This post has actually been a long time in the making only because it involved 2 separate hikes. Desperate to get away from the already-record crowds in Rocky on 4th of July weekend, we made a little diversion to a lesser known area for a quiet hike. No only did we hardly see any people, the views were amazing!! Full kudos to my husband for scouting out and correctly guessing that St. Vrain Mountain was the place to be!!
The St. Vrain Mountain trail runs mostly in Indian Peaks Wilderness, but towards the end veers in and out of Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail head is a bit off of the beaten path, so that helps keep crowds down. Add to that the 4 or so miles of moderately difficult hiking just to get to the base of St. Vrain Mountain before going up a mile’s worth of boulders to the summit, and you’ve got the perfect mix of “crowd suppression” we so often seek when hiking.
Summer hiking, especially above treeline, means early mornings. That’s probably the toughest part some days – just getting going. For the first hike, I only toted my phone because we weren’t sure what we’d find or how hard the boulder field would be to traverse on the way to the summit, so I made it easy on myself. The sun was just starting to come up as we set out on the trail through a forest of aspen trees, then along a stream where wildflowers were just opening to greet the day. We even came across a tree felled by a beaver near the stream!
Good start to the day noted, we kept trudging up the hill. The aspen forest seemed to go on forever, but eventually it gave way to pines. The purple and yellow and red wildflowers combined with the early sun of the day and a crispness in the air was simply fantastic. We even lucked out and found some picturesque columbines peeking out along the side of the trail.
Eventually – and what seemed like took forever – the pine trees disappeared and we were above treeline. That’s when things got really spectacular! Not long after leaving the forest, we were up on the saddle between hills just to the south of RMNP. We looked to the north and our jaws just dropped. We were staring at the south faces of Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, Mount Lady Washington, and the whole gaggle of peaks that make up that southern section of the park. Add to that some fluffy clouds throwing dramatic shadows on the jagged mountains and the brilliant yellows of wildflowers in the meadows and it was something to behold (even if the camera on my phone couldn’t quite do it justice).
I think at this moment, we looked at each other and knew immediately that we’d be doing this hike again, and soon. The “big gun” camera and its accoutrements must make it to at least the saddle to really capture what we were seeing before us.
Putting that thought aside, we still had time and the weather was cooperating, so we decided to go on and summit St. Vrain Mountain. From the saddle, it didn’t look so bad… (St. Vrain Mountain is the hill on the right closer to the foreground.) Looks are very deceiving in the mountains.
So we whip around the hill a little more and start to go up. Then kept going up. That last mile up the hill was a slog of boulder hopping and figuring out how best to navigate to the top sans trail.
The climb was tough, but the bonus was when you stopped to rest. That’s when you could look to the north and see the peaks in RMNP and then to the south and see Indian Peaks. Not bad scene to catch your breath.
After what seemed like one of the slowest climbs ever – including stopping because we came upon 2 ptarmigans near the top!! – we made it to the summit. The view was simply sublime and made it worth the extra effort to reach the top.
Once we grabbed a bite to eat, we headed back down before those cute clouds potentially turned into storms that would be a bad thing to be caught in above treeline. All the while we were already planning our trip back.
Successful maiden hike over, we headed home and plotted to come back in a couple of weeks with my big camera and really get into shooting in the saddle. (There’s no way I’d try to summit at this point with all of my gear. My conditioning is much better than it was years ago, but climbing a boulder field that long with the extra 20 or so pounds of equipment isn’t happening any time soon.)
Cut to the end of July – time to go back! I was super excited to go with the “big gun” and take some time shooting the streams, the wildflowers, and especially up in the saddle. Unfortunately, in the few weeks between trips, things changed a lot up there. Summer is a fickle and fleeting thing in the high country and by the time we returned, the wildflowers in the saddle were done. On top of that, it was a cloudless sky that was flat and off-color because smoke and other particles from wildfires to the north in Colorado and even from way down south in New Mexico were blowing in creating a nasty haze that not even my polarizer could cut through. Talk about disappointment!
I was so bummed about the conditions that when I offloaded my images for post-processing, I just let them sit for a few weeks. I felt a general malaise about what I captured that day. I hoped some had potential to be “rescued” and turned into something good, but I didn’t have much luck with that. I ended up keeping only 3 images from the entire day! That’s the thing with shooting in nature – some days you get incredibly lucky, but other days are simply an icky washout.
In the end, delaying our return trip and postponing my post-processing led to a massive delay in finally getting this post done. Procrastination didn’t pay off in terms of pictures in this instance, but I think I learned a lot of good things about timing and the weather in this location just on these 2 trips alone so come next summer I can really try to nail the beauty of this area when things are at their peak.