From "slackpacking" to "peak bagging" in less than two weeks? How did that happen? Normally the two wouldn't go together.
In my last blog post, I mentioned that we've become slackpackers, favoring easier hikes over the more strenuous. But, in two National Parks we visited over the past couple of weeks, we found that the tallest mountain in the park was within what seemed like a reasonable day-hike's reach. Besides, if, after six months of hiking, we aren't in shape for a climb, when will we ever be? Our age also plays a factor: Next time we visit these parks, all of our body parts will be that much older. In other words, at our age, we shouldn't pass up opportunities.
A note for those who want to get technical: peak bagging usually refers to climbing to the top of the highest peak in a certain geographic area: country, state, county, etc. For our purposes, the definition is the highest peak in each park.
For instance, we hiked to the top of the only active volcano in the continental United States, besides Mount St. Helens, that erupted in the 20th century. Mount Lassen, in Lassen National Park, presented itself to us on a silver platter we couldn't resist. Except for Memorial day and Labor Day weekends and one weekend in August (the one we happened to be here) the trail to the top is closed this year for repairs. While debating whether that would mean an extra-busy trail on this weekend, we discovered at the visitor center that the trail actually opened a day earlier than announced - a huge bonus for us since only a few people who happened to be in the park that day would know about it. It's settled, then. We're going to the top!
A two thousand-foot elevation gain over a two and a half mile trail seemed a bit daunting. Add the altitude factor - Lassen tops out at 10,462 feet. But we've been living at altitudes over a mile for more than a month now, so felt out of danger of altitude sickness. It was a challenge but we were up to it, and the reward as we crowned the top was incredible: a spectacular view of Mount Shasta, another in the Cascade Range.
This put us in shape for our next peak bagging: Mount Wheeler in Great Basin National Park, Nevada.
Just under nine miles return, this trail was a grind! We climbed from ten thousand feet elevation to just over thirteen thousand and definitely felt the effect of the thin air. Made it though! Here's the proof!
Yes, the fact that Great Basin National Park is on the eastern side of Nevada, means that we've left California and are headed east, toward home. Before I continue with those details, a glimpse at some of our final California stops.
Near Bridgeport, we enjoyed a few more wild hot springs with great views from the pools. Free camping nearby was a bonus.
We had thought six months might be enough to see almost ALL of California but, alas, the northern most areas will have to wait for another trip. (Gotta leave something to look forward to.) Lassen National Park was as far north as we made it. Besides the peak bagging, this park has a lot more to offer. Most notable were the boiling fumaroles - reminders of the ongoing volcanic action deep in the earth yet just under our feet. The last eruption here was in 1914. The next? Unpredictable but, luckily, not last week!
Heading homeward, we are breaking the long trip up with several interesting stops. Great Basin National Park in Nevada was the first. We'd heard good things about it - all true. Remote and wonderful! This park is under-visited and, in our opinion, a jewel! A campground at the foot of Mount Wheeler, at almost 10,000 feet high is, I'm sure, one of the highest elevation drive-in campgrounds you'll find anywhere. From camp, not only did we have a great view of Mount Wheeler and its glacier basin but, in the evening, we were joined in our campsite by this friendly doe. She spent a long time with us, oblivious to the fact that we were merely a few feet away. Speaking of feet, we half expected her to come lick our toes. I'll explain: After our long peak bagging hike, Randy and I soaked our feet in a salt-water bath which we later dumped out onto the very spot where the deer grazed intently for nearly an hour.
Our next stop, on the Utah-Colorado border, Dinosaur National Monument. Another under-visited park, one we've seen before but love so much it was worth repeating. Yes, the site of amazing dinosaur fossils but also so much more to see.
And our final park of the trip: Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. We've always wanted to stop here but have never passed by during the short summer season when the alpine route for which the park is reknowned is open. The highest elevation of any paved highways in the Continental United States goes through the park.
Those of you who know the park may be waiting to see if we added Longs Peak (a lofty 14, 259 feet) to our peak bagging list. No, but neighboring campers we met did. They got up at 2:30 in the morning and were on the trail by 4:00 am to hike the keyhole route - fifteen miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 4850 feet. Average time to complete it is ten to fifteen hours. It's considered a route not a trail and requires crossing steep vertical rock faces. Thunderstorms and lightening strikes threaten especially on summer afternoons so an early start is a must. Although thousands accomplish it every year, it's not a hike for us. We have to draw the line somewhere or risk being kicked out of the slackpacker's club!
With so many trails in this park, it was difficult to choose one. We did a couple of small hikes in the west end of the park and finished with a nine-mile loop that I highly recommend. We started at Bear Lake and included several optional spur trails to Nymph Lake, Dream lake, Haiyaha, and the Loch!. Pictures don't do justice to these glacier-fed lakes, they were all so beautiful!
And finally, although there are bears in Rocky Mountain National Park, we didn't see any. Our wildlife sightings did include two up-close moose and an elk herd in the distance.
Learned something new. Elk shed thier antlers and grow brand new ones every year. The fastest growing tissue of any mammal. Maybe modern medicine can harness some of that DNA.
With that and, hopefully, before I get letters from readers who take offence, it's time to close this chapter and start the road to Ontario - home, and reunions with family and friends. We DO have the best of both worlds, don't we?
Days On The Road At Time Of Writing: 175
Camping Costs To Date: $378.00