Wednesday September 28, 2011 – North Inlet trailhead to July Campground (9.7 miles)
The day had finally arrived and it started off beautifully! The day started around 6:30 am at Moraine Park Campground inside Rocky Mountain National Park where I camped the night before. I packed up camp and then headed out of the park to Estes Park to find some breakfast. After breakfast I went back to the park to begin the long winding drive along Trail Ridge Road to get to Grand Lake, and ultimately the trailhead, on the east side of the park which is about an hour and a half away. I would first need to stop at the Kawuneeche Visitor’s Center just outside the east park entrance to get my backcountry permit. Once I got my permit I drove off to the trailhead parking lot which was a few miles away. I arrived at about 10 am with only a couple other cars already there. I pulled up next to a car where someone was just finishing up six days in the backcountry. As I was stuffing my gear into my backpack two other couples pulled in a few minutes from each other, all out for a day hike to Cascade Falls. I had a short conversation with one gentleman who said that he and his wife had been to Bear Lake the day before where the parking lot was completely filled up. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case here!
It was 10:15 and I was ready to hit the trail. Here is the sign at the trail head with all the usual postings regarding the rules and warnings about the dangers of the backcountry.
Not too much farther down the trail and I had my first wildlife sighting. Two coyotes came running down the road, but turned off the road to avoid me. I was able to get a picture of one of them, but it is difficult to see it. If you look closely you can see it standing on the road in the center of the picture about a third of the way down from the top. He blends in well with his surroundings.
The trail remained relatively flat and stayed within the trees covering the sun which was quite hot. Although the air temperature was fairly cool (maybe 70 degrees), it felt pretty warm in the sun so I appreciated the shade.
The trail meandered along the North Inlet creek. This is looking upstream just above the main part of Cascade Falls where I filled up my water bottle after hiking about 3 1/2 miles. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a good picture of Cascade Falls because the area was already occupied by quite a few day hikers.
After my short stop near Cascade Falls to fill up on water I continued on down the trail as I still had another 6 1/2 miles to go before I reached camp for the night. I thoroughly enjoyed this flat section of the trail and made great time.
I continued on down the trail after lunch and soon found myself at the trail junction with the Lake Nanita trail at about 7 miles. Up until this point the trail had been a gentle climb. Almost immediately after the trail junction the trail got serious and the real climb began.
I climbed higher still and noticed that the trail was getting very close to tree line (almost 11,000 feet) so I must be getting close to camp. Little did I know that I would be almost at the top of that mountain tomorrow morning.
After about another quarter mile (around 3 pm) I arrived at my campground for the night. I scouted the three camp sights to see if anybody was camping there. Sure enough, nobody was around so I found the one that I liked and set up camp.
It had been about two hours since I last saw someone so I was having my doubts that I would see anybody else the rest of the night. Eventually, though, a few guys that I passed a couple miles back arrived for the night as well. They had driven from Wisconsin to hike the same loop that I was doing. They were at the tail end of their 6 days out on the trail.
As evening approached I had a couple visitors arrive at my camp. This doe was out with her yearling. The yearling was quite skittish and kept running away as I tried to capture a picture, but the doe wasn’t worried about me at all.
As the evening wore on it got cooler and cooler so it was time to head to bed. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect temperature wise this late in September at this altitude. How cold would it get? Would my gear be up to the task? Either way, I was anticipating a great day tomorrow as I would be heading into the alpine tundra of the Rocky Mountain National Park high country.