Sitting on the porch with a couple of beers, one of my good friends asked me "why do you like hiking and backpacking? What do you feel you get out of it?"
I took a sip of my IPA and then began to list off the things I love about backpacking: Exploring nature, pushing myself physically, simplifying my life (if even for a few days), sharing good times with friends in the wilderness, and on occasion, finding moments of solitude.
The next morning I packed up my trusty pack and drove through Big Thompson Canyon into Estes Park and right into Rocky Mountain National Park. Making that last turn out of the canyon and into Estes Park always makes me feel incredibly lucky to live so close to such a beautiful place.
The plan was to complete a loop from Bear Lake to Grand Lake, connecting the Flattop Mountain, Tonahutu, and North Inlet trails whilst camping for 2 nights. A good primer on this loop can be found here: http://www.pmags.com/backpacking-loops-%E2%80%93-mags-favorites#bear-lake-to-grand-lake-loop
I got my permit, slowly made my way through the never-ending construction on Bear Lake road, parked my car at the trailhead, and began to loop around Bear Lake to connect with the trail to Flattop:
I steadily gained elevation and was rewarded with a beautiful view of the Keyboard of the Winds and Pagoda Mountain:
I soldiered on, up, up, up, eventually breaking out of the treeline..
And enjoyed the view:
I spent a few miles ridin' the Divide...
And eventually dropped back down under treeline and into the meadows as the sun began to wane:
I stopped for a quick bite to eat, then made it to camp to enjoy the sunset at...Sunset:
I got a fantastic night's sleep and woke up the next morning with a good bit of frost on my tent. As it dried in the sun, I made some breakfast, packed everything up, and was on my way.
I was treated to the last remaining vestiges of Fall still hanging on in the park:
And a butterfly who seemed to be in love with my gear:
I looped around Big Meadows, past Grand Lake, and began to gain elevation once again. The best part? A plethora of switchbacks to finish off an already long day!
But the view was definitely worth it:
I made it to my last camp, around 11,000ish feet, and enjoyed July in October:
Unfortunately, my camera battery died soon thereafter, so I don't have record of my last half day back to the trailhead. But early the next morning, I broke out from under treeline less than a quarter mile from my campsite. The sun hadn't yet rose to fill the face of the mountain I was trudging up, but I enjoyed a long morning of switchbacks, steady elevation gain, 30-40 mph wind gusts, and a snot-covered face. It seems as if the Divide wanted me to know that winter is most definitely on its way.
After spending about 4 miles above treeline on the divide, I connected back to Flattop Mountain and made my way back down under treeline and eventually to Bear Lake. I stared longingly back up at the mountains from the trailhead before hopping in the car, on my way to my last challenge: destroying a buffalo burger, sweet potato fries, and a delicious microbrew.
I love my life.