I hadn’t had a 4:30 am wake up in a long time, but an iffy weather forecast dictated an early start to avoid the approaching cold front and rain. We pounded down a few cups of coffee and a good breakfast, loaded up the car and headed south on Hwy. 7 to the Wild Basin trail head. We arrived to only three other vehicles in the lot and a cold, crisp darkness that says "I'm in the mountains". We were on the trail at 6 am sharp and hiked into the full moon. Too full a moon! It was so bright that the trees cast shadows that required the headlamp! Despite the dark shadows and the trail being only dimly lit by the headlamp this trail was still easily recognizable. We opted to take the unimproved campsite trail to change things up a bit (as well as to shave .75 mile off the hike each way…I’m lazy like that) and arrived at the cutoff in surprisingly quick order. This trail bypasses most of the photo ops….Copeland Falls, Ouzel Falls and Calypso Cascades, but it saves a boat load of time and distance and it was too dark for us to see a dang thing anyway. I do want to emphasize that this is an unimproved trail. Most of it is in pretty decent shape but there are a few ankle twisting spots, so be careful.
We were, again, surprised at how quickly we rejoined the main trail. From this point forward the trail leveled and with the sun finally making its appearance we put it into cruise control. By-passing the usual scenery gave this a sense of new territory for us and we took everything in as if it were a brand new world…beautiful.
The Lion Lakes cutoff was soon behind us and a short time later we arrived at the N. St. Vrain Creek foot bridge. What a great place for a break! So we did!
Sandy shot wildflowers and streams and Bill snacked… the usual Sandy & Bill hiking stuff.
Shortly after we came upon a meadow off trail to the right. Lights out gorgeous! We hung here for a bit knowing we were less than a quarter mile from Thunder and the weather appeared to be holding fine. Not much in the way of wildflowers, but the tall grasses and small streams make this a must stop location!
And then… The patrol cabin, and then…Thunder Lake. ***Gasp*** Serious beautiness.
Zero breeze and only a light scattering of clouds, or as Sandy would say “perfect pictures sky”! I explored the meadows and lake’s shore while Sandy shot every single inch of the area. She panno’d & zoomed & macro'd her way all over the place!
She was happy. That made me happy. We were happy.
We decided to be happy and well fed, so we grabbed our packs and started heading back to the cabin to refuel. As we gain the meadow another hiker appeared, bound for the Boulder-Grand Pass. He had heard the forecast and was concerned about getting caught betwixt and between on the climb. We never finished the conversation because the rodeo came to town.
Out of the brush rode a couple of Park Service resupply rangers and a pack mule. Being from Texas seeing mounted cowboy types isn’t that odd, but in the back country of RMNP…kinda neat. They dismounted, tied their horses to a tree and walked the mule toward the cabin for unloading. Grand Pass hiker asked the rangers for an updated weather report as they began the unloading process. Somewhere between “it’s gonna come a storm” and “ I sure wouldn’t go, myself” the load slipped, much to Bertha the mules chagrin. Bertha started bucking, load swinging at her side while young cowboy held on for dear life. They finally managed to settle her down after being drug across the meadow.
The rangers, having had enough fun for the morning, retired to the cabin for lunch, Sandy & I found a big boulder to take a break on and Grand Pass hiker took of for the pass, despite the ranger’s warnings.
Time to go.
About a half mile down trail we spotted Mertensia Falls across the valley. What a sweetie! We had toyed with dropping down to take a gander, but Erik had warned that it was a treacherous bushwhack from this trail. If Erik warns...we listen!
We stopped for photos for a bit and noticed that a fog was coming up canyon. We had been worried about the weather coming in from the Northwest and old Mother Nature threw us a curve! In just a matter of minutes we were in a heavy fog….cool! The fog stayed with us the entire trip down. It provided plenty of photo fodder for Sandy and added a mystical feel to the hike. I've always thought the woods and meadows up here felt 'Middle Earth- ish" anyway, but the fog added so much to the feeling....I kept waiting for the Hobbits to appear with Gandalf!
The trip down was uneventful except for our cowboy/rangers passing us on the way down...it was nice revisiting with our compadres again. 3 hours up and 3 hours down. Not bad for us.
My thoughts did keep returning to Grand Pass hiker and what was heading his way…. I remember a few of our weather related misadventures and kept thinking... Sucks to be him right now.