One motto all backpackers and hikers must have? “Never pass up an opportunity to visit a national park!” After attending a professional conference in Denver, I couldn’t resist the chance to hike in the Rockies.
There were so many trails to choose from that it took me days to settle on Estes Cone. Why Estes Cone? The Cone is a moderate hike with excellent views and the chance to arrive at a summit. As important, it was accessible (just moderate snow) and trails hadn’t been wiped out by flooding, etc. (as is the case in some areas).
This time I was solo. I arrived at the Longs Peak trailhead to start my adventure, only to find that I was completely alone. Not a single car in the lot and no park rangers! The trailhead is not well marked so I had no idea where to begin. (I found a trailhead but wasn’t sure if it was the right one.) Just then, two young women came from out of nowhere carrying coffee mugs. They were on a short morning walk from their camping area. Voila! I was guided to the right spot and started hiking.
The trail begins around 9,400 feet and ascends slowly. I was among beautiful pines and loved hearing the tweets of nearby birds. The sounds of spring, combined with cool weather and a snowy trail, was an interesting contrast. I ended up putting my crampons on for a short while. Every once in a while I got a view of my ultimate destination. It seemed pretty daunting!
Eventually, the trail comes to a bridge made of a half-log that crosses a beautiful stream. At Eugenia Mine (according to a sign it produced more dreams than gold) the trail turns to the right. After many ups and downs, the trail comes to a field. As I stopped to take a break, another couple passed me. “You must be the person who owns the other car in the lot!” they said. They were seasoned high altitude hikers so they moved faster than me. The trail goes up and down, until it eventually came to the .7 mile steep ascent to the top.
Apparently, the Rocky Mountain National Park doesn’t believe in using tree markers to delineate trails. No white or blue blazes to follow! Instead, a series of cairns guided me as a steadily made my way up. In the dense trees, I had no idea how close I was to the top. As I got higher, however, the “trail” became more and more rocky, with more and more snow. At the advice of the couple who had passed me and now were on the way down, I put my crampons back on.
The summit, at just over 11,000 ft., was completely worth it! Although the weather threatened all day, it was still a spectacular view. Although windy and cold, I enjoyed a delicious sandwich at the top, and much to the dismay of a nearby chipmunk, I ate the whole thing.
Descending wasn’t too difficult, but I did need tp pay close attention that I didn’t leave the trail. The ice and snow made walking tricky, so I tried to take my time. At one outlook area, I stopped to eat more snacks. I didn’t want to leave! Instead, I tried to savor my time on the trail.
All things must come to an end. As I left the trail, I met a park ranger who said he is moving to Gaithersburg, Maryland (my hometown) in the next few months. How about that!?! All in all, I can’t wait to come back to the Rockies and try an even more ambitious hike. I’m ready!