for at least 45 minutes. (With the rain, there was again thunder in the mountains, and there was actually a death caused by lightning near Rainbow curve that afternoon–after there had already been one massive lightning strike with a death and several injured on Friday, near the tope of the Ute Trail. This is crazy rare; the last lightning death in Rocky Mountain National Park happened in 2000, so it made CNN. What was freaky for us about this was, of course, that we were at Rainbow Curve and at the Alpine Meadows Parking lot, where the Ute Trail starts, on Thursday.)
By the time we had looked at today’s photos and taken showers (we had gotten VERY sweaty on our first hike), it was lightening up and we went to have dinner at a lovely, simple Vietnamese restaurant that was a little bit off the main drag and therefore not so crowded. Then we bought some taffy as presents and for ourselves (apparently a Bauer family tradition, and another way to explore the two million candy shops here) and also some fudge as a little dessert, and headed home before 7 pm. I don’t think the rest of the day will bring much more excitement than a movie in bed; we can barely move!