If you make it as far west as Boulder, Colorado, you might want to keep going forty-five minutes or so more. The road soon starts climbing up and around the mountain and your car will have to slow down to take the many curves. The scenery doesn’t stop for those last 32 miles to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. That’s where we reserved a cabin, on the edge of town, at the YMCA of the Rockies.
The setting is marvelous. The YMCA of the Rockies sits on an open plateau, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and some of those famed 14,000 feet peaks. In the morning, when I wake up, all I have to do is open the curtains to take in the view. But I prefer to tie my shoes and head out the door for an early morning walk in the mountain air. The scent of pines hovers around me, and in these quiet surroundings, I hear the morning birdsong and see a deer family contentedly munching at the side of a cabin. Here at 8,300 feet, it’s a little harder to breathe and I huff and puff a little as I climb. This is good practice for our hike planned in the next couple of days.
Six out of seven of us are hiking up to Chasm Lake on Longs Peak. The night before, we have a great meal of black bean enchiladas and corn on the cob with a side of chocolate birthday cake since this is a birthday get together. We go to bed early knowing we have to rise at the crack of dawn to get a parking spot at the trailhead.
We try to be prepared: we load our backpacks with water, snacks, warmer layers and rain gear since we know that as we climb the weather can change abruptly. Jim and I also take our hiking poles in case we need them. Our eight year old grandson is a trooper. He is excited to go on this adventure as well.
The trail starts at 9,000 feet and will be climbing to 11,500 by the time we get to the top. As we start on the first mile, we slowly get into a nice pace, taking our time, letting our bodies adjust to the climbing, getting our lungs breathing efficiently. The trail takes us through the forest and up to the subalpine zone, and then up to Moraine Mills. We reach a rocky plateau with incredible views down onto a mountain waterfall and lake. But here is where it gets tricky for this 60 year old. With my heart in my mouth, I inch along the trail as it follows a sheer rocky gorge on the left and a sheer cliff on the right. And once that accomplished, I need to ascend a rock scramble by...scrambling up a rocky terrain. I fear I get useless at this point. But I am not done. I still need to climb a small rock wall before reaching Chasm Lake. Somehow, I get it done but it takes me to the brink. I’m just glad to be on solid ground when I see the lake. It is beautiful and I’m not quite sure how I made it. Somehow I was able to go beyond my mind’s capabilities.
The return is much easier on the mind than the going but a lot harder on the joints. This is where those hiking poles come in handy. Despite the threat of rain to our west as we cross the tundra, we make it down to the forest without a hitch. And we spot a moose in a mountain meadow on the way. I jog the last half mile down. After eight hours, we have burned 2,500 calories, climbed 208 floors, and gone over 29,000 steps according to my daughter’s Fitbit. It will be a day to remember and one incredible way to celebrate 60 years on this earth. Now that I survived that trail, I am eager to go back and try again, even though at the time it was almost too much. I am glad to have tackled that fear and laid it to rest.
One day later, my body is not complaining. I can be glad for that and many other small mercies in this world. Time to head towards home!