Rocky Mountain National Park

June 1995

There was a lot of snow, a lot of drizzle and some light rains; and through it all we had a great backpacking experience in the North Inlet area of Rocky Mountain National Park.  We weren't able to reach all the destinations we had planned, but we post-holed our way through the deep snow as far as we could.  This trip marks the only time that I saw a moose in the park, understandable since most of my hikes have been on the east side of the divide.  I'm told that most of the moose are on the west side.  Unfortunately, it was too far away to get a good photograph.  Ordinarily I'm a day hiker, so my backpacking equipment isn't the best.  It's certainly functional, but it's heavy!  Since Randy had a smaller and lighter camera along, I left mine behind and Randy did the photography on this trip.  His report and photographs are presented below.

Tom Veik

The Three Amigos planned a backcountry camping experience in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) for the summer of 1995.  Being flat-landers, training began several months in advance to coax our leg muscles into shape to carry the extra weight of the packs.  We selected the North Inlet trail on the west side of the park, and planned to stay in the backcountry for four days, using the North Inlet Falls campsite as a base camp for three days, and spending one day in the Ptarmigan Creek cross-country area.  Working from the North Inlet Falls campsite, we hoped to hike up to the area along the continental divide, which includes Flattop Mountain, Hallett Peak, Otis Peak, Andrews Pass and Taylor Peak.  The time that best fit into our schedules was the last week in June.  By this time, summer is in full swing in Nebraska, but as we were to find out, is still fighting off winter at the upper elevations in RMNP.  A call to the backcountry office the week before our scheduled arrival determined that the North Inlet Falls campsite (elevation 9540) was right at the snowline, but they noted that it would probably be snow-free by the following week.  Of course, everything that we wanted to see was up from there, so the trails would be snow packed.  We were advised that avalanche danger existed at higher elevations, and that the trail to Flattop should be avoided all together since snowshoes and ice axes would be required to get there.  Yikes! axes?!  We're talking the week before the 4th of July here!  It turns out that we had not done our research for trip planning very well, since snow is typically encountered at these elevations at this time of year, but it was particularly bad in 1995 as there had been record snowfalls that year.  We considered postponing our trip, but this option was almost unbearable since we had been looking forward to the trip for so long.  So we decided to go ahead, and make the best of it.

Our trip out Interstate 80 to the mountains was uneventful, and we spent the first night in the Timber Creek campground, which is right along Trail Ridge Road on the west side of RMNP.  Our adventure began the next day at the North Inlet trailhead near Grand Lake.  The hike to the North Inlet Falls covered about seven miles and an elevation gain of about 1040 feet.  The hike was uneventful, but took quite a long time for us as we were not acclimated to the elevation, and were not accustomed to carrying the weight of the packs for such a long time.  Several photos from the hike in can be found at the Hike To North Inlet Falls Campsite link here and below.

After a night of blissful rest, we set out the next day on the trail to Lake Nokoni and Lake Nanita.  As expected, we encountered deep snow on the way.  An unexpected complication of the snow was the fact that it made it difficult to figure out where the trail was going at times - especially in rocky areas.  We made it to Lake Nokoni, but did not attempt the trip to Lake Nanita due to the heavy snow.  Hot food tasted especially good that night, and we turned in early as the temperature dropped.  The next day brought overcast skies and a slow drizzle.  The cloudy sky coupled with snow cover and precipitation made for a very cold day.  We headed up the trail along Hallett Creek, managing to reach the campsite called "July" before having to turn back because of deep snow.  We were told that this campsite is so named because it is always well into July before the snow finally melts out of it.  Upon returning to the campsite, we discovered that we had neglected to bring along any sort of shelter for our kitchen and dining area.  A simple tarp and some light rope would have made conditions much more bearable while cooking and eating.  Also, our shoes, socks, and some clothing were becoming wet, with the environment providing no means to dry them out.  Luckily, we had all brought plenty of warm clothing, and the inside of our tent and sleeping bags stayed relatively dry.  We also found a permanent campsite on the other side of the North Inlet creek that had a dining shelter.  We were very grateful for this shelter as it kept us dry while we prepared and ate our evening meal.  By the third day, we decided that a cross country experience in the Ptarmigan Creek area would be at best uncomfortable, and at worst, dangerous, so we decided to cut our backcountry experience short and hiked out one day early.  During the four days we spent in this area, we encountered only a few other people, and two of these were park rangers who were hiking in to determine the trail condition.  Several photos from this area can be found at the North Inlet Falls Area link here and below.

A hot shower at the motel in Estes Park was a welcome relief, and we enjoyed our warm, clean clothes, beds and heater that night.  The next day we embarked on a day hike to Ypsilon Lake.  As before, we encountered considerable snow, and again, it was sometimes difficult to determine where the trail was.  At one point, we lost the trail near tiny Chipmunk Lake, but managed to find our way to Ypsilon none-the-less.  We made an effort to head past Ypsilon Lake toward Spectacle Lakes, but the steep incline and heavy snow made the route impassable.  Upon returning past Chipmunk Lake, we were able to determine the route of the trail, and discovered a couple of guys camped right on it.  There was a backcountry campsite in the vicinity, but it was buried under a few feet of snow, and its whereabouts were uncertain.  It seemed as though we were intruding as we trudged right through their campsite, but we were, in fact, following the trail.  Photos from our hike to Ypsilon Lake can be found at the Ypsilon Lake link here and below.

All in all, this was a rewarding experience, in spite of the poor weather, and the fact that we were unable to reach most of the places we wanted to go due to the heavy snow.  We came away with a little better understanding of our abilities and limitations, and were pleased with our ability to make the best of a poor situation.  There is nothing quite like a backcountry camping experience to help you appreciate the things you take for granted.  The process of paring down the weight of your pack by taking only what is essential offers valuable lessons for everyday life.  We also enjoyed the time we spent together, and look forward to future adventures on the trails in this great land.

Randy Veik

Hike To North Inlet Falls Campsite
 (8 photos)

North Inlet Falls Campsite Area
 (13 photos)

Ypsilon Lake
 (7 photos)