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Experiencing the Rockies

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. Edward Abbey

The long-planned hiking trip to the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch with grandson Paul was cancelled last month due to wildfires in the region. While deeply disappointed by this news, I was delighted that Scouts and Scout leaders quickly developed an alternative experience - a week in the Estes Park, Colorado, area of hiking, rafting, camping, and being guys.

It was a wonderful week - but then any week I get to spend with my grandsons are wonderful weeks.

Both Paul and I had been preparing for the backpacking rigors of Philmont this spring and early summer, so it was great that all that training and equipment acquisition could be used. Although we were based in a condo in Estes Park, we did camp at the Goblins Forest Campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park a couple of nights. (Campsites are very popular in national parks and difficult to reserve.)  The 9 participants (4 adults and 5 teenagers) completed 4 good hikes and spent a day white water rafting the Poudre River (1600 trout per mile) near Fort Collins.  We watched the Estes Park fireworks on the 4th (making a hasty retreat from a golf course water sprinkler about half way through the program) and enjoyed meals on the trail, at the campsite, in the condo, and at a variety of restaurants. 

Our hikes included:

  • Chasm Lake: 8 miles, 2500 foot elevation gain to 11,823 feet
  • Estes Cone: 7.4 miles with a 1912 foot elevation gain to 11.007 feet
  • Flattop Mountain: 8.9 miles with a 2850 foot elevation gain to 12,324 feet
  • Ouezel Falls: 5.5 miles with a 948 foot elevation gain to 9370 feet

The first three were rated "strenuous." I would agree. The elevation (trailheads starting over 9000 feet) was challenging but not debilitating for we tough guys. Scout practice is to have a hike leader who, after any break, asks "Is anyone not ready?" The chorus became "I was born not ready." The steady and often steep inclines were literally breathtaking.

Our campsite was only a mile and a half or so from the trailhead so we did not need to carry our packs far. But it was all uphill. One of the challenges was "bear proofing" our area to keep black bears and "mini-bears" (mice, raccoons, skunks, etc.) from getting into the food supply. This involved using bear cannisters for "smellables" and wearing sleep clothing instead of day clothes at night. I was going to place a Pop Tart in the middle of the campsite hoping to lure a bear for photographs, but for some reason this was discouraged by the others.

As the picture of Paul clambering about Estes Cone shows, some of our hikes ended in a "scramble" to our destination's terminus. The views were truly amazing and we spotted on our hikes and drives a bear, elk, deer, moose, entertaining marmots, pika, squirrels, chipmunks, and ouezel birds.

There once was a fat little marmot
Who considered himself quite the varmint
Until my son
Used his shotgun
And now he's a fashionable garment. (OK, so you compose and hike at the same time.)

Strange to say, had the hikes not been difficult, I don't think we would have been as satisfied. We did well, even the old farts, and were justifiably proud.

The Pouder River has Class II, III, and IV rapids. The water was low when we were there and was not running terribly fast, but the rocks were many and often left a gap not much wider than the raft through which to navigate. Neither of our two rafts capsized and for me, at least, the thrill level was about right.

One of our favorite places to eat was the Mountain Meadows Cafe in Allenspark. The cabin held but half a dozen tables inside with a few more on its porch. The service was slow but the food was worth the wait - 4 egg omelets and fabulous blueberry pancakes (which the boys drenched with what they liked to call "pancake gravy.") We also feasted on homemade jambalaya, street tacos, and steakhouse fare over the course of the week.

Paul will be a high school senior next year and will soon be off on yet greater adventures - college, career, and adult life. He is responsible, handsome, intelligent, well-spoken, widely-read, musical, and passionate about chess. He is fine young man and will thrive - taking care of not just himself, but I am sure, serving others in society as well (with fine parents as his model.) It is nearly impossible for me to believe this sweet baby just yesterday is already a young man. You think your kids grow up fast - wait til you see how fast the grands grow up.

I hope there will be some time and space for the grandfather in Paul's future. Maybe to climb a few more mountains?

Oh, I've not completely abandoned the hope to hike Philmont. Paul has a younger brother who is a Boy Scout as well...

The rest of the 140 photos

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Reader Comments (3)

I love reading about your hiking adventures! You make me want to be on the trail right now but I'm teaching a grad course for Furman this month. Hope to be on the hiking trails in August though! Thanks for sharing your photos. They were beautiful!

July 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPat Hensley

Thanks for the comment, Pat. Have some great hikes this August. Where will you be going?


July 16, 2018 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thanks for the comment, Pat. Have some great hikes this August. Where will you be going?


July 16, 2018 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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