Little Explorations in Catoctin

We’re now full tilt exploring Catoctin. Yesterday we hiked to Cunningham Falls. Melissa carried Flint, I carried all the camera stuff and Jed blazed the trail. The falls were impressive, but since it was a weekend it was pretty crowded. I think Jed and I will take an alternate route there another day this week.

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Blue Blazes Whiskey Still trail

Melissa and Flint headed back home last night because she’s still working, but she’ll be back for a long weekend next week. This morning Jed and I went to Hunting Creek Lake and he fished for a little (but came up empty). Then we explored a little of the William Houck Campground and the surrounding area before heading home. In the afternoon we hiked the Blue Blazes Whiskey Still trail, which is where I’ll be leading my photography walk later next week. It’s just an easy trail meandering along a gentle stream, but I’m looking forward to the walking tour I’ll be delivering to hopefully inspire some budding photographers.

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William Houck Recreation Area

Last, I thought I should mention all the wildlife we’ve seen so far. Nothing huge, but lots of variety for only a couple days. In no particular order: Pileated Woodpecker, Baltimore Oriel, Eastern Milksnake, a giant millipede, and then of course frogs, trout and a salamander. Hopefully there is more yet to come!

Final Days at Rocky Mountain National Park

A starry night looking over Long’s Peak

These last few days at Rocky Mountain National Park have been just as magical as the rest. After completing the Chasm Lake trail on tuesday, Melissa, Jed and I have been driving and hiking around the park, making sure we visited everywhere we wanted to.

On Wednesday we did a 4 lake hike, starting with Bear lake, then up to Nymph, Dream and Emerald. It was about a 3.5 mile hike round trip, which Jed did a mile of by himself (the rest we had a kid carrier for). Each lake was a little different and each had pretty spectacular views. That night I gave my second artist talk a the Beaver Meadows visitor center auditorium. 68 people came and I had a lot of fun talking about my work, what I’ve been doing in the park, and giving a demo of large format photography.

Dream Lake looking towards Hallett and Flattop

Emerald Lake looking up to Hallett

Thursday we all drove through various stops in Horseshoe Park (where the park was originally opened in 1915) and then up Trail Ridge Road again to the Tundra Communities trail, which I hiked while Jed and Melissa napped in the car. That trail gave some spectacular views and gave access to some unique ecology and rock formations on the tundra. The wind was whipping however, with a sustained “breeze” of about 25 mph with gusts of 40 at least. It was pretty similar to being up at chasm lake again except that the sun was shining, so it felt quite a bit warmer.

In Horseshoe Park at the edge of the Alluvial Fan area.

Mushroom stones on the Tundra Communities Trail
Near the top of the Tundra Communities Trail

And today, our last full day in the park, we wanted to get out and see something new, so we drove down to the southern end of the park to Wild Basin and did a short hike to the picturesque Copeland Falls. Jed did a little fishing, we had a snack and I took some photos. It was a great little day trip and a fitting finale to our adventure. And now, the drive back home.

Aspen Leaves

Ascent to Chasm Lake

I had just a couple hikes I knew I wanted to do even before I came to RMNP.  One of those was the Flattop and Hallett hike, which I somewhat accidentally turned into an over-exhausting excursion. And the other I was able to accomplish today: Chasm Lake. This lake starts on the same trail as the famed fourteener, Longs Peak. However, rather than continuing to the summit, Chasm Lake sits at the base of Longs Peak’s imposing east facing wall (2,400 ft tall) known as the “diamond”.

Longs Peak from the edge of Chasm lake at about 5:30am.That’s the moon if you’re wondering.

I knew I wanted to do the hike, but in order to get really good photos, one has to get there at the right time of day. This meant that I needed to be at the lake no later than 5:45am. So, I set my alarm for 2am, drove to the trailhead and was on the trail by 3, hiking in the dark with my headlamp on, with my photo gear on my back. I know that may sound slightly crazy, but for people summiting Longs Peak, they typically leave between 2 and 3, so I actually passed quite a few people on the trail, even at that time.

The hike went as expected until I reached the tundra. At that point the trees disappeared and a cold wind started whipping across the mountainside. I’m not talking about a breeze, I mean gusts of at least 50 mph. A lot of the people who were trying to summit Longs Peak turned back, knowing the higher they got the stronger and more dangerous it would get. But since I was going to be hiking to Chasm lake, which sits down between several peaks, I figured I’d be missing a good part of the wind. I was wrong. If anything the wind got stronger. It roared down the canyon as I hiked and when I got the the lake at about 5am, gusts threatened to knock me over. I had to be very careful to make sure all of my equipment was weighed down, or it would have been blown away in a minute. Not only was the wind voracious, the temperature dropped. My thermometer was reading 40 f, and that’s not including the windchill. But despite all that I was able to find a little nook that was somewhat out of the bigger gusts and worked on my photos until about 7am, at which point I packed up and headed back down.

Chasm Lake and Longs Peak’s east facing wall.

It was an exhilarating hike, made more so by the weather, but I’m glad I was able to conquer it and get some unique photos in the process. Almost as soon as I was done shooting, some clouds moved in and cover the peaks, so I was fortunate to get the shots I did.

Looking back towards Longs on my descent.

And finally, I just wanted to include a few photos of some of the other things I’ve been seeing. Just a few days left before heading home. Here’s to making the most of them.

Spending time in an Aspen grove

I found these paper wasps near one place I was shooting. Amazing.

This mule deer has a pretty nice set of antlers.He was just having out by the road the other evening.

Up Close and Personal with Wildlife and the Great Outdoors

I’m just about halfway through, which has been just long enough to realize that I’d need at least twice the amount of time I have in order to do everything I want to. The park is incredible, the weather has been amazing (actually, I’m hoping for a good storm or two to come over the mountains…. we’ll see), and even the wildlife has been cooperating. The rangers had all been saying that this time of year the elk would be up high on the tundra, so our best chance would be to head up trail ridge road towards the alpine visitor center. Wednesday afternoon we loaded into the car to do just that, when not a quarter mile from our cabin we spotted a few elk. So we stopped the car and a herd of around 50 elk came strolling by right next to us, and down into Moraine Park, which the cabin overlooks. We could hear all the young, still spotted, elk practicing their bugle and watched the herd as it grazed the meadow.

The first part of the herd, crossing into Moraine Park

Later that evening I did the first of two artist presentations in the Auditorium. It was lots of fun and there was a great turnout of about 70 people! The next day the forecast looked especially good so I decided to do one of the more strenuous hikes I wanted to, from Bear Lake to Flattop Mountain and then on to Hallett Peak, which would have been about an 8 mile round trip with an elevation gain of around 3,000 ft. The hike up flattop and Hallett went great, and after talking to some other hikers at the top I decided to try an alternate way down rather than backtracking. I ended up doing about half of The next mountain over, Otis peak, but decided that for the sake of time and my energy I should just move on to the descent, which was going to be the fun part. Rather than hiking down a trail, this alternate descent involved sliding down Andrews Glacier to Andrews Tarn (glacial lake), and then picking up the trail (which involved lots of boulder hopping) from the lake back down to the Glacial Gorge trailhead.  So what had started as an 8 mile round trip turned into about a 12 mile loop and by the end I was exhausted and on the edge of dehydration. So, this may have been a good lesson in the pitfalls of over exertion, but I’m no worse for wear a day later, and now I’m a little more carefully planning my next bigger hike.

The view from the summit of Hallett Peak, towards Longs Peak.

I was happy to spot a bunch of Colorado Columbine throughout the day

One of the marmots I spotted, posing majestically.
The view Northeast from Hallett, toward Moraine Park

Andrews Glacier

On Friday we decided to actually head up Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor’s Center (The highest continuously paved highway in the US and the highest National Park visitor’s center in the US). There were of course lots of beautiful vistas, and there were some clouds rolling through that added a little drama to the skies, so it was a good day for a relaxing drive and taking in the sights. Jed bought himself a pair of binoculars, which he enjoyed using immensely. At the Alpine Visitor’s Center we hiked up the short trail to the very top of the mountain (12,005 ft.). While we were up there the clouds came in a little heavier, the wind picked up and the the temperature dropped about 20 degrees in the matter of minutes. I was, of course, taking my time taking some photos, but eventually we all hiked down and found some rest from the wind and cold in the cafe, just in time for lunch.

Jed loves his binoculars

Clouds rolling in by the Alpine Visitor’s Center

We’re at the top (and we’re cold!) 
Cloudy skies

Then, on the way back down Trail Ridge Road to our cabin, we spotted a big horned sheep very near the road. We parked and I got out to take a few shots but suddenly he started walking towards me, not in a meandering “I think I’ll walk this way now” kind of way, but more in a “you better move or you’ll be on the loosing end of these horns” attitude. So, I quickly backpedaled, but still managed to get a few closeups for my trouble.

Big Horned Sheep, up close and personal.

 Finally, right by our cabin there are a lot of smallish animals that frequent the porch and keep us entertained in the mornings and evenings. There are ground squirrels, chipmunks, a martin that we’ve heard chewing on the cabin but not seen (the ranger said it’s a martin) and several hummingbirds. Hopefully I’ll be able to gather some good photos of these furry little friends over this next week, but hummingbirds are not easy to keep up with.

One of our neighborhood hummingbirds