One afternoon, we were chit-chatting with Erik around 2:00pm, wondering which hike we should do next. He had a great idea: a “nice little walk” we could do that day with nice payoffs of being able to look over the Wild Basin. He said there were some pretty fall colors, so off we went. Following his directions, we headed up Ski Road for a few miles to the St. Vrain Mountain Trailhead and parked the car. The trailhead starts in the Roosevelt National Forest then it enters Indian Peaks and ends up in the RMNP at the very end. The start of the trail is beautiful. It begins in a large aspen grove and the golden leaves completely covered the trail. It was almost surreal. The trail climbs thru the grove and there was a gentle, cool breeze showering more aspen leaves on us the whole time. With the fir & pines as a backdrop, it was the most wonderful experience hiking I can remember. We were both so excited because it was such an awesome beginning to what Erik promised was “a nice little walk, with nice fall colors and a good destination view”. The Fairy Tale hike continued for a mile or so always uphill, when at a switchback we came upon a stand of barren trees with all of eastern Colorado spread out behind them. In-freakin-credible!! We had obviously gained considerable elevation judging by the views, but neither of us seemed to be showing too much signs of fatigue, but we did stop and take in the scenery for a bit. I just can’t tell you how spectacular everything looked. Looking up it appeared we may be getting close to end of the trail so “onward and upward”!
About an hour later, we began to worry that maybe we had missed a turnoff or something, this “nice little walk” was beginning to take on the feeling of something much more. The vistas were still grand, but there was now several inches of accumulated snow on the ground, the wind had picked up and by golly it was getting a little chilly! On top of that we were getting a little thirsty. About that time a young lady was coming down trail so Sandy asked “ How much further to St. Vrain”? her response of “ Two more hours”, sent chills down our spine. Now what? We decided we had too much invested in this to just turn around and we hoped that certainly she was mistaken. So we decided to go on and reconsider if we hadn’t reached the saddle in an hour. The trail continued upward. And upward. A nd upward. (One side note here: the National Forest Service obviously has a different idea of trail maintenance than the Park Service does. Although the trail wasn’t horrible, it was in need of some serious repair. If you decide to take this hike WEAR BOOTS!) Another switchback brought us to tree-line and ankle deep snow. We are both hungry, thirsty and getting colder. I know it’s a no-no, but we had a snowball each and that helped alleviate the thirst, but didn’t do much for the other 2 problems. While having our snowballs, another couple and their Beagle came down trail toward us. I was afraid to ask, but we did need to know what we were facing. Fortunately they said no more than 30 - 45 minutes. It was now 5PM and we decided to go at our best pace and re- assess the situation again at 5:30. So, onward again. The snow became mid- calf deep now and we were slowed down by occasional post holing. The views were just so awesome tho. The entire trail is on the south/southeast side of St.Vrain Mountain and steep enough that you are never without views of the peaks to the south and the flatlands east. The skies were cloudy but now and again they would break long enough for a sunray to “spotlight” a distant peak or the plains. It was really special and it helped keep our minds engaged with something besides the cold and our growling bellies.
At 5:30 we stopped. It was decision time. We were now on tundra & could see the saddle between Meadow & St.Vrains ahead. The snow was now replaced by a thin sheet of ice and the wind was howling! Neither of us wanted to quit, but there was an understanding of the very real risk of hypothermia and hunger creating some serious problems. We finally decided we had come too far to shut down now, but if either one of us for any reason felt like that was it, we would stop and head back down
The going became very slow and difficult. At long last we came to what appeared to be the saddle. Sandy was starting to struggle, so I told her to wait and let me go ahead and check it out. After last year’s Frozen Lake hike and its endless shelves, we were afraid that this was just a false rise. If it was, we were through. I trudged on ahead and soon came to the rise. “Holy Moley!” When Sandy heard that she almost broke into tears. She thought I had encountered yet another ridge. But when I shouted back “ Ya gotta see this, it’s incredible!” she broke into a waddle and joined me. Right at the saddle is a sign that tells you “Now Entering Rocky Mountain National Park” and beyond that, the most spectacular view I have ever, ever witnessed. The entire Wild Basin is laid out before us. Copeland, Pagoda, Longs and Meeker right there for the taking. It was as if they were no more than a few yards away. The awesomeness of that view will stay with me forever. Erik was right on that one point – it was a good destination view!
We stayed for a few minutes, much less time than I would have wanted, but it was cold, and it was windy and it was 6:00 and would soon be growing dark. Sandy took photo upon photo and then it was time to go.
It took us just over 3 hours to gain the saddle, we were back at trailhead in an hour and a half. The last 30 minutes were in the dark ( for some reason the phrase “Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh my!” kept running thru my head), but visions of a car full of snacks and water kept us movin’ quickly.
Afterward we headed back to Estes and a meal at the Grubsteak. Aahhh, beef & beer!
I learned a few lessons on this hike that I will remember always: Always know your route. Always have ample water and food. Always take plenty of clothing. Never listen to Erik (or Smudge) when they tell you “it’s a nice little walk”. It is interesting to note that when we ran into to Erik & Jo a few days later and relived the hike with them, Jo turned to Erik and said “ You told them it was a "little walk"???? ERRRIK!!! ” Somehow that made us both feel better.